Walmart Store Closures, plumbing and a burst of conspiracy theories

April 26, 2015

Operation-Jade-Helm-is-real-USThe temporary closure of five Walmart Stores in the United States broke as a business story recently. It has developed into a full-blown conspiracy theory linked to secret military operations, and foreign invasion plans across the whole of Texas

[Author’s Note by TR: At times, a news story such as this one takes such a bizarre turn that I feel the need to assure readers that I have not fabricated any of the material reported]

The Walmart Stores closures

Walmart faces employee anger [March 2015] as five stores are peremptorily closed for several months.  This led to its involvement of a series of bizarre conspiracy theories.

The move is officially explained as a necessary one to deal effectively with serious ‘plumbing problems’. In total, Walmart laid off over two thousand workers.  A Fortune article [April 4th, 2015] summarized the industrial relations dispute:

Wal-Mart workers are fighting back against the retailer’s decision last week to close five stores in four states for what the company says are plumbing repairs. Last week, the retail giant, which employs 1.3 million workers in the United States, temporarily closed five stores—two in Texas and one each in California, Florida, and Oklahoma—for six months of plumbing repairs.

The closures gave workers just a few hours of notice that they were losing their jobs. The company provided two months of paid leave for both full-time and part-time workers. Employees could try to transfer to a different Walmart location during that time. Full-time workers who fail to find another Walmart job are eligible for severance starting June 19, but part-time workers aren’t entitled to that benefit. END

Workers at the company’s Pico Rivera, Calif. store who are associated with OUR Walmart, a group that advocates for better pay, say the closings are “retaliatory” in nature. They filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board on Monday, claiming that the termination of more than 500 employees constituted an unfair labor practice.


Walmart CEO Doug McMillon was appointed in 2014 and has focused his plans on improved customer service. Over 500,000 workers received a minimum wage rise in February coupled with support for the company’s drive towards improved customer service. Although efforts are being taken to minimize redundancies, efficiency measures are intended to eliminate a layer of management

 Jade Helm 15 and conspiracy theories

The conspiracy theories prior to the Walmart involvement appear to have arisen from a large-scale military training operation scheduled for this summer, and code named Jade Helm 15. This was picked up by journalist Dylan Baddour. Writing in the Houston Chronicle [March 25th, 2015] Baddour’s headline was “Covert warfare coming to Texas sparks some fears of federal takeover” Baddour was broadly critical of the conspiracy, drawing attention to the long-time interest (obsession?) of another Texas-based TV and radio commentator Alex Jones, who has been warning the citizens of Austin of a government takeover for over a decade.

Baddour noted:

Plans for a 17-city Army Special Operations exercise in Texas stirred some ultra-right-wing fears of a government takeover in the Lone Star State, but local law enforcement say they’ve long been aware of the drill. Army Special Operation Command spokesman Mark Lastoria said soldiers would practice “emerging concepts in special operations warfare” .

Operation Jade Helm will bring a coalition of forces, including the Green Berets, SEALS, and special operations commands from the Air Force and Marines to Texas for two months of “realistic military training” in a simulated “hostile” territory between July and September this summer.

Among the planned exercises, soldiers will try to operate undetected amongst civilian populations in some towns and cities where residents will be advised to report any suspicious activity they notice as a means of testing the military’s effectiveness, said county law enforcement officials who had been briefed by the Army.

Baddour went on to explain the conspiracy theory reported under the headline Austin-based TV and radio commentator Alex Jones, who has been warning of a government takeover for decades, and reported the operation under the headline “feds preparing to invade Texas” after obtaining an unclassified Army document:

“We’ve got huge news ladies and gentlemen,” said Jones on his Sunday TV show. “They’re having Delta Force, Navy SEALS with the Army trained to basically take over.”

His biggest concern was Texas’ designation as a “hostile” territory on a map included in the Army document. “Texas is listed as a hostile sector, and of course, we are,” he said. “We’re here defending the republic.”

A swarm of followers picked up Jones’ reports of the impending invasion, but the exercise had actually been reported months before by local newspapers

Walmart’s involvement in the conspiracy
The Walmart closures started to be ‘explained’ as part of the conspiracy .  The stores were appropriated and converted into underground bunkers.  The mass plumbing claimed by the firm was no more than a mask behind which were to be found sinister  military activities.
On this, the theorists split into those suspecting the operation was a simulation of an invasion by an alien power, and those believing that a real and present Invasion has begun.
 No big deal

An initial search took me to parts of the web I rarely visit.  Then I found a balanced account in The Washington Post. What seems to have set off the conspiracy theorists is the designation by the military during the Jade Helm 2015 operation of large parts of Texas as foreign-held territory.  At some point, reported facts became part of wilder assumptions.


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Budget leak theory confirmed?

March 13, 2008

Pre-budget predictions in the media this year were remarkably accurate. Was this a triumph of journalistic detective work, or evidence that The Chancellor and Gordon Brown, like the Owl and the Pussy Cat, had gone to sea in a spinning sieve?

Yesterday’s pre-budget post listed predictions of what would be contained in the Budget. These were based on contributions I received from colleagues, and from comments published in the press.

I am now sated with the post-budget fare of reactions. The experience has left me feeling that I’ve been fed from a pretty predictable and unexciting menu.

But there is one leadership angle which has not received much attention, and to which I now return. It arises from the remarkable accuracy of the pre-budget predictions.

Didn’t we do well?

The results of the budget predictions have surprised me. Take the evidence I compiled for the post. This can be split into roughly a dozen items. An assessment of the post reveals these predictions:

(1) He has little wriggle room for major surprises
(2) I think he will dodge the big issues …and go for technocratic adjustments in most popular areas like taxation …
(3) …environment …
(4) …and mortgages
(5) Mr Darling has no option but to downgrade his forecasts for the economy
(6) The surge in oil prices may be just the event for the Chancellor to seize upon.
(7) Chancellor Alistair Darling is expected to introduce measures to encourage the use of cars with low CO2 emissions
(8) The chancellor is likely to accept proposals from a report commissioned by the Treasury from Julia King, the vice-chancellor of Aston University
(9) Plastic bags taxed
(10) Beer up [penny on pint favoured]
(11) Wine up
(12) Spirits up

These seem to be remarkably accurate, although just twenty four hours ago they seemed more plausible than of high probability. I didn’t feel confident enough to place an electronic bet.

The list can be seen to contain very few ‘false positives’, and the only obvious errors were of assessing the level of an item, rather than getting the item wrong. For example, booze taxes were under-estimated, and the ‘plastic bag’ environmental tax was made provisional on self-regulation by the supermakets.

My colleagues in the forecasting game always add cautions about the uncertainties which weaken any confidence to be placed in predictions whether they be political, strategic, or technological.

In that light, the overall accuracy seems impressive. Even the weakest of the predictions erred only on the precise level or timing of a change introduced (booze was taxed more severely than was predicted; plastic bags is held back to assess voluntary actions from the supermarket giants). Some were rather obvious and had been pretty-much signalled.

What’s going on?

I argued yesterday, somewhat tongue in cheek, that the Chancellor and Gordon Brown, like the Owl and the Pussy Cat, had gone to sea in a spinning sieve.

But is there something here to get the conspiracy theorists interested? In a recent post, I suggested that Alistair Darling and his aides were following a strategy in planting information with Robert Peston of the BBC, about Treasury plans for Northern Rock.

But neither the Owl nor the Pussy Cat would to jump to conclusions on such flimsy evidence. That would be imprudent. And the Owl and the Pussy Cat would not approve of that, would they?