Other Voices

Farm Forum

Like any successful company, Wal-Mart knows a public relations coup when it sees one.

Plans announced recently are textbook perfect: The nation’s largest private employer said it would hire every recent veteran seeking a job, amounting to 100,000 hires over five years.

But dismissing this as a stunt would be a mistake.

Wal-Mart’s commitment to hire such a large number of veterans – and more importantly, its endorsement of their value as workers – is meaningful and one we hope will set an example for others to follow.

Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have had a tough haul.

Their unemployment rates outpace the nation as a whole, with veterans encountering difficulty with a perception among employers that former soldiers are unstable and lack skills that are transferable to the civilian world.

Bill Simon, CEO of Wal-Mart U.S., took a step toward dispelling that stereotype with this:

”Hiring a veteran can be one of the best business decisions you make,” Simon, a Navy veteran, said in a speech to the National Retail Federation. ”Veterans have a record of performance under pressure. They’re quick leaders and team players.”

We have no illusions that Wal-Mart will erase the veteran unemployment rate or solve all the financial problems for hired vets. Hourly Wal-Mart wages are still too low to support a family and far too many Wal-Mart employees get stuck with part-time hours when they want full-time work.

Wal-Mart has made many missteps for which it must make amends, which is often in the backdrop when big initiatives are announced. That is the gift of advocates and journalists who expose Wal-Mart’s flaws.

They push Wal-Mart, and hopefully all of us, to do better. Today’s beneficiaries are 100,000 veterans who admirably served our country and deserve to be welcomed home with open arms.

– Chicago Sun-Times

Congress needs better system to pay for natural disasters

On Jan. 15, the House approved another $50 billion for expenses related to Hurricane Sandy. Assuming the Senate signs on, that would bring the total federal lawmakers have authorized for Sandy relief to about $60 billion, and that might not be the last of it.

Americans have all sorts of reasons to be shocked.

They should be shocked at the scale of the storm’s damage, of which this is another reminder. It’s not clear how much human-induced global warming contributed to last year’s superstorm. But seas are rising, and higher seas mean higher surges during big storms. As climate change continues, natural disasters will almost certainly become more common, more severe or both.

We should also be shocked at how much the federal government might spend. Congress just got through a nasty battle over the Bush tax cuts, and the result of that acrimonious debate was about $60 billion annually in new revenue. Now lawmakers are proposing to spend $60 billion outside the normal budget process and, barring a last-minute change, without sacrificing elsewhere to finance it. Despite intemperate howls from Northeastern lawmakers, the House was right to take some time to examine the package and to scrub from it some of the more egregious spending provisions in the Senate version.

Finally, Americans should be shocked that lawmakers still haven’t reformed the slapdash way Congress deals with disasters. The claim that those future big storms have on federal funds is potentially massive … though costs are hard to predict, Congress should at least budget disaster-assistance money upfront to the greatest extent possible and through the normal appropriations process, where the spending trade-offs are clearer and lawmakers don’t have to legislate under the duress of emergency.

Congress is set to be consumed with unrelated budget battles over the next year. But lawmakers’ decisions about disaster relief significantly affect lives, property and the federal balance sheet. They can’t pass the Sandy package and forget about it.

– Washington Post