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Gadgets

Republican attorneys general seek assistance from courts in thwarting Biden’s agenda


WASHINGTON (AP) — These are busy days for Republican state attorneys general, filing repeated lawsuits that claim President Joe Biden and his administration are overstepping their authority on immigration, climate change, the environment and taxes.

The strategy harks back to what Democrats did during Trump’s presidency, heading to court in New York, California, Maryland and other states where they were likely to receive a friendly reception. Even before that, Republicans were frequent filers during Barack Obama’s White House years.

“This is something the Republicans have taken from the Democratic playbook, just as the Democrats had taken a lot of things from the Republican playbook during Trump’s tenure,” said New York University law professor Sally Katzen, who served in the Clinton White House.

The legal action reflects GOP opposition to Biden initiatives, but it also is providing the attorneys general, many with higher political ambitions, to showcase their willingness to stand up to Biden and unabashedly side with Trump.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2022, brags in a TV ad that he is “on the conservative front line suing to stop the Biden administration’s worst abuses.”

The main target of lawsuits filed so far have been executive orders issued by Biden.

But several states also have sued over a provision of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue plan that prohibits states from using their share of federal money to reduce taxes.

Chris Carr, the Georgia attorney general and new chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association, said he and his colleagues have been cast in this role because Democrats control both houses of Congress and the White House.

“We’ve got a situation where President Biden says, ‘Look, I want to be more bipartisan in nature.’ But then he turns around and has issued more executive orders in the beginning of a term than any president in modern history, I’m told,” Carr said.

“Our job is to ensure the rule of law is upheld. It’s a natural tension we’ve seen throughout American history. How does the federal government stay in its lane?” he said.

It took only two days after Biden’s inauguration for the first legal fight to erupt.

Following the president’s announcement of a 100-day pause in deportations, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — who famously appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Trump’s loss to Biden in a crucial set of swing states, drawing the support of 17 fellow state attorneys general and 106 Republican members of Congress — went to court and won a court order against the halt.

Several other states have since followed with similar claims.

Just since the middle of March:
• Texas, Montana and 19 other states filed suit in Texas to overturn Biden’s cancellation of the contentious Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada.
• Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry led 13 states in suing the administration to end a suspension of new oil and gas leases on federal land and water and to reschedule canceled sales of leases in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska waters and western states.
• Missouri sued over the restriction on state tax cuts as a condition of receiving money from the huge COVID-19 bill.

See: Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton battles Texas news media over records related to Capitol siege on Jan. 6

Also: Twitter sues Texas attorney general, claiming retaliation for its Trump ban

Earlier in March, Schmitt led 12 states in a suit that claims the administration lacks the authority to take account of the social costs of climate change. The president said on Jan. 20 that federal agencies must account for damages caused by increased greenhouse gas emissions, including changes in farm productivity, human health and property damage from increased flood risk.

In at least two instances, Republicans are trying to get the Supreme Court involved to keep in place Trump policies that Biden is reviewing or has indicated he will reverse.

Paxton is leading a push to get the justices to reimpose the Trump-era immigration rule denying green cards to immigrants who use public benefits like food stamps. A federal court has blocked the policy nationwide and the Biden administration dropped the defense of it.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is leading a 19-state effort to keep the court from dismissing a case over the Trump policy that bans family planning programs that receive federal funds from referring women for abortions.

The administration and medical groups that had challenged the policy agreed to dismiss the case because the Health and Human Services Department shortly will propose a new rule rescinding the ban on abortion referrals.

Paxton’s predecessor was Greg Abbott, now the Texas governor. Abbott burnished his conservative credentials by frequently going to court over Obama initiatives. “I go into the office, I sue the federal government, and I go home,” he said in 2013, boasting then of having sued the administration 25 times.

By the middle of 2016, the Wall Street Journal counted at least 44 times that Texas went to court against the Obama administration.

The one thing that has changed since the last Democratic administration is that Trump was able to move appeals courts across the country to the right, adding six judges each to appeals courts that hear cases from Ohio and Texas and four to the court that includes Missouri. All three already leaned conservative.

Even the famously liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which hears appeals from Montana, became more evenly balanced in the past four years, with the addition of 10 Trump appointees.

“Republican attorneys general might take extra comfort from the fact that there were a significant number of conservative judges confirmed during the Trump administration, and there are a number of courts of appeals where the balance was tipped. So, it’s an even better shot than before,” Katzen said.

MarketWatch contributed.



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Hardware

LUNSFORD COLUMN: An ode to small town hardware stores | Opinion


If you are fortunate enough, you’ve spent some time in a small hardware store. You know, the kind of place that smells of paint and moth balls, 3-in-One Oil and lawn fertilizer. The store may have been old enough to bring back pleasant memories of the creak of hardwood floors, screen door advertising, the glow of dusty 60-watt lightbulbs, and soft-spoken conversations about copper fittings, water heaters and mouse traps. They were, and still are, truly American institutions.

It’s no secret that the small-time, small town hardware store — with some exceptions — is becoming a thing of the past. It seems as though, not so long ago, every burg, business district and borough touted a locally owned hardware store. That’s not the case any longer, and we are the poorer for it.

In her wonderful poem, “Ode to Hardware,” Barbara Hamby bemoans its passing, as well as the people who ran them.

“I don’t know what it is about hardware stores that I love, but I do love them. It may have started when I began to be interested in gardening. I bought my first watering can at a hardware store. But I love to look at all those bins of nails and wonder what they’re meant to do. There’s also the attraction to small glittering things. My husband says I’m a magpie, and my poems are certainly made up of small, shiny images,” Hamby says.

Not that many years ago, there were so many hardware stores within a few miles of our house that I could stop by one no matter what town I happened to be driving through. Always I could count on someone in an embroidered vest or pocket-protected work shirt, stocking in some quiet aisle, who could dispense advice on whatever old mechanical or plumbing mess I had with me, usually wrapped in a shop rag.

“Yeah, I’ve seen that before. I think we may have one left in the back,” I’ve heard more than once.

Two local hardware stores near me still breathe: Ste-Mar Hardware on Main Street in Clinton, and G& M Ace Hardware on North Highway 41 in Rockville. The first is the domain of Marty Shortridge, and has been since he was “…barely able to reach the cash register.” The second is managed by Joel Hall, who, years ago, sat in my classroom, but who can now teach me a thing or two about fittings, fuses, or fasteners. As he told me, “One thing I learned is that people don’t come into a hardware store to shop or browse; they have a specific need…”

At one time, Clinton had a thriving downtown district that included several hardware stores; struggling like so many other small towns, it has managed to keep Ste-Mar going in an age when bigger box stores see booming popularity. There are, however, a good many things the latter can’t do.

“What sets us apart from the other stores is personal knowledge of the product we sell. I personally know every product that I sell, what it does, what it doesn’t do, even when it will probably break. I know a lot about electrical and plumbing, am certified in HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), am a locksmith, and have done just about everything in housing and remodeling. I know what to do and what not to do, because every day I have people ask my opinion and do just the opposite,” Shortridge said as he ate lunch behind his cluttered counter.

Ste-Mar has been at its present address since 1960; Shortridge’s parents bought out Harlan’s Hardware Store on Ninth Street and moved it to Main about a week before Marty was born. He’s been in the old building in some capacity nearly every day since.

Hall says that G&M Ace Hardware was originally opened by Bill Becker and Gary Nicola and has been in operation since 1996 in the same location it sits on today. In 2012, Mike Sasin took ownership, and although it doesn’t have the archaic feel of an old-time store — the creaking wood floors are tiled concrete there — Joel says the service his store offers is anything but big business.

“One appeal to my job is that every day is different,” Hall adds. “I enjoy helping people with any need they may have, from fixing a broken water line to loading mulch for their landscape. The camaraderie with customers is one of the favorite aspects that keeps me wanting to go to work every day.”

Hall started working at Ace as a part-timer while a junior in high school. He’s now in a leadership role at the store and says he’s “…proudly been helping the community for 20 years.”

When it comes to the inevitable question as to why such a valuable business is becoming extinct in an America that is less “do-it-yourself” with each passing generation, both men agree: online shopping, home delivery, and competition from big chain stores are hurting hardware stores.

“I think people in our community take pride in buying from their local hometown hardware store,” Hall says. Both he and Shortridge mention that among their services are expert key cutting, pipe cutting and threading, and, of course, taking the time to dispense advice. “I remind people to use their phone and take a photo of what they are dealing with,” Hall says. “I can help them better that way.” He also says his store will assemble anything that is purchased there, flares tubing, cuts glass, and rents a lot of what people don’t own.

As she closes her poem, Hamby bemoans what we might never see much of again: the service and the people those old hardware stores still invoke:

“I want angels called Lem, Nelson, Rodney, and Cletis gathered

around a bin of nails, their silence like hosannahs,

hallelujahs, amens swelling from cinderblock cathedrals

drowning our cries of Bigger, faster, more, more, more.”





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Future

Why Walmart is looking to beyond retail for future growth


A woman wearing a face mask walks past a sign informing customers that face coverings are required in front of a Walmart store in Washington, DC on July 15, 2020.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

Walmart wants to tap what it sees as its greatest asset: its reach.

Every month, 160 million customers visit its stores or its website. The company not only wants to sell groceries, clothes and other items. It wants to chase new business opportunities, from bulking up its ad sales to becoming a major health-care provider. With the strategy, Walmart is acknowledging a tough reality: Retail may not be enough to power its future.

On Thursday, the retail giant’s leaders spoke at a virtual investor day and detailed a plan to sustain momentum as some pandemic-related tailwinds fade and online sales swell.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the discounter will weave together diverse services that customers want, from issuing a credit or debit card to dropping off groceries to their doorstep. It will also increase investments to cater to customers’ changed shopping habits, such as automation that will help it keep up with the heavy volume of curbside pickup orders.

“We feel emboldened and are now moving with even more speed and aggressiveness,” he said. “We’re scaling new capabilities and businesses and designing them to work together in a mutually reinforcing way.”

A new playbook

With the move, the big-box retailer is taking a page from retailers like Apple and Amazon that have built an ecosystem of products and services to deepen loyalty and win more of customers’ wallets. Amazon Web Services has been the profit engine of its parent company, helping the e-commerce giant offset the challenging economics of selling items it must pick, pack and ship.

It’s riffing off another Amazon strategy, too. This fall, it launched Walmart+, a subscription-based service with perks like free shipping and unlimited grocery deliveries to the home. The service costs $98 a year or $12.95 for a month.

Walmart faces skepticism as it unveils the new playbook, however. It fell short of fourth-quarter earnings estimates, despite a robust holiday season and sales lift from stimulus checks. The results and its forecast for moderating sales in the year ahead prompted a sell-off. Shares were down more than 5% midday on Thursday. In the fiscal year, Walmart grew its revenue by $35 billion, but higher sales alone won’t get it to higher profits.

Remaining competitive will require big-ticket investments. Walmart plans to spend about $14 billion in the coming year, improving its supply chain and adding automation, the company’s CFO Brett Biggs said. That’s higher than its typical rate of $10 billion to $11 billion, he said. These improvements will likely make online sales more efficient and profitable.

Still, McMillon sees a way for Walmart to capitalize on its assets — including its more than 4,700 U.S. locations. For example, the company can turn TV and checkout screens in stores into ad opportunities, use its large parking lots to support health clinics that it is opening in parts of the country and promote online merchandise through TikTok livestreaming event.

“This is the right time to make these investments,” he said. “The strategy, team and capabilities are in place. We know where the customer is going. We have momentum and our balance sheet is strong.”

Staying a few steps ahead

Walmart recently renamed its ads business and told CNBC it wants to grow that division by more than ten times in the next five years. It has opened 20 health clinics with lower-priced medical services like annual physicals, dentist checkups and therapy appointments — with plans for more. It is launching a fintech start-up with investment firm Ribbit Capital to offer unique, affordable financial products for its customers and employees.

McMillon said the company must stay a few steps ahead, especially as it sees such rapid change in the retail industry. The pandemic has permanently changed how some customers shop by fast-forwarding many of the customer trends Walmart was preparing for, according to McMillion.

“In the future, people will still want to shop in compelling stores, but more and more there will be occasions when they prefer to pick up an order or have it delivered,” he said.

“Some customers will eventually allow us and pay us to keep them replenished in their homes on the items they routinely purchase,” he said. “For an increasing number of customers, Walmart will be seen more like a service. Customers will think of us as the merchant that serves their wants and needs, but in ways that take less time and effort.”

And that’s why it’s investing in turning its stores into mini warehouses that use robots and employees to quickly complete online orders for delivery or curbside pickup. That, in turn, will help attract more members to Walmart’s subscription service, Walmart+, since home deliveries are a key reason why customers sign up, he said.

But, McMillon added, Walmart is letting go of some areas as it invests in others. He said it will continue to divest from markets and businesses, which allow it to focus on areas with greater growth potential.



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