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Until recently, I had no issues with Bruce Springsteen. Sure, his version of "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" often makes me wish he'd chosen to be a mime instead of a singer, but "Glory Days" and "Dancing in the Dark" are OK. In fact, for a long time, I simply viewed Springsteen as just another aging male entertainer unable to find a decent-fitting pair of pants.

My perception changed with Super Bowl XLIII. Not about the pants, mind you - that tragedy was clearly evident during the halftime show (although Springsteen's attempt to do the splits went shockingly well). No, my respect for The Boss eroded when he called his deal to distribute a new greatest hits compilation exclusively through Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) stores a "mistake."

Word From the Top
"We didn't vet it the way we usually do," Springsteen explained to The New York Times, "... It was a mistake. Our batting average is usually very good, but we missed that one."

Of course, in that same piece, Springsteen's manager, Jon Landau, is accused of defending the exclusive deal with America's largest retailer, noting that "Mr. Springsteen's albums were already in Wal-Mart, which accounts for 15% of his sales. We're not doing any advertising for Wal-Mart. We haven't endorsed Wal-Mart or anybody else. We're letting Sony (NYSE:SNE) do its job," Landau asserted.

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Be True
So then why is the arrangement a mistake? According to Springsteen's loyal followers and groups like Human Rights Watch, it's because Wal-Mart exploits its labor force. Oh yes, much better to work for Circuit City (OTC:CCTYQ), Home Depot (NYSE:HD) or Macy's (NYSE:M) - if you can find jobs at those places, that is. Given Circuit City's bankruptcy, Home Depot's continuing layoffs and Macy's announcement on February 2 that it plans to eliminate nearly 4% of its workforce in the coming months, that might be kind of tough though. (Been laid off? Be sure to read Negotiating Severance Agreements.)

Look, I'm not saying that Wal-Mart is a worker's utopia. Having toiled in my fair share of retail establishments, I defy anybody to show me a department store that is. That said, I also have trouble believing that Sam Walton's brainchild is the equivalent of LexCorp. In fact, I had to chuckle when, last January, Consumer Reports compiled a list of eco- and worker-friendly companies; among them were Ikea and Timberland (NYSE:TBL), two companies that receive a large portion of their manufactured goods from the People's Republic of China. (I guess the definition of "worker-friendly" is like the price of real estate - it depends on the location.)

Walk Like a Man
At least Wal-Mart pays lip service to keeping jobs in the United States. Remember slogans like "Made in America" and "Bring It Home to the USA?" Kind of reminds me of Springsteen's patriotic ballad "Born in the USA." Only I'm beginning to wonder if Springsteen was even born on this planet, much less in the "Land of the Free" and the "Home of the Brave". At a press conference prior to the Super Bowl, The Boss - the man The New York Times said "comes across as a working-class guy from New Jersey" - admitted that he "didn't know a thing about football."

Yep, that's exactly like the blue-collar guys I know from Jersey - they're all into ballet.

For shame.

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