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Walmart raising cost of its ‘always low prices’
by sticking taxpayers with health care bills

screwWalmart, the nation’s largest retailer, is at it again, transferring the cost of necessities for its always low-wage workers onto taxpayers.

A Huffington Post report says Walmart plans to start cutting the hours of some unspecified number of its 1.2 million U.S. employees to less than 30 per week, starting in January.

Walmart isn’t going to reduce work hours of people struggling to get by on already low incomes just to give them more time with their families. This move is all about shifting the health care cost of those workers to taxpayers — a backdoor form of corporate welfare.

An Obamacare provision excuses employers from providing health care benefits to workers regularly on the job less than 30 hours a week. At the same time, the American Affordable Care Act is making more Medicaid money available to states, in a good-faith effort to ensure more low-income and no-income Americans have access to health care.

By reducing work hours of its employees, Walmart clearly intends to shift their health care costs to Medicaid, a program intended for the poorest Americans, including those unable to work at all.

This isn’t a new maneuver for Walmart. A 2011 New York Times story details how the retail giant instituted cuts in eligibility while limiting coverage and drastically raising premiums prices and deductibles.

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Citing rising costs, Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, told its employees this week that all future part-time employees who work less than 24 hours a week on average will no longer qualify for any of the company’s health insurance plans.

In addition, any new employees who average 24 hours to 33 hours a week will no longer be able to include a spouse as part of their health care plan, although children can still be covered.

This is a big shift from just a few years ago when Wal-Mart expanded coverage for employees and their families after facing criticism because so many of its 1.4 million workers could not afford or did not qualify for coverage — rendering many of them eligible for Medicaid.

. . .In Wal-Mart’s 2012 health offerings, premiums will increase for some plans by more than 40 percent, although many of their workers pay relatively low premiums in comparison to more generous plans offered by other employers. But many Wal-Mart employees complain that their low premiums are accompanied by high deductibles that sometimes exceed 20 percent of their annual pay.

. . . Barbara Collins, a sales associate at the Wal-Mart in Placerville, Calif., said that the premiums for the H.M.O. plan for herself and her 5-year-old son would rise to $18 every two weeks from $10. Her big concern, she said, was that her deductible would jump to $5,000 a year, from $1,000 — a daunting amount considering she earns $19,000 a year. “I don’t know how I’ll be able to afford it if I go to a doctor or to physical therapy,” she said.

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The story notes Walmart also cut by half the $1,000 it had been putting into employee health care savings accounts, alternative plans that help some employees with costs not covered by inurance. The company had encouraged use of the health savings program, which is cheaper for it than health insurance.

Last July, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., tweeted that the Walton family has more wealth — $102.7 billion in 2010 — than the bottom 40 percent of American families. Politifact checked that out and judged the statement to be true. Here’s what that looks like per the six Walton heirs to make the Forbes 400 list (all amounts in billions):

Christy Walton, $25.3; Jim Walton, $23.7; Alice Walton, $23.3; S. Robson Walton, $23.1; Ann Walton Kroenke, $3.9 billion; and Nancy Walton Laurie, $3.4 billion.

From Wikipedia’s Walmart entry: “For the fiscal year ending January 31, 2011, Wal-Mart reported a net income of $15.4 billion on $422 billion of revenue with a 24.7% gross profit margin.”

Walmart CEO Michael Duke’s 2011 total compensation was $18.7 million, according to Marketwatch.

Our bottom-line impression: Walmart can well afford to provide high-quality, affordable health insurance to all its employees, without cutting the payroll or workers’ hours. And after doing that, the Walton clan would still have more wealth than needed to live in splendor for 100 lifetimes each. The company’s CEO and executives would be in no danger of impoverishment either.

There’s only one way to describe Walmart’s treatment of workers and shifting of costs to taxpayers: raw greed.

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Biz-whiz Romney’s job-creation claims
buried under mountain of layoff notices

guy with fingers crossed behind backR epublican presidential candidate Mitt Romney presents himself as the successful business wizard who can make the economy run like a well-oiled machine, producing jobs aplenty and decimating the budget deficit, all with no increase in taxes (on the rich).

The former head of Bain Capital kicked off this campaign strategy a few weeks ago claiming he had created 100,000 jobs. He quickly scaled that back to 10,000, then just “thousands,” when fact-checkers cried foul and laid-off Bain victims started coming out of the woodwork.

The National Memo looked into Bain’s jobs record and came up with some of the rest of the story:

How six Bain victims fared

Company jobs lost
Ampad 385
GST Steel 750
Dade International 1,900
Dynamic Details, Inc. 2,100
Clear Channel 2,500
KB Toys 3,400

CNBC investment guru Jim Cramer got to the bottom line of Bain and Romney’s big-money-making M.O. succinctly.

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Well said. We will just add that during Romney’s time as governor of Massachusetts, the Bay State ranked 48th in the nation in new-job creation.

Sorry, Romney, but if it sounds like a lie and checks out like a lie, it’s just a lie. You’d do better to say, “Well, we didn’t fire everybody” in all those companies Bain took over. But then you had better hope no one adds up how many people ultimately lost their jobs when many of those gutted, debt-laden companies failed a year or two after you and your fellow vulture capitalists made off with your millions in ill-gotten gains.

What’s that old saying about Republicans with their lips moving?

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To buy America’s presidency
is to sell out Americans’ democracy

sheldon adelson

Sheldon Adelson, the money man behind Newt Gingrich's campaign.

Sheldon Adelson, an international gambling casino tycoon who’s reportedly the eighth-richest man in America, loves his country and wants the best president his money can buy.

Adelson is backing the desire for a president of his very own by bankrolling — $10 million and counting — ex-House speaker and millionaire lobbyist Newt Gingrich’s quest to become the Republican nominee for president

While that much is clear, what Adelson considers “his country” — the U.S. or Israel — remains hazy, even as Gingrich thunders warnings at campaign audiences about Iran posing an imminent threat of a “second Holocaust.”

In Cocoa, Fla., Gingrich on Wednesday called Adelson “very deeply concerned about the survival of Israel” and the threat of a nuclear Iran. Asked if he had promised Adelson anything, Gingrich replied that he pledged “that I would seek to defend the United States and United States allies.”

At 79, Adelson is not a young man. Suppose that after spending tens or hundreds of millions, maybe $1 billion, to get Gingrich elected president, Adelson becomes senile. Suppose his deep concern for Israel becomes paranoid delusions that Iran is armed with nukes and prepared to annihilate the Israelis any day now. Suppose he calls in his chits at the White House, causing Gingrich to launch a pre-emptive nuclear first strike against Iran.

You can say that sounds farfetched, but history is rife with seemingly farfetched things that came to pass. Maybe it’s not that farfetched to begin with. Does anyone familiar with Gingrich think that as president he’d turn down his political sugar daddy if doing so would doom his chances of winning a second term?

It’s also fair to question where Adelson’s greatest loyalty lies. It’s fair to ask what he would want if in some situation Israel and the United States’ vital interests were to diverge.

Does anyone in their right mind think Gingrich has asked his political benefactor with a net worth estimated at $21.5 billion about that?

But even without Adelson’s devotion to Israel, all Americans, especially Republicans, should be repelled by the thought of a presidential candidate being beholden to one super-rich backer to the tune of $10 million or more.

All Americans, including Republicans — unlikely though that is — should be repelled by what the Supreme Court’s democracy-trashing Citizens United decision is making possible. And all Americans, even Republicans, should get behind Sen. Bernie Sanders’ constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United, and with it, 150 years of errant court decisions bestowing on corporations the rights of human citizens.

koch bros.

The Koch brothers, David, left, and Charles.

Even if Gingrich fails to win the GOP nomination and the White House, even if Adelson’s millions are being spent for naught, it’s only a matter of time until our presidential and other elections are nothing better than auctions bestowing power on the pawns of the highest bidders.

We’re dangerously close to that now, and there surely are other super-rich people with no more scruples about subverting our democracy than Adelson.

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The time to put and end to this very real, very imminent threat is now. The place to start is by burying the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision under the weight of the most decisively supported constitutional amendment ever.

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Support Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Saving American Democracy Amendment.

The amendment asserts:

  • Corporations are not persons with constitutional rights equal to real people.
  • Corporations are subject to regulation by the people.
  • Corporations may not make campaign contributions or any election expenditures.
  • Congress and states have the power to regulate campaign finances.

If passed, Sanders’ amendment would do more to safeguard our democracy and pave the way to restoring some balance between the excessive clout of the 1 percent over the 99 percent than anything brought forth in generations.

Please, click the link above, watch the video of Sanders’ floor speech about the amendment, then add your name to those supporting its passage.

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Helpful election-year definitions

Oh!pinion orange logoA merican politics used to be extremely simple: choose a Democrat or a Republican, or kick back in front of the boob tube and let others decide who’s going to run the country.

Things have become a bit more complicated of late, so to help we offer these quick-and-simple definitions of political parties, groups and their philosophies.

Democrats, liberals and progressives are people who would rather take a chance on feeding one undeserving person a free meal than see 99 poor people go hungry.

Conservative Republicans are people who would rather see 99,999 poor people go hungry than feed them a free meal and risk having all 99,999 of them become hopelessly dependent on government handouts for the rest of their lives. That’s on top of Republicans’ deepseated dread of having one undeserving person get a free meal.

Libertarians believe everyone has an unalienable right to starve. More importantly, libertarians believe everyone has an unalienable right to not be bothered in any way because other people are starving.

Tea partyers are working on legislation to promote mass starvation among Democrats, government workers, Occupy protesters, people of color, Hispanics, Muslims, immigrants, union members, the old, the young, the poor, gays, lesbians, the handicapped and anyone else who thinks government programs are necessary and is likely to vote for Democrats.

As you can see, American politics isn’t that complicated after all.

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Montana high court rejects extra rights
for corporate interests in political arena

scales of justiceMontana’s Supreme Court just struck a big blow against the infamous Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision, in a ruling that affirms the state’s longstanding law against corporations doing direct political spending.

The Montana Supreme Court argued there are plenty of ways for corporations to engage in politics, without funneling anonymous money into the process.

“The evidence submitted by the state in the district court similarly demonstrates that corporations, through their political committees organized under Montana law, are and have been a substantial presence and active participants in Montana politics,” the court wrote. “The many lobbyists and political committees who participate in each session of the Montana Legislature bear witness. Under the undisputed facts here, the political committee is an easily implemented and effective alternative to direct corporate spending for engaging in political speech.”

State Attorney General Steve Bullock personally argued the state’s case, contending in part: “The Citizen’s United decision dealt with federal laws and elections — like those contests for president and Congress. But the vast majority of elections are held at the state or local level, and this is the first case I am aware of that examines state laws and elections.”

A group named American Tradition Partnership brought the case against Montana’s election law. Donald Ferguson, its executive director, is quoted as saying he doesn’t think “Montanans forfeit their freedoms of speech and association simply because they associate as a corporation.”

Ferguson said ATP is reviewing its legal options. A justice who dissented from the court’s decision said he expects the decision will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and reversed.

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We hear in Ferguson’s statement about “forfeiting rights” a naked grab for extra rights, above and beyond what citizens who aren’t a corporate CEO, executive or trustee have. In fact, there is no forfeiting involved. If a corporate CEO, executive or trustee wants to donate to a political campaign, buy a political ad, make a speech, write a letter to a newspaper, etc., they’re perfectly free to exercise their individual First Amendment right to do any or all those things.

What these self-styled corporate privileged characters really want is to be “1984” author Aldous Huxley’s “Animal Farm” author George Orwell’s pigs who are more equal than other pigs. They want their individual rights plus their “corporate person” rights.

By any measure of justice, that is wrong on its face. What’s more, it’s subversive of the electoral process and of democracy at a fundamental level — points the Republican brain trust at the Supreme Court perversely rejected out of hand in what might be the worst decision in U.S. history.

We applaud the majority of justices on Montana’s Supreme Court for this decision. We hope it will be upheld if taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, and serve as the linchpin for undoing the Citizen’s United decision.

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Support Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Saving American Democracy Amendment.

The amendment asserts:

  • Corporations are not persons with constitutional rights equal to real people.
  • Corporations are subject to regulation by the people.
  • Corporations may not make campaign contributions or any election expenditures.
  • Congress and states have the power to regulate campaign finances.

If passed, Sanders’ amendment would do more to safeguard our democracy and pave the way to restoring some balance between the excessive clout of the 1 percent over the 99 percent than anything brought forth in generations.

Please, click the link above, watch the video of Sanders’ floor speech about the amendment, then add your name to the 115,937 already there (as of 8 p.m. PST, Dec. 30, 2011).

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Ron Paul: You better be scared — very scared!

“I‘m afraid of violence coming. When you see what the government is preparing for, and the arrests and military law, and the demonstrations in the streets, some people aren’t going to be convinced so easily that you don’t owe them a living.”

—Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, Republican presidential candidate,
to a crowd in Bettendorf, Iowa, as quoted in a Reuters story,
Dec. 26, 2011.

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Ron Paul

Gold winger: Perennial presidential wannabe Ron Paul has a Midas touch that causes know-nothings and crackpots to fill his campaign coffers.

Through the looking glass, upside down and backward: All those people who turned out for peaceful Occupy demonstrations are a real menace, all right. The nerve of them, after bringing down our economy with their greed, recklessness and, worst of all, laziness.

At least that’s what this libertarian Texas crackpot would have you believe. Yet again, Paul is taking a break from filling out the GOP ranks in Congress, and earlier, publishing racist rants and conspiracy-theory screeds in a newsletter he claims he knows almost nothing about, to hit the campaign trail.

With money to spare, Paul works the crowds, spreading fear, loathing and patent nonsense to gullible know-nothings and loudmouthed know-it-alls alike.

If Republicans’ quadrennial no-talent contest didn’t have a Ron Paul in it, The Daily Show or Saturday Night Live would have to invent one.

In case you wonder how and why our country is in such a mess, contemplate who’s supplying Paul with the money for his many presidential campaigns, and showing up to hear him and cheer him.

Americans have nothing to fear from the 99-percent crowd, but plenty to be concerned about regarding Ron Paul’s willing dupes.

He’s not going to win the presidency next year, but his fruit-loop flock will be with us indefinitely.

Return to the gold standard, anyone?

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After housing bubble ripoff, Wall Street
turns to oil speculation for ill-gotten gains

greedy guyYou’re out in your car and see it’s time to fill up, so you pull into a convenience store with gas pumps, noticing something new: guys in black jackets are pumping all the gas.

When you pull up to the pump, you see a sign: “No self-service. Gas will only be pumped by Fuel Customer Services Corp. attendants. Please remain inside your vehicle in the gas pump area. Thank you.”

The attendant asks if you want regular, takes your credit card and pumps the gas. He returns with the card and a sales slip, tells you to have a nice day, and pull forward quickly. Looking at the sales slip, you see you’ve been charged $43.79 for 12 gallons plus a $3.29 pumping fee – 7.5 percent.

So, you park, enter the convenience store and demand to know what’s going on. The clerk tells you and a couple of other irate customers it’s a new state law. He says he heard that a sharp operator who’s pals with the governor and some state legislators got it passed as a safety measure. He said it’s the same all over the state.

You leave in a rage, vowing to vote the bums out if it’s the last thing you do.

Good luck, because crony capitalists have a lot more money and connections to get what they want than you do.

OK, to our knowledge the above ripoff hasn’t been perpetrated yet. It’s meant to illustrate how Americans are being ripped off every day by corporate crooks who find a way to insinuate themselves between consumers and some product or service consumers must have. Once in position, they extract profit for themselves without adding any substantial value or benefit for anyone but themselves.

Our next example is an all too real one brought to you by your financial industry “friends” on Wall Street. Brace yourself for the following, from consumeraffairs.com (emphasis ours):

The oil price spike of the past year, which saw gasoline prices increase by over $1 from the summer of 2010 to the summer of 2011, will drive household expenditures on gasoline to a record average of $2,900 this year, according to a study by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA).

Crude oil is about $30 higher than costs or historic trends justify, CFA found, generating needlessly high prices for petroleum products that will drain about $200 billion out of the economy.

This $200 billion drain is over one percent of gross domestic product and almost 2 percent of consumer spending.

(more…)

Millionaire Rep. Ryan cries class warfare

“It adds further instability to our system, more uncertainty and it punishes job creation and those people who create jobs. Class warfare may make for good politics but it makes for rotten economics.”

—Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee, commenting on President Obama’s reported plan
to increase taxes on wealthy Americans,
during an appearance on Fox News,
Sept. 18, 2011

Look who’s talking: It’s hardly surprising that Ryan, a radical-conservative Republican and economic Darwinist, would jump at the chance to charge class warfare. With a net worth said to be around $2.4 million, Ryan has a glaring conflict of interest. Not that he will admit to having a conflict of interest or abstain from voting on tax increases for the rich because of it.

Ryan provides the latest example of a standard GOP tactic: project on to others what you and your party say and do.

Republicans have been waging class warfare for more than three decades on everyone in the country who’s not wealthy and well connected. The results are in and poor, working-class and middle-class Americans are losing on all fronts.

[stextbox id=”custom” caption=”Class warfare facts:” float=”true” align=”center” width=”460″ mleft=”6″ mright=”0″ mtop=”12″ mbottom=”12″]”The nation’s official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009 — the third consecutive annual increase in the poverty rate. There were 46.2 million people in poverty in 2010, up from 43.6 million in 2009 — the fourth consecutive annual increase and the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty estimates have been published.
—U.S. Census Bureau poverty report[/stextbox]

Cayman tax dodgers should lose U.S. citizenship

“When the super rich use offshore tax havens to avoid paying what they owe in taxes, they’re reneging on their duties as citizens. It seems only fair to me that the consequence of that kind of tax avoidance ought to be loss of citizenship.”

—Robert Reich,What to Do About America’s Rich
Who Use Offshore Tax Havens,
” Common Dreams,
May 23, 2007*.

Amen. Citizens United, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and ALEC should take that and put it where the sun don’t shine. The Justice Department should start taking these well-heeled freeloaders to court.

*As quoted in What Liberals Believe, William Martin, Skyhorse Publishing, 2008.

Banking committee Republicans popular
with financial industry, Club for Growth

Shelby

Shelby

We had a strong hunch about why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., ranking member of the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, and other Republicans strongly oppose an effective, well-led Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but went looking for actual evidence to confirm our suspicions.

The search took us to OpenSecrets.org, an excellent resource that provides ample evidence of how sold out McConnell, Shelby and his fellow Republicans on the Banking Committee are.

McConnell’s top-20 contributors include UBS AG, FMR Corp. (formerly Fidelity Investments), Citigroup, Bank of NY Mellon, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Koch Industries.

McConnell’s top contributing industry 2007-2012: securities and investment, $1,046,896.
Cycle fund raising for 2007 – 2012, his campaign committee: $19,690,739 raised and (note the deficit) $20,276,939 spent.

Shelby’s top-20 contributors include Travelers Companies (insurance), JPMorgan Chase, FMR Corp., American Express, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of NY Mellon, NASDAQ OMX Group and Citadel Investment Group. His total haul for 2007 – 2012, is $9,485,944.

Shelby’s top-two contributing industries were securities and investment, $862,498; and insurance, $670,799. He has raised $3,425,567 and has a whopping $22,340,109 on hand.

Do we see a telltale pattern here? You betcha! But there’s more to come among the committee’s lesser Republican lights. We’ll mention some highlights, but click the links for full specifics.

Mike Crapo, Idaho.

Bob Corker, Tenn., whose top contributors include Credit Suisse Group, and Unum Group (insurance). Top industries, securities and investment, real estate, insurance.

Jim DeMint, S.C., whose top contributor for 2012 is Grover Norquist’s the Club for Growth, $154,667.

David Vitter, La,

Mike Johanns, Neb.,

Patrick Toomey, Pa., whose top contributor is the Club for Growth, $837,641.

Mark Kirk, Ill., recipient of $1,576,747 from the securities and investment industry.

Jerry Moran, Kans., whose top contributor is the Club for Growth, $41,050.

Roger F. Wicker, Miss.

Note: OpenSecrets.org explains that campaign contributions are not given directly by the businesses listed, but rather by their political action committees.