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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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Justice Dept. to Goldman Sachs: The heat is off

Lloyd Blankfein

Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs CEO

W ith impeccably feckless timing, the Justice Department announced Thursday night (Aug. 9) Goldman Sachs won’t be prosecuted for its role in bringing the U.S. economy to its knees, costing Americans trillions of dollars, throwing millions out of work, causing businesses, including other investment houses and banks, to go under and wreaking additional havoc worldwide.

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After an “exhaustive review” that began last year, investigators “concluded that the burden of proof to bring a criminal case could not be met based on the law and facts as they exist at this time,” the Justice Department said in a statement released Thursday night.

The officials said they could change their minds “if any additional or new evidence emerges.”

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Given the DoJ’s no-can-do record when it comes to nailing banksters whose M.O. surely has Mafia bosses shaking their heads and asking, “Why didn’t we think of that?” excuse us for wondering if Attorney General Eric Holder and his legal beagles could find their own butts using both hands in a well-lit room full of mirrors. As for additional or new evidence, maybe if Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein is caught red-handed, in person, looting the Fed’s gold repository five stories below Manhattan street level, then DoJ might be moved to prosecute.

Maybe, but we wouldn’t bet on it.

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We’re not alone in looking askance at Holder & Co.’s extreme reluctance to prosecute Goldman Sachs and its people. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., is chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations that spent two years probing GS’s chicanery, finding it a major culprit in wrecking the economy.

The subcommittee’s report, based on internal memos, emails and interviews with employees of financial firms and regulators, said Goldman profited from the crisis by betting billions of dollars against the mortgage market and then misled the bank’s clients and lawmakers about its activities.

The committee’s investigation included a high-profile hearing in which senators grilled Goldman Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein. He testified that the bank had not consistently tilted its own investments heavily against the housing market, also known as having a “net short” position, as it was selling mortgage-related securities to its clients.

The subcommittee’s report said Goldman’s own financial records and internal communications directly contradicted Blankfein’s denial.

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Here is Levin’s statement on the Justice Department’s no-prosecution decision.

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Small business owners favor Romney
in spite of good reasons to back Obama

L ooks as though a whole lot of small-business people are determined to vote against their own best interests in November, just like moths to a flame.

Manta, which bills itself as “the largest online community dedicated entirely to small business,” reported in May on a survey it had done, saying:

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As the presidential election draws closer, voters from highly influential swing states will play an increasingly important role. A new survey by Manta, the largest online community dedicated entirely to small business, reveals that small business owners in those key states – Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin – are leaning Republican. Over half (57 percent) of those small business owners say they plan to vote for Governor Mitt Romney, Representative Ron Paul or whomever is selected as the GOP candidate. Meanwhile, 32 percent say they back President Barack Obama.

Since the beginning of the year, small businesses have largely supported the GOP candidates. In Manta’s January Political Poll, half of respondents said they plan to vote for one of the Republican candidates still in the running at the time – Former US House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, Paul, Representative Rick Santorum and Romney. Only 34 percent said they would vote for Obama.

Nearly half of the respondents (48 percent) say the Republican Party is the biggest supporter of small business, while one in four small business owners feel Obama and the Democratic Party is who’s backing them – down six percent since the last poll in January.

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Let’s note here that while Wall Street defines small business as anything up to $1 billion in gross revenues, 70 percent to 80 percent of small businesses are one-person operations.

Whether they own a large- or small-small business, those folks lining up to vote for Mitt Romney and other Republicans in November should be aware of a couple interesting facts. Mother Jones took a look at who makes up the top 1 percent. Among the findings:

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  • People working in nonfinance business operations and entrepreneurs make up just 5.3 percent of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.
  • By comparison, “not working or deceased” 4.3 percent; “unknown,” 0.9 percent; and “pilots,” 0.2 percent, together make up 5.4 percent of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans..
  • Most of that elite segment of the population is made up of “executives, managers and supervisors (nonfinance),” 31 percent; and “financial professions,” 13.9 percent.

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These realities are notable because Romney and Republicans in Congress can be counted on to continue bedrock GOP policies that favor the biggest corporations and wealthiest individuals – not only to the exclusion of smaller businesses and less-well-off individuals, but at their expense as well.

Every election year Republicans talk a good game about supporting small business. But when they get their hands on the levers of power in Washington, they lavish every break, advantage and lucrative contract they can come up with on corporate giants like Halliburton, Exxon Mobil, Goldman Sachs and on and on.

By contrast, Republicans give Sam the tailor, Art the sign painter, even Joe the plumber, hot air followed by short shrift, if they give them any shrift at all.

So, what has the Obama administration done for small business? Plenty, according to a White House report. Here’s an excerpt.

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Many hands busy in Uncle Sam’s pocket
— tales of Wall St. bankster love and lust

dollar grabIf you or I get laid off from a job, or if we have a business that gets knocked for a loop when certain Masters of the Universe collapse the economy in their quest for ever more billions, we must get by as best we can on unemployment checks or whatever a bankruptcy court leaves us.

But those same Masters of the Universe who periodically wreck the ecomony for millions of others — a.k.a. Wall Street banksters such as Jamie Dimon, J.P. Morgan Chase chairman and CEO — not only can get by but quickly reap even greater rewards because of their unique ability to call on Uncle Sam to clean up their messes with taxpayer dollars.

It’s a match made in greedmonger heaven.

They’re just loans, you say? True, but gigantic ones made at interest rates so low they qualify as charity.

Even between financial-industry-caused booms and busts these wonderfully wealthy masters and their peers in corporate America get to reach into Uncle Sam’s deep pockets in ways that make them even more wonderfully wealthy.

Get a load of this, the first of 18 brief but eye-opening items that detail who’s been getting what from the rest of us, and how.

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Jamie Dimon Is Not Alone

During the financial crisis, at least 18 former and current directors from Federal Reserve Banks worked in banks and corporations that collectively received over $4 trillion in low-interest loans from the Federal Reserve.

1. Jamie Dimon, the Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase, has served on the Board of Directors at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York since 2007. During the financial crisis, the Fed provided JP Morgan Chase with $391 billion in total financial assistance. JP Morgan Chase was also used by the Fed as a clearinghouse for the Fed’s emergency lending programs.
In March of 2008, the Fed provided JP Morgan Chase with $29 billion in financing to acquire Bear Stearns. During the financial crisis, the Fed provided JP Morgan Chase with an 18-month exemption from risk-based leverage and capital requirements. The Fed also agreed to take risky mortgage-related assets off of Bear Stearns balance sheet before JP Morgan Chase acquired this troubled investment bank.

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Isn’t that special? Don’t you just love a love story about fat cats and sweetheart deals?

You might think this well-researched, eye-opening report comes to us via some major newspaper, magazine or TV news operation, but you would be wrong. It’s the work of the General Accounting Office, updated by America’s senator, Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to include the names of those with a clear conflict of interest.

For some reason a direct link to the report doesn’t work, so instead click here, then click on “Sanders today released the names” to read the rest (it won’t take long). Finally, please share your thoughts in a comment.

We’re too ticked to add our thoughts right now. Grrr!

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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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Psychological testing of Wall Streeters
would pay dividends to the rest of us

moneybag manShow us someone who hasn’t made acid comments about the movers, shakers and charlatans of Wall Street and the broader financial industry, and we’ll show you someone who hasn’t been paying attention.

For all of that, we’ve yet to see a member of the financial commentariat go off on banksters and brokers as bluntly as Dow Jones columnist Al Lewis just did.*

The easiest way to explain the never-ending string of Wall Street scandals and implosions is to observe that a surprising percentage of people in the financial industry are psychos.

The latest edition of CFA Magazine, a trade publication for chartered financial analysts, features an article claiming one out of 10 people working on Wall Street are psychopaths.

Sherree DeCovny, the former investment brokler who wrote the piece, says the estimate came from researchers, including a psychologist who treats Wall Street professionals.

Lewis goes on to tag a good many Wall Streeters as sociopaths, explaining that term and psycho denote such antisocial traits as lack of empathy, disregard for consequences and runaway risk taking. DeCovny says when most of us were learning the right-from-wrong lessons of childhood, many who grew up to be Wall Streeters “didn’t get it.”

This insight wouldn’t be so alarming if Lewis and DeCovny were describing carpet installers or bicycle shop owners. But when you realize the financial industry represents about 8.4 percent of the United States’ $15 trillion GDP, and that at about this time a year ago financial firms accounted for 29 percent of corporate profits, it’s red lights and sirens all over the place.

Of course, not everyone in the financial industry is a predator like Mitt Romney or a scam artist like Bernie Madoff. It’s just that there’s this strong, sizable presence. Making matters worse, you can’t ID Wall Street’s bad guys until they’ve gone from being charming, charismatic, go-getter types in expensive suits to lives-wrecking fiends in prisonwear.

Lewis’ charges ring true and make sense. But, what if anything can be done to weed out the most greed-driven, devious and dangerous banksters, brokers and so on before they wreak more havoc on the rest of us?

Lewis relays DeCovny’s suggestion that financial firms do psychological screeing of job applicants. That makes sense, but it’s not enough.

Even good, level-headed people can be corrupted by being submerged for years in a culture of avarice. We say screen the whole lot of them — from the mail room to the CEO’s office suite — at least biannually.

And, make regular psychological testing one of several conditions for these people to obtain and renew government-issued licenses to ply their trade. They will call screening and licensing outrageous government interference in the private sector.

We call it a survival plan for the rest of us.

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* The Wall Street Journal doesn’t make its content freely available on the Web the way most newspapers do, so we can’t offer a direct link to Lewis’ column. You can access it and read the whole thing in pdf form by googling for “Al Lewis + Wall Street + psycho.”

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Romney statements make clear
why he should never be president

Romney speaking

On the campaign trail: Mitt Romney makes a point. /Mary Ann Chastain, Sfgate.com.

Mitt Romney, a Republican millionaire businessman who wants to become our next president, recently demonstrated twice over why, as a general proposition, a person of his background and mindset belongs in a corporate executive suite, not the Oval Office.

What Romney exhibited is the same lack of basic understanding about what government is, does and should do for people that made Republicans Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush and George W. Bush such lousy presidents.

Like Romney, Reagan and the Bushes were intelligent, educated men. But also like Romney, all three exhibited a lack of intellectual breadth and depth, coupled with an inability to put themselves in others’ shoes, and understand — feel genuine compassion — for their situation.

People with that kind of deficit can make all the right moves when the goal is cutting operating costs, edging out competitors, becoming profitable and then maximizing profits, no matter what it takes, no matter who gets hurt.

However, when faced with a choice between disbursing already appropriated funds to help the poor afford to heat their homes in winter or catering to ideological distaste for providing federal help to citizens, it’s not surprising that George W. Bush chose to sit on the funds until late winter, in 2003 and again in 2006. Nor should anyone be surprised when a president of the Reagan/Bush/Romney type so mismanages the response to a catastrophe like hurricane Katrina that already-suffering and endangered people end up experiencing even worse horrors, with countless lives lost unnecessarily.

Compassion, empathy, depth of character and a well-rounded life experience matter in a president. Unfortunately, years of climbing the corporate ladder, making millions while vastly increasing shareholder value, doesn’t instill or enhance any of these important traits.

Democracy Now recently featured a discussion highlighting one aspect of Romney’s lack of basic understanding. It bears on appreciating the difference between the top-down command and control exerted by a CEO in a corporate setting and what democracy and public-service leadership are all about.

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What genuine Democrats sound like,
for those who might have forgotten

“No business which depends for existence by paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.”

—President Franklin Roosevelt, in a statement
on the National Recovery Act, June 16, 1933

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Once upon a time in America the line between Democrats and Republicans was drawn sharply and proclaimed loudly and proudly — by Democrats. There was little chance of hearing scoffers say, “Republicans, Democrats, they’re all the same — not a dime’s worth of difference between them.”

Not surprisingly, in those days the Democratic Party was dominant. It went on to hold the White House for 20 years and controlled one or both houses of Congress for most of that time.

Middle- and working-class people were clear about who in Washington was looking out for their interests, and they looked out for Democrats at election time.

Many of today’s Democrats would do well to think about what Roosevelt said, about his attitude, ideals and convictions, and then strive to regain something precious they seem to have lost in recent decades.

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Steve Jobs, Feb. 24, 1955 – Oct. 5, 2011,
Apple Computer co-founder, ‘brilliant technologist’

Steve JobsWith the tragic passing of Steve Jobs, co-founder and longtime CEO of Apple Computer, a brilliant technologist and exceptional entrepreneur is lost to America and the world.

Jobs, 56, had battled liver disease and pancreatic cancer since 2004. He is survived by his wife, Laurene, and four children.

You can read a good, brief summary of Jobs’ life and career at Ars Technica.

On learning of Jobs’ death, many prominent Americans issued statements of admiration and sorrow.

From President Obama:

Michelle and I are saddened to learn of the passing of Steve Jobs. Steve was among the greatest of American innovators – brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it.

By building one of the planet’s most successful companies from his garage, he exemplified the spirit of American ingenuity. By making computers personal and putting the internet in our pockets, he made the information revolution not only accessible, but intuitive and fun. And by turning his talents to storytelling, he has brought joy to millions of children and grownups alike. Steve was fond of saying that he lived every day like it was his last. Because he did, he transformed our lives, redefined entire industries, and achieved one of the rarest feats in human history: he changed the way each of us sees the world.

The world has lost a visionary. And there may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Steve’s wife Laurene, his family, and all those who loved him.

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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.