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corporate greed

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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Republican economics explained in three slices

Speaking to a group of self-appointed guardians of the nation’s moral and spiritual well-being Friday — the so-called Value Voters Summit — Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told his listeners what he’s “increasingly concerned” about.

 

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This brings to mind what Cantor, his fellow Republicans and gay-bashing Values Voters should be concerned about, and could help do something about. But they aren’t and they won’t.

Share of wealth graph

Occupy Wall Street protesters and their counterparts in cities across the U.S. are rightfully upset about their situation and about all the lies and greed that brought them low. Let’s take a moment to consider the lies, because they’re important to understand and to finally throw back at those who continue to tell them.

Look carefully at the pie chart. Notice how small that yellow slice 80 percent of us share is compared to the two slices shared by some of the wealthiest, most powerful people on Earth. For 30 years, conservative Republican shills for Wall Street banks, big investors and corporate America have been telling the rest of us their reward-the-rich policies would make the pie bigger and bigger. By growing the pie their way, they said, everyone’s slice would get bigger.

Republicans lied. The pie has grown somewhat. But what Republican policies have done is make those red and blue slices bigger out of all proportion to the the yellow slice. The main achievement of Republicans’ trickle-down scam has been to make those red and blue slices bigger by making the yellow slice smaller.

That, in a simple pie chart, is the truth about Reaganomics, about supply-side economics, about trickle-down economics — about the only thing Republicans have for an economic policy. It’s the only thing they have had for an economic policy for 30 years of taking from the poor and from the working and middle classes to make those blue and red slices of the pie so wonderfully big for Republicans’ favored few.

Why must so many give up so much to benefit so few? Simply because Cantor’s perverse attitude, like that of his party and every Republican presidential candidate, is rooted in self-interest and party interest. It’s a matter of not biting, but rewarding, the hands that feed his campaign coffers and those of his fellow Republicans.

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Don’t blame China for our economic woes;
Corporations and sold-out pols are to blame

“Xenophobes will say China’s ascendance threatens America’s global cultural hegemony and promises to create a dystopia forcing us all to endure the supposed horrors of speaking Mandarin and using chopsticks.

Such misguided and bigoted demagoguery, though, distracts from the real crisis staring at us in our own mirror — a crisis not of other, but of self. Indeed, for all the fears of external assault, the Chinese invasion tells us the true problem is that America is no longer willing or able to invest in its own future.

This problem is most obvious — and shocking — in our government. As opposed to multinational corporations, which care only about maximizing shareholder profit, our public-policy arena is supposed to be focused on building America. But in this golden age of big-money politics, with multinational corporations buying off our lawmakers, we get the opposite — even during an unemployment crisis.

—David Sirota, in a column,
The Lesson of the Chinese Invasion,
Salon, Sept. 2, 2011

Some want it all — but only for themselves: One (liberal) man’s investment in our country’s future is another (conservative) man’s wasteful and unnecessary spending. Had it been left up to early Americans with the same mindset as today’s conservative-extremist Republicans, the Mississippi River would be our western border; people would have to drive around San Francisco Bay and cross New York’s Hudson and East rivers by ferry only; drivers would have to make do with two-lane state highways instead of multi-lane freeways; and the moon would host a Russian flag.

In the bargain, millions of Americans would’ve been poorer and otherwise less well off for all these years.

Wisconsin Democrats achieve partial success

Wisconsin Democrats, union members, independents and volunteers who waged an uphill battle against entrenched radical Republican state senators scored two notable successes yesterday, reducing the GOP’s senate edge to just one.

Arrayed against this valiant popular revolt were tens, perhaps hundreds of millions, of dollars dumped into Wisconsin from out of state, thanks to Karl Rove, the Koch brothers and other interests that place power and profit for themselves ahead of what’s best for the people as a whole.

The most surprising and disturbing aspect of this historic recall election was that only 12 43 percent of the electorate bothered to vote. The capacity of most Americans to remain asleep at the switch while their threatened interests are being fought for by others is something to behold — and that’s not a compliment.

If people persist with that can’t-be-bothered attitude, they will wake up one day to learn voting their interests is no longer an option. That might sound melodramatic, but history provides plenty of examples of that happening.

Tuesday’s election appears to have jarred the Koch brothers’ union-busting agent, Gov. Scott Walker, out of power-trip mode. Following the loss of two Republican senate seats, he made reasonable-sounding noises for a big change.

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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.

L.A. calls Deutsche Bank slumlord, files lawsuit

Deutsche Bank, Reuters photoSeems ripping-off home buyers and taxpayers aren’t Deutsche Bank’s only alleged bad habits, now that Los Angeles is seeking damages for the financial industry giant’s no-account approach to owning properties.

The big bank’s own buildings are posh examples of steel-and-glass architecture, but that’s where posh ends and sleaziness sets in.

After a year-long investigation, (Los Angeles) city officials claimed in court papers that Deutsche Bank has illegally evicted tenants, shut off their water and power and then let hundreds of properties turn into graffiti-scarred dens for squatters, gang members and other criminals, destroying quality of life and driving up crime in the process.

They say the bank, which invested heavily in mortgage-backed securities, found itself “transformed … from detached investment brokers … to large-scale residential property owners, a role whose responsibilities … they have completely eschewed.”

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Deutsche Bank target of $1 billion DoJ lawsuit

scales of justiceThe federal government is suing Deutsche Bank AG for $1 billion, charging the firm with a pattern of lying to obtain Federal Housing Administration mortgage loan guarantees.

The lawsuit, brought in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeks triple damages for $386 million FHA has had to pay out for some 12,500 mortgages that went into default after the bank allegedly made loans with flagrant disregard for the borrowers’ ability to repay.

According to the lawsuit, Deutsche Bank and its MortgageIT Inc unit misled the Federal Housing Administration, the world’s largest mortgage insurer, into believing their mortgages qualified for federal insurance, knowing they could make “substantial profits” when the loans were later sold.

In fact, the government said, the loan quality was so poor that nearly one in three mortgages defaulted, a percentage elevated by Deutsche Bank’s “dysfunctional” quality control.

. . .Deutsche Bank and MortgageIT “indulged in the worst of the industry’s reckless lending practices,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said at a news conference. “They often seemed to treat red flags as though they were green lights.”

Deutsche Bank claims the government’s charges are unfair and unreasonable, and is vowing to fight them.

The news story on this includes a notice that should send chills down banksters’ spines, and not just at Deutsche Bank.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that the Justice Department had “a very active program” looking at mortgage companies, including the individuals they employ.

“If there are individuals who have taken actions that would warrant individual liability, that is something that we will pursue,” he said.

Good for the Justice Department and FHA, for bringing this lawsuit. We have no doubt this case is solid and winnable. We hope Uncle Sam collects every cent of the $1 billion it’s seeking.

DoJ should redouble efforts to recover taxpayers’ money losses caused by the runaway greed and criminality of the many other culpable banks, and where appropriate, from individuals responsible for the housing bubble and economic collapse.

America’s slavery problem crops up again

There must be a way to get through to non-wealthy Republicans and libertarians about what blind devotion to an extreme free-market ideology inevitably leads to: out and out slavery.

You might think we refer to abuses of a century and a half ago, but these are very much current events.

WASHINGTON (AFP) – U.S. authorities on Wednesday filed charges against two companies on charges they exploited hundreds of Indian and Thai workers who earned a pittance and were forced to stay in decrepit conditions.

In what it called its largest ever human trafficking case in the farm sector, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said that contractor Global Horizons brought in some 200 Thai men on promises of high-paying jobs.

The Thai men were sent between 2003 and 2007 to farms in Hawaii and Washington state where they were crammed into rooms infested with rats and insects and faced verbal and physical assaults, the federal agency said.

The men had paid insurmountable fees to enter the United States but were stripped of their passports and kept separately from non-Thai workers who had more tolerable conditions, the suits alleged. Authorities learned of their plight after a Thai community center in Los Angeles got involved.

EEOC is also suing eight companies that run the farms where Thai workers were allegedly enslaved, intimidated and brutalized: Captain Cook Coffee Co., Del Monte Fresh Produce, Kauai Coffee Co., Kelena Farms, MacFarms of Hawaii, Maui Pineapple Farms, Green Acre Farms and Valley Fruit Orchards.

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House passes measure to foil better air safety

wreckage of flight 3407

Wreckage of Continental/Colgan Air Flight 3407, in which 50 people died. (CBS News photo)

In this age of high-volume air traffic and increasing flight path density at airports, any measure to improve safety should be a cinch to win bipartisan support in Congress.

Not with pro-corporate Republicans controlling the U.S. House of Representatives it’s not, and they proved it today by passing a perverse amendment designed to destroy new Federal Aviation Administration rules to reduce excessive fatigue in pilots and aircrews.

The House voted 215-209 for an amendment put forth by Rep. Bill Schuster, R-Pa., to the FAA’s funding bill .

Susan Bourque is the sister of Beverly Eckert, who died when Continental/Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed in February, 2009, most likely due to pilot fatgue. Here’s what Bourque had to say about Schuster and fellow Republicans’ dirty work.

You can try to dress this up however you like, but we all know which special interests that [the amendment] is attempting to help and what it’s attempting to do for them, which is make it more difficult for the FAA to do its job and regulate them.”

The Bombardier commuter plane was making an instrument landing approach to the Buffalo airport shortly after 10 p.m. when it stalled and went down about five miles short of the runway, killing the pilot, copilot, two flight attendants, 45 passengers and one person in a house it crashed into.

From the Wikipedia article on the crash of Flight 3407:

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Health reform and our emerging plutocracy

money bag manIf anyone doubts American democracy is rapidly being transformed to plutocracy, wherein corporations and wealthy investors call the shots, what happened to health care reform and the public option should convince them of the truth.

Money talks, and those who have plenty of it and are willing to “invest” lavishly for their own selfish ends will get their way — the needs and interests of millions of working and out-of-work Americans be damned.

Health insurers last year gave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce $86.2 million that was used to oppose the health-care overhaul law, according to tax records and people familiar with the donation.

The insurance lobby, whose members include Minnetonka, Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Cigna Corp. of Philadelphia, gave the money to the Chamber in 2009 as Democrats increased criticism of the industry, according to a person who requested anonymity because laws don’t require identifying funding sources. The Chamber got the money from the America’s Health Insurance Plans as the industry urged Congress to drop a plan to create a competing government-run insurance plan.

“Clearly the secrecy was important to industry,” Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, said in an interview. The group tracks money in politics and isn’t affiliated with a political party. “Eighty-six million dollars is an astonishing sum,” she said.

An important question: Where did the health insurers and financial industry get all that money they used to A, make sure reform included a requirement for everyone to buy health insurance, but B, there would be no public option that would make them compete with government-offered, truly affordable health insurance available to all?

The answer: the health insurers got that money from the customers they have been gouging and screwing over for decades.

Their clear intent was to make sure they could go right on gouging and screwing over.

The White House criticized the insurer money in a blog post. Insurers were “desperate to preserve their ability to discriminate against you if you had a preexisting condition, drop your care when you got sick and limit the amount of care you could receive in a year or a lifetime,” wrote Stephanie Cutter, assistant to the president for special projects.

Big corporations and wealthy investors don’t shell out millions of dollars for anything unless they’re sure doing so will return hundreds of millions or billions to them.

Realize, too, that the $86.2 million the industry spent in 2010 to kill the public option and reshape the rest of the legislation to suit itself wasn’t all it shelled out. The industry had spent $45 million in 2009.

Here’s something else you should know, especially if you were among the many people who told pollsters, or wrote your elected representatives to say you wanted a public option included in the bill. All those millions the industry spent weren’t just about poisoning public attitudes about health care reform.

When those on the fence in Congress and even some public-option supporters saw that tsunami of cash being let loose to drown really worthwhile reform, they got the message. If they crossed the industry, more millions would be spent to kill their chance to win re-election. Representatives and senators knew the added money used against them would be all the more effective because the industry had so poisoned the well fighting reform in the first place.

Two years and $131.2 million took America from “Yes we can” to “No you won’t.” That, in a nutshell, was the triumph of greed and narrow self-interest over the public interest and of plutocracy over democracy.

Better get used to it, because the selfish interests’ success in reshaping health care reform to their advantage ensures we’re in for more of the same. Not just from the insurers, but from the broader financial industry, from the energy industry and all the rest.