Nel's New Day

November 25, 2013

Wal-Mart, Not a Place to Give Thanks

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:29 PM
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In less than four days Wal-Mart opens its doors at 6:00 am on Thanksgiving day and stays open for 41 hours, trying to entice all the Black Friday shoppers into its stores. Almost 200,000 people have signed petitions protesting the new hours. If the company were not unfair to its 2.1 million workers, two-thirds of them in the United States, people might not be as upset. But the corporation has a reputation for paying its employees under the poverty level, an average of $8.81 per hour, and opposes any union structure.

Workers in 28 stores across 12 states went on strike, and a probe by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is siding with the company’s labor force. Wal-Mart may have to rehire its fired workers because the company “unlawfully threatened employees with reprisal if they engaged in strikes and protests on November 22, 2012” and at other times. NLRB can also force Wal-Mart to tell workers of their rights to unionize.

Things are so bad at Wal-Mart that CEO Mike Duke quit this morning before tomorrow’s shareholders meeting.

Some Wal-Mart facts

  • Wal-Mart employs more people than any other company in the United States outside of the federal government.
  • The majority of its employees with children live below the poverty line, and the children qualify for school free lunches.
  • One-third of the employees are part-time, limited to less than 28 hours per week and thus ineligible for benefits such as health care.
  • Employees make 25 percent less after two years at the job than their unionized counterparts working for other companies.
  • Employees take home on average under $250 per week.
  • Last year, only 18 percent of hourly workers received any pay raise at all.
  • When the United Food and Commercial Workers tried to organize workers across the country, labor experts were brought in for “coaching sessions” (aka intimidation sessions) with personnel who support unionization. Employees complained that these were intimidation sessions.
  • Full-time employees are eligible for benefits, but the employees are required to pay 35 percent of the health insurance package.
  • Not one in 50 workers has amassed as much as $50,000 through the stock-ownership pension plan although Wal-Mart matches 15 percent of the first $1,800 in stocks purchased. (Voting power for these stocks remains with Wal-Mart management.)
  • Over 85 percent of its goods are made outside the U.S. and often in sweatshops.
  • Musicians are frequently forced to create “sanitized” versions of their albums specifically for Wal-Mart.
  • Wal-Mart has forced many U.S. manufacturers out of business.
  • The company has been the primary distributor of many goods attracting controversy, including Kathie Lee Gifford’s clothing line, Disney’s Haitian-made pajamas, child-produced clothing from Bangladesh, and sweatshop-produced toys and sports gear from Asia.

In the U.S., Wal-Mart makes over $13,000 in pre-tax profits per employee (after paying them), which comes to more than 50 percent of the earnings of a 40-hour-per-week wage earner. At the same time, Wal-Mart costs taxpayers $5,815 per employee for food stamps, welfare, Medicaid, etc. That’s over $1.7 million per year for just one store. Wal-Mart has over 4,000 stores in the U.S.

The six Walton heirs together own as much wealth as 40 percent of the U.S. population. Last year, four members of the Wal-Mart family made a combined $20 billion from their investments. Less than half that would have increased the salary for each Wal-Mart worker by $3 an hour, enough to end the taxpayer contributions for these employees.

When Wal-Mart stores arrive, small businesses close, and employees in other stores have their wages lowered. An example is the experience of supermarket employees in Los Angeles: just the possibility of a Wal-Mart opening there dropped the pay scale markedly for new hires. After public opposition kept Wal-Mart stores from coming into most of L.A., the pay scale went back up.

Thirty years ago, Wal-Mart displayed “Buy America” and “Made in America” signs, but the marketing program was fraudulent. Even then, the corporation was shifting its purchasing to Asia. At the beginning of this year, the company declared that it would put $50 billion into buying domestic goods over the next decade. That’s really 1.5 percent of its expenditure on inventory.

Most of this $50 billion will go into its expansion in groceries. With Wal-Mart taking over the grocery business—25 percent of it at the beginning of the year—other grocers lose business and buy less. The result is no new jobs but lower wages for workers. In the past decade, Wal-Mart’s gross from groceries has increased from 24 percent in 2003 to its current 55 percent, and the company plans to take over more of the grocery share with its Neighborhood Market stores and new supercenters.

Georgia towel maker, 1888 Mills, will provide Wal-Mart with “American-made towels” but will maintain its overseas workforce of 14,000. The U.S. factory will add only 35 jobs at $12-$14 per hour.

Wal-Mart has often been compared to its competitor Costco which  offers its employees an average wage of $21.96 an hour, about 40 percent more than Wal-Mart employees make. Wal-Mart’s profits sank the second quarter of the year while Costco saw a 19-percent increase. There’s another company, however, that should be a model for Wal-Mart as it goes into the grocery business.

WinCo, a small privately-held chain of 100 supermarkets in western United States, manages to undercut Wal-Mart prices. And how?

  • It cuts out distributors and other middle “men” by buying many goods directly from farms and factories.
  • It doesn’t accept credit cards.
  • Customers bag their own groceries.
  • Stores are organized and minimalist without frills and a tremendous variety of merchandise.
  • Employees have decent health care benefits for those who work at least 24 hours a week.
  • Some of WinCo’s 400 nonexecutive workers, including cashiers and produce clerks, have pensions worth over $1 million because WinCo puts an amount equal to 20% of employees’ annual salary into a pension plan.

And WinCo is going to Texas, competing with Wal-Mart and offering lower prices.

During the recession, Wal-Mart cut employees hours so deeply that stores could not keep their shelves stocked causing customers to go elsewhere. In the past five years, the U.S. workforce dropped by 120,000 while the company opened 500 new stores. With longer check-outlines, backlogged inventory, and poor customer service, Wal-Mart will move 35,000 part-time workers to full-time and another 35,000 temps, who have to re-apply for their jobs every 180 days, to part-time.

The Affordable Care Act will require new full-time employees to get health insurance after 90 days instead of the usual six months. Workers still have to be employed an average of 30 hours a week for a year to get the benefits; most “associates” at Wal-Mart don’t have the opportunity to work this many hours.  

Food for thought as you schedule your shopping this week.

August 4, 2013

Religion Continues to Invade Lives

ew_jackson-620x412For a state that should be the cradle of religious freedom, Virginia looks pretty far off the mark as its Republican candidates are firing up for their election in three months. E.W. Jackson, candidate for lieutenant governor, has gone farther off the rails with his statement that people can’t both believe in God and vote Democratic. When pressed by WLEE host Jack Gravely, Jackson said, “I believe that the Democrat Party has become an anti-God party.” The GOP party is getting increasingly embarrassed by Jackson. Pat Mullins, Virginia Republican Party chair, said, “I do not agree with that statement. My parents were Democrats, and I’ve got a lot of Democratic friends in Christian churches all around Virginia.” I guess Jackson is even too extreme for far-right Republicans.

simonecampbellOn the other side  is Sister Simone Campbell. The executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby, who gained disfavor with the Vatican because she only wants to help poor people, testified before a House Budget Committee hearing last week about the importance of government-subsidized welfare programs. She talked about the foundational nature of charity and economic justice to the Catholic Church and explained the difference that federal assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Head Start initiatives have made in the lives of America’s most vulnerable.

Catholics like Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) understand that directly confronting a nun, even one who seems as gentle as Sister Simone, is not safe. But his colleague, Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI), decided to tackle her head on. The good Baptist accused both Campbell and the Catholic Church of not fixing poverty by themselves.  “What is the church doing wrong that they have to come to the government to get so much help?” he asked her.

Calmly and firmly, she responded, “Justice comes before charity… Everyone has a right to eat, and therefore there is a governmental responsibility to ensure everyone’s capacity to eat. Love and care makes a difference, but the issues are so big there isn’t sufficient charitable dollars there.” Ribble ignored the nation’s history of working with faith groups to provide assistance for the vulnerable, particularly since George W. Bush, of Ribble’s political party, started handing out great amounts of money to churches. He also ignored the fact that 80 percent of the people in the country are now struggling with joblessness, near-poverty, or relying on welfare for at least parts of their lives.

Ryan got in his licks earlier when he introduced the meeting when he said, “If you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead.” Ryan ignored the fact that 68 percent of children who receive SNAP benefits have working parents, and 8.9 million Americans who work full time still live below the poverty line. Both Ribble and Ryan also skipped over the fact that minimum wage is now three-fourths of what it was almost 50 years ago and that wages have shrunk for everyone except the top layer of people in the United States within the past decade. In addition, each one of them receives annual salaries of over $140,000 but work less than half the year.

Pope Francis caused a buzz in the media when he was quoted as saying “If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” Most of the reporters took this as a statement that the Catholic Church is softening toward LGBT people. But not true. He continued by paraphrasing the Catechism that homosexual orientation is not sinful but homosexual acts are against the Church. Bottom line in the pope’s statement: celibate gays are not to be judged or excluded from the church.

The media had less to say about the pope’s comments about another disenfranchised and marginalized population within the church—the women. Although “women in the church are more important than bishops and priests,” there is no possibility that they can be a part of the ordained ministry.”That door is closed,” Francis told reporters. Diane Winston wrote about the media’s neglect of the pope’s comments about women in a Los Angeles Times op-ed:

“In the current media ecology of religion and public life, sex sells and gender gets a nod. (Forget religious leaders opining on violence, materialism or climate change. Unless Jesus himself appeared in a ‘Remember Sandy Hook’ T-shirt to buy sunscreen at Wal-Mart, there’s no story.) … But [the pope] kept in place [the church’s] bar to women. And the import of that bar — its global reverberations in unwanted pregnancies, female poverty and sexual slavery — remains hidden in plain sight.”

The Catholic Church had one temporary victory this past week. Federal Judge Rudolph T Randa ruled that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee can continue to shield $57 million of its assets so that it won’t be used for settlements in sexual abuse lawsuits. When Cardinal Timothy Dolan, then Archbishop of the diocese, realized that the sexual abuse was going public, he got permission from the Vatican to move the $57 million into a trust fund connected with the Milwaukee Catholic cemeteries. In his letter of request, he explained that the transfer would lead to “an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.” Dolan is also the president of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Forty-five individual priests within that one diocese sexually assaulted an estimated 570 people; one priest was accused of molesting almost 200 deaf boys. The abuse was well-known within diocese leadership, and Dolan informed the Vatican of the problem in the early 2000s before he transferred the funds. If the judge’s ruling holds, the cemetery graves will be safe even if the abused victims receive none of the help that the $57 million could give them.

While the acceptance of different religions is shrinking in the United States, other countries are expanding their tolerance. Lukas Novy has declared for years that he is a Pastaferian of the “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” his own satirical faith with the belief that a creature composed of pasta and meatballs “created the world much as it exists today.” The resident of the Czech Republic wanted to wear a pasta sieve on his head while being photographed for an official government ID, and officials agreed.

Pastafarian-ID-e1375378922671

People in the U.S. might ridicule this satire, but this U.S. allows people to escape responsibilities because they declare a false religious belief. For example, Eden Foods is one of several for-profit corporations that have gone to court to avoid providing health plans that cover birth control.  After owner Michael Potter claimed an exemption based on his religious objections to contraception, a judge ruled in his favor. But Potter gave the press a different story when he spoke with Salon’s Irin Carmon:

“I’ve got more interest in good quality long underwear than I have in birth control pills… Because I’m a man, number one and it’s really none of my business what women do …  I don’t care if the federal government is telling me to buy my employees Jack Daniel’s or birth control. What gives them the right to tell me that I have to do that? That’s my issue, that’s what I object to, and that’s the beginning and end of the story.”

Potter probably won’t mind if the government in Washington state mandates GMO labeling so that he can sell more of his product. He fakes religion because he doesn’t care about women but wants government to help his sales.

The Kentucky chapter of the American Family Association is arguing that government-sponsored religion in public schools will “boost student test scores, lower the crime rate and even decrease the rate of HIV infection.” They can’t use Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church for proof in raising test scores. When four church members went to Rhode Island to protest the start of marriage equality in the state, they carried a flier with the following:

 “Is the United States population illerate? Can’t you read? The Lord Jesus Christ said marriage Is between 1 man and 1 woman for life.”

The four of them were outnumbered by the police and far outnumbered by people supporting same-sex weddings.

And so the craziness continues.

July 22, 2012

Whining Republicans Protest States’ Rights

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 4:45 PM
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President Obama is gutting welfare: that’s the latest cry from Republicans about a recent White House directive giving more flexibility to states in determining requirements for welfare. Mitt Romney is leading the charge, complaining that Obama wants to “strip the established work requirements” from the welfare reform act of 2006 that required people to be searching for work in order to get any welfare. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)follows right behind, calling the action “a partisan disgrace.”

Back in 2005, 29 governors asked Congress to grant them waivers from some requirements in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Romney, then Massachusetts governor, signed the letter asking for waivers as well as Gov. [Haley] Barbour (Mississippi) and Gov. Mike Huckabee (Alabama). Secretary Tommy Thompson and Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) also supported the waiver suggestion. Romney’s campaign now denies that he would do such a thing, but the signatures are on the Daily Kos website. It won’t be the first time that the Romney camp has had to back down when they lacked the facts about an issue.

George W. Bush didn’t take any action on the governors’ request, but less than two weeks ago the current White House issued a directive that giving alternatives to states so that they can use a combination of learning and work or vocational educational training to meet TANF requirements. George Sheldon, the acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), invited all the states to submit applications for waivers from certain parts of the TANF law, permitting states the opportunity to try programs that promote employment for welfare recipients in the face of the recession.

Sheldon’s memo states, “The Secretary will not use her authority to allow use of TANF funds to provide assistance to individuals or families subject to the TANF prohibitions on assistance.” That means that states cannot bail out people who aren’t on TANF because they didn’t meet the law’s work requirement. States have to provide specific methods of performance evaluation with establish necessary standards for the continuation of the state’s program.

Current Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote that “within limits, however, we agree … that states should have ‘the flexibility to manage their TANF programs and effectively serve low-income populations.” She did add in her letters to House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) and to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), “We do not go as far as these governors in supporting state flexibility.”

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities’ LaDonna Pavetti wrote that TANF’s work requirements are often phrased in terms of “activities,” unpaid work and internships, job searching, etc. as well as employment, activities which may only lead to unpaid work or unsuccessful job hunts. Waivers could  target employment rather than activity and ensure that successes are actually employment and not “busy work.” Pavetti added that waivers could reduce “mind-numbing” (Sheldon’s term) red tape and free up social service workers to give more attention to people in need.

When jobs were plentiful in the late 1990s, welfare reform moved people into employment. The growing recession has caused a steady drop of transferring single women into employment. Much of the TANF money is also spent on administration: only 30 percent of the budgets are used for cash assistance, and twice as many people live on less than $2 per day now.

Thus far two states with GOP governors, Utah and Nevada, have submitted requests for a waiver so far, while three additional states, Connecticut, Minnesota, and California, have asked about the potential for waivers. Also Orrin Hatch, also from Utah, is a leader in trying to dismantle the president’s directive.

Sounds like a win-win, giving states the flexibility to create their own programs, but the Republicans are reacting like swarming bees, stinging everything in sight. They’re screaming that the directive is “a blatant violation of the law” and have dragged out the old canard that poor people will become more dependent on handouts. “By waiving the law’s requirements, President Obama will make it harder for Americans to escape poverty,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) wrote in a statement. “He is hurting the very people he claims to help.” Rick Santorum compared President Obama to “a two-bit dictator” in this attempt to permit states to make welfare requirements more flexible.

Nevada wrote the following in its request for a waiver:

“Nevada is very interested in working with your staff to explore program waivers that have the potential to encourage more cooperative relationships among the state agencies engaged in economic stimulus through job creation, employment skill attainment and gainful employment activities. Nevada is also interested in exploring performance measures that ensure program accountability and also increase the probability of families becoming self-sufficient by providing meaningful data as to the services or combination of services with the best outcomes.”

Nevada Republicans think they can benefit from the voluntary program. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had a hissy fit about the lack of states right. So now Republicans want regulations and federal law? Go figure!   Republicans just want to disagree with President Obama more than they want to follow their own philosophy. They will do anything to destroy President Obama even if it destroys the country.

July 17, 2012

Republican Politicians Attack Obama

The Mitt Romney campaign is on the ropes and going crazy. The most recent issue is not just a gaffe; it’s a horrible mistake that won’t go away. No one who watches television can have missed the whole whooplaw about Romney’s refusal to release more than the past two years of income tax returns and his attempt to explain that he quit Bain Capital before the company sent jobs to China—except for those jobs in which they cut up aborted fetuses and burned them. I chuckle every time I hear Romney say, “I’ve put out as much as I’ve put out.”

George Will got it right when he said, “The cost of not releasing the returns are clear. Therefore, [Romney] must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.”  He did give a typical conservative answer about making sure that he could hide everything: “I do not know why, given that Mitt Romney knew the day that [John] McCain lost in 2008 that he was going to run for president again that he didn’t get all of this out and tidy up some of his offshore accounts and all the rest.” Will, by the way, is the staunch Republican pundit who stole Jimmy Carter’s questions before the 1980 debate and gave them to his opponent, Ronald Reagan.

The feeding frenzy isn’t going away, despite all the attempts by Romney’s supporters to divert the discussion. Speculation has run rampant through the media. Did he not pay taxes? Or did he make even more money from Bain than we realize?  Or did he have to pay fines? Or did he have even more offshore tax dodges than the ones in Bermuda, the Caymans, and the Swiss bank account? Or would the tax returns  show deductions from “controversial charities” that would turn off his potential voters?

The issue of Bain’s offshoring by sending jobs from its purchased companies to China has paled by comparison, but it’s equally as perplexing. Romney spent three weeks saying that there was nothing wrong with doing this until he calculated the problems from admitting it and told everyone who would listen that he wasn’t at Bain at the time that this happened. On Sunday’s Meet the Press, Ed Gillespie said that Romney decided to “retroactively retire” for the previous years in 2002, not explaining why Romney took money for working while retired. And even now, Romney doesn’t criticize offshoring; he just says that he didn’t do it.

The Olympics situation may add to Romney’s problems. When he was asked how he felt about the clothing for United States’ participants being made in China, he said, “No comment.” Possibly he wanted the entire question to go away because the clothing for the 2002 Winter Olympics torchbearers, the Olympics administered by Romney, were made in Burma, until last year a brutally military regime.

The Republican forces are gathering to protect Romney by attacking President Obama. After the president’s speech talking about how the United States has accomplished important things by working together to build an infrastructure, John Sununu, the former governor of New Hampshire said Obama’s recent defense of public infrastructure shows he “doesn’t understand how America works.” Later Sununu said, “I wish this president would learn how to be an American.”

Another distortion of President Obama’s speech came from his statement that “U.S. policymakers are lazy in creating jobs.” True, but the Republicans are now running television ads that claim the president said, “Americans are lazy.”

Sununu may have gotten more talking points from Rush Limbaugh. “He [Obama] has no idea how the American system functions,” Sununu said on Fox News. “And we shouldn’t be surprised about that, because he spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something, spent … another set of years in Indonesia.”

Limbaugh said Romney should “get down and dirty with Obama” and say:

“Look, pal, when I was out creating jobs, investing in businesses, and growing this economy, you were at Columbia smoking weed and snorting coke. You write about it in your book. You talk about how you got into Columbia and the Harvard Law Review, and you didn’t have to do anything. That’s what was great about it to you! You loved getting into Columbia ’cause all you had to do was go to class, get your grades, and smoke a little weed! Well, I was out building the country when you were doing that.”

I can’t understand what influenced Sununu to accuse President Obama of outsourcing “a major portion of the U.S. space program to the Russians.” FactCheck declared this statement false and explained that George W. Bush set NASA on a path eight years ago to retire the Space Shuttle and rely on the Russians for space travel. It was under President Obama’s charge that the Space Shuttle program ended, but it was George W. Bush who retired the shuttle because the White House refused to give NASA the authority and funds to replace it.

Bush directed NASA to retire the shuttle in 2010 to coincide with the scheduled completion of the space station as part of his plan for NASA that also called for the agency “to conduct the first manned mission no later than 2014,” with the goal of reaching the moon in 2020 and using it as a base for future trips to Mars.

In a 2007 speech at Georgetown University, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said the U.S. may have “no alternative other than to use Soyuz [Russian space craft] for crew transport and rescue.” Bush signed a bill on Sept. 30, 2008, so that Russians would provide transportation to the space station. U.S. astronauts also went to the space station aboard the Soyuz in 2003 after the Columbia disaster caused a suspension of the shuttle program for two years and Edward Lu used Russian transportation. If this is outsourcing, Sununu should have kept quiet because it’s the Republican president who offshored the NASA program.

Even sometimes-reasonable Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, has joined the irrational chorus. Because Republican governors in Utah and Nevada asked the Obama administration for flexibility in the welfare reform law that required adults to either work or participate in a work training program, the president granted flexibility to satisfy their needs. On a voluntary basis, states can now “experiment with ways to improve the number of people making the jump from government assistance to jobs.” On Fox and Friends, Huckabee said:

“It’s basically just a transfer of money from the taxpayer to the government, from the government to people who become beneficiaries of the government, because that way the government can own these people. It is a trap, and it is like the roach motel. Once you get in, but you never get out.”

It’s not the first time that conservatives have compared people needing the safety net to animals. Gabriela Saucedo Mercer, the GOP candidate for Arizona’s District 3, put the following on her website before she hastily removed it.

“The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is actually proud of the fact it is distributing the greatest amount of free meals and food stamps ever. Meanwhile, the National Park Service, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, asks us to ‘Please Do Not Feed The Animals.’ Their stated reason for the policy is because the animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves. This ends today’s lesson.”

Arizona is one of the top two states with food insecure (aka hungry) children; in Arizona 29 percent of the children go to bed hungry each night.

Another Republican disaster today is the release of the first book from the George W. Bush Institute, The 4 Percent Solution: Unleashing the Economic Growth America Needs.  James K. Glassman, executive director of the Bush Institute, said the book states the country can achieve a 4 percent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by extending the Bush-era tax cuts, broadening the tax base by getting rid of special exemptions and loopholes, taxing consumption rather than income, and lowering corporate taxes. With GDP being the market value of all officially recognized final goods and services produced within a country in a given period, it is often considered an indicator of a country’s standard of living.

During the reign of George W. Bush, who wrote the forward for The 4 Percent Solution, the GDP averaged just over 2.3 percent using the ideas promoted in the Bush Institute’s book. Because of the over 30% increase in imports during that time, business investment actually declined relative to GDP despite all the Bush tax breaks. Residential investment, which was almost 35% higher in 2005 than it was in 2000, plummeted to less than 83% of its 2000 level by 2008.

Republicans repeatedly say that President Obama’s policies are ruining the nation. He hasn’t had a chance to put his policies into effect. It’s the conservative Republicans’ policies that keep the GDP from growing as Republicans refuse to provide revenue and send jobs out of the country.

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