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Posts published in “Day: August 22, 2016”

One big legal ripoff


I hate writing about statistics. But, this is a column in which you’re going to have to wade through some, at times, confusing numbers to get the point. So, stick with me here. ‘Cause when that point comes, you’ll probably be as mad as I am.

The basis for my anger is found in an interesting report from the Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), a coalition of 400 national and state-level progressive groups. While most members tilt slightly left politically, the numbers are real and the methodology pure statistical mechanics.

We, common variety taxpayers, have known since diaper-hood that corporations - large, faceless, and uncaring - have ripped off the tax system with loopholes, shifts, tricks, offshore stashes and bookkeeping slight-of-hand. All legal but foul smelling. But, maybe - just maybe - it’s worse than we thought.

The comprehensive numbers crunching by ATF this year dealt almost exclusively with Walmart. Previous deep dives into the books included the entire American fast food industry, auto companies and other large employers. In all cases, the bottom line was this: American taxpayers are heavily subsidizing all of them on the one hand - while being ripped off with tax breaks on the other.

Here are the Walmart numbers. And, this, my friends, is where you’ll find that elusive anger point I mentioned.

For the year 2013, “Walmart workers cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing. $6.2 billion right out of the ol’ taxpayer pockets.

Statisticians arbitrarily picked one Walmart superstore in Wisconsin. That store - that one store - cost taxpayers between $904,542 and $1.75 million per year! Every year! That worked out to between $3,015 and $5,815 on average for each of 300 employees!

ATF took the mid-point of that range ($4,415) and multiplied it by Walmart’s approximately 1.4 million workers. That’s how they got to the $6.2 billion direct cost to we taxpayers.

So, how did the numbers work out in our little Northwest neighborhood for just the Walmart ripoff? Well, Idaho has 7,026 Walmart employees for which the company receives $39.1 million in subsidies and tax breaks. Oregon’s 11,480 employees netted the company just over $70 million in subsidies and breaks. Washington had 19,350 employees and the company netted $120.2 million in government largesse.

Of the $6.2 billion overall cost to citizens, Idaho’s 7,026 employees racked up a $31 million hit to public assistance; Oregon’s 11,482 workers cost us $50.7 million and Washington’s 19,350 employees another $85.4 million drain to welfare programs.

Now, the “frosting on the cake” - how much Walmart’s U.S. stores took in through sales in just the food stamp program (SNAP). Bottom line in 2013 alone: $13.5 billion! Talk about taking it with both hands! That’s over 18% of all dollars paid out through the entire SNAP program coming back to Walmart!

And, if you’re wondering who was number two paying low wages which forced employees to use SNAP, that would be your famous “Golden Arches” folk who cost us all $1.2 billion more. And you can bet they sold millions of Big Mac’s to people who paid with food stamps. Again, gotcha coming and going..

Some of the crazier cretins along the Potomac want to badly curtail - or even eliminate - the SNAP subsidy. I would make a sizeable bet none of them have read the work of the Americans for Tax Fairness research. Or any other of the scholarly reports examining - in great detail - who the uses food stamps and why they have to just to survive.

But for the saner - and infinitely smarter - members of Congress, I’d recommend one of more than four dozen such tomes done by the Department of Defense. If they did, they’d find repeated conclusions showing more than 20% of food stamp users are in military uniform. And many of those are stateside families of one or more servicemen over in the live fire zones.

Come to think of it, that statistic makes me madder than the Walmart ripoff.

Trump 79: In the pocket


Ask a Donald Trump supporter why, and one of the answers almost sure to come out - right up top - relates to the candidate's image and things he has said about himself. It goes something like this: "He's paying for his own campaign, so he's not in anybody's pocket. He's not beholden to anybody. He can say exactly what he thinks, and he does."

And every time he says something that make many people gasp, the point seems driven home all the deeper.

But the premise - that the campaign is completely self-financed - isn't true, and never has been. And as for non-campaign financial obligations, Trump is deep in the hole. The truth is the exact opposite of Trump's carefully-crafted image.

It is true that much of the money for the campaign in the primary season came out of Trump's pocket. What many supporters didn't realize was that he listed it on campaign finance reports as a loan, which means that contributions in the future could be used to pay him back. When headlines about that started to hit, he said he would change that designation from "loan" to "contribution", so that he could not be repaid. Problem is that the paperwork to accomplish that apparently has never been filed with the Federal Elections Commission. That presumably means any contributed money (from other contributors) left unspent could wind up back in Trump's own accounts. We'll eventually see how all that settles out.

On March 7, Trump said, “I’m self-funding my campaign. I’m not taking money. ... I’m not taking. I spent a lot of money. I don’t take.” But according to federal reports, as of January 31, his campaign had in fact pulled in $7.5 million in non-candidate donations, and that was just the beginning.

Moving into the general election season, his campaign finances and those of the national Republican Party have become increasingly intertwined. In itself, that's not unusual in either party, but it means Trump's boasts about self-funding have become meaningless. Tens of millions of dollars have been raised in the last three months - the Trump campaign has become a substantial fundraiser - and it has become an increasingly conventional one. Trump may hate the work of fundraising, but his campaign has been pulling it in much the same way other candidates do. He's not really any different.

Other than that, because of concerns that Trump might drag down other Republicans, the national Republican leadership has been (according to numerous recent reports) redirecting a lot of the pooled money toward congressional and other races, and away from Trump's. The risks are high in either actually doing that or not doing it, and the issue isn't settled. But increasingly, many of the people who thought they were donating to support Trump's presidential campaign may find some of their dollars went to other purposes. Trump's campaign finances have become a more complex problem than for any presidential candidate in decades. So much for the simplicity of self-funding.

And that's just the campaign finance.

Last weekend the New York Times released results of an extensive investigation into Trump's finances, and found he owes the staggering amount of at least $650 million, more than twice the debt listed on his personal disclosure form filed with the Federal Election Commission.

After spending more than a year blasting the economic and lobbying practices of China and the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs, especially in connection with opponents Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton, Trump seems in fact to be referring more to himself than to them. "Notably, one of these [Trump building projects] - a Manhattan office building which Trump partly owns -'“carries a $950 million loan,' according to the Times. Goldman Sachs and the Bank of China are two of the building’s four lenders."

And it goes on from there, at great length. Actually, no one (maybe even Trump) seems to know exactly what he owes in debt, or to who. As the Times concluded, if Trump were elected president, the country could for the first time ever have a president with business ties and debt obligations so extensive the country realistically has no idea what he owes to whom.

Anyone who thinks Trump would arrive at the White House free of obligation to special interests, has the reality twisted 180 degrees. - rs