The War on WalMart—D.C. labor bosses and community organizers dislike the big jobs provider
No one needs to tell you how big an issue unemployment is in America, and especially in Washington, D.C. As of March 2011, the District of Columbia posted an unemployment rate of 9.5 percent.
Knowing that the unemployment rate is that high might surprise you when you learn that D.C. politicians, labor unions, and community organizers are trying everything they can to block one of the largest job providers and retailers in the world from coming to Washington. These supposed "leaders" want to prevent Walmart from setting up shop, which would prevent the creation of hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs for D.C. residents.
The grocery industry is one of the few remaining industries where labor unions thrive. While most sectors are seeing a decline in unions, grocery stores have remained a powerhouse for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). A threat to this labor-organizing stronghold is Walmart, a company that is not unionized and has taken drastic measures to prevent their shops from falling under the labor union's heavy hand.
Because Walmart is able to price their products lower than their competitors, they are able to force their competitors to change business practices or close-up altogether, which has been a blow to the grocery store labor unions. The UFCW is not concerned about whether or not people have jobs in a city where unemployment is hovering around double digits, rather, they are concerned that they are able to corner the market on the grocery stores to keep their political power intact.
Public servants – more money, less accountability
Union arguments in favor of their members' lush pensions are falling by the wayside as the public examines the facts. For instance, union officials argue that the average public-sector pension benefit in California is "only" $30,000 a year, while neglecting to mention that the number, according to the state's watchdog Little Hoover Commission, rises to $66,000 a year for recent retirees – a reflection of the widespread pension boosting of the past decade.
Virtually no one in the workaday private sector gets that level of guaranteed benefit, and the number of retired government employees grabbing $100,000 a year is growing by at least 40 percent a year. No wonder the public is angry. But the public is angry at more than the unsustainable pension debt and the unfair imbalance between the amounts received in the public vs. the private sector. People are getting angry at the abuses by public employees and at the lack of accountability even when miscreants are caught red-handed.
The Sacramento Bee reported recently on state employees who walk away at retirement with as much as $800,000 in unused sick time – a clear violation of the rules. Now the newspaper is reporting that a "top NATO general who formerly led the California National Guard enhanced his salary during his state tenure by collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in dual pay." Maj. Gen. William Wade padded his pay by about $155,000 – "beyond the legal limits" as the Bee put it.
There are hasty legislative proposals to stop such greedy enrichments in the future, but there's no apparent push to put Wade – since promoted to a top NATO position in Italy – where he belongs, in the hoosegow. Somehow, when government officials commit offenses we get euphemisms about conduct being beyond legal limits and improper behavior.
Try to find any effort to deal with massive disability fraud that goes on at police and fire stations, as majorities of public safety union members discover a back injury or knee injury just in time to protect half their retirement pay from taxes.
Union officials such as the Orange County Employees Association's Nick Berardino argue that the public is demonizing public employees. In reality, the public is waking up to the scams perpetrated on us for years. A statewide union official, Art Pulaski, claims that the public is simply envious of public employees. There's some truth to that – and why not be envious when the people who are supposed to work for us live far better than most of us, courtesy of our tax dollars? – but what these union leaders miss is the brewing anger over the accountability issue.
The private sector doesn't work perfectly. No human endeavor does. But in my lifetime there, I have never seen managers cover up for and defend miscreants. If you don't produce enough to justify your salary, you are gone. If you commit crimes or do things "beyond the legal limits," corporate managers are all too happy to turn the case over to the authorities. There is too much downside in keeping around lazy, misbehaving and lawbreaking employees. It can put you out of business or can prompt prosecutors to look for fraud and other crimes.
In government, officials typically circle the wagons. The unions stand up to protect the worst of the worst. The disciplinary rules are so cumbersome that it's generally not worth trying to do anything about misbehavior. That's why the public schools have "rubber rooms" – places where allegedly bad teachers wile away the years receiving full pay and benefits as their cases are adjudicated at a glacial pace. That's why police officers accused of wrongdoing and misjudgment – even misjudgments that lead to unjustified killings and violations of individual rights – end up with months of paid leave (i.e., additional vacation time), before eventually being returned to the streets after a closed process that tilts heavily in the officers' favor.
Notice how only a handful of sleeping air traffic controllers – union members who endangered lives by neglecting their responsibilities – received suspensions and other minor punishments. There's rarely any accountability. The California Supreme Court ruled recently in a case involving two Orange County social workers who were found by a jury to have filed false reports and held back evidence so that they could unjustly take away a woman's two children. This is almost hard to fathom, but I've reported on Child Protective Services and find it easy to believe in the context of my research. Social workers have immense power and few checks and balances, and some of these workers are on power trips – "Obey or we take your kids!"
In this case, the state's highest court upheld a verdict of nearly $5 million plus millions more in legal fees and noted that this was no isolated incident. So what happens to these people who were admonished by the courts and who put a family through more than six years of living hell?
Marcie Vreeken and Helen Dwojak were not even disciplined. As the Register's Kimberly Edds reported, Dwojak retired in 2006, and Vreeken was promoted. Get this – Vreeken now trains other social workers. Let's hope it doesn't include the class, "Creative methods in snatching people's kids."
Orange County officials actually argued that social workers should be afforded immunity, even for wrongdoing. I recall a bill that would have done the same thing for firefighters after a D.A. had the audacity to try to prosecute a firefighter for alleged misbehavior that killed someone.
Do we really want to provide powerful government agents with full immunity even when they break the law and misuse their power? Isn't that situation the opposite of what our nation's founders had in mind? It's in totalitarian nations where officials are untouchable, and lowly citizens had better obey or else.
My prediction is that the public employee issue is not going away – not simply because the pension debts are depleting budgets, but because we are only scratching the surface of the accountability issue, which touches on the foundation of what we are as a society. It's about time that we bring on this necessary debate.
Where are the doctors going to come from?
The United States already faces a growing physician shortage. As our population ages, we require more and more intensive health care. At the same time, enrollment in medical schools has been essentially flat, meaning we are not producing new physicians at anywhere near the rate we need to. In fact, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges, we face a shortfall of more than 150,000 doctors over the next 15 years.
And it could get a whole lot worse. The health reform bill signed into law last year is expected to significantly increase the number of Americans with health insurance or participating in the Medicaid program. Meanwhile, an aging population will increase participation in Medicare. This means a greater demand for physician services.
Promising universal health coverage is easy. But what does universal coverage mean if you can't actually see a doctor?
But at the same, the bill may drive physicians out of practice.
Existing government programs already reimburse physicians at rates that are often less than the actual cost of treating a patient. Estimates suggest that on average physicians are reimbursed at roughly 78% of costs under Medicare, and just 70% of costs under Medicaid. Physicians must either make up for this shortfall by shifting costs to those patients with insurance — meaning those of us with insurance pay more — or treat patients at a loss.
As a result, more and more physicians are choosing to opt-out of the system altogether. Roughly 13% of physicians will not accept Medicare patients today. Another 17% limit the number of Medicare patients they will see, a figure that rises to 31% among primary care physicians. The story is even worse in Medicaid, where as many as a third of doctors will not participate in the program.
Traditionally, most doctors have been willing to take some Medicare patients either out of altruism or as a "loss leader," to reach other family members outside the Medicare program. Others try to get around Medicare's low reimbursement rates by unbundling services or providing care not covered through the program. (Nearly 85% of seniors carry supplemental policies to cover these additional services). With many office and equipment costs fixed, even a low reimbursement patient may be better than no patient at all for some doctors. This is even more true for hospitals where Medicare patients may account for the majority of people they serve. And doctors can take some comfort in the fact that Medicare is pretty much guaranteed to pay and pay promptly. The same is not always true of private insurance.
But if reimbursements fall much more, the balance could be tipped. The government's own chief actuary says that reimbursement cuts could mean "reductions in access to care and/or the quality of care." Once the cuts hit hospitals, they too will be in trouble. Medicare's actuaries estimate that 15% of hospitals could close. Inner-city and rural hospitals would be hardest hit.
Nor is the pressure on reimbursement rates likely to be felt solely in government programs. The health care law contains a number of new regulations that are already driving up insurance premiums. The government is responding by cajoling and threatening insurers. If insurers find their ability to pass on cost increases limited, they too may begin to cut costs by cutting reimbursements.
For a lot of older physicians, retirement in Florida may begin to look like a very good option. Roughly 40% of doctors are age 55 or over. Are they really going to want to stick it out for a few more years if all they have to look forward to is more red tape (both government and insurance company) for less money? Those that remain are increasingly likely to join "concierge practices," limiting the number of patients they see and refusing both government and private insurance.
And, at the same time, fewer young people are likely to decide that medicine is a good career. Remember, the average medical school graduate begins their career with more than $295,000 in debt.
A 2010 IBD/TPP Poll found that 45% of doctors would at least consider leaving their practices or taking early retirement as a result of the new health care law. And, an online survey by Sermo.com, a sort of Facebook for physicians, found that 26% of physicians in solo practices were considering closing. Of course, not every doctor who told these polls that he or she would consider leaving the field will actually do so. But if even a small portion depart, our access to medical care will suffer.
In fact, we have already seen the start of this process in Massachusetts, where Mitt Romney's health care reforms were nearly identical to President Obama's. Romney's reforms increased the demand for health care but did nothing to expand the supply of physicians. In fact, by cracking down on insurance premiums, Massachusetts pushed insurers to reduce their payments to providers, making it less worthwhile for doctors to expand their practices. As a result, the average wait to get an appointment with a doctor grew from 33 days to over 55 days.
Promising universal health coverage is easy. But what does universal coverage mean if you can't actually see a doctor?
Leftist mourns the death of bin Laden: "And the killing of bin Laden, who has absolutely no operational role in al-Qaida—that’s clear—he’s kind of a spiritual mentor, a kind of guide … he functions in many of the ways that Hitler functioned for the Nazi Party. We were just talking with Warren [Beatty] about [Ian] Kershaw’s great biography of Hitler, which I read a few months ago, where you hold up a particular ideological ideal and strive for it. That was bin Laden’s role. But all actual acts of terror, which he may have signed off on, he no way planned."
Philosophy and politics: "Many political philosophers overestimate the importance of abstract principles for the design of institutions. Most issues of the day cannot be resolved by a sole appeal to basic principles. Whether we talk about healthcare, the economy, poverty alleviation, crime control, and even foreign policy, philosophical principles at best underdetermine results, and at worst are irrelevant. Yet many philosophers think that if they can just make the right conceptual distinctions and identify the right political principles they can select the best institutions, laws, and policies."
The NLRB overreaches — once again: "The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has gone lawsuit crazy. With the U.S. House of Representatives now under Republican control, the Board is now a key vehicle that the Obama administration is using to push policies favorable to its Big Labor allies. And it seems willing to stretch the law beyond recognition. Now the NLRB is trying to tell companies where to locate factories and dictate to states how they may amend their constitutions."
A tale of two situations: "Once upon a time selling a chicken was fraught with few if any legal implications. Remodeling a shed was equally simple from a regulatory standpoint. Today, however, we live in more enlightened times. Protected from our wayward desires by an empowered bureaucracy, we can rest easier knowing that decisions like what we eat and where we build is being carefully managed by authorities."
Free trade agreements don’t kill jobs: "Trade is going to be a hot issue this summer. Pending agreements with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea might finally pass. Opponents of liberalization are already on the attack. My colleague Jacque Otto already covered the creative destruction defense of trade today. Over at the Daily Caller, I look at employment data and find out that the labor force has grown by 23 million people since NAFTA passed. Doesn’t sound like a job-killer, does it?"
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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)