The Hightower Report

Corporations now charge you to pay them; and Calpers corrals big business deserters.


Corporate Gougers Go Online

The public's growing disgust with the corporate powers is not limited to the Enrons, Arthur Andersens, and other flagrant finaglers. The anger also is fueled by the quiet nickle-and-dimers -- such as phone companies, cable-TV operators, banks, and the rest -- which pocket billions by constantly tacking on fees and rigging their billings to gouge us.

Now comes another charming bit of corporate gotcha to add fuel to this fire. Such outfits as American Express, Ameritrade, Primus, and State Farm have decided that sending their bills in the mail is no longer a "privilege" that we should get for free. Instead, they have begun charging customers to receive monthly bills. Yes, not only must we pay their usurious interest rates and exorbitant late fees, but now they've begun to hit us with a fee for the "luxury" of getting the bill itself.

Go online to pay your bills, they instruct us poor peasants. This you can do for free -- at least for now. "It's time to change," snapped the autocratic director of North American sales and operations for Primus. Consumers must adapt to the emerging corporate technologies ... or else. Or else pay a charge of up to $8 a month for each bill that you receive.

But, wait. Nearly half of American homes have no Internet hookup at all, and a big percentage of those that do aren't equipped or able to pay bills online. Not to mention the majority of people who simply do not trust putting their private financial details on the notoriously porous Internet. Plus, why should we be doing the bureaucratic work of these corporations, which already factor the cost of billing into their prices?

Well, say the companies, this will save us money. But, at most, it costs them a buck to process and mail a bill. Yet they're charging up to eight bucks! This is not a fee to cover costs -- it's a new profit center that amounts to gouging.

And these corporate execs wonder why, in public approval ratings, they rank below Mad Cow disease.


Corralling Corporate Traitors

If corporate America won't act right, and if our government fails to make the greedheads act right, it's up to We the People to take the situation into our own hands.

That's exactly what Calpers has done. Calpers is the trust that manages the retirement funds for California's public employees, and with $136 billion invested in stocks and other assets, Calpers has some serious swat.

Like most of us, Calpers was disgusted to learn that several U.S. corporations have chosen to become traitors to our country. The sharpies that run these corporations found loopholes in our laws that allow them to dodge paying the taxes they rightfully owe. The tax gimmick they're using is a shell game that lets them reject corporate citizenship in America and reincorporate in a tax-free haven like Barbados.

Of course, the top executives don't actually move their headquarters offshore, since they want to live here and enjoy the privileges of being an American. All they do is open a mailbox in, say, Barbados, hold an annual meeting there, and -- voilà! -- escape paying their taxes.

Before the last elections, lawmakers of both parties were on their hind legs assailing these traitors, promising action! Where did those guys go? Away. They never really wanted to offend their corporate contributors, and now that the elections are over, they've deep-sixed any action to stop this un-American tax scam.

But here comes Calpers! Next spring it will confront three of these infamous deserters -- Tyco, Ingersoll-Rand, and McDermott International -- at their shareholders' meetings, demanding that the corporations repatriate to the U.S. After all, it's the support and even the tax subsidies of the red, white, and blue that help these corporations prosper, so why shouldn't they be made to return right to America and do their fair part to keep our country strong?

To know how you can help bring these deserters home, call Calpers at 916/326-3991.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit www.jimhightower.com. You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

billing fees, American Express, Ameritrade, Primus, State Farm, Calpers, offshore tax havens, Barbados

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