Archive for May, 2012

Battle in Congress over Postal future

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

By David Yao 

A bill to address the financial crisis of the U.S. Postal Service has passed in the United States Senate. The House of Representatives, under Republican Party control, is considering another bill and agreement has to be reached by a May 15 deadline to avoid the shutdown of many postal facilities.

At stake are the quality and availability of postal services to the American public. At risk as well are the jobs and benefits of postal workers, blamed by some in the mailing industry and their ideological allies for the recent financial shortfalls.

To blame unionized workers for industry woes is an old trick. Up until 2006, the Postal Service was financially healthy, productivity had continued to increase, and mail volume hit its all-time peak. So what happened?

Three factors changed everything. First, the country began its slide into a long recession.. Second, online bill-paying cut sharply into the Postal Service’s most profitable product, first-class mail. But the most serious component of the postal crisis was created by Congress – the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA). It put a cap on rate increases of no more than the rate of inflation for most categories of mail. This was done at the behest of the

its costs from rising too quickly. The cap on rate increases left no allowance for the huge increases in fuel prices – a huge cost component of the USPS.

Worse than the rate cap, roughly $5.5 billion per year was to be siphoned out of postal coffers in federal treasury accounts, ostensibly for future use to pay for retiree health care for the next 75 years. Such a bizarre financing scheme has not been laid on any other private or public entity.

This pre-funding burden has sucked over $22 billion from the Postal Service since 2007, into an already overfunded account. Since this money shows up on the plus side of the federal budget, Congress has been reluctant to reverse this flow of money.

On April 17, Tax Day, postal workers and mailhandlers throughout the country rallied to retain high levels of service and to save jobs. Our message: Congress took too much money, we want a refund. For the Postal Service, that is.

In Tacoma, postal workers lined the street by the mail processing plant, which also has a retail unit where we leafleted customers. Our signs said: “Phony Crisis Caused by Congress,” “We Say No to Cuts in Service,” and “Congress Bled the P.O. $22 Billion.” A few days earlier, the letter carriers union (NALC) held a rally where Rep. Dennis Kuchinich spoke on behalf of my local, saying that “your fight is our fight. Saving jobs and service is our common goal.”

The debate focus was on the Senate proposed amendments to S. 1789. The current bill would maintain overnight delivery standards for three years, and prevent most plants from closing. But it authorized an end to door-to-door delivery, and approved a reduction in delivery days (to five). It also contains a section that would sharply cut and degrade workers’ compensation benefits for ALL federal and postal workers.

Postal unions are being joined by federal worker unions in pushing an amendment by Senator Akaka that would substitute much better language on workers’ compensation, that has already passed in the House. Other good amendments would protect door-to-door and six-day delivery, and increase protections against closures of processing plants and post offices.

Of course, there were also negative amendments – even one to end collective bargaining rights of postal workers. Sixty votes were needed to pass any amendment, as well as the final package. Now the focus moved to a less favorable chamber and a much worse bill in the House.

There are so many important threads to this struggle – the preservation of public services, protection of workers’ rights, and the protection of decent jobs from the attacks of right-wing ideologues. We appreciate all the support extended by PSARA and by our other allies in the labor movement.

(David Yao is vice president of Seattle Area Local, American Postal Workers Union and a member of PSARA.) 

An agonizing legislative session

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

By Mike Andrew

The long legislative session of 2012 – which featured not one, but two “special sessions” – finally came to an end in the early morning hours of April 11.”

It was a session that featured high drama – Senate Republicans high-jacking the budget process with the help of Democratic defectors Jim Kastama, Rodney Tom, and Tim Sheldon – and frustrating bickering.

Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson gave the session a mixed review.

“There were great highs: the passage of the Marriage Equality Act and the eventual passage of the infrastructure jobs bill – ‘Jobs Now Bill,’” Johnson wrote. “There were also great lows: eliminating the early retirement pension factors for new public employees who have put in 30 years or more of public service, and the way in which school employee health benefits was dispatched.”

Johnson dismissed self-congratulatory reports of a bi-partisan legislative breakthrough as “a load of hooey!”

The Jobs Now Bill allocates $1.6 billion, with federal matching funds, to create some 18,000 jobs in the construction industry and other sectors of the economy to help strengthen the state’s infrastructure.

“Representative Hans Dunshee tirelessly fought for and led this effort,” Johnson said.

Speaker Frank Chopp, Sen. Derek Kilmer, Sen. Evans Parlette, and Rep. Susan Warnick also played key roles in the passage of the Jobs Now package, Johnson added.

For the most part, the Republican attempt to rule by backroom deal was defeated, but not without setbacks for working people.

“It’s not just about balancing the budget,” Republican Senator Joe Zarelli said at one point in the debate, for once telling the truth – his side was much more interested in defunding benefits for public employees than in finding a way to pay for vital state services.

The so-called “pension reform” passed by the legislature was not as draconian as Republicans wanted, but it would still roll back early retirement benefits by as much as 50% for newly hired state workers, most of them teachers.

In fact, the measure was fiscally unnecessary, since most state pensions are currently over-funded, and therefore among the most financially sound in the nation.

The second measure where Republicans saw some success was a proposal to move health insurance for K-12 teachers into the same state-run pool with other state workers.

The Republican Senate coup also aimed at making bone-deep cuts in social spending. It was, Johnson said, “a preview of what a Rob McKenna administration would look and act like.”

The legislature rejected a proposed $44 million of cuts from K-12, and $30 million from higher education.

Disability Lifeline, the Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Treatment and Support Act, Housing and Essential Needs, State Food Assistance, and other social programs Zarelli wanted to eliminate were all funded in the final budget, although at lower levels than previously.

Funds for indigent patients, or “charity care,” allocated to 50 small or non-rural hospitals were cut by $26.3 million, half of it federal and half in state dollars.

The budget also cuts $50 from the state’s monthly per-worker contribution for health care and other insurance benefits, and eliminates 1,266 jobs from the state payroll. More than 900 of the job cuts are the result of Initiative 1183 taking the state out of the liquor business.

Not much happened on the revenue side.

The final budget includes the elimination of a $16 million tax loophole enjoyed by out-of-state banks, although this new revenue was zeroed out by the extension of a couple of existing corporate tax breaks.

PSARA Annual Membership Meeting and Party

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Guest speaker: Rep. Jay Inslee, candidate for Governor Review of past 6 months and future actions.

12:30 to 3:00 pm, Thursday, June 21, 2012 

LOCATION: Greenwood Community Senior Center, 525 North 85th Street, Seattle. On Bus line # 48.

RSVP to office phone and let us know the food item you can bring: 206-448- 9646 or e-mail to adminvp@psara.org. 

12:30 pm Potluck lunch and socializing. Please bring a main dish, salad, fruit, dessert or soft drink to share at the party.

1:00 pm Presentation by former Rep. Jay Inslee with Q&A. Time to get to know Jay Inslee better and make our issues heard.

2:00 pm Business meeting

‘Step by Step’

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

By Will Parry

I’d like to nominate a hymn-like anthem from the labor movement as our theme song for the 2012 Membership Campaign.

It’s called “Step by Step,” and the words are taken from the preamble to the constitution of the United Mine Workers of America.

The song begins: “Step by step the longest march can be won. Can be won. Many stones can form an arch. Singly none. Singly none.”

Think of every man or woman who signs up as a “step” bringing us closer in our “march” toward our goal of 275.

Or as an indispensable “stone” in building our “arch” of increased membership strength.

The Mine Workers’ anthem concludes with this expression of the power generated by people working together toward a goal:

“And by union what we will

Can be accomplished still

Drops of water turn a mill

Singly none. Singly none.”

No one member is going to get those 275 new members. But “by union what we will can be accomplished still.” Each new member we sign up is that “step,” that “stone,” that “drop of water” that will make all the difference.

Ryan and Romney: Bosom budget buddies

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

By Robby Stern 

“The House Budget and my own plan share the same path forward.” 

— Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

What exactly is this House Republican budget plan authored by Representative Paul Ryan, passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, and endorsed by Mitt Romney?

The following information is provided by the national Alliance for Retired Americans.

The House Budget plan:

• Ends Medicare as we know it.

• Repeals the Affordable Care Act.

• Decimates Medicaid and cuts Social Security.

• Cuts and/or eliminates most low-income programs.

• Provides tax cuts for the wealthiest.

• Increases military spending.

Here are some of the details:

• Makes all Bush tax cuts permanent.

• Maintains the capital gains tax rate at 15% – no Buffet Rule.

• Maintains the current FICA cap at $110 thousand dollars – no scrapping the cap.

• Reduces tax rates for the wealthy to 25%.

• Reduces other tax rates to 10%.

• Cuts the corporate tax rate to 25%.

• Eliminates taxes on overseas profits

The total reduction in revenues over 10 years is $10 trillion with huge savings to the wealthy 1% – estimated at $400,000 per year.

The spending cuts in the Ryan Budget plan are overwhelmingly applied to low-income programs. They are estimated to include over ten years:

• $2.4 trillion in cuts to Medicaid and health care

• $134 billion in cuts to food stamps

• $463 billion in cuts to other mandatory programs for low-income.

• $291 billion in cuts to low-income

discretionary programs

• $2 trillion in cuts to other social pro-grams

And what are the human costs of the Ryan/(Romney supported) budget?

• 17 million low-income people lose

access to health care through the

Affordable Care Act.

• 14 million to 27 million low-income Americans lose Medicaid coverage by 2021.

• 2 million eligible children are denied access to Head Start.

• 1.8 million women, infants and child-ren lose food and healthcare support through WIC.

• More than 1 million students lose access to Pell Grants.

• More than 400,000 low-income fami-lies lose housing vouchers.

The Ryan House-approved budget cuts Social Security benefits; cuts funding for the Social Security Administration; makes Medicare a voucher program; delays Medicare eligibility from age 65 to age 67; and slashes Medicaid, including nursing home care for the frail elderly and people with disabilities.

This proposal passed the House on March 29. Ten Republicans (none in Washington) and all Democrats voted “no.”

The proponents of this budget are engaged in out-and-out class warfare. We in PSARA have the task of educating everyone we can about what these defenders of the 1% are doing.

We propose another vision for our country. That vision calls for the creation of good family-wage jobs; quality and affordable health care for all; retirement security for seniors and the generations to come; investment in education and our crumbling infrastructure; and safe and affordable housing for all.

Our mandate is to achieve these goals in the face of a determined and well-funded opposition.

“Those who do not know their history are like a ship without a rudder.” 

Now more than ever, we need to know our history so we can move forward, overcome the attacks of the 1% and avoid the mistakes of the past.

Read Mark McDermott’s article on page 6. Then join us May 14 at an interactive workshop as we explore the historical roots of the victories and defeats of the 99%.

As we struggled to achieve greater economic opportunity and security, democratic rights for working people and a fair tax system, what worked and what did not work? What strategies were employed (like the Ryan Budget proposal) by the 1% to push us back and what can we learn to help us move forward in the coming years? Let’s learn together and then act together.

Join us at our interactive workshop, let’s learn together… and then let’s act together.  Monday, May 14th, UFCW 21  1:30 – 3:30 pm 5030 First Ave S  Seattle, WA

It’s ‘Yes!’ on Ref 74 (If they get the signatures)

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

By Mac McIntosh 

Opponents of gay marriage were gearing up to overturn the state’s new Marriage Equality Act even before Governor Chris Gregoire signed it into law. Organizing the opposition was the Family Policy Institute of Washington, which is backed by the National Organization for Marriage.

The latter organization financed the campaigns to overturn marriage equality in California and Maine. They are reported to have a million dollar war chest to refer the Washington law to the November ballot and then campaign for a “No” vote.

This is the organization that has been quoted as saying, “The strategic goal for this project is to drive a wedge between gays and Blacks.”

The Catholic Church is also fighting against marriage equality. The archbishop of Seattle has asked the Catholic churches in Seattle to have their parishioners circulate petitions to get Referendum 74 on the ballot.

Seven priests have refused. “Doing so would, I believe, prove hurtful and seriously divisive in our community,” said Father Michael Ryan of St. James Cathedral, Archbishop Sartain’s church. Father John Whitney of St. Joseph Parish on Capitol Hill took an even stronger position: “No petitioning will be permitted anywhere on the campus of St. Joseph Parish.”

Some say that because Washington voters supported Referendum 71 (the Everything but Marriage Act) and it passed, we will be able to do the same with Referendum 74. Because of the money and organization against it, this is going to be a bigger fight. The organization supporting marriage equality, Washington United for Marriage, will need all the support they can get. You can help by contributing money, by working on the campaign, or both. Pledge support at www.washingtonunitedformarriage.

Another threat to marriage equality is the possibility of Initiative 1192, defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Proponents of I-1192 are in the signature gathering stage.

Please join PSARA in this campaign to support marriage equality in Washington State. We can be successful in November if Referendum 74 is passed and Initiative 92 is voted down.

Kucinich stirs the crowd at Highline

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Dennis Kucinich raised the rafters at Highline Community College April 12 with a ringing call to defend and strengthen Social Security by “scrapping the cap” on taxable earnings.

The arbitrary limit of $110,100 on annual earnings subject to the 6.2 percent tax enables everyone earning more than that arbitrary figure to escape contributing a fair share toward funding the program, Kucinich pointed out at the rally, sponsored by Social Security Works Washington.

The Ohio Congressman assured an enthusiastic crowd of more than 250 that “Social Security is not going broke…Its $2.6 trillion trust fund can pay 100 percent of benefits through 2036 without any changes whatsoever.”

Neither benefit cuts nor a raise in retirement age are necessary, Kucinich said. With a job-creating national manufacturing policy, a single payer health care system, and an end to the wastage of trillions of dollars in destructive wars, Social Security’s solvency would be guaranteed far into the future, he said.

Other rally speakers were Pramila Jayapal, executive director of OneAmerica; Marilyn Watkins, policy director, Economic Opportunity Institute; Magdaleno Rose-Avilia, executive director, The Latino Equality Initiative; and Deanna Kirkpatrick, a victim of multiple sclerosis who relied on Social Security while fighting the disease..

Learning from the past to build a brighter future

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

By Mark McDermott 

We live in difficult times. For more than three decades, working people, seniors, the poor, the young, people of color, women, immigrants and people with disabilities have faced growing threats to our economic well-being and security. Our nation is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and yet tens of millions of us live in poverty, face hunger, fear the loss of our homes or homelessness, worry about affordable quality health care, and hope that our children and grandchildren will receive a quality education. Growing old brings new fears of economic hard times even though we and our ancestors worked for generations to build the great fortunes of our great and wealthy nation. Why?

How can it be that the past three decades of increasing national wealth has resulted in greater economic insecurity and needless suffering? Our country is filled with highly profitable corporations and immensely wealthy individuals, yet we are told that our nation cannot afford to ensure that all of us can live and prosper in genuine economic security and opportunity and in harmony with a healthy environment. Really? This is a lie.

These fears and the people’s struggles to secure a better present and future are not new. Since the 1870s our ancestors and we have faced the economic and political power of corporate America and the wealthy. We have demanded justice, fairness, and economic opportunity and security. It is a relentless battle between two groups of “persons” over how we, the people, will share in our growing national wealth that we help to create. One group is flesh-and-blood human beings who successfully demanded the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness stated in our Declaration of Independence. The other group is “non-human persons” called corporations who have been granted by the U.S. Supreme Court many of the same constitutional rights of we flesh-and-blood humans.

In the next three issues of The Advocate, we will explore three periods of American economic and political history: The 1880s to the early 1930s; the early 1930s to the late 1970s; and the late 1970s to the present. We need to better understand the successes and failures of working people and their allies in each period as they worked to build a brighter future filled with growing economic security, opportunity and fairness. We need to learn these critically important lessons of history to help us develop more effective short and long-term strategies to reclaim the American Dream for all people in our nation.

These periods are filled with stories of great people’s victories and defeats. Each period saw the nation’s wealth grow over time, but the periods of the 1880s to the early 1930s and the late 1970s to today were dominated by corporate America. They were plagued by extraordinary levels of income and wealth inequality coupled with high levels of needless economic insecurity and suffering. The early 1930s through the late 1970s saw strong economic growth shared more equitably and growing economic security.

Understanding how our nation moved from a long period of economic injustice to four decades of growing economic justice and then swung back to our current period of growing economic injustice and insecurity is critical to building a better future for ourselves and future generations. These articles are intended to stimulate debate about the road back toward economic justice and a brighter future for all.

Support to remain in ‘home sweet home’

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

The federal Department of Health and Human Services is creating a new organization, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) to help older Americans and persons with disabilities remain in their homes.

“For too long, too many Americans have faced the impossible choice between moving to an institution or living at home without the long-term services and supports they need,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.

The ACL will bring the Administration on Aging, the Office on Disability and the Administration on Developmental Disabilities into a single agency. It will develop programs to meet the special needs of individual groups such as children with developmental disabilities, adults with physical disabilities, or seniors with Alzheimer’s.

It will also develop the range of community supports that enable all seniors and persons with disabilities to remain in their own homes.

“The goal of the new Administration for Community Living will be to help people with disabilities and older Americans live productive, satisfying lives,” Sebelius said.

ALEC exposed, feels the heat

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

By Will Parry 

“ALEC” – it sounds like a stick caught in your throat. And it’s even uglier than it sounds.

ALEC is short for American Legislative Exchange Council. We profiled it as “a secretive, sophisticated and sinister organization” in the February Retiree Advocate.

Well, it’s still sophisticated and sinister, but it’s a good deal less secretive now than it was a few months ago.

Founded in 1973 by the ultra-conservative Paul Weyrich, ALEC has always operated in the shadows. It claims nearly 2,000 state legislator members (only 69 of them Democrats) who pay a token $100 in dues. But its big money comes from 110 corporations, 40 trade associations, 67 nonprofits and 23 corporate law firms, each of which pays annual dues ranging from $7,000 to $25,000.

As we reported in February, ALEC brings together fat-cat corporate sponsors and right wing legislators to inject political poison into all 50 state legislatures. The poison takes the form of model legislation drafted by ALEC task forces and introduced in one legislature after another, often word for word.

ALEC is the source of more than a thousand bills during every legislative cycle. They claim that about 17 percent of those bills become law. The average lobbyist would sell his soul for that batting average.

Here’s the good news. Thanks to a whistleblower, a slew of internal ALEC documents have reached the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), a nonprofit interest group. As a result we now have lists of current and former ALEC members and copies of more than 800 model bills. A special CMD website, ALEC Exposed, has made all this material accessible to the public.

ALEC’s unwanted exposure has also led a dozen of its corporate sponsors to quietly resign from the organization. Among them, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

ALEC legislation is across-the-board corporate wish fulfillment. Bills to undermine measures to combat climate change, bills to cut corporate taxes, bills to privatize government functions, bills to weaken labor – especially public workers – the list goes on. (For an analysis of the ALEC-sponsored campaign of voter suppression (see page 8).

One of ALEC’s “model laws” is Florida’s so-called “Stand Your Ground” act, the legislation that vigilante George Zimmerman is relying on to escape punishment for having shot and killed the unarmed teen-ager, Trayvon Martin. The law allows a person to attack a perceived assailant, without having to retreat, if they believe they are in danger.

The nationwide outrage aroused by this killing “might finally shine a spotlight on what ALEC is doing to our society – and our democracy,” Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times.

Common Cause, the citizens advocacy group, reveals that the National Rifle Association, always a major source of funding for ALEC, asked at a closed-door meeting of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force to use the Florida law as a template for other legislatures.

That task force was chaired by a Walmart executive. Walmart is the nation’s No. 1 seller of guns and ammunition. Sure enough, in September, 2005, the “Stand Your Ground” bill created by the task force was adopted by ALEC’s board of directors.

Over the objections of law enforcement groups, the NRA in 2005 rammed the Stand Your Ground law through the Florida legislature, and it was signed by Governor Jeb Bush.

Florida law enforcement officials report that since 2005 the number of that state’s “justifiable homicides” has nearly tripled. In those seven years more than two dozen states have passed similar laws.

The heat ALEC has taken since the Trayvon Martin killing led it to quietly dissolve its Public Safety and Elections Task Force. ALEC is still powerful and dangerous, a political behemoth. But it’s not impervious to pressure from an aroused public.