Archive for June, 2012

Mark Twain said it… “Action speaks louder than words, but not nearly as often.”

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Join PSARA today and you’ll have the opportunity for both bold action and thoughtful words.

In the last few months, PSARA has marched for immigrant rights on May Day, we rallied with port truckers fighting for decent wages and working conditions, we stood with postal workers facing workplace

closures, we picketed with Macy’s workers fighting for a fair contract, and we were there for hospitality workers fighting for job security at the Space Needle and

demanding a fair process for organizing at Hyatt at Olive 8.

But you won’t find PSARA members only on the picket line. We have helped to build forums on Social Security, the Caring Across Generations campaign, and a state bank, and we have relentlessly lobbied our elected representatives.

PSARA’s monthly Retiree Advocate wrote the story of Bain Capital four months before the President’s reelection campaign took it up. The Advocate has featured ongoing coverage of the Keystone Pipeline fraud, as well as reporting on all of PSARA’s campaigns.

And you know what? You can help. Become one of our 2012 goal of 275 new members today.

Already a PSARA member? Is it time to renew your membership? Or maybe sign up a friend or neighbor. That can be as valuable as walking the picket line because our members make all our actions and our words possible.

Mark Twain would tip his riverboat pilot’s cap to you.

A two-fold strategy: ‘Inside’ and ‘Outside’

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

By Robby Stern 

As the summer approaches, the election campaigns are heating up. PSARA has not historically endorsed candidates. We do not want to be inundated with candidates seeking our endorsement. The exhausting process of evaluating candidates would greatly diminish our ability to focus on the significant issues we work to influence. But as PSARA members, we share some fundamental values that draw us to PSARA and can serve as a screen for evaluating candidates and issues.

Elections do matter! While we have directed our activism to issues, the outcome of our efforts at the local, state and national levels is greatly impacted by elections. Take a look at the Budget Reconciliation bill that just passed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. In supporting the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act, the majority in the House voted to restore the $55 billion that had been cut from military spending in last year’s debt ceiling deal and instead make many more cuts to vital programs that serve the poor, the elderly, the working class and the vulnerable.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where we are told it will go nowhere. However, we are also told that many of the majority Democrats in the Senate are also opposed to cuts in military spending. While the Democratic leadership in the Senate is promoting the “Buffet” proposal to raise taxes on the wealthiest among us, they will not have the votes to overcome the ridiculous filibuster rule that essentially gives control of the Senate to a minority of senators.

A deal will eventually be cut between the House and the Senate. It is likely that the deal will take care of the defense industry and lead to significant pain for many in the 99%.

What can we do?

We need an “inside and outside strategy.” The “inside” strategy involves engaging in the electoral process with our time and, if we can, our money. We evaluate who is closer to our values and try to get them nominated and elected. Often, these are people we can’t always rely on to stand with us on policy issues that are important to us. Often they are the least bad rather than the good. But the action going on in the House of Representatives demonstrates that we cannot stand aside. Elections do matter.

At the same time, we have to hold these elected officials accountable and demand that they do the right thing. We have to have an “outside” strategy and help build a movement that will politically strengthen the interests of the 99%.

For example, we know that in the next nine to twelve months, critical decisions will be made regarding Social Security and Medicare. With regard to Social Security, politicians like Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray and Representative Adam Smith will be forced to make a choice. Will they support the Simpson-Bowles proposal to raise the retirement age and reduce the cost of living increases for those who rely on Social Security? Or will they support Scrapping the Cap? We have been seeking the support of these three elected officials for Scrapping the Cap. Representatives Jim McDermott and Rick Larsen and many Democratic candidates for the open seats have committed to support Scrap the Cap, but the two senators and Representative Smith have not.

We must be prepared if necessary to demonstrate to these elected officials that their failure to embrace an overwhelmingly popular stance (that is, Scrapping the Cap) will lead to public demonstrations that will target them for their failure.. So far they have refused to embrace a solution that will allow the protection and strengthening of Social Security for the remainder of this century, rather than cutting the Social Security benefits that are becoming more and more critical to the 99%. That is one example of an “outside” strategy that we can consider using in any local, state or national issue where it is required.

I remember fondly the demonstration PSARA held at KVI radio during the debate over health care reform, when nearly one hundred of our members turned out to demonstrate that we would not be scared off by the people who were trying to turn seniors against health reform. We received broad coverage and were able to make our point very clearly.

In the fight to preserve and strengthen Social Security, and in other critical battles down the road, we will need to show our determination again!

One simple step to keep Social Security strong

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

By Alex Stone

The recent release of the Social Security Trustees’ report in late April shows our Social Security program remains on sound financial footing for at least another generation.

The report also puts to rest the misconception that Social Security is in crisis. It is not. With $2.7 trillion in its trust fund, Social Security will pay full benefits through 2033.

After 2033, Social Security can still pay 75% of benefits, even with no action by Congress. And because of how Social Security calculates benefits, that “75%” of benefits in 2033 will be about the same (in inflation-adjusted dollars) as benefits today.

But we can, and should, do better than that.

Under the “Scrap the Cap” plan, Social Security can pay 100% of benefits after 2033, and even modestly expand benefits today,  Congress need only make one simple change: eliminate Social Security’s cap on taxable income (now set at $110,100) so that high income earners pay the same tax rate as middle class workers.

If everyone paid the same rate for the same guarantee, our Social Security system would not only have stable financing far into the future.

The additional funding could boost benefits for low-income earners, add credits for individuals (most often women) who take time from work to raise their family, and restore  college student benefits that were cut in the 1980’s – all while maintaining the historic link between contributions and benefits.

Scrapping the cap is the only solution that would both improve benefits now, and keep Social Security strong for future generations.

Scrap the cap!

(Alex Stone is Communication Manager for the Economic  Opportunity Institute and a PSARA member.) 

European voters reject austerity

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

By Mike Andrew

In a series of May elections, European voters rejected the austerity policies that have brought the continent’s working families to the brink of catastrophe.

On May 6, Socialist Francois Hollande was elected President of France, defeating Nicolas Sarkozy, the co-architect of European austerity with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“Europe is watching us, austerity can no longer be the only option,” Hollande said in his victory speech. Instead, Hollande promised to refocus European fiscal priorities from budget-cutting to “growth.”

During the campaign, Hollande promised to raise taxes on big corporations and people earning more than one million euros a year.

He also wants to raise the minimum wage, hire 60,000 more teachers, and lower the retirement age from 62 to 60 for most workers.

Sarkozy had promised to balance the French budget by 2016 by raising social security taxes and the regressive VAT tax – essentially a sales tax. Sarkozy had raised the retirement age from 60 to 62 in 2010, with the predictable result that unemployment among young workers increased to 23%.

Sarkozy was also in favor of limiting immigration into France from Southern Europe and North Africa.

In Greece – ground zero of the European economic crisis – voters also went to the polls May 6, rejecting the draconian austerity program forced on them by the EU in return for a “bailout” of the faltering Greek banking system.

The two mainstream parties that had forged a “national unity” government to implement the EU-backed austerity program – right-wing New Democracy and socialist PASOK – were rejected by voters, and found themselves without enough seats in parliament to be able to form a new government.

Instead, the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), once considered a marginal party, vaulted into a second place finish by promising to reject the EU’s austerity package.

SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras is now considered the odds-on favorite to become Prime Minister after new elections in July.

If the “disease of austerity destroys Greece, it will spread to the rest of Europe,” Tsipras warned in a BBC interview after the election.

Banks were profiting at the expense of thousands of European workers – in Spain and Italy, as well as Greece – leaving them in poverty and hardship, he said.

“Therefore the European leadership, and especially Mrs Merkel, need to stop playing poker with the lives of people,” Tsipras said.

SYRIZA rejected the idea that if Greeks fail to adhere to the austerity program that has led to 22% unemployment – and over 50% unemployment among workers under 25 – they will have to go it alone outside the EU.

“Our choice is to stay in Europe without austerity policies,” Tsipras said. “We are in favor of the euro without the austerity that is destroying it. We are convinced that if the austerity policies continue then the eurozone will be destroyed.”

Only three days before the French and Greek elections, British voters slammed the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government in elections for municipal council members.

The opposition Labor Party, which campaigned against the government’s all-cuts budget, kept the majority in every local council they controlled and picked up majorities in 22 others. The Lib Dems were especially hard-hit, losing majorities in every local council they previously controlled.

Even Angela Merkel suffered a significant defeat, when voters in Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, chose the opposition Social Democrats to lead the state government.

“This is a crashing defeat for Mrs. Merkel and her minister,” Social Democrat party leader Andrea Nahles said. “The likelihood has become significantly greater that the next chancellor will be a Social Democrat.”

Merkel said on May 16 that she was ready to discuss stimulus programs to get the Greek economy growing again and that she was committed to keeping Greece in the euro zone.

Saving Route 42 for the people who need it

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

By Will Parry

The King County Council’s decision to eliminate the 42 bus route rather than to restore most of its original route next year, if it stands, will rob the people of Seattle’s most transit-dependent neighborhoods of ready access to the many destinations that are essential to their lives.

The decision has drawn an outpouring of protest and strong community support for Route 42’s original service area, which includes downtown, the International District and neighborhoods along Rainier Avenue and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way South, on to Rainier Beach and Skyway.

Over the past three years, postcards and petitions have flooded King County Council offices, and a crowd of about 300 packed a hearing on the issue.  The Puget Sound Alliance for Retired Americans has pledged its full support for retaining the long-standing service hours of Route 42.

The neighborhoods that depend on the 42 are the city’s most diverse, with the lowest incomes and the most troubling health indicators.  They have the highest concentration of people of color, immigrants and refugees, households where English is not the primary language, students, seniors and persons with disabilities.

Riders who depend on the 42 bus, include people who live in the most diverse zip code in the nation.  These communities have a very compelling a need for reliable, affordable transit service.

People use Route 42 to reach ethnic shops, grocery stores and food banks, culturally sensitive and linguistically accessible medical, behavioral health and social services, community centers, churches, temples, schools and jobs.

Light rail is no substitute.  Light rail’s mission is to provide rapid service to commuters, moving people through neighborhoods, without local neighborhood stops.  Light rail stops are more than a mile apart, not a walkable distance for many patrons.  The system is difficult to access, especially for persons with limited or no English, as well for persons with disabilities.

 

When the 42 bus was originally proposed for elimination in 2009, a Metro official confirmed that the service hours were to be shifted to the South Lake Union trolley, which serves an area with none of the critical needs that characterize Southeast Seattle.

Bus route 42 has historically served dependably the transit dependent people who need it.  Metro needs to cut expenditures, but eviscerating Route 42 is the worst place to start.

PSARA joins the world’s huge May Day marches

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

By Mike Andrew

PSARA members joined a crowd estimated at a thousand for Seattle’s annual May Day immigrant rights march and rally.

While May Day has its historic roots in the struggle for the eight-hour day in the United States, it has always been an international workers’ day, and Seattle’s marchers joined with tens of thousands of working people in other countries to mark the day.

In Athens, thousands of Greeks protesting government austerity measures marched to Syntagma Square in front of the parliament building in the center of the city.

They were joined by tens of thousands in Madrid, also protesting government-backed austerity and depression-level unemployment. Huge rallies also took place in Paris, Rome, and Turin.

In Hong Kong, about 5,000 workers marched demanding a rise in the minimum wage.

In Jakarta, Indonesia, more than 9,000 workers marched to the state palace calling for better pay and job protection.

In Manila, some 8,000 workers rallied near the Malacanang palace to call for pay increases.

Seattle’s march and rally were organized by El Comite pro Amnistia General y Justicia Social and endorsed by the Martin Luther King County Labor Council and a number of Seattle area unions and social justice groups.

The march demanded “Immigration reform now!” along with “human rights, labor rights, and access to education for everyone.”

Beginning from Judkins Park at 20th Place S and S Dearborn Street, the marchers proceeded to the Federal Building downtown for a rally.

As always, the march was remarkable for its diversity, with priests, ministers, and imams joining union members, retirees, and unemployed workers of every conceivable nationality.

En route they were joined on 4th Avenue by marchers from an Occupy Seattle rally earlier in the day, swelling the crowd to more than 2,000.

According to El Comite organizers, the immigrant rights march was smaller than in previous years, because of police warnings that May Day events organized by other groups might turn violent.

In fact, about noon that day, a group of about 50 so-called “black bloc” protesters split off from an otherwise peaceful Occupy Seattle march and broke windows at the Federal Courthouse and several downtown banks and businesses.

At least eight people were subsequently arrested by Seattle police.

There were noticeably fewer families in attendance, organizers said, and many immigrants felt intimidated by the heavy police mobilization occasioned by the “black bloc” vandalism downtown.

“It’s unfortunate now that when people think of the May Day march, they’ll remember the violence rather than the ongoing hope for immigration reform,” El Comite organizer Jorge Quiroga said afterwards.

Leah Bolger speaks out for us

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

(Editor’s note: The following is the statement, somewhat abridged, of Leah Bolger, one of us, just a regular citizen, who courageously spoke for us before the so-called Super Committee of Congress, and was then charged with disruption of the committee.)

I joined the U.S. Navy in 1980 and served on active duty for the next 20 years relatively ignorant of the vastness of the U.S. military machine and its deep-seated entrenchment with our government and economy. I had little understanding of the “military-industrial complex” that President Eisenhower warned us about 50 years ago.

Now I am beginning to understand the enormity of the power that the U.S. military machine holds. It doesn’t matter to the government that wars are immoral, illegal or ineffective. Government policies are shaped by the will of the corporate interests.

And so it was in the case of the Super Committee — a hand-selected committee of 12 senators and representatives who were given extraordinary (some say extra-Constitutional) powers, met in secret, and sollicitted testimony from not one citizen. My own Congressmn did not have access to this committee, but over 250 lobbyists did. I have come to understand what millions of Americans already know– that the will of the people is of little concern to those in power.

It takes an enormous amount of money to be elected to Congress, and Congress quickly becomes beholden to the interests who financed their elections — not to the people they are supposed to be representing. The American people rank militaary spending as their #18 priority, according to the National Opinion Research Center. The same poll has repeatedly shown that health care and education are the top two priorities of the American people by far, yet the allocation of our tax dollars is completely opposite that of the people’s desires.

Our elected government repeatedly and consistently ignores the will of the people. So, when I saw an opportunity to literally stand up and speak out on behalf of the American people — I seized it. I knew I would be arrested, but I also knew that it was a unique and rare opportunity to make sure that the voice of the people was heard. I know that most people are not able to act as I did. Ittakes a good deal of chutzpah to be able to walk to the well of a Senate hearing room and directly address Congress. Because most people cannot do what I did, I acted on their behalf. It seems the only way for the average citizen to be heard is through an act of civil disobedience, and indeed, I am the sole citizen who was heard by the Super Committee.

I am pleading guilty, because I readily admit what I did. It would be a waste of everyone’s time to force the government to prove that. But in pleading guilty to what I did, I am also pointing an accusing finger at our government, which is completely failing its people.

I have been charged with “Unlawful Conduct — Disruption of Congress.” I only wish that my 52-second interruption could have truly “disrupted” the status quo, because if anything needs to be drastsically altered, it’s Congress.

I think Your Honor understands that I committed this act out of a sense of responsibility and obligation. I am aware that the potential penalties include community service and fines. I do not intend to pay a fine beyound the victims of violent crimes fund assessment. To do so woud violate my personal values. One of the main reasons I committed this act is my objection to the reality that one must pay money to have the ear of Congress.

I would also object to the awarding of community service as a punishment. I consider the work that I do every day as a full-time volunteer antiwar activist to be a service to the community.

Shared Prosperity Denied – 1880s to the early 1930s

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

By Mark McDermott

The 50 years from the 1880s to the early 1930s saw extraordinary changes in American life.  Rapid urbanization, massive immigration and the decades-long “Great Migration” of millions of African-Americans from the South to northern cities created teeming cities.  Rapid industrialization coupled with the world’s largest railroad network made us the leading industrial power in the world.  Technological innovations such as the telephone, motion pictures, electrification of factories, cities and homes, automobiles, and the radio revolutionized how many people lived and their views of the future.

Amidst the great changes, the country seethed with discontent as powerful corporations and spectacularly wealthy people amassed unimagined wealth.  At the same time, millions of workers and farmers performed grueling work and lived in chronic fear of hard times.  Peoples’ standards of living were rising and yet massive poverty remained.  Multiple financial panics, depressions and recessions periodically threw millions into abject poverty, insecurity and misery amidst the greatest wealth the world had ever seen.

Throughout these decades, the people struggled mightily to limit the power of corporations, the wealthy and their political allies in the Republican and Democratic Parties.  They wanted a more just system that shared the wealth fairly, provided greater security in hard economic times, expanded our democratic rights at work and in the larger community, created greater opportunity for education, and reduced work hours to allow more time for family and community life.

In very human terms, people wanted an adequate income when they were unemployed, unable to work or too old to work.  We wanted their families were adequately fed, clothed and housed.  They wanted an end of abusive child labor and free compulsory quality education for their children.  They wanted a more secure, just and hopeful future free from fear of want and deprivation in the land of plenty.  They wanted the right to organize unions, rights and dignity on the job, and safe and healthy workplaces.  They wanted a greater voice in political and economic life.

The demands for economic justice were largely thwarted for decades as Corporate America dominated economic and political life throughout most of the period.  Frustrated by the two major political parties’ unwillingness to address their great grievances, many people turned to new third parties – Greenbacks, Populists, Socialists, Progressives, and Communists and other organizations advocated broad changes.  They were looking for broad alternatives needed to change a system that simultaneously produced enormous wealth and perpetuated needless misery, exploitation and hardshipploitation and hardship.

At the same time, millions of workers struggled to organized unions and create a more democratic workplace in which they earned a fair wage in safe conditions.  Lacking legal rights to form unions and massive repression from governments supporting corporations, organized labor remained weak despite widespread demands for worker justice.

The growing people’s demands for expanded economic and political justice and rights were severely undercut by deep divisions among the people.  First and foremost, widespread racism and anti-immigrant hostility harmed millions and served the “divide and conquer” strategy of corporate America.  Culture wars against women’s rights including the right to vote, prohibition, evolution and religious bigotry against Catholics and Jews deepened the splits among working people.  Last but not least, government repression of radical organizations, and unions deepened these divisions.  All of these divisions served the interests of corporate America and not the people.

Despite corporate domination and deep divisions among the people, significant people’s victories were achieved.  Federal constitutional amendments for direct election of senators, a progressive personal income tax, and women’s right to vote were won.  Banning corporate campaign contributions was a first step in weakening the corporate stranglehold on national elections.  Many state worker compensation and child labor laws were won and free compulsory education spread across many states although racism denied millions of black children equal quality education.

At the end of the 1920s, corporate America and their political allies seemed firmly in control.  Their world view that largely unregulated free enterprise without interference from government, unions or other political movements was best for the people was deeply entrenched in American life.  The people were told that an economic and social safety net was not needed.  The future was bright.  To quote President Herbert Hoover in early 1929:  “We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land.”

Six months later, the stock market collapsed and the Great Depression began.  The people would suffer immensely and would reap the whirlwind of their inability to overcome their deep differences and win their demands for economic and political justice.  It was a truly dark period yet the seeds of fifty years of fighting for justice were growing in harsh soil and conditions.

Alex Loorz, 17…

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

…is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by teenagers to compel the government and corporate interests to prevent further pollution of the atmosphere and to reverse global warming. The lawsuit relies on the “public trust doctrine,”
dating from Roman times, that requires the protection of nature for future generations.