Archive for February, 2013

Tacoma Social Security Forum: Preserve It, Strengthen It, Pass It On

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

By Alex Stone

Please join us at a forum to hear noted economist, Dean Baker, talk about the challenges and opportunities facing our Social Security system, on February 20th from 5:30 – 7:00 PM at the University of Washington-Tacoma’s Philip Hall.

Long-time opponents of Social Security spun wild yarns about the debt and deficit this summer, and during the run-up to the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

Ignoring ten years of war and tax cuts for the wealthy (both purchased on the national credit card) as well as a pandemic of Wall Street greed that nearly sunk the American economy, they pointed their finger at America’s last stronghold of economic safety: Social Security.

Now, well-known economist Dean Baker is visiting Washington State to talk about how to defend and improve Social Security for future generations.

Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., Baker refutes the misguided idea that
the benefits workers have earned should be used to pay down the debt or finance ongoing tax cuts for the wealthy – or that the retirement age should be raised any further. Instead, Dean makes a strong case for increasing benefits, especially given the uncertainty most Americans are facing in retirement.

Marilyn Watkins, Policy Director at the Economic Opportunity Institute, will also be a featured speaker. For more information visit www.ssworkswa.org

Alex Stone is Communications and Techonolgy Manager at the Economic Opportunity Institute, and a PSARA member

Feb. 21st is Senior Lobby Day

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

By Chuck Richards & Tom Lux, Co-Chairs of PSARA Government Relations Committee

The 2013 legislative session begins with some new names on the doors to offices of power. Washington State has a new governor and two legislative chambers ruled by opposing parties. State government has a looming $1 billion deficit, while the state Supreme Court has ruled the state must increase funding for education. Health and human services dread the approaching budget cuts.

Into this mix come members of the Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action during Senior Lobby Day on Thursday, February 21st to remind legislators of essential priorities for Washington residents in the years ahead.

Working arm in arm with labor and community allies, we are promoting PSARA’s 2013 Legislative Agenda:

FIRST, support for the Healthy Washington Coalition Legislative Priorities for implementation of the Affordable Care Act which includes:

  • Securing the full Medicaid Expansion to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level.
  • Ensuring affordability and continuity of care for low-income working families by pursuing available affordability programs, such as the Federal Basic Health Option.
  • Supporting a broad-based assessment on health care insurers for the administration of the Washington State Health Care Exchange. This will reduce the cost of enrollee premiums and give the exchange a stable and predictable source of financing.

SECOND, support the establishment of a State Investment Trust (aka, a “state bank”) that could create new jobs rebuilding our infrastructure and generate new revenue.

THIRD, support the Caring Across Generations Legislative Priorities:

  • Restore cuts and support new investments in home care through the federal Community First Choice Option which provides additional funding to restore recent cuts to home and community-based long-term care services and prevents additional cuts to these Medicaid programs through increased federal matching dollars.
  • Ensure all workers are able to take leave to tend to health needs or care for a family member through Family and Medical Leave Insurance and mandated Paid Sick Days.
  • Support legislation that facilitates immigrants playing the critical role of caregivers and domestic workers in our communities.

And FOURTH, support for increased revenues to address the need for quality education, protect critical services and the jobs associated with those services and also meet the states obligation to fund pension programs.

  • End unjustified tax breaks and reform our tax system.

And, as in years past, PSARA is offering its members transportation to reach Olympia on February 21st. If you haven’t already signed up, contact us at govrelations@psara.org or the PSARA office at (206) 448-9646.

The Soul of America

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

By Sen. Bernie Sanders

Despite such terminology as “fiscal cliff” and “debt ceiling,” the great debate taking place in Washington now has relatively little to do with financial issues. It is all about ideology. It is all about economic winners and losers in American society. It is all about the power of Big Money. It is all about the soul of America.

In America today, we have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth, and more inequality than at any time period since 1928. The top 1 percent owns 42 percent of the financial wealth of the nation, while, incredibly, the bottom 60 percent own only 2.3 percent. One family, the Walton family of Wal-Mart, owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans.

Despite the reality that the rich are becoming much richer while the middle class collapses and the number of Americans living in poverty is at an all-time high, the Republicans and their billionaire backers want more, more, and more. The class warfare continues.

My Republican colleagues say that the deficits are a spending problem, not a revenue problem. What these deficit-hawk hypocrites won’t talk about is their spending. They won’t discuss what they did to dig the country into this $1 trillion deep deficit hole. They waged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq without paying for them. They gave away huge tax breaks for the rich. They squandered taxpayer dollars on the pharmaceutical industry by making it illegal for Medicare to bargain for lower drug prices. They also rescinded financial regulations that enabled Wall Street to operate like a gambling casino, leading to a severe recession that eroded tax revenue and left more than 14 percent of American workers unemployed or underemployed.

Here We Grow

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

By Robby Stern

Fifty-two years ago, when I began my life as an activist, I needed the guidance of others to figure out how I could be most effective in changing those things that seemed wrong. It was a time of segregation and vicious racial discrimination. I came from a family that had suffered terrible things in Germany. I was first generation in the U.S. and my family history had awakened me to the horrors of segregation and racial discrimination.

I also believed that our country could do better. Inspired to participate by the combination of idealism articulated by Pres. John F. Kennedy and the incredible bravery of the mostly young black but also young white women and men who were challenging the terrible barriers of that time, I became involved.

That was my first conscious awareness of the power of organization. The more people that could be mobilized and inspired to take action, the greater hope we had of being able to make the changes that needed to be made.

Fast forward to today. The same principles hold true. Our communities, our country and our world desperately need repair. PSARA is committed to contributing to the efforts to fix some of the huge problems we face.

If we are determined, thoughtful and if we grow we can be more effective in trying to repair our world. If more people read this newsletter and are informed through it, if more people decide to take the next step and participate with us, and if more people decide to take responsibility for the health and well being of PSARA, we will be more effective.

In our January Executive Board meetings we set a new membership goal for the coming year. This year we have set a goal of 250 new members.

Please help us reach our goals for growth in 2013! Reach out to your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors. Give the gift of PSARA membership.

Walmart Expansion – Not!

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

By Elena Perez

Until Walmart becomes a responsible employer, challenging its expansion is an essential element of the work of the coalition, Making Change at Walmart Puget Sound. Walmart’s new, smaller and primarily grocery footprint for urban expansion, the Neighborhood Market, recently opened its first stores in Washington State in Bellevue and Lynnwood.

Promenade 23, a shopping center in Seattle’s Central District might be the site of the next Walmart. Its current owner, Weingarten Realty, expressed interest last year in replacing the locally owned and union operated Red Apple with a Walmart. Since then, pressure from our coalition has forced Weingarten to pull back from that position, but its latest public statement still emphasizes that all options are on the table.

In response to this and other development concerns in the Central Area, coalition partners joined leaders in the area to form the Central Area Community Development Coalition (CACDC). It provides space and support for Central Area residents, business owners and organizations to organize for transparent and community-controlled development that preserves the existing culture and economic character of the community, living wage jobs, and locally owned businesses.

If you live or work in the Central Area, please join us at the next meeting:
Date: Wednesday, February 20th
Time: 4pm – 5:30pm
Location: Greater Mt. Baker Baptist Church (2425 S. Jackson Street, Seattle)

The Fiscal Showdown

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

By Buck Teller

It now appears that the showdown on the debt limit has been postponed for several months. The House Republicans have received a well-deserved political battering for holding the economy hostage in order to impose their austerity agenda on the American people.

But, we are far from out of the woods. Republican leadership is trying to discredit the idea of raising additional revenue. The threats to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are still at the top of their agenda. The tax deal passed by Congress on December 31 simply postponed sequestration and across the board cuts.

The fight back strategy is being formulated by a broad national coalition called Americans for Tax Fairness. The basic theme is that any further deficit reduction must come from new revenue. The coalition has targeted raising approximately $1 trillion in revenue to replace across the board spending cuts. Specific revenue proposals include:

  • Reducing the value of tax deductions to 28% (instead of 35% for high income taxpayers) which is estimated to raise $400 billion and affect only the richest 2%.
  • Closing corporate tax loopholes that encourage U.S. companies to ship profits and jobs overseas. That is estimated to raise up to $200 billion.
  • Placing a surtax of 5% on incomes of $5 million or more a year. This is estimated to raise $200 billion.
  • Establishing a small tax on Wall Street trading in financial instruments such as stocks, bonds, foreign currencies and derivatives.

Not yet on the agenda of this broad coalition is Scrapping the Cap on Social Security premiums so we all pay at the same rate, 6.1%, and we all receive benefits from our premiums. That change would take the financial solvency of Social Security off the national debating stage for many decades.

There will be many opportunities to participate in activities designed to encourage our entire statewide congressional delegation, Senators and Representatives, to support raising revenue rather than cutting programs critical to seniors, working people, veterans, the poor, children and the vulnerable. Some very rich Americans will have to pay a little more. But the tax deal left many loopholes untouched (and opened up some new ones!). Many very wealthy people will still pay a lower tax rate than the vast majority of working Americans.

PSARA will use our blast email program to let you know what activities are coming up and what you can do to help.

Two Republicrats: The Coup in the State Senate

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

By Robby Stern

A coup in the state senate augurs a very different legislative session than we had anticipated after the November election. Two Senate Democrats have defied the voters that elected them as Democrats. Rodney Tom, a wealthy real estate broker from the 48th district, and Tim Sheldon, from the 35th District have joined 23 Senate Republicans to constitute a majority caucus.

I remember Tim Sheldon from my days as a lobbyist for the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC). He consistently sided with business interests and against the interests of working people. He had a 17% voting record on bills important to labor in 2012 and has a lifetime labor voting record of 29%. He voted against Marriage Equality and against legislation necessary to implement the Health Benefit Exchange. The list of labor bills he opposed goes on and on.

Tim is a double dipper holding two full time elective offices simultaneously. Elected to the State House in 1991, he became a state senator in 1997 and then was elected a Mason County Commissioner in 2005. The Senate job is full time during the legislative session and the Mason County Commissioner job is also full time. Nevertheless, voters in the 35th District and in Mason County have seen fit to reelect Tim.

Rodney Tom was a Republican who switched to the Democratic Party to challenge Luke Esser for his Senate seat. He switched from Republican to Democrat when the 48th District began leaning more Democratic.

By his second term in the Senate, he had become a huge thorn in the side of Democrats who wanted to enact progressive economic policy. The 48th is still a heavily Democratic District. In 2012, Democratic margins ranged from 51.8% to 69.3%.

Tom defied the voters who elected him. For engineering the coup, the minority Republican caucus awarded him the powerful position of “Majority” Leader. He meets and plans strategy with the Republicans. Tom asserts that the Republicans agreed to avoid divisive social issues (Tom supported gay marriage and supports reproductive rights). Tom finds the views of the Republicans on economic issues and the role of government to be more consistent with his outlook. When Tom stands for election again in 2014, a flood of corporate dollars will be donated to defend his seat.

This shift means the Senate Republican Caucus controls what issues get considered.

The legislature must adopt a two-year budget in 2013. The Senate Republican Caucus will insist on cuts to safety net programs, no new revenue, attacks on jobs and union standards of state employees, teachers and city/county employees.

The Supreme Court’s McCleary decision requires the legislature to allocate at least an additional billion dollars to public education. That money will likely come from existing resources. It is difficult to imagine the Senate majority caucus raising new revenue through closing tax loop holes or passing a progressive revenue source. The Senate “Majority” caucus will be promoting an austerity approach to the state fiscal crisis.

What will Governor Inslee and the House Democrats do? My hope is that the House will pass more progressive policies and present the people of our state with a genuine alternative to what the Senate will be promoting. Ultimately, the Senate, the House and the Governor will have to reach an agreement on the budget. Negotiations will be intense, and I would predict, bitter.

The Republican Chair of the Senate Health Care Committee, Sen. Randi Becker of the 2nd Legislative District, was opposed to the Affordable Care Act (and not because she supports universal health care!). How her opposition will impact the expansion of Medicaid eligibility to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level (which is fully funded by the federal government and saves the state more than $250 million while covering an additional 250,000 residents) is still to be seen. Additionally, efforts to fund administration of the Health Care Exchange by assessing all insurers who write health care insurance in our state is likely to run into opposition from Sen. Becker, who strongly identifies with the insurance industry.

Because of Republican opposition, the WA State Investment Trust, statewide Paid Sick Day and Family Medical Leave Insurance are not likely to be considered by the State Senate. We hope to pass them through the House in order to create a contrast between the two chambers.

This session is likely to be a theater of contrasts. Many, if not all of the Senate majority caucus will argue that government should get out of the way and let unfettered markets rule the economy. PSARA believes that government needs to expand its role to help create good family jobs, assist those who need the help, address the crisis of climate change and provide quality public education for all. Whose side should government be on?

Coal trains carry death to the Philippines

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

By Steve Ludwig and Roger Rigor

On Dec. 3, 2012, “Bopha” hit the southern Philippine island of Mindanao as a category-5 typhoon. Residents were stunned. While tropical storm Washi had caused severe flooding and left 1200 dead in 2011, no one could remember a storm the likes of Bopha. “We never thought this would happen to us. Our ancestors, our grandparents – it never happened to them,” Remy Camarling reported to BBC News (he had lost his wife and his two children were hospitalized). The number of people killed by Bopha will likely surpass Washi’s toll, and damages will be over one billion U.S. dollars, making Bopha the most destructive storm ever to hit the Philippines.

Because of the typhoon’s strength and unusual southern track, many are pointing to global warming as a contributing factor. Ironically, the storm was raging as the the UN Conference for Climate Change in Doha, Qatar was being held and where industrialized nations practically snubbed an urgent appeal for action by developing countries like the Philippines. Japanese researchers have predicted a ten-fold increase in super typhoons by the year 2100 if “business-as-usual” attitudes allow current warming trends to continue. Can the people of the Philippines withstand such an onslaught?

Peabody Coal, in partnership with BNSF Railroad and SSA Marine, wants to help us find out. As coal sales in the U.S. fall, Peabody plans to keep its profits up by extending sales to Asian markets. Already, three or four coal trains make their way each day up our Puget Sound coastline to be exported from Canadian ports. A proposed new coal port near Bellingham would double or triple that number. Marketing surplus coal has already depressed coal prices and caused energy companies around the world to postpone switching to cleaner, but more expensive, sources of power.

Is a different future possible? States such as Vermont and California are proving that clean energy sources, lower greenhouse gas emissions and more jobs can coexist. Surely Washington can follow their example. For the sake of the Philippines and all of us – Stop Peabody’s coal trains!

Steve Ludwig and Roger Rigor are members of the Philippine – U.S. Solidarity Organization and PSARA members

PSARA Statement on the Cherry Point Coal Terminal

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

On Thursday, January 17, the PSARA Executive Board voted to oppose the proposed Cherry Point deep water coal terminal. We sent the following statement to the Army Corps of Engineers:

The Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action voted to indicate our opposition to the construction of a deep water coal terminal at the Bellingham Cherry Point location. As a multi generational organization with a large proportion of seniors, we believe that the issue of climate change is the transcendent issue of this time in history. As one of our members said, “we are cooking the planet with the use of fossil fuels.” We have a legacy and obligation to do all that we can to diminish the use of fossil fuels which is destroying air quality and negatively impacting the health and well being of all living things. In addition, the increase in train traffic will have a deleterious impact on the movement of people in the Puget Sound region.

We call on the Army Corp of Enginners to consider and include in your EIS the overall crisis our planet is facing and the negative impact the use of fossil fuels like coal are having on present and future life on the planet. If the Army Corp of Engineers is charged with making a recommendation through the EIS process, we urge you to recommend that the plans to build the deep water coal terminal not be approved.

Seattle cleans up its portfolio

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

By Will Parry

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has formally requested that the city’s two chief pension funds “refrain from future investments in fossil fuel companies and begin the process of divesting our pension portfolio from those companies.”

“Climate change is one of the most important challenges we currently face as a city and as a society,” McGinn said in a letter to the Seattle City Employees’ Retirement System (SCERS) Board and the City of Seattle Voluntary Deferred Compensation Plan Committee.

“I believe that Seattle ought to discourage these companies from extracting that fossil fuel, and divesting the pension fund from these companies is one way we can do that.”

Student activists at campuses across the country are calling on their college administrations to divests their fossil fuel holdings. Seattle is the first major city to take part in the campaign.

McGinn also committed to making sure that city funds stay out of the industry, writing that “The city’s cash pool is not currently invested in fossil fuel companies, and I already directed that we refrain from doing so in the future.”

Valued at $1.9 billion, SCERS is the largest investment portfolio yet to consider fossil fuel divestment.