Archive for the ‘The Retiree Advocate’ Category

Climate Change Is Violence…NOW

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

By Bobby Righi

One day last week, a friend visiting from out of the state asked me, “I know that lots of people are concerned about the environment and climate change, but what about concern for people? “ This is a person who works on issues of food and is very concerned with social justice. That she would see the fight against climate change as a side issue was a shock.

For many of us, the pain of climate change seems far into the future, and we here in the Northwest are enjoying the sunny summer, though such a summer should be a kind of warning. Of course, if you are living near a coal plant or in the Duwamish Valley and you often have to race your children to the hospital as they struggle for a breath because of dirty air, you are not so removed from climate change’s threat.

A recent article by Rebecca Solnit called “Climate Change Is Violence” derides some scientists and the U. S. security apparatus as they predict that climate change will cause more social unrest and war. The authorities are just worried about the poor “behaving badly,” she says. But people should rebel when faced with unbearable and oppressive conditions. Rebecca Solnit points out that the real violence is climate change itself.

There are widespread and massive droughts and loss of food crops causing famine. Distribution systems that normally starve the poor are even worse when food gets scarce. We have all watched the films of massive hurricanes and storms that flood, and wipe out communities, killing hundreds.

This summer effective temperatures in some areas of Iran and Iraq reached highs of 150 degrees! In Karachi, Pakistan, over 1,000 impoverished workers died in the streets. Every day in China over 4,000 people die as a result of breathing polluted air from coal-fired power plants.

In the Northwest, there are now 160 forest fires burning, and three fire fighters just died in one of these fires near Twisp. In low-lying coastal areas like Louisiana, Florida, and Bangladesh, and in fact, the whole eastern seaboard of the U.S., farm land is being inundated by higher and higher tides, driving people away and into deeper poverty. Oceans are acidifying and species are disappearing.

Deaths, desperation, and disappearances. And it is all happening NOW, not sometime in the future. These are not “acts of God.” Climate change is anthropogenic — caused by human beings — and by some humans much more than others.

The top perpetrators are those who profit from the use of fossil fuel and who wage powerful fights to keep any regulation off the books. The oil, gas, and coal companies have huge reserves that they are determined to dig up and burn — to hell with the rest of us. They will not suffer; they will have their islands of comfort protected by their own military.

But we can stop this. The fossils must stay in the ground where they have been for millions of years. We cannot afford to keep burning them. Scientists say that we could now transition to renewable energy. We just need to do it.

We have to work together to force our governments to quit subsidizing the energy companies and start subsidizing job training programs for a new fossil-free economy. The first to benefit should be the people who lose their jobs as fossil fuels are phased out and the front line communities who, as we can see, bear the brunt of pollution and climate change devastation.

All of this has to be done at once – demand jobs and a safety net and also an end to support for fossil fuels. Hard to do, but we are the working class and that is what we do – hard work. Things are only going to get more and more violent if we don’t.

On Wednesday, October 14 there will be events around the world and across Washington State to demand results from leaders in Paris at the U N Climate Change Conference in December. Here in Seattle, a coalition of unions, community groups, schools, and environmental organizations are planning a day of creative events and demonstrations culminating in one large gathering in the evening.

Save the date. Details will be published in the next Advocate.

Bobby Righi serves on PSARA’s Executive Board and is a member of the PSARA Environmental Committee.

Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis: The Cost of Being a US Colony

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

By Mike Andrew

On August 3 Puerto Rico defaulted on an installment of its $72 billion debt. The Commonwealth paid a mere $628,000 toward a $58 million bill due at the beginning of August to creditors of its Public Finance Corporation (PFC ).

The default was expected, and it’s easily understandable when you consider the fact that Puerto Rico’s GDP is only $69 billion.

The interesting detail that was not widely reported is that the island did pay the regular installments on all its debt obligations other than what was owed to PFC.

In fact, Puerto Rico’s government made a strategic decision not to pay PFC because its investors were merely credit unions representing ordinary Puerto Rican citizens. The debts that were paid were ones owed to Wall Street hedge funds, which could have made much more trouble for the Puerto Rican government.

According to Forbes magazine, at least 36 US hedge funds and some big mutual funds have invested in Puerto Rican bonds and now own 47 percent of the island’s debt.

Debt is only part of the problem for the island. Puerto Rico’s Governor, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, says the island’s whole economy is in a “death spiral.” Only 40 percent of the island’s population is employed or even looking for work. The figure for the US mainland is 60 percent.

Puerto Rico’s population is declining as its people flee to the mainland US. In fact, more Puerto Ricans live on the mainland than on their native island, and the emigration trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

Emigration to the mainland shrinks the island’s tax base, making it harder for the Puerto Rican government to pay its debts or even to keep basic services going. There have been reports from many towns that supplies of drinking water have been interrupted for days at a time.

What went wrong?

According to former IMF chief economist Anne Krueger, the problem is that Puerto Rico is a US commonwealth, and therefore has to comply with US minimum wage laws, while other Caribbean islands do not. US investors who want to open Caribbean resorts, Krueger says, would rather go to the Dominican Republic, where wages are one-fifth of those in Puerto Rico.

Krueger also claims that US public assistance programs make it more desirable for Puerto Ricans to be unemployed than to get a job. According to Krueger, a Puerto Rican household of three that is eligible for food stamps, AFDC, Medicaid, and utility subsidies could receive $1,743 a month, which is more than the median income on the island.

Apart from proving the futility of expecting anything helpful from the IMF, what does Krueger’s analysis show?

Krueger is half right. Puerto Rico’s problems do, in fact, stem from the fact that it’s a US commonwealth – although the more accurate word would be “colony.” That means that the island is wide open to US corporations and is subject to their needs, including trade restrictions which prevent the island from trying to attract competing nonUS investors.

Puerto Rico’s main problem is that it’s surrounded by other island countries that are also economic colonies of the United States but are not protected by US social legislation. Puerto Rico is poor when compared with US states, but when compared to other Caribbean countries it has the highest per capita GDP in the region.

That sounds good, but in a neocolonial system it’s not. What it means is that US resort developers can go to the Dominican Republic and pay $1.45 per hour for hotel staff – one-fifth of the $7.25 US minimum wage that they have to pay Puerto Ricans.

And because they can do so, they do. That’s the reason employment on the island is so low compared to the mainland US.

While Krueger thinks US safety-net programs encourage Puerto Ricans to avoid gainful employment – the same argument Republicans in the US make, by the way – islanders pay US income taxes and are entitled to get the benefits they’ve paid for.

If a Puerto Rican family on public assistance earns more than the median income on the island, as Krueger claims, it must mean that many Puerto Ricans who are eligible for assistance are not getting it.

Puerto Rico has been called “America’s Greece,” and like Greece, the island is trapped in a destructive system not of its own making and which it can’t escape unless it changes the terms of its relationship with the US.

What’s Next in the Fight for Fair Trade?

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

By Lynne Dodson

For the past six months a broad coalition of labor, environmental, faith, and community organizations has been united in a single purpose: defeating Fast Track for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. With over 150 actions; thousands of letters, postcards, and phone calls to our Democratic congressional delegation; and more news coverage than trade issues have seen since NAFTA, in the end both our Senators and Representatives DelBene, Kilmer, and Larsen joined with Republicans in Congress and voted for Fast Track. Representatives Heck, McDermott, and Smith stood fast in the face of tremendous pressure from the White House, and voted against it.

While Fast Track ended up passing by a narrow majority in both the House and Senate, we stalled the vote for months, held over 100 actions in the five months leading up to the vote, and certainly raised the awareness around the problems with our status quo free trade agreements.

Fast Track gives the means to push free trade agreements (FTAs) through Congress without debate or amendments. Now that it has passed, we turn our attention to the two big agreements that are coming up – the TPP, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

First, let’s be clear – this hearty coalition is not trade adverse. Trade should benefit people in partnering countries. It should improve the standard of living, and bring benefits to people living in trading countries. What trade deals do is write the rules for globalization and for how our economy works. As one of the most trade-dependent states in the nation (so we hear again and again), it is particularly incumbent on us to ensure that trade agreements are driven by the values and principles of civil society. That is not the case with the current negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal is at the heart of our opposition, though a similar deal – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is also of concern. Since Fast Track legislation is in place for the next six years, it is likely that other trade deals, like the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), are likely to come up during this time as well.

The agreements all have some things in common. First, their primary goal is to “liberalize trade” – increase the ability to profit, not “improve the lives of people.” Second, they are negotiated in secret, and the primary negotiators at the table hail from multinational corporations and investors. The fundamental process by which these deals are negotiated is flawed in ways that preclude meaningful input from civil society.

We have been assured that the TPP (for example) will contain higher labor and human rights standards than any previous trade deal. This may well be, but according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, monitoring and enforcement of standards is sorely lacking. Since 2008, the Department of Labor has accepted only five formal complaints, and only one – with Peru – was resolved. The Columbia FTA has the highest labor standards yet, and trade unionists continue to be threatened and murdered. The recent news of a change in Malaysia’s human rights status leads one to wonder how low standards can go in order to include countries in trade agreements. Half of the countries in the TPP have a current US State Department ranking of Tier 2 or 3 – poor standards on human slavery and trafficking.

From leaked text so far it is difficult to see any improvement in the TPP over NAFTA and similar FTAs. This is no surprise. The fundamental objective, to increase profits through the “liberalization’” of trade, remains the same. We can expect more of the same results, and this is what leaked text suggests – increased income inequality, more off-shoring of jobs, increased prices for medicine, prohibitions on “buy American” policies, and a roll-back of Wall Street and banking reforms.

As Stan Sorscher, President of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition, says, “Trade creates winners and losers.” Those who are negotiating these status quo trade deals are not negotiating to be the losers. It is up to us to not only identify the problems with the TPP, TTIP, TiSA, and other trade deals. We also must identify what a trade deal would look like that benefits people. It’s also up to us to hold our elected representatives accountable for their actions on trade. They need to hear from their constituents as the TPP and other FTA’s unfold.

We don’t know when the negotiations will be complete on the TPP. We do know that once they are complete, public access to the text will be available, and we will be doing our analysis of the impacts on workers here and in countries with whom we trade.

We also must continue to work to create trade policies that truly benefit people. We’ll be doing that at the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, along with our partners like the WA Fair Trade Coalition. Please join with us as we work to change this trajectory and use trade not to erode our economy but to improve the standard of living for people in the new global community.

Lynne Dodson is the Secretary-Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and a PSARA member

What’s Wrong with Europe?

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

By Mike Andrew

“You, with your vote, will judge us,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told his country in an August 20 speech, calling for new elections on September 20.

Only seven months after coming to power, the leftist SYRIZA party was splitting into pro- and anti-Europe factions, and the Prime Minister was calling for a new election to decide whether the country will remain in the Eurozone.

Tsipras is in a tough situation. Sixtyone percent of Greek voters voted against EU-imposed austerity in a July referendum, but polls show that the same percentage want to remain in the Eurozone. Those aims may be incompatible. Greece’s political crisis exposes deep contradictions in the European Union and its economic arm, the Eurozone. Former Greek Finance Minister and internationally known economist Yanis Varoufakis described the shortfalls of the Eurozone in his book The Global Minotaur. You can understand what’s wrong with Europe, Varoufakis says, by comparing it to the United States.

The United States is also a currency union – the “Dollarzone” if you will. Like the Eurozone, the Dollarzone includes rich states and poor ones.

The rich states regularly produce tax surpluses. Their residents pay more in federal taxes than the states get back in so-called “transfer payments” — in other words federal investments and benefits.

They put up with this inequality because they also regularly produce trade surpluses. They sell more to neighboring states than they buy from them, and they know that destitute neighbors make poor customers.

It would be unthinkable for the rich states to refuse to make transfer payments to the poorer ones because the US is a political union as well as a currency union. Most Americans agree that the federal government has a constitutional obligation to invest in the poor states and provide a safety net for their residents.

(Ironically, the poor states which are beneficiaries of federal spending also tend to be “Red” states that regularly vote for candidates who promise them “smaller government.” But that’s a subject for another article.)

The Eurozone is not a political union, however. The richest European countries have no obligation to make transfer payments to poor countries like Greece, and they have resisted doing so.

In fact, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble – Varoufakis’ antagonist in this spring’s loan negotiations – seemed perfectly happy to see Greece out of the Eurozone, the country’s banks out of cash, and the Greek people living like paupers on the fringes of Europe.

Under the circumstances why would Greeks want to stay in the Eurozone?

The answer is that, like the states of the Dollarzone, the countries of the Eurozone are economically integrated, although Europe is integrated in a way that sends transfer payments from poor to rich rather than the other way around.

Like the richest US states, the richest European countries also generate a trade surplus – they sell more to their neighbors than they buy from them.

That’s part of the trap for Europe’s poor countries. They could quit the Eurozone altogether, return to their former currencies, and then devalue their money from its nominal exchange value.

That would make Euros flow into their countries as their neighbors took advantage of cheap money in southern Europe. As the rich countries consumed more of the exports of their poor neighbors, the internal markets of Greece and the other poor countries would revive, businesses would hire new employees, and money would circulate again. However, Europe’s economy has developed unevenly. The poor countries import more than they export, and the imports would become much more expensive.

Greek wine would be cheaper, but the bottles to put it in and the corks to seal them – both of which Greece has to import – would be more expensive. Greek vegetables would be much cheaper, but beef and pork would cost more because they’re imported.

Seeing a doctor would be cheap, but the medicine prescribed would be much more expensive. Donkeys would be cheap; cars, trucks, and vespas would be expensive.

In short, Greece could leave the Eurozone and probably see long-term economic benefits, but the short-term cost would be terrible and maybe too great for Greek voters to bear.

That’s the challenge for any Greek government, and, as Tsipras said, it’s up to the Greek people to judge.

“Secret Memo”: Primary Election Bad News for Developers and Landlords

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

By Jonathan Rosenblum

Author of the secret memo? Your crack team of PSARA 2015 primary election investigators has discovered a secret post-primary election memo issued by one of Seattle’s big developers and landlords. While we’re continuing to analyze the document for authenticity (fingerprint and handwriting analyses, etc.), we believe the memo bears a striking resemblance to what Seattle’s big developers and landlords are probably thinking in the wake of the August primary. Read on!

Aug. 20, 2015

Dear fellow developers and big landlords:

The results from Seattle’s 2015 primary elections are in, and if there’s a single message I want to convey to you it’s this: We’d better double-down our efforts in the general election or we will be facing big problems in 2016 – like new laws forcing business to subsidize affordable workforce and retiree housing, making it harder for us to kick out tenants when we want to, forcing us to fix up rundown units for tenants who complain, and even…rent control. Yikes!

It seems that working people and their friends, having won a historic increase in the minimum wage, have now set their sights on what they quaintly call “making Seattle affordable for all.” And you know what that means for us: less money in our bank accounts and lower profits for all the hard-working landlords and property developers out there.

Let’s face it, we’ve had a good run lately. Housing prices are going through the roof – average home prices in Seattle are now over half a million dollars, an 11% increase in just the last year (more money for us!). New downtown luxury condos are selling like hotcakes (again, more money for us!). And we’re raising rents across the city – 30% in just the last four years (yep, that’s more for us again!).

But I have to share with you that this wonderful profit-taking is at risk. In the primary election several candidates made “affordable housing for all” a top issue. And guess what? They beat our candidates or exceeded expectations. If we don’t reverse this trend, we’re in trouble. Can you imagine being forced by Big Government to build housing that is affordable to baristas, office workers, bus drivers, machinists, and such?

Now I know what you’re thinking: Don’t worry, Jack, the conservative-leaning seniors will vote in droves in November.

Well, I have news for you: Seniors in Seattle are rallying to our opponents’ message about affordable housing. We’ve recently learned that many of them are living on fixed incomes and can’t afford the new rents. We’re going to need to convince them that rising housing costs are inevitable, that housing is a complex issue, and there’s little they can do about it. The Seattle Times editorial board has promised me they will drill down this point relentlessly.

Our problem? Take West Seattle’s District 1, for example: along with the Chamber of Commerce, landlords plunked down $73,000 to support Shannon Braddock. She came in second, behind Lisa Herbold. Do you know Lisa Herbold? She’s the long-time aide to Councilmember Nick Licata – no friend of us landlords and big developers. She’s for making developers pay for affordable housing. She’s for tenants’ rights. And she’s for letting Seattle decide if it wants rent control. She’s dangerous to our interests. We have to defeat Lisa Herbold.

Over in central Seattle’s District 3, that crazy socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant – leader of the affordable housing movement – did well, scoring 52% of the vote. But I’m pleased to report that her opponent Pamela Banks polled respectably – 34%. That makes the District 3 race competitive. I want to thank the 100-plus big developers, landlords, bankers, timber company executives, hotel operators, and private equity partners who gave to Banks’ campaign. And a special shout-out to my friend, Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden, who gave big to Banks. (Side note: Sorry, Brad, about losing your court case blocking airport living wages.)

In the at-large District 8 race, we’ve got our stalwart Council President, Tim Burgess. But guess what? He’s in trouble! Burgess, the incumbent, only got 46% of the vote – much worse, by comparison, than Sawant – and his November opponent, Jon Grant, is former director of the Tenant Union. Now if there are two words that we never want to see put together it’s “tenant” and “union.” But that’s Grant – standing up for renters. We must defeat him. Burgess outspent Grant by $177,000 to $38,000 in the primary. We will all have to open up our checkbooks to ensure Grant is defeated. (Special thanks again to Brad Tilden for the $950 Alaska Airlines contribution to Burgess.)

In District 4 (U-District and northeast Seattle), landlords and the Chamber teamed up with the Washington Restaurant Association to back Rob Johnson, donating $74,000. Johnson came in first, but with only 33% of the vote. His opponent, Michael Maddux, got 25%. Like our other opponents, Maddux also wants to limit housing costs. This race could go either way in November.

So please – open your checkbooks! Call your CEO friends! Do whatever is necessary to defeat this populist surge for “affordable housing!” What’s at stake is our profits, our ability to run our properties any damn way we like, and nothing less than our Free Enterprise Way of Life.

Sincerely yours,

Jack D. Rent III

Jonathan Rosenblum is a member of PSARA. He has served as a consultant to City Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s reelection campaign.

Initiative 735 Urges Congress to Amend the US Constitution

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

By Diane Jones

Get Big Money Out of Elections! Overturn Citizens United! Corporations Are Not People. Money Is Not Speech! You’ve heard the slogans – Now you can help do it.

I-735 is an initiative to the Washington State legislature that, when approved, would have our congressional delegation support and sponsor a resolution to amend the US Constitution. The resolution would clarify that the rights listed in the Constitution are rights of individual human beings only. Federal, state, and local governments would be empowered to regulate political contributions and expenditures to ensure that no person or corporation gains undue influence over our government. It also requires that all political contributions be publicly disclosed.

Sixteen other states have already passed similar measures, including two using the initiative process: Montana and Colorado. In both these states the measure passed with over 75 percent voter approval. We anticipate similar results here—but believe, that as a more populated state, Washington would send a much louder message.

Initiative 735 is aimed at ending the corruption that has been building in our democratic institutions. The US Supreme Court decision on Citizens United brought the issue to a head. That decision swept away a century of efforts to limit corporate money in our elections and endorsed the dangerous idea that corporations have constitutional rights. Corporations already have limited liability, perpetual life, and receive many financial advantages given by the state.

By extending constitutional protections to corporations and other legal entities, not only do they enjoy more rights than people, they in essence gain veto power over democratically enacted laws. When constitutionally protected, corporations have the ability to challenge any law that gets in the way of their profits.

US Supreme Court decisions since the 1970s have overturned laws protecting open and fair elections, citing First Amendment rights. As a result, the way has been cleared for unlimited anonymous giving by individuals to “independent” campaign groups like Super PACs, and unlimited spending on referendums, effectively erasing limits on aggregate contributions to candidates. These decisions invite corruption; and once corruption becomes institutionalized, it is very hard to uproot.

WAmend is collecting signatures with volunteers, reflecting the spirit behind our initiative process. Organized labor and farmers worked hard to add this form of “direct democracy” to the Washington State Constitution in 1912 in order to respond to a state legislature that wasn’t being responsive to the will of the people but, instead, to the will of railroad, bank, and timber corporations.

Rather than raise $500,000 to pay for out of state contract workers to collect signatures, we have chosen instead to raise and spend $250,000 to hire local campaign organizers to help empower citizens to engage in direct democracy.

You can help us get I-735 on next year’s ballot by going to our website, www. WAmend.org, and signing up. Join others in volunteering to collect signatures. And if an organization you belong to is not yet listed as endorsing, consider encouraging them to do so.

Diane Jones is WAmend coordinator and a PSARA member. She can be reached at dianejones@wamend.org

Frank Irigon Receives National Award

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

Frank Irigon, PSARA Executive Board Member and Diversity Committee Chair, received an Unsung Hero Award at the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA) National Convention in San Francisco in July. The OCA is a national organization of community advocates dedicated to advancing the social, political, and economic well-being of Asians and Pacific Islanders. Frank is a board member of the OCA-Greater Seattle chapter.

The OCA recognized Frank’s lifetime achievement in community activism and advocacy going back to his student days at the University of Washington up to the present. Prior to his retirement, Frank was the Executive Director of Washington Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse. Since retiring he has been a constant advocate for social justice, equality in the legal justice system, and race issues. He has been active in advocating for public education opportunities, income fairness, and wherever else his strong voice is needed to speak up for the voiceless.

In Memory of Edie Koch

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

Edie Koch, our hard working, capable treasurer for many, many years, passed away quietly in her daughter’s home in June after a long and painful struggle with cancer. Edie requested that there be no memorial, no designated charity, no fuss. Fortunately, Edie’s daughter Melanie provided loving care and even met Edie’s standards of fine cooking. Anna Marie Palermo, a PSARA member and devoted friend, provided support, help, rides, and connections to others. Edie was a strong, loyal, vocal, and dedicated volunteer with PSARA. Additionally, she was much loved by her fellow residents at Michaelson Manor. She led the resident council for a time and fought back against injustices proposed by the Seattle Housing Authority. Edie was much admired for her courage and strength in speaking out for her fellow tenants. Having struggled with finances as a single mother, Edie was very aware and sympathetic to others’ economic needs and felt a duty to help them.

Edie was a steady, reliable, and cost-conscious treasurer for PSARA. First recruited by Will Parry, she saw her work grow over the years as PSARA has grown. Since Edie became too ill to work, we have needed two additional PSARA members to do her job.

We remember Edie with love; we hope our efforts can match hers and can bring about some economic justice to our brothers and sisters who struggle with financial burdens they did not create.

Celebrate and Organize

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

By Xochitl Maykovich and Robby Stern

This column was co-written by Xochitl Maykovich, a 25-year-old organizer with Washington Community Action Network and a PSARA member, and Robby Stern, the 71-year-old president of PSARA. Another version of it appeared in The Stand, the online newspaper of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

This summer people all over the country will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid and the 80th anniversary of Social Security. The successes of Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare deserve celebration. We owe the millions of people who advocated and fought for these programs the respect and recognition of their sacrifices and struggle. At the same time we owe ourselves and future generations the commitment to build a retirement security movement that demands the expansion of these programs. Growing income inequality is taking its toll on the majority of the US population. Expanding Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security is a significant antidote to this escalating economic disaster.

Can you imagine the United States without Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid?

Even though these three programs are the country’s most successful anti-poverty programs in history, they remain under constant attack from anti-government types, Wall Street, and other corporate interests. Now, especially with a presidential race on the horizon, the growing progressive movement needs to draw a line in the sand: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid cannot be cut, but instead need to be expanded.

President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law on July 30, 1965. Now Medicare provides coverage to more than 55 million elderly and disabled Americans, and Medicaid covers 44 million low-income adults and children. Medicare and Medicaid help to reduce poverty and health disparities among our most vulnerable communities. In order to further reduce poverty and health disparities, especially as our aging population continues to grow, Medicare and Medicaid must be expanded.

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid serves as the vehicle for the most significant expansion of health care coverage since 1965. We will advocate for further expansion of Medicaid, including coverage for undocumented residents, and also insist that the program continue to provide comprehensive coverage.

Currently, Medicare fails to cover needed long-term care services. By 2030, one in five people will be over the age of 65, and as our aging population grows, caregiving needs increase. Because many families do not have access to long-term care services, families shoulder the financial cost of caring for their elderly loved ones. Seniors and their families desperately need change in Medicare: seniors and disabled people can no longer wait for long-term care coverage.

Additionally, there is the need for a dental and vision benefit in Medicare coverage. In the 21st Century, it is unacceptable that Medicare not provide coverage for the eyes and teeth when this coverage is so important to our ability to live healthy and dignified lives.

Social Security lifts 22.2 million seniors out of poverty in our country, including 281,000 seniors in Washington alone. Without Social Security, 44.4 percent of elderly Americans would live below the poverty line; but with Social Security, this number drops to 9.1 percent. However, with the growing decline in defined benefit pensions and the inability of working people to save sufficient funds to supplement Social Security benefits, it is essential that we strengthen and expand Social Security, or the problem of senior poverty will grow exponentially over the next twenty years

Social Security is literally a lifeline for millions of people. But right-wing corporate-owned officials attempt to justify their desire to privatize Social Security with the idea that it is going bankrupt. Social Security is not going bankrupt. If nothing were done to expand Social Security, it would pay full benefits through 2035 and then would continue to pay 85 percent of full benefits.

But we will not accept the status quo. We are organizing to strengthen Social Security to address the realities of the 21st century economy and the needs of present and future generations. We will continue to build the movement to scrap the payroll income cap, thereby bringing significantly more revenue into the system. Currently, Social Security is funded through a 6.2 percent payroll tax, but this tax only applies to incomes $118,500 and below.

Millionaires and billionaires are paying a miniscule amount of their income to Social Security. If we Scrap the Cap, Social Security would pay full benefits for many more decades. Additionally, with a slight increase in the payroll tax on the employer and employee sides, we could significantly expand benefits, helping to assure the dream that people can live their senior years with dignity, respect, and economic security.

We will make it clear to elected officials, from state legislators to presidential candidates, that retirement security is crucial to all of us. Organizations throughout the country, from community groups to unions, will come together to celebrate Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Here in Washington, we will be celebrating these programs at Westlake Plaza on August 8th from 1PM-3p.m. Please join us at this celebration and participate with us in the struggle to make these programs what those who came before us hoped they would become.

Fountain

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

By Bob Shimabukuro, Associate Editor

I stood there looking at the newly restored sculpture, “Fountain,” at the Seattle Central Community College (SCCC). Stunning. The fountain resounded with energy, hope, and joy, unlike the last time I had seen it, in disrepair. I was also feeling the love, energy, work, excitement, and yes, community organizing, that went into this project.

The late internationally recognized artist George Tsutakawa, a Broadway High School (BHS) graduate, had gifted “Fountain” to SCCC in 1973, in part because BHS had closed at the end of WWII, and SCCC was located where BHS stood. The old BHS building became the Seattle Central Community College (which was recently renamed the Seattle Central College). In 1940 about a quarter of the BHS students were Japanese Americans; and in 1942 BHS lost those 200 students when they were unjustly subjected to the curfew, mass exclusion, and incarceration of Japanese Americans by President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066.

To counter the SCCC administration, which was considering ways to remove the sculpture, a small core group of educators (Tina Young, Ken Matsudaira, Melanie King, Deborah Uno, Tracy Lai, Bea Kiyohara) and students (Alia Marsh, Arlene Martinez, Amanda Rogers, Jade Hoiby) took action to save the sculpture from being sold off and to restore “Fountain.” This core group involved art students, teachers, community members, and some of the school’s maintenance department in restoring “Fountain” to working condition.

They also tied the Fountain Restoration Project to a curriculum which emphasized the connections among historical events and the importance of keeping community treasures and history alive, with a strong social justice perspective. In addition, these core activists engaged the Associated Student Council, community families, BHS alumni, community businesses and non-profits, and SCCC culinary students and raised the funds needed to bring “Fountain” back to life.

This project reached thousands of people over six years. It was multigenerational. Multicultural. By all accounts, people had a lot of fun. These events happen too rarely. But this is what can happen at a Community College. We need to bring back the Community into the colleges.

These social justice education campaigns inspire people about the role community organizing can play in both keeping our histories alive and adding fresh stories (for example: the community’s role in the restoration) to deepen understanding of circumstances surrounding the origin of “Fountain.” (For example, that Tsutakawa had donated “Fountain” because 25 percent of the student body in 1942 was sent to concentration camps.) The restoration of “Fountain” story creates an important historical and aesthetic value to the original “Fountain” story.

Just like “Fountain” itself.

This story is important to PSARA not only because it creates and recreates the historical reality, but also because it demonstrates creative ways to teach and learn, and make learning inviting, interesting, and in some cases, fun. Most of all, it’s important because we need creative and critical thinking about the problems we’re facing now.

As educator Jesse Hagopian says, “We have more black men behind bars than we had slaves on plantations in 1850; a social catastrophe that all of us need to talk about. …We have an epidemic of violence against women. Our education should be about income inequality in US history. We have to teach our kids critical thinking skills, imagination skills, because we have real problems to solve.”

It’s important to realize learning is a life-long endeavor. The SCCC organizing was also about learning, demonstrating the possibilities of multigenerational, multicultural learning that can involve critical and strategic thinking, with a little creativy, imagination, and fun. These are important tools in our Struggle (with a capital S) to find a common platform on which we can work together.

Executive Director of Puget Sound Sage, Rebecca Saldaña, says “Our main group, service sector hospitality workers, never were in the middle class in the best of times. We need alliances with people/organizations who have power, are willing to share that power, and see things through our lens, recognizing our liberations are bound together.”

Heather Villanueva, Community Strength Organizer SEIU 775 and leader of its Racial Equity Team says “To build a strong movement, we have to be there for each others’ fights in a real way, not just when we need something. That’s why my work is focused on broader social justice issues. I try to bring my talents and the resources of the union to bear so that we can be a part of a movement that doesn’t leave anyone behind.”

Saldaña and Villanueva will be speaking at the August 8 Anniversary Celebration for Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. Join us.