Archive for the ‘The Retiree Advocate’ Category

The Crisis of Climate Change

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

By Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC) and a PSARA member

Editor’s note: The following is an exerpt from Jeff Johnson’s speech at the WSLC Convention, July 23-25.

Brothers and Sisters, now we have another crisis facing us, though it is one that also presents us with a great opportunity. That crisis is climate change.

Forty-three years ago when I was a student in Washington, D.C., an analyst from the CIA made a presentation in a political science class I was taking. The presentation was on the geo-political ramifications of a warming planet. She hypothesized that if the planet kept going the way it was that we would reach a point in time when the temperate zones, those areas of the world that are the bread basket for the planet, would begin shrinking and that this could set off a geo-political confrontation over food and water.

Now I wish I could tell you that I totally got what she was saying at the time, but I didn’t. I looked at it as a hypothesis and with all the interests of a twenty-year-old, including whether there was enough beer in the refrigerator. I assumed that even if this was true, we wouldn’t let it happen.

Well, the hypothesis is proving out, and we did let it happen.

Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, said before last year’s People’s Climate March in NYC, “We must act on climate change now. We don’t have a Plan B, because we don’t have a Planet B.”

Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical on climate, linked climate change and inequality together, and said that we have a collective moral responsibility to look after our common good.

But all we need is our own eyes to recognize that severe weather events (climate change) caused by carbon pollution are dramatically impacting our economy, our health, and our very existence.

Increasing ocean acidification has led to the closing of shellfish operations in Puget Sound and Willapa Bay; accelerating glacial melt is leading to increased flooding and storm water pollution; increasing droughts are affecting our water supply and food production, causing great hardship for families and communities dependent on the agricultural economy and causing forced migration around the planet as people desperately seek food, water, and economic survival; great storms like hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines have exacted enormous tolls on life and property.

Today 85 percent of Washingtonians believe that climate change is real and that it is largely man-made; this is twenty points higher than the national average.

And 55 percent of Washingtonians believe that climate change will negatively impact them. We have no choice but to significantly reduce our carbon emissions and green house gas emissions over the next several decades.

We need to cap and lower carbon emissions over time. This will mean leaving much of the proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

But we do have choices over how we do this if we don’t let the oil and fossil fuel industry divide us with false choices over jobs and the environment.

We can have both jobs and a clean and healthy environment if we choose.

We are not going to transition off fossil fuels overnight, but we will have to, over the next several decades, if we are to stop and reverse the negative effects of climate change.

So, as labor, we need to be both on the right side of history, but we also need to be at the table planning for a successful transition rather than being served up on the menu.

As we put in place policies that reduce carbon emissions, we need to make sure that workers who work in fossil fuel-dependent industries are protected. We need to make sure that industries can actually meet carbon emission reduction levels; so we will need some compliance flexibility to ensure this happens.

We also need to prevent the leakage of jobs and investments in these industries during the transition from unfair competition from companies out of state or out of country that don’t have to meet these emission standards.

We need to protect direct line workers in fossil fuel industries and other vulnerable workers, particularly in communities of color. People who work and live closest to industrial sites and highways and whose health is most negatively impacted by carbon pollution must be protected. These workers and community members suffer rates of asthma and lung disease two to three times higher than the general public.

We need to change this. We need to invest in repairing our state’s infrastructure – from sea walls to water mains and pipelines, from the electrical grid to water storage and flood plain protection – creating tens of thousands of building trades jobs, protecting against severe weather, and lowering our carbon footprint.

We need to invest money in the renewable energy economy, taking energy efficiency to scale in our public, commercial, and residential sectors; building high speed electric rail; investing in electric car technology and infrastructure; investing in mass transit; expanding our capacity for various forms of renewable energy; and creating tens of thousands more jobs.

And we need a “Just Transition” — one that invests carbon revenue in mitigating rising energy costs. One that assists vulnerable communities, providing income and benefit support to direct line fossil fuel workers. And one that provides job and training opportunities to direct line workers and to workers in communities of color.

The late visionary labor leader Tony Mazzocchi, from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, once said, “We need to treat workers as good as dirt.”

He was referring to the new super fund created to clean up toxic waste sites. Tony believed that we should have a super fund to invest in transitions for workers so that they would not have to bear the burden of economic transition. It is important for workers to be able to maintain their wage and benefit packages and the standard of living they have struggled for and won over time.

Workers are the Real Stars at Macy’s

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

By Kristen Beifus

PSARA joined Macy’s associates for not one but two days of ruckussy, energy packed, informational picketing in July. These were the first informational pickets ever at Macy’s in WA State and were brought on by the all cuts contract proposal that Macy’s management had put on the table. Management proposed cuts to health care, cuts to staffing, cuts to pension funding, elimination of a progressive wage scale, inability to use earned time off on demand…and Macy’s is demanding that workers commit to working on the Thanksgiving holiday. Macy’s admits that they are doing all of this to shore up profits. Macy’s associates have had enough!

Robby Stern kicked off both days of picketing with his “Power to the People” chant. It was never more appropriate. Over 100 community members joined Macy’s workers from all seven stores on two of the hottest days of the year. Boisterous picketing occurred at both the Downtown and Northgate stores.

Macy’s associates told their stories and led fierce and relentless chants in front of their own stores while leafleting their customers. Community allies connected issues of human rights, marriage equality, transportation, LGBTQ workers, women, families, social security, and children to the importance of the Macy’s bargain. Community members were inspired by the courageous Macy’s workers, and the workers were strengthened by the solidarity of the community members.

Unfortunately, Macy’s continues to ignore the public support for their workers and the proof is at the bargaining table. Just a week after these extraordinary pickets, the Macy’s bargaining team offered only minor shifts that demonstrated that they do not value their workers.

Macy’s associates are holding strong. They know that PSARA members and other community members are with them. So please keep yourself hydrated and cool, PSARA, as Macy’s workers need you for this journey. Retail workers are rising and demanding decency, dignity and respect from their employer!!!

Kristen Beifus is a community organizer with UFCW 21, a PSARA Executive Board member, and Co-chair of PSARA’s Environmental Committee. Garet Munger is Secretary-Treasurer of the PSARA Education Fund and PSARA’s official photographer.

Greeks Reject Austerity, EU Rejects Democracy

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

By Mike Andrew

“The Germans are trying to do with banks what they couldn’t do with tanks,” said Greek activist Christos Giovanopoulos at a June speaking event in Seattle’s Hillman City neighborhood.

Giovanopoulos, a member of SYRIZA, the party that won Greek elections on an anti-austerity platform in February, was in Seattle on a solidarity mission, trying to drum up support for his embattled country. Like many other Greeks, Giovanopoulos’s thoughts went back to Greece’s epic resistance to German occupation during World War II – an inevitable association considering that Greece’s principal antagonist is the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.

When Greece entered the Eurozone in 2001, most Greeks hoped the move would open up the country to foreign investment, create more jobs, and lead to a brighter future for what was still a relatively poor country. In fact, entering the Eurozone led to economic catastrophe. Instead of constructive investments, Greece was opened to predatory lending by European banks. When the global economy went into recession in 2008, the bottom fell out of the Greek economy, and the Greek government was no longer able to pay its debts to foreign bankers.

Then came the “bailout.” I put the word in quotes, because no one was bailed out, least of all the Greek people. In fact, all that happened was that the European Central Bank and the IMF (international Monetary Fund) bought up bad Greek loans from private banks and then engaged the European governments to force the Greeks to pay them back – at exorbitant interest rates.

After the “bailout” came austerity. While the “bailout” was no bailout at all, the austerity was all too real. The EU’s enforcers, the so-called Troika – the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF – insisted that Greece “reform” its economy to qualify for more “assistance.”

More quotes, because this “reform” made Greece go backwards and not forward to a genuine solution of its economic problems. The “assistance” only came in the form of more high-interest loans doled out in installments too small to make a real change in Greece’s economic situation.

The price of this “assistance,” the cuts in government spending demanded by the Troika, the layoffs of workers, reductions in wages, cuts in pensions, privatization of state assets – all the austerity measures made the situation worse, not better.

Today Greece’s economic situation is worse than that of the US in the grip of the Great Depression – 28 percent unemployment, 50 percent for workers under 25 years of age, retirement pensions down to 625 Euros ($684) per month, retirement ages rising to 70, and national debt rising to 200 percent of GDP.

Even the IMF has admitted that Greece is now trapped under an unsustainable mountain of debt.

The SYRIZA government was elected in February promising to end this crushing austerity program. But the EU ignored the vote of the Greek people, and insisted on new austerity measures. SYRIZA resisted, but it was trapped by political constraints not of its own making.

On July 5 almost 62 percent of Greek voters rejected an EU proposal that would have mandated even more budget-cutting in return for another round of loans. But by the same margin Greeks tell pollsters they want to stay in the Eurozone.

A “Grexit,” or Greek exit from the Eurozone, would allow the country to control its own currency, and use devaluation as a device to manipulate international exchange rates to its own benefit. Argentina did this when it cancelled its foreign debts and devalued its currency in 2005.

While many economists – Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz among them – believe a Grexit could ultimately benefit Greece, Greek voters seem to be more cautious. Under the circumstances, Greek Prime Minister and SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras had to promise that he would not take the massive NO vote in the July referendum as permission to drop the Euro.

The other problem facing SYRIZA was that German Finance Minister Schaeuble is just fine with a Grexit. According to former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, Schaeuble is using the EU’s negotiations with Greece to work his own political agenda. “Schaeuble has a plan,” Varoufakis told then-British Chancellor Norman Lamont in late May.

“He believes that the Eurozone is not sustainable as it is. He believes there has to be some fiscal transfers, some degree of political union. He believes that for that political union to work without federation [that is, without Germany sacrificing some of its national sovereignty], without the legitimacy that a properly elected federal parliament can render, can bestow upon an executive, it will have to be done in a very disciplinary way.

“And he said explicitly to me that a Grexit is going to equip him with sufficient bargaining, sufficient terrorizing power in order to impose upon the French that which Paris has been resisting. And what is that? A degree of transfer of budget-making powers from Paris to Brussels.” [My emphasis.]

In other words, while Greek negotiators were resisting pressure to submit to new austerity measures, Schaeuble didn’t really care about Greece at all. He was using the negotiations to undermine Germany’s principal EU rival, France, and preparing to invest a German-dominated EU with sovereign power.

In the scenario described by Varoufakis, the “fiscal waterboarding” of Greece, as he put it, was merely collateral damage in a much wider contest for economic and political control of Europe.

On July 6, while most Greeks were still celebrating the landslide anti-austerity vote in the July 5 referendum, Varoufakis resigned his office “at the request of the Prime Minister.” Observers saw it as a signal from Tsipras to the EU that he was prepared to cut a deal rather than risk being forced out of the Eurozone. Tsipras couldn’t get a deal, however, because Schaeuble wasn’t interested in a deal. He was only interested in using Greece as a negative example to bully the rest of Europe.

With banks running out of money and hospitals running out of medications, Greece was forced to take what the EU insisted on. “We have been forced to make a difficult compromise under urgent conditions,” Tsipras told the Greek parliament. “We were at the limits of our economy and our banking system, and at the limits of Europe – where conservative forces, obsessed with austerity, dominate.”

“Change Greece, change Europe,” SYRIZA said in their successful election campaign. But can Europe change, or will it be dominated permanently by bankers and their right-wing political allies?

SCOTUS Decision Establishes Retirement Equality as Well as Marriage Equality

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

By Mike Andrew

The US Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges not only established marriage equality as the law of the land, it also ushered in the possibility of retirement equality for lesbian and gay seniors.

One of the many problems unique to lesbian and gay retirees is that many sources of retirement security have historically been tied to marriage. Since we were prevented by law from marrying our partners, we were excluded from the Social Security and pension benefits that were available to our straight counterparts. Even our homes were at risk if our partner died. That has all changed now that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. US Attorney General Loretta Lynch acknowledged the historic change in a July 9 statement.

“Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Obergefell that every couple has the same right to participate in the institution of marriage, whether the partners are of the same sex or opposite sexes, I directed Justice Department staff to work with the agencies to ensure that the ruling be given full effect across the federal government,” Lynch said.

“Thanks to their leadership and the quick work of the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs, today I am proud to announce that the critical programs for veterans and elderly and disabled Americans, which previously could not give effect to the marriages of couples living in states that did not recognize those marriages, will now provide federal recognition for all marriages nationwide.”

After the Supreme Court struck down the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in USA v. Windsor (2013), most federal departments afforded full recognition to lesbian and gay married couples, but the Social Security and Veterans Administrations would only give spousal benefits to same-sex couples living where state governments also recognized the legality of their marriages.

In other words, a couple legally married in New York could apply for and get Social Security spousal benefits if they continued to live in New York but not if they moved to Florida. The same was true for survivor benefits.

Imagine deciding to retire to Miami, which thousands of New Yorkers do, only to find that your income will be drastically reduced because you no longer qualify for the same Social Security income you used to count on. Imagine that after a year or two in Miami your husband or wife dies, and you lose the income from their Social Security because the state of Florida says you weren’t married in the first place.

For lesbian and gay seniors who had pensions, as about 30 percent of seniors do, the prospects could be just as bad. Even if the pension plan provided for domestic partners, many plans simply offered the surviving partner a one-time cash payment instead of continuing income.

Even people’s homes were at risk if they were not legally married. The surviving spouse of a married couple can inherit real property automatically when their spouse dies and not have to pay estate or probate taxes. On the other hand, the surviving partner of an unmarried couple may have no legal title to their home at all.

Even if the survivor’s name is also on the deed and even if they are left the home in a valid will, they will still have to pay taxes on the property that a married spouse would not have to pay. In fact, that was the underlying complaint of plaintiff Edie Windsor in her suit against DOMA – when her wife died, leaving her their home, she was hit with a whopping $350,000 tax bill she would not have had to pay if the federal government had recognized their marriage. Fortunately, the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell changed all that by enabling lesbian and gay couples to marry in all 50 states and to have those marriages accorded all the benefits of opposite-sex marriage.

While the Obergefell decision establishes legal equality for lesbian and gay couples and makes retirement security easier for them to obtain, it still doesn’t wipe out all the inequities. LGBT retirees often get less in Social Security benefits to begin with, simply because they earn less and are unemployed more than straight workers.

According to the Williams Institute, gay men earn 10-30 percent less than their straight counterparts. There is not a significant gap between the earnings of straight women and lesbians, but women as a whole earn 30 percent less than men.

Lesbian and gay seniors are four times less likely than their straight counterparts to have children or grandchildren to help support them as they age. They are also twice as likely to live alone, according to a study by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute.

Finally, a survey released earlier this year by the Equal Rights Center based in Washington DC found that lesbian and gay seniors received less favorable quotes on pricing and availability when seeking rooms at senior centers than straight seniors.

An estimated 2 million people aged 50 and older identify as LGBT, and that number is expected to double by 2030 according to the Institute for Multigenerational Health at the University of Washington.

Let’s Stop the Lying about the Confederate Battle Flag in South Carolina

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

By Mark McDermott, Chair of PSARA’s Education Committee

Many of you might assume the confederate flag has been flying over the South Carolina capitol since the end of Reconstruction in the 1870’s. Here is the real story and its broader context.

In 1901, the Jackson, Missouri, Examiner newspaper announced: “The community at large need not be especially surprised if there is a Negro lynching in Independence (Missouri). The conditions are favorable at this time. There are a lot of worthless young Negro men in town who do nothing and stand around and swear…”

In 1915, Democratic President Wilson hosted the world movie premiere of “The Birth of a Nation,” a viciously racist glorification of the Ku Klux Klan saving the South from “black savages” after the Civil War.

On May 22, 1917, the front page of the Memphis, Tennessee, Commercial Appeal newspaper announced that whites would lynch Ell Persons, a black youth. Here is a description of this crime against humanity:

“Vendors were on hand to sell pop, sandwiches, and chewing gum. Women wore their best clothes to the event. Parents wrote notes to schoolteachers requesting their children be excused to witness the lynching. An estimated five thousand spectators gathered as Persons was tied to a stake in the ground, then drenched with ten gallons of gasoline and burned alive…Later that afternoon Person’s head and one of his feet were thrown from a passing car into the midst of a group of AfricanAmericans.”

What did the Governor, National Guard, Mayor, police chief, and Memphis police do? Nothing. Their inactions were crimes against humanity and pre-meditated cold-blooded murder. Where is the statue to honor Mr. Persons? Does he not deserve being remembered?

Black lives do matter, yesterday, today, and forever. No one was convicted of this gruesome murder. This type of savagery is part of the so-called great heritage that defenders of the Confederate battle flag claim to honor, although they won’t admit it.

In 1919, the NAACP published “Thirty Years of Lynching in the U.S. 1889-1918” which documented over 3,200 lynchings of African Americans. Their task was made more difficult as state and local governments had little interest in tracking brutal murders that were poorly investigated and for which virtually no one was convicted. Murder of African Americans with impunity was part and parcel of our democracy.

African Americans and their allies fought back demanding federal anti-lynching laws, as state and local governments, police, prosecutors and judges would not stop this reign of terror. In 1937 alone, 59 federal antilynching bills were introduced. All were defeated.

In 1938, after the defeat of another federal anti-lynching bill, the South Carolina State House erected the Confederate battle flag in their chamber. For 73 years or 26,000+ days after the end of the Civil War, the State House had failed to take action to “honor their Civil War dead” by putting up a battle flag. What a coincidence. No action for 73 years and the anti-lynching bill woke them up to their responsibility to honor the war dead. What a lie. In 1956, the South Carolina State Senate put the battle flag up in protest of the Supreme Court ordering school desegregation. In both cases, they were asserting their state’s right to allow lynchings to go unpunished and continue inferior segregated schools.

In 2010, Governor Nikki Haley said the flag was “not something that is racist” but rather “tradition that people feel proud of.” US Senator Lindsey Graham initially said the flag was “part of who we are.” Mr. Graham is right. That flag is part of the culture of racist communities including white collar bigots like Ms. Haley and Mr. Graham and their centuries’ long bigotry and brutality toward African Americans.

I am thrilled that the bigots have been forced to retreat and take down their hated symbol, but our work is far from over.

Governor Haley has refused to expand the Medicaid program which would provide affordable quality health care for hundreds of thousands of working poor South Carolinians. This cruel act has and will continue to have severe impacts on the African Americans there. We know that people without access to quality health care die younger and needlessly in too many cases. It is reasonable to assume that more African Americans will die each year in South Carolina from lack of affordable health care than were killed in the massacre in Charleston.

Murder by lynching is always wrong. Murder by massacre is always wrong. Is allowing people to die needlessly from lack of access to health care murder? If not, what is it?

Ending Homelessness

Friday, July 17th, 2015

By Thalia Syracopoulos

By the end of 2014 the “10 Year Plan to End Homelessness in King County” had been declared a total failure.

On March 26, 2015, Mayor Murray held a press conference to announce that he is directing a housing advisory panel to “develop specific proposals” to build and preserve 50,000 new housing units over the next 10 years within the city limits. Of these, 20,000 would be “income-restricted” affordable housing for seniors and 30,000 would be at market rate. The project is to be paid for by asking the voters to substantially increase the housing levy, which comes up for renewal next year.

Ten days earlier, on March 16 the Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee (HALA) presented an “Immediate Action Agenda” to Mayor Murray and the City Council. The report is 17 pages long and is easy to read: (

The HALA report addresses many options including Tenant Access/ Protections, Preservation of Existing Subsidized Housing, Preservation/Creation of Affordability in Existing MarketRate Housing, New Affordable Housing Resources (including public land availability), Place-based Strategies and Sustainable Homeownership.

The first section of the report addresses financing. Three of the recommendations are readily available to the City and do not involve increased or additional taxes.

1. Councilmanic bonds do not require a vote of the people, and do not increase taxes. Among the many projects these bonds have been used for are the new City Hall, McCaw Hall, remodeling Key Arena, Interbay Golf facilities, fire/police stations, and community centers. While admirable and even necessary, very few of these projects qualify as emergencies. If it so chose, the City could issue at least $500M in $100M increments over a few years and still stay within the current bond cap for low-income and housing for homeless families and individuals.

Councilmanic bonds are the source of the $34M the City is contributing to the Pike Place Market expansion. If it goes as planned, the expansion would include 40 units of low-income senior housing.

2. The City presently has a $228M “emergency reserve” and could spend up to $128M of that and still maintain its $100M obligatory reserve. Homelessness and its consequences (and costs, human and financial) are already an emergency. One has to question why the City does not consider the thousands of people sleeping on the streets and hundreds more in “emergency” shelters “an emergency.”

3. The Real Estate Excise Tax [REET] each year generates approximately $50 million for the City. Until it was discontinued by former Mayor Nickels, there was a “Growth Related Housing Fund” (GRGF), which took 20 percent of the incremental increase in property tax revenue from new construction and used it for the development of low-income housing. Restoring the GRGF would provide about $10M/yr that could be dedicated to housing for those who are homeless.

All three of these options are readily available and easy to implement if only the City chose to do so.

The section under “Zoning and Housing Types” has a number of suggestions, but it is the first that is most pressing and easiest to do. “Expand the city’s authority to require developers who demolish low-income housing to replace 1 for 1 the housing they remove and at a comparable price (p. 9).” The absence of this authority has resulted in the loss of hundreds of units of affordable housing. The most recent example is Yesler Terrace, which contained 520 units of housing affordable to families. Only 420 of those units will be replaced on-site and, if this project follows the path of other such “renovations,” the 100 “off-site” units might well never be replaced. I do not understand why the Mayor, 10 days after receiving the HALA report, touted a plan to use an increase in the housing levy, which requires voter approval, to fund 20,000 “income restricted” housing units.

What I do understand is that we have to raise our voices and convince the City to implement readily available solutions outlined in the HALA report.

CONTACT THE MAYOR (206) 684- 4000, and THE CITY COUNCIL (206) 684-8888 council@ Thalia Syracopoulos is member of the Board and former President of Seattle NOW, a PSARA member, and stands with Seattle Women In Black.

This Was Our Vision from the Beginning…

Friday, July 17th, 2015

An interview with Hilary Stern of Casa Latina

By Mike Andrew

Casa Latina has come a long way since its start in 1994. Beginning in a trailer sitting in a Western Avenue parking lot, it now occupies a beautiful complex of meeting rooms, classrooms, and offices on Jackson Street.

While Casa Latina’s development has been stunning, it hasn’t surprised executive director Hilary Stern. “This was our vision from the beginning,” she told me. “We still have the drawings from 15 years ago. At the time, though, it seemed like a pipe dream.

“At the start we didn’t have the resources to do more than we were doing. We provided what we could with the smallest amount of money.

“And after a successful 10-year capital campaign, we’re still raising money,” she added. “We have an elevator shaft, but we still need money to install the elevator.”

While the big bright buildings are Casa Latina’s visible proof of success, the numbers tell an even bigger story.

Last year, almost 9,000 jobs were dispatched through the center. More than 900 workers attended workplace safety and skills trainings. More than 300 attended ESL (English as a Second Language) classes. Eighty-five attended computer classes.

“We started out working with a very particular group,” Stern explained, “day laborers who were homeless. “They were the most vulnerable. Many were recently arrived, they were poor people out on the street, mostly men of color. The neighbors didn’t like them.

“They were very difficult to organize. They worked for so many different employers – it was the opposite of organized labor – and it was a perfect situation for driving down wages.” Now, however, Casa Latina workers have set their own minimum wage – $16 per hour – $1 above the City of Seattle’s minimum.

The minimum wage was one of the issues taken up at a Thursday morning assembly at which the workers themselves set policy for the center, including wages and rules of conduct in the Day Worker Center.

While Casa Latina’s earliest members were almost all men, women began to come in increasing numbers, Stern said. Today 30 percent of Casa Latina’s members are women.

On Friday evenings the women’s leadership group Mujeres Sin Fronteras (Women Without Borders) meets. Topics of trainings and discussion include civil rights, domestic violence, women’s preventative health care, and household finances.

To foster leadership by the workers, Stern relies on popular education techniques she learned when she worked for Nicaragua’s Ministry of Education.

Like Casa Latina, “they really emphasized adult education,” Stern recalls. “You can’t change power dynamics unless you give education to the poor.”

Stern believes that Casa Latina’s success may offer a model for organizing other low-wage workers as well, not only immigrants.

“It seems like that’s the direction we’re going – a gig economy, project work,” rather than workers being permanent employees of a single company, she says. “And that’s not just for immigrant workers.”

The replacement of permanent fulltime employment by as-needed hiring would make life more difficult both for workers and for the unions that want to organize them.

“The union model has worked, but it’s not a growing model,” she says. “Factories are moving overseas [along with the manufacturing jobs that used to be the bedrock of organized labor].

“Now our problem is, ‘How do we organize the businesses around us?’ Maybe we organize guilds. That’s the way we organized when we used to organize small businesses.

“The problem is how to finance that in a sustainable way. And we haven’t figured that out yet.”

Stern is the granddaughter of immigrants. On her mother’s side the family were Eastern European Jews “who took a 20-year detour through Wales.” On her father’s side, they were Russians who escaped from Siberia, and landed in New York’s Garment District.

Federal immigration law has become much more restrictive since her grandparents arrived, Stern says, but she thinks that public opinion is growing more accepting of immigrants.

“Things have changed, and the nice thing is that they’re continuing to change,” she says. “My kids don’t see the logic behind discrimination – which is great! Younger people don’t see immigrants as a cultural threat.”

Hilary Stern is a PSARA member

“Experts” Ruin Everything

Friday, July 17th, 2015

By Bob Shimabukuro

“What’s an industrial engineer?” I asked my sister Toki. “You read Cheaper by the Dozen*, right?”


“Well, the dad is an industrial engineer. His work is studying how to make things more efficient. Remember the chapter on how to take showers? That’s what he does.” I would be interested in seeing how fast people could take showers?

The rebellion against high stakes testing in the public schools, and against Common Core, reminds me of a test I took in my high school over 50 years ago. It wasn’t a “high stakes,” test but a test that all students had to take.

The Kuder Preference test measured students’ personal likes and dislikes with a wide variety of preferences and interests, which suggested what kind of profession the student might be interested in.

“You not going do that,” my dad answered, when I asked him. They ‘efficiency experts.’ Tell bosses how to get more work out of workers in less time so bosses make more money. They no think about workers. Anyway, they goin’ get robots pretty soon.”

“Toki, what’s an actuary?” That was another “occupation” that was suggested to me by Kuder.

“Insurance man,” she answered.


A few years later, in my first week in college, my dorm roommate suggested we should have a study group for Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged. For me, her “Objectivism” came from the mind of an imbecile. Think about a “red diaper baby” being raised on “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” to having to conceptualize Rand’s belief that the super elite are entitled to all, damn the needs of anyone else. I brushed the book and my roommate aside. Nobody in his right mind would embrace this. Or so I thought.

In fact, “Objectivists” have now taken over the world economy. The One Percent really believe that they are superstars, and deserve all the fruits they can steal. They’ve used all the creativity and invention of the last four decades, not to create a better, safer world for all but to increase their own advantage. And they’ve done a lot of it with efficiency experts and statistical geniuses who have been greatly aided by the new technology with the ability to crunch some big numbers quickly.

Their experts have driven most familywage jobs from the economy. The Big One Percent have found that robots are faster, more reliable, and don’t talk back. They have robots that put together cars, kill folks with absolute precision, spy, load cargo, mix medicine, drive.

And these robots can find ways to make money without making or doing anything tangible. They connect a service or a product to a person or corporation who wants it and take a cut in the action. An online robot pimp.

Actuaries also are a lucrative profession, because they now work in almost every type of business doing evaluation and research: science, food and health, professional athletics (think sabermetrics), genetics (all about probability and statistics), and Wall Street “financial products” (steal money out of other people’s retirement funds).

These experts also chip away at Social Security and Medicare, cutting benefits or actually stealing from trust funds surreptitiously (e.g. $700 million is going to be taken away if Fast Track passes).

They raid state education money by privatizing public schools in the 50 states, all the while privatizing our prisons. We’ve got a problem with private “public” schools and prisons with no public accountability provisions.

The “philosophical ethics” battle rages on— a few people are trying to continue/increase their dominance of the world’s population with the belief that the rest of us don’t matter, that we are just leeches, we are but a pipeline to confinement of black and brown Kids, immigrants and elders.

Thinking about it, I guess Kuder must have been wrong. There’s no way I could have been happy being on the One Percent side of this battle.

Remember the slogan I’ve been repeating in previous columns? Well, I’ve added a line to it:

We’re not crap!

Scrap the cap!

* Cheaper by the Dozen, written by Frank Gilbreth Jr and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, 1948.

The Story of Lewis G. Clarke, Part II

Friday, July 17th, 2015

By Carver Gayton

Editor’s Note: In Part I of this article, published in our June issue, the author recounted how his great-grandfather, Lewis G. Clarke, escaped from slavery with his brother Milton.

After Lewis and Milton escaped from slavery, each settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Milton remained there until his death in 1901, while Lewis moved on to New York State, Canada, and ultimately back home to Lexington, Kentucky. Milton never considered himself black, as did Lewis. He consistently made statements over the years such as “… somewhere a link was lost [in his lineage] and a single drop of dark blood flows in my veins, but it is not discernable.” Like Lewis, Milton did not have prototypical black features. Milton married a white woman and they had several children. Newspaper and census records reflect that Milton’s children also never considered themselves black.

After Lewis’s death in 1897, the bloodline issue began to come to a head within Milton’s family. Jim Crow discriminatory laws in the late 1900’s along with the infamous Plessy vs. Ferguson “separate but equal” U. S. Supreme Court decision in 1896 reflected a greater backlash against blacks. Many individuals and families who appeared to be white but had black blood in their veins opted to cross over to the white world to avoid rampant discrimination. Such was the case concerning Milton’s family. His fear for his family is understandable.

The U. S. Library of Congress was in the process of gathering information on black authors and their books to appear as part of an exhibit in the planned Paris World’s Fair of 1900. Library officials wanted permission from Milton to have two books dictated and published by the brothers: Narrative of the Sufferings of Lewis Clarke (1845) and Narrative of the Sufferings of Lewis and Milton Clarke (1846) included in the exhibit. Milton refused and became so incensed by repeated efforts to contact him that he placed a copy of a court document in the Boston Globe in November, 1900, prohibiting publication of stories related to the early history of his life because they may cause “annoyance and embarrassment to my children and relatives … except such facts as may be given out by my family after my death.” The decree was obviously an act of desperation. The story went viral and appeared in newspapers throughout the nation. Concern over the “one drop rule” clearly divided the families of the two brothers. My mother never mentioned Milton Clarke to me or other members of my family during her entire lifetime. However, as the result of research on my recent book, two years ago I connected with the great-great grandson of Milton and his family who, after more than 100 years, never realized they had black blood in their veins. Our conversations are continuing.

A sad and sordid example of the one drop rule being still with us happened about a year or so ago when I was invited to attend a party given by a white couple I had known for a few years. The hostess introduced me to her son and his fiancé. I congratulated them on their engagement and began talking with the young lady. During the conversation she said, “I think you know my father.” She told me his name, and I replied, “Of course, I’ve known Bob since high school days.” I was taken aback because Bob was a light-brown-skinned African American, who I heard married a white lady. His daughter did not in any way appear to have black blood. As the conversation continued it became clear to everyone in the conversation that her father was black. The future groom began to sweat and appeared uncomfortable. It was apparent that he had not met the young lady’s father. Less than a week later I was informed by a mutual acquaintance that the engagement was broken off because of the race of the young woman’s father. Appearance, by itself, may not bring about a racist reaction. Just knowing one has the “blood” may trigger the act. It was the young man’s loss because his former fiancé is very bright and attractive.

The tragic shooting of unarmed Tony Robinson recently in Madison, Wisconsin, and the protestations by the mother of the victim that her son was not black but biracial, raises questions that are related to the one drop rule. Clearly, individuals have the right to identify themselves in any way they desire. That right must be respected. However, from looking at photographs of Mr. Robinson, I must say he had the appearance of many young men who also identify themselves as African American. A policeman with a gun and a racist mindset who sees someone like Mr. Robinson will not go down a check list before determining if the suspect is African American, multiracial, mulatto, etc., before he decides to perpetrate unjustified harm. He would see a man of color. I hope Mr. Robinson’s mother was not intimating a hierarchy of acceptability within racial categories. That certainly was the obvious intent when racial categories were first initiated in America.

When it comes to racial mixtures in the United States, 58 percent of African Americans have at least 13 percent European ancestry. Among those who identify themselves as white, 30 percent have some African ancestry. These figures show that we in America, both black and white, are more “family” than many of us are willing to admit. Taking into consideration the aforementioned statistics and anecdotes, and as we see an increase of racial tensions swirling around us, shouldn’t we ask: Are we as a nation operating within a paradigm of race and bloodlines that limit us from making greater strides toward racial harmony in America?

Carver Clark Gayton is the author of “When Owing a Shilling Costs a Dollar: The Saga of Lewis G. Clarke, Born a White Slave” (2014) and a PSARA member

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Friday, July 17th, 2015

By Tom Lux, Co-chair, PSARA Environmental Committee

What would be the best way to reduce the chances of climate change wreaking havoc on earth? Obviously, one answer is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere. Burn less fossil fuels – keep them in the ground. Putting this policy into practice and transitioning to clean energy, which we have the technology for now, however, is incredibly difficult because of the political power of the fossil fuel industry. So, we continue to pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere and heating the planet.

But don’t worry: there are a few scientists, engineers, and inventors who are burning the midnight oil trying to develop an “easier fix.” The deliberate use of technology to manipulate the environment is called geoengineering. So what are these modern-day Dr. Strangeloves coming up with? According to one geoengineering supporter Joe Nocero in the New York Times, “One method is carbon capture, traditionally conceived as a process that sucks up carbon from the air and buries it in the ground.” (Wouldn’t it be better to leave it in the ground in the first place?) Nocero continues, “A second is called solar radiation management (SRM) which uses techniques like shooting sulfate particles into the stratosphere in order to reflect or divert solar radiation back into space.” Again, wouldn’t it be simpler to attack the source of the problem – carbon pollution – rather than to try to divert the sun’s rays? SRM is expensive, and it is messing with one of the most basic sources of life on earth.

For these modern Dr. Strangeloves “the story of the past and the story of the future revolve around one thing: ‘Meaningful climate mitigation is fundamentally a technological challenge.’ It is not kings, presidents, proletarians or generals who make history – but rather scientists, inventors and engineers, and it is they who will save us. This position is a defense of the status quo and is the same one argued by those who have resisted all climate protection legislation that would disrupt the structure of power…” *

“What could possibly go wrong?” Naomi Klein asks in her book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate. SRM basically behaves like a volcanic eruption and this causes havoc with weather systems and historically has caused drought in large parts of the world with enormous loss of life. But proponents of dimming the sky say not to worry, the drought would all be in the southern hemisphere! Why worry? The scientific field called chaos theory tells us that when we alter a system in such a drastic way, the results are entirely unpredictable, and there is no going back.

The geoengineering clique (partly funded by Bill Gates) feel that with big enough brains and big enough computers we can control the climate just like we have been trying to harness nature since the beginning of the industrial era. As Naomi Klein states, “… digging, damming, drilling, diking. Is it really as simple as adding a new tool to our nature taming arsenal: dimming? This is the strange paradox of geoengineering. Unlike cutting our emissions in line with the scientific consensus, succumbing to the logic of geoengineering does not require any change from us; it just requires that we keep doing what we have done for centuries, only much more so.”

The ancients called this hubris; the great American philosopher, farmer, and poet Wendell Berry calls it “arrogant ignorance.” Maybe it is time to start listening to the vast majority (97 percent) of scientists who perceive climate change as a real threat to Mother Earth and the future of our children. Maybe it is time we weren’t so concerned about how we can control and manipulate the forces of nature, but rather how we can live in harmony with nature’s laws and transition to clean energy.

* ”The Technofix Is In,” by Clive Hamilton; Earth Island Journal, April 21, 2015.