Friday, February 29, 2008

Another Fatlity at NIPSCO

NIPSCO Deaths And Injuries

• Journeyman lineman Jeff Cox died Friday as the result of injuries he suffered after an electrical accident in Marshall County on Feb. 16, 2008.

• Apprentice lineman Mike Nesius died Aug. 16, 2006.

• Kevin Reinhold, a journeyman lineman in Angola, IN, died Aug. 1, 2001.

• Since 2001, there have been at least a dozen electrical contacts, with five resulting in serious injury or amputation.

(Source: United Steel Workers Local 12775)

Let's not kid ourselves. We all know what the problem is at NIPSCO and NiSource.

Nipsco says they’re dealing with safety by trying to find out how an accident happened so that they can prevent similar accidents in the future. They call such an investigation, “Root Cause Analysis”.

NIPSCO also has implemented what they’re calling a “behavior-based safety process.”
By that, they mean, they’ll give their workers a little pat on the head when they keep from getting hurt, and heck, they may even give them a Chinese made jacket or a piece of pizza, but they’ll discipline the hell out of them when they do get hurt.

NIPSCO is so smart, of course, that they don’t allow the union to participate in the safety program on an equal basis. They make it a strictly disciplinary process.

Everyone knows how nipsco’s safety program really works.

The highest paid managers at the top put on a good show about safety, but the front line supervisors are pressured to get more and more production and so, although they do have safety tailgate discussions dealing with safety, and they do hold an occasional safety meeting, they at the same time look the other way when safety rules are broken. The worker knows that to do a job safely takes more time, but wanting to please his boss and make the job easier, goes ahead and breaks the safety rules. So everybody's happy. If he doesn’t get hurt, his boss is pleased as punch and gets a feather in his cap. Production increases and usually the jobs get done with nobody getting hurt.

But this is managements game plan, and it’s no secret.

Although the safety manual at nipsco does put the greatest responsibility for a workers safety on the employee, I believe it also says that the supervisor is ultimately responsible for the safety of the workers under his direction, or some such thing.

Any time there is a lost time accident at NIPSCO, the front line supervisor should be the one being investigated, and if there are more than two accidents within a year involving workers under his direction, that boss should be fired.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

We're Winning the War?? The Surge is Working??

3,973 U.S. soldiers dead

29,203 U.S. soldiers wounded

1,173,743 Iraq deaths

500 billion dollars spent

What has this guy been Smokin?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

For My Misguided, Right Wing Christian Friends

I recommend this book to the far right wing Christians. The ones who are intolerant. The ones who side with the Pat Robertsons of the world in calling for the assassination of some world leaders. The ones who value the lives of those yet unborn more than the lives of those who have already taken their first breath. The ones who favor dropping bombs on the innocent and the invasion and occupation of other countries. The ones who favor the rich more than the middle class and the poor. The ones who hate. The ones who insist that everybody in the nation be like them. The ones who would lure immigrants with, “come on in, we know it’s against the law, but we’ll look the other way” for years, then turn around and wish to put them on freight trains back to their countries of origin. The ones who think themselves better than others. The ones who favor the death penalty. The ones who insist that their religion is somehow the only “true religion”. The ones who are in favor of merging companies, unionizing businesses and churches for strength, but disallow the same right to workers. The ones who have convinced the media that they are the only ones with “family values”. The ones who make a mockery of the word, “evangelical”. The ones who have so perverted and twisted the word “Christian” to the extent that Christians have become embarrassed to even claim their religion to others for fear of being labeled a nut. To those who boast the “Ten Commandments” and at the same time forget what Jesus said. The ones who have stripped the term, "born again" of its real meaning in the eyes of the media. The ones who think Jesus was a Republican.
I think you’ll like it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Callous NIPSCO Finally Pays

Dale Burnham was a retiree of NIPSCO. He passed away one year ago. His children just now received Dale's death benefit of $10,000.
As far as I know, this is a record for the length of time that NIPSCO was able to keep from paying such a benefit, beating their old record of eight months.
Justice prevailed.
Now Dale can rest in peace.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The NIPSCO Way is One Way

When it comes to sending out junk mail advertisements or a customers bill, NIPSCO is always right on schedule, quick on the draw, and doesn’t miss a lick.

When, on the other hand, NIPSCO has a bill of its own to pay, or a life insurance benefit to pay, or an OSHA fine to pay, it’s a horse of a different color. That’s for sure.

As for life insurance, because it takes so long for NIPSCO to pay a death benefit, it sure does make one wonder if, when people finally give up on them, someone at NIPSCO isn’t pocketing the money that should have been paid out to a widow or other beneficiary.

Perhaps some of NIPSCO’s high paid cheaters and investigators can figure out what’s happening.

NIPSCO……you got one heck of a problem…… and if you don’t get to the bottom of this on your own, you’re going to become a great story on the evening news.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Board of Directors or youtube, which shall it be?

Pay the death benefit, NIPSCO. 

This is the second time that I know of that you've sat on  money that's not yours. What will it take to make you pay up?

Your employees negotiated that life insurance and you have no right to steal it from their beneficiaries.

Pay up!

Come on NIPSCO, be the good citizen you claim to be

If there are no competent management persons at NIPSCO able to pay an employee's death benefit, then please, will the most competent, incompetent management person please step forward and take over the NIPSCO benefit department so we can put a stop to this fiasco?

If the Benefit Department is located in a foreign country, please bring the whole department back home to Indiana.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

WANTED -- Competent NIPSCO Manager

Please report to NIPSCO's South Lake Complex in Merrillville, Indiana, and take over the Benefit's Department.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

NIPSCO Needs Help...mayday...mayday....mayday

If you are a life insurance representative, please contact the Northern Indiana Public Service Company and show them how to go about paying a death benefit.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Is NIPSCO a Cheat?

When NIPSCO fails to pay a negotiated death benefit to a deceased retiree's beneficiaries in a timely fashion so that they can pay final expenses such as funeral costs, taxes, pay off a mortgage loan or other personal debts, is the company just a plain old fashioned cheat?

Or......are they just being heartless, unfeeling, coldhearted, uncaring, insensitive, unsympathetic, cruel, cold, pitiless, harsh, unkind, ruthless and inconsiderate? what you owe!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

NIPSCO, Get off your Duffs!

About a year ago, a member of our chapter of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees who worked several years at the Northern Indiana Public Service Company passed away.

This retiree had three children.

He retired with union negotiated life insurance.

The sons sent in the required death certificates and other information and hoped to receive the death benefit within a reasonable length of time. It wasn’t forth coming.

One of the sons phoned me about three weeks ago and told me that the death benefit hadn’t been paid yet, and that after phoning the NIPSCO representative, was told that they couldn’t find the necessary paperwork. After mailing it to them once again, the representative phoned him and told him that they found the paperwork, but still no check was sent.

I phoned Mel Stasinski twice about this. I don’t know who he works for since NIPSCO contracts out so much of their work to Costa Rica, several other companies and perhaps several other countries, but I know he has something to do with benefits. He has a NiSource email address. I believe I sent him an email message as well about this problem. I got no response from Mel Stasinski as he is very seldom by his phone.

I then phoned Rick Bond, Benefits Director for NiSource and asked him to look into this snafu.
Rick Bond then phoned me more than two weeks ago and left a message. The message said they had all the necessary paperwork and that the benefit “will be processed very shortly.”

I phoned the beneficiary this morning and he said that no check had been received.

Now, someone is speaking with forked tongue.

If any NIPSCO customer fails to pay a NIPSCO bill, do you think NIPSCO would sit on its hands for a year? I don’t think so.

NIPSCO either needs to hire enough people to do the necessary jobs, or they need to fire someone. Which is it?

NIPSCO, or NiSource, or who ever is responsible for paying death benefits, please get off your duffs and pay this one!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Canadian Health Care

Mythbusting Canadian Health Care - Part I
By Sara Robinson
Published on

2008 is shaping up to be the election year that we finally get to have the Great American Healthcare Debate again. Harry and Louise are back with a vengeance. Conservatives are rumbling around the talk show circuit bellowing about the socialist threat to the (literal) American body politic. And, as usual, Canada is once again getting dragged into the fracas, shoved around by both sides as either an exemplar or a warning -- and, along the way, getting coated with the obfuscating dust of so many willful misconceptions that the actual facts about How Canada Does It are completely lost in the melee.

I'm both a health-care-card-carrying Canadian resident and an uninsured American citizen who regularly sees doctors on both sides of the border. As such, I'm in a unique position to address the pros and cons of both systems first-hand. If we're going to have this conversation, it would be great if we could start out (for once) with actual facts, instead of ideological posturing, wishful thinking, hearsay, and random guessing about how things get done up here.

To that end, here's the first of a two-part series aimed at busting the common myths Americans routinely tell each other about Canadian health care. When the right-wing hysterics drag out these hoary old bogeymen, this time, we need to be armed and ready to blast them into straw. Because, mostly, straw is all they're made of.

1. Canada's health care system is "socialized medicine."-False. In socialized medical systems, the doctors work directly for the state. In Canada (and many other countries with universal care), doctors run their own private practices, just like they do in the US. The only difference is that every doctor deals with one insurer, instead of 150. And that insurer is the provincial government, which is accountable to the legislature and the voters if the quality of coverage is allowed to slide.

The proper term for this is "single-payer insurance." In talking to Americans about it, the better phrase is "Medicare for all."

2. Doctors are hurt financially by single-payer health care.-True and False. Doctors in Canada do make less than their US counterparts. But they also have lower overhead, and usually much better working conditions. A few reasons for this:

First, as noted, they don't have to charge higher fees to cover the salary of a full-time staffer to deal with over a hundred different insurers, all of whom are bent on denying care whenever possible. In fact, most Canadian doctors get by quite nicely with just one assistant, who cheerfully handles the phones, mail, scheduling, patient reception, stocking, filing, and billing all by herself in the course of a standard workday.

Second, they don't have to spend several hours every day on the phone cajoling insurance company bean counters into doing the right thing by their patients. My doctor in California worked a 70-hour week: 35 hours seeing patients, and another 35 hours on the phone arguing with insurance companies. My Canadian doctor, on the other hand, works a 35-hour week, period. She files her invoices online, and the vast majority are simply paid -- quietly, quickly, and without hassle. There is no runaround. There are no fights. Appointments aren't interrupted by vexing phone calls. Care is seldom denied (because everybody knows the rules). She gets her checks on time, sees her patients on schedule, takes Thursdays off, and gets home in time for dinner.

One unsurprising side effect of all this is that the doctors I see here are, to a person, more focused, more relaxed, more generous with their time, more up-to-date in their specialties, and overall much less distracted from the real work of doctoring. You don't realize how much stress the American doctor-insurer fights put on the day-to-day quality of care until you see doctors who don't operate under that stress, because they never have to fight those battles at all. Amazingly: they seem to enjoy their jobs.

Third: The average American medical student graduates $140,000 in hock. The average Canadian doctor's debt is roughly half that.

Finally, Canadian doctors pay lower malpractice insurance fees. When paying for health care constitutes a one of a family's major expenses, expectations tend to run very high. A doctor's mistake not only damages the body; it may very well throw a middle-class family permanently into the ranks of the working poor, and render the victim uninsurable for life. With so much at stake, it's no wonder people are quick to rush to court for redress.

Canadians are far less likely to sue in the first place, since they're not having to absorb devastating financial losses in addition to any physical losses when something goes awry. The cost of the damaging treatment will be covered. So will the cost of fixing it. And, no matter what happens, the victim will remain insured for life. When lawsuits do occur, the awards don't have to include coverage for future medical costs, which reduces the insurance company's liability.

3. Wait times in Canada are horrendous.-True and False again -- it depends on which province you live in, and what's wrong with you. Canada's health care system runs on federal guidelines that ensure uniform standards of care, but each territory and province administers its own program. Some provinces don't plan their facilities well enough; in those, you can have waits. Some do better. As a general rule, the farther north you live, the harder it is to get to care, simply because the doctors and hospitals are concentrated in the south. But that's just as true in any rural county in the U.S.

You can hear the bitching about it no matter where you live, though. The percentage of Canadians who'd consider giving up their beloved system consistently languishes in the single digits. A few years ago, a TV show asked Canadians to name the Greatest Canadian in history; and in a broad national consensus, they gave the honor to Tommy Douglas, the Saskatchewan premier who is considered the father of the country's health care system. (And no, it had nothing to do with the fact that he was also Kiefer Sutherland's grandfather.). In spite of that, though, grousing about health care is still unofficially Canada's third national sport after curling and hockey.

And for the country's newspapers, it's a prime watchdogging opportunity. Any little thing goes sideways at the local hospital, and it's on the front pages the next day. Those kinds of stories sell papers, because everyone is invested in that system and has a personal stake in how well it functions. The American system might benefit from this kind of constant scrutiny, because it's certainly one of the things that keeps the quality high. But it also makes people think it's far worse than it is.

Critics should be reminded that the American system is not exactly instant-on, either. When I lived in California, I had excellent insurance, and got my care through one of the best university-based systems in the nation. Yet I routinely had to wait anywhere from six to twelve weeks to get in to see a specialist. Non-emergency surgical waits could be anywhere from four weeks to four months. After two years in the BC system, I'm finding the experience to be pretty much comparable, and often better. The notable exception is MRIs, which were easy in California, but can take many months to get here. (It's the number one thing people go over the border for.) Other than that, urban Canadians get care about as fast as urban Americans do.

4. You have to wait forever to get a family doctor.-False for the vast majority of Canadians, but True for a few. Again, it all depends on where you live. I live in suburban Vancouver, and there are any number of first-rate GPs in my neighborhood who are taking new patients. If you don't have a working relationship with one, but need to see a doctor now, there are 24-hour urgent care clinics in most neighborhoods that will usually get you in and out on the minor stuff in under an hour.

It is, absolutely, harder to get to a doctor if you live out in a small town, or up in the territories. But that's just as true in the U.S. -- and in America, the government won't cover the airfare for rural folk to come down to the city for needed treatment, which all the provincial plans do.

5. You don't get to choose your own doctor.-Scurrilously False. Somebody, somewhere, is getting paid a lot of money to make this kind of stuff up. The cons love to scare the kids with stories about the government picking your doctor for you, and you don't get a choice. Be afraid! Be very afraid!

For the record: Canadians pick their own doctors, just like Americans do. And not only that: since it all pays the same, poor Canadians have exactly the same access to the country's top specialists that rich ones do.

6. Canada's care plan only covers the basics. You're still on your own for any extras, including prescription drugs. And you still have to pay for it.-True -- but not as big an issue as you might think. The province does charge a small monthly premium (ours is $108/month for a family of four) for the basic coverage. However, most people never even have to write that check: almost all employers pick up the tab for their employees' premiums as part of the standard benefits package; and the province covers it for people on public assistance or disability.

"The basics" covered by this plan include 100% of all doctor's fees, ambulance fares, tests, and everything that happens in a hospital -- in other words, the really big-ticket items that routinely drive American families into bankruptcy. In BC, it doesn't include "extras" like medical equipment, prescriptions, physical therapy or chiropractic care, dental, vision, and so on; and if you want a private or semi-private room with TV and phone, that costs extra (about what you'd pay for a room in a middling hotel). That other stuff does add up; but it's far easier to afford if you're not having to cover the big expenses, too. Furthermore: you can deduct any out-of-pocket health expenses you do have to pay off your income taxes. And, as every American knows by now, drugs aren't nearly as expensive here, either.

Filling the gap between the basics and the extras is the job of the country's remaining private health insurers. Since they're off the hook for the ruinously expensive big-ticket items that can put their own profits at risk, the insurance companies make a tidy business out of offering inexpensive policies that cover all those smaller, more predictable expenses. Top-quality add-on policies typically run in the ballpark of $75 per person in a family per month -- about $300 for a family of four -- if you're stuck buying an individual plan. Group plans are cheap enough that even small employers can afford to offer them as a routine benefit. An average working Canadian with employer-paid basic care and supplemental insurance gets free coverage equal to the best policies now only offered at a few of America's largest corporations. And that employer is probably only paying a couple hundred dollars a month to provide that benefit.

7. Canadian drugs are not the same.-More preposterious bogosity. They are exactly the same drugs, made by the same pharmaceutical companies, often in the same factories. The Canadian drug distribution system, however, has much tighter oversight; and pharmacies and pharmacists are more closely regulated. If there is a difference in Canadian drugs at all, they're actually likely to be safer.

Also: pharmacists here dispense what the doctors tell them to dispense, the first time, without moralizing. I know. It's amazing.

8. Publicly-funded programs will inevitably lead to rationed health care, particularly for the elderly.-False. And bogglingly so. The papers would have a field day if there was the barest hint that this might be true.

One of the things that constantly amazes me here is how well-cared-for the elderly and disabled you see on the streets here are. No, these people are not being thrown out on the curb. In fact, they live longer, healthier, and more productive lives because they're getting a constant level of care that ensures small things get treated before they become big problems.

The health care system also makes it easier on their caregiving adult children, who have more time to look in on Mom and take her on outings because they aren't working 60-hour weeks trying to hold onto a job that gives them insurance.

9. People won't be responsible for their own health if they're not being forced to pay for the consequences.-False. The philosophical basis of America's privatized health care system might best be characterized as medical Calvinism. It's fascinating to watch well-educated secularists who recoil at the Protestant obsession with personal virtue, prosperity as a cardinal sign of election by God, and total responsibility for one's own salvation turn into fire-eyed, moralizing True Believers when it comes to the subject of Taking Responsibility For One's Own Health.

They'll insist that health, like salvation, is entirely in our own hands. If you just have the character and self-discipline to stick to an abstemious regime of careful diet, clean living, and frequent sweat offerings to the Great Treadmill God, you'll never get sick. (Like all good theologies, there's even an unspoken promise of immortality: f you do it really really right, they imply, you might even live forever.) The virtuous Elect can be discerned by their svelte figures and low cholesterol numbers. From here, it's a short leap to the conviction that those who suffer from chronic conditions are victims of their own weaknesses, and simply getting what they deserve. Part of their punishment is being forced to pay for the expensive, heavily marketed pharmaceuticals needed to alleviate these avoidable illnesses. They can't complain. It was their own damned fault; and it's not our responsibility to pay for their sins. In fact, it's recently been suggested that they be shunned, lest they lead the virtuous into sin.

Of course, this is bad theology whether you're applying it to the state of one's soul or one's arteries. The fact is that bad genes, bad luck, and the ravages of age eventually take their toll on all of us -- even the most careful of us. The economics of the Canadian system reflect this very different philosophy: it's built on the belief that maintaining health is not an individual responsibility, but a collective one. Since none of us controls fate, the least we can do is be there for each other as our numbers come up.

This difference is expressed in a few different ways. First: Canadians tend to think of tending to one's health as one of your duties as a citizen. You do what's right because you don't want to take up space in the system, or put that burden on your fellow taxpayers. Second, "taking care of yourself" has a slightly expanded definition here, which includes a greater emphasis on public health. Canadians are serious about not coming to work if you're contagious, and seeing a doctor ASAP if you need to. Staying healthy includes not only diet and exercise; but also taking care to keep your germs to yourself, avoiding stress, and getting things treated while they're still small and cheap to fix.

Third, there's a somewhat larger awareness that stress leads to big-ticket illnesses -- and a somewhat lower cultural tolerance for employers who put people in high-stress situations. Nobody wants to pick up the tab for their greed. And finally, there's a generally greater acceptance on the part of both the elderly and their families that end-of-life heroics may be drawing resources away from people who might put them to better use. You can have them if you want them; but reasonable and compassionate people should be able to take the larger view.

The bottom line: When it comes to getting people to make healthy choices, appealing to their sense of the common good seems to work at least as well as Calvinist moralizing.

10. This all sounds great -- but the taxes to cover it are just unaffordable. And besides, isn't the system in bad financial shape?-False. On one hand, our annual Canadian tax bite runs about 10% higher than our U.S. taxes did. On the other, we're not paying out the equivalent of two new car payments every month to keep the family insured here. When you balance out the difference, we're actually money ahead. When you factor in the greatly increased social stability that follows when everybody's getting their necessary health care, the impact on our quality of life becomes even more signficant.

And True -- but only because this is a universal truth that we need to make our peace with. Yes, the provincial plans are always struggling. So is every single publicly-funded health care system in the world, including the VA and Medicare. There's always tension between what the users of the system want, and what the taxpayers are willing to pay. The balance of power ebbs and flows between them; but no matter where it lies at any given moment, at least one of the pair is always going to be at least somewhat unhappy.

But, as many of us know all too well, there's also constant tension between what patients want and what private insurers are willing to pay. At least when it's in government hands, we can demand some accountability. And my experience in Canada has convinced me that this accountability is what makes all the difference between the two systems.

It is true that Canada's system is not the same as the U.S. system. It's designed to deliver a somewhat different product, to a population that has somewhat different expectations. But the end result is that the vast majority of Canadians get the vast majority of what they need the vast majority of the time. It'll be a good day when when Americans can hold their heads high and proudly make that same declaration.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Stimulate This

To try to stimulate the economy by handing people a few hundred bucks doesn't make any darned sense to me. What people need is jobs. Jobs that pay a living wage. And what this country needs is an infrustructure that won't fall down around our ears.
This stinking Iraq business that these nutty right wingers seem to be loving is ruining our country. Thank the Lord we'll be getting rid of this nut and his henchman in a few months. I hope it's not too late.

Monday, February 04, 2008

A tale of Two Debates – some thoughts

By Scott Marshall

The Democratic Debate

When John Edwards announced that he was suspending his bid for president, he said that he was proud of his campaign’s contribution to the presidential debates and its influence on the other Democratic party candidates. But, he said, it was time to get out of the way of history.

A turning point on history’s path took place in the Los Angeles debate last Thursday at the Kodak Theater between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Even before the debate began the voltage was high. The auditorium was packed with a great cross section of the vast democratic coalition that wants to defeat and roll back eight years of Bush and rightwing Republican domination. And yes they were equally divided between those who held up Hillary signs and those who held up Obama signs.

Even before either candidate walked on the stage the air was pregnant with hope, enthusiasm, energy and optimism. And though the TV cameras tended to focus on celebrities, the crowd was labor, all races and nationalities, women and men, gay and straight, and pumped for change. The crowd resembled those in the historic high voter turnout in the Democratic party primaries so far. They were union activists, peace activists, environmental activists, civil rights and immigrant rights activists, women’s right activists and health care activists. They were plain folks alarmed at the economic crisis and they were anti-poverty activists. And, again, they held up both Obama and Clinton signs.

Both candidates opened the debate noting the road of history that Edwards mentioned. Both beamed with pride and celebrated the fact that no matter who won the Democratic nomination, history would be made – that no matter who won, a great barrier to democracy is being broken – the first African American man or the first women will be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.

And as they say, the crowd went wild. And the atmosphere stayed like that throughout the debate. The greatest applause, the greatest enthusiasm and energy, exploded when either candidate mentioned the historic nature of the moment or slammed the Bush administration and the Republican rightwing. The debate was substantive, positive, change oriented and unifying.

And, most important of all, the debate left the audience feeling confident and ready to go. That no matter who won the nomination, the vast movement that has produced and shaped both of these campaigns, including the campaigns of those who have dropped out, is a movement united and in fighting trim for the November elections.

The Republican Debate

Now contrast the Democratic debate with the Republican debate at the Reagan Library just two days before. Here the Blue Stocking, Republican elite sat in a big hanger-like room with a huge airplane. It had all the atmosphere of the Roman Coliseum in the final decadent days of the empire. The crowd politely waited for the bloodletting. And they got their money’s worth.

McCain and Romney went at each other. Though not like gladiators and lions, but more like adolescents at a rich kids high school fighting over who gets to escort the Prom Queen. And while they bickered and glared over who said what and when, Huckabee and Ron Paul pouted on the sidelines.

The audience was divided. Cheers on one side when Romney scored a gotcha, and shouts when McCain landed a zinger. Who could be the meanest and toughest? Who would be harsher? Who could deliver the most tax cuts for the wealthy and big business? Who would stay in Iraq longer with the biggest military occupation force. Though there was a moment of interesting applause when kooky Ron Paul chastised McCain and Romney for wanting to be the “cops of the world.” Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

The Republican debate showed the Republicans in disarray and decline – a big business, anti-labor, anti-people, ultra right coalition splintering.


Nothing can be taken for granted and much can change between now and November. But this “tale of two debates” snapshot is laden with lessons. As of now twenty-eight Republicans in Congress are not running again - rats deserting a sinking ship. A time when the ultra right can be most dangerous. But, also a time when they are in disarray and can be defeated.

Still, unity and the energy and the enthusiasm of all the democratic (small “d”) forces are necessary for change. Many of us see Obama as the candidate with the most potential. In Illinois we have seen him on the front lines for labor and working people many times, like marching on picketlines for health care workers and strongly making the case for the Employee Free Choice Act. Still, the left and labor cannot afford to invest all its capital in a single candidate in any way that closes the door or dampens the ardor of any other part of the movement that is developing for change. Clinton’s campaign also represents vital sectors of the core democratic forces in motion.

No matter who wins the Democratic primary, the people's movements will need the full support of all the other candidates and their backers. No single candidate has a monopoly on the movements and the drive and determination that it will take to win. Most of the other candidates in the Democratic race, especially Kucinich, Edwards and Richardson, represent a vital section of the coalition that it will take to win.

At this point either remaining candidate has the potential to be a transformative figure in a transformative moment. That depends most on unifying the main movements and forces for change and on how much energy and mass participation can be generated for winning in November. But no single candidate’s movement alone - no matter how dynamic - can win in November on its own. This was the great lead that both Democratic candidates gave their supporters in the Los Angeles debate.

Fight on the issues, build the movements for change, support the candidate you feel best moves things forward. But most of all build the bridges of unity that can defeat the right in November and open the door on a new era of change and progress for labor and the people.

Note: Scott Marshall is a Coordinator for USW District 7 Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees

Sunday, February 03, 2008

You Owe It To Your Grandchildren To Tell Them The Truth About Social Security

President George W. Bush wants to convince people in their 20s that Social Security will not be there when they retire. It’s a lot easier to take something away from people if they don’t think they are going to get it anyway. He hopes you, your children, and your grandchildren won’t fight his privatization plan, which he isn’t telling anyone will drastically cut benefits.

Don’t fall for it.


If you want to receive less money when you retire, then Social Security privatization is right for you!

  • Young workers today would lose about $152,000 in benefits under the leading privatization plan.
  • Workers who earn $58,560 today would face a 25% benefit cut if they retire in 2045 and a 42% benefit cut if they retire in 2075.

If you like the idea of supporting your elderly parents, then Social Security privatization is right for you!

  • Privatization will cut benefits, shrink nest eggs and create the risk of poor investments.

If you welcome shouldering an additional $2.2 trillion in debt, then Social Security privatization is right for you!

  • Establishing private accounts would require more than $2 trillion in new borrowing over just the next ten years.
Source: Alliance for Retired Americans

This is......For Elaine

Friday, February 01, 2008

John McCain is Dr. Strangelove

Rebuilding the Labor Movement

By Lynn R. Williams

Prostrating himself before the rich, manipulating rules of free enterprise to benefit the few at the top, President Bush has bungled America's economy the way he did most of the businesses he managed before taking political office. Now, he's pushing a stimulus package that's essentially hush money -- some cash intended to mollify and silence the middle class.

It won't, however, provide immediate help to those most in need -- the poor desperate for a few more food stamps or the unemployed seeking an extension of unemployment compensation -- the very sort of aid that the Congressional Budget Office ranked as more effective than tax rebates for stimulating the economy.

In addition, Bush's plan, the one he pushed in his State of the Union address Monday night, won't accomplish any long-term, significant goals for this country. The kind of objectives that President Franklin D. Roosevelt set with his Works Progress Administration. The WPA employed people. They constructed public structures that can still be seen today across America. They added enduring value to this country. The combined effect of employment and construction stimulated the economy.

It wasn't a quick fix. But the Congressional Budget Office doesn't believe the tax rebates will be quick, possibly arriving in citizens' hands in July, are necessarily a fix.

This, really, is nothing more than a contemptible attempt to repair the deep damage done by 30 years of bad economic policies. The Reagan/Bush economic practices have shredded the social safety nets that were so carefully crafted over the post war progressive era, from FDR's New Deal through the Civil Rights Act and Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty.

The worst excesses of the past, those that FDR railed against, those that separated working people from the truly wealthy, have grown exponentially.

As the economy sours, as discontent with the treasury-draining war in Iraq rises, and as Americans increasingly lay blame for the country's woes on the failed political policy of catering to corporations, it's time for progressives to develop their own vision for the future.

Three objectives should dominate in plans for a new progressive era.

First, life should provide a reasonable level of economic security for all. People should be confident that their basic needs will be met, where their next meal will come from, where they will lay their heads at night.

Beyond that there should be opportunity -- opportunity to live life more fully, to grow one's talents, to accumulate more of this world's goods, to contribute more to humankind's knowledge and accomplishments.

And lastly, there should be an emphasis on quality -- quality in everything we do, we build, we create, we present.

The concept of economic security is best expressed by FDR. In 1941, he said the United States looked forward to a world founded on four essential freedoms. They were freedom of speech and to worship, but also freedom from want and from fear. He said freedom from want meant that in peacetime, a nation had an obligation to seek healthy lives for its citizens.

This surely means the availability of decent jobs and the existence of a decent minimum wage and minimum level of vacation and benefits. Certainly the right to health care would be part of any civilized definition of freedom from want or economic security.

My own experience with the evolution and provision of health care may prove instructive, as I was in Canada during the time the national program developed there.

It works marvelously well from the experience of my family. My mother lived in a nursing home for the last ten years of her life, and it cost only the difference between a double room and her single. Three of my four children and their families live under it, and it has been just fine (the fourth lives out of the country). I have been living under it again since returning to Canada after my retirement as president of the Steelworkers and have yet to pay a cent for a covered service, which is virtually everything.

It is truly universal. It is paid for out of tax revenue. As a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it is much less expensive than the world's highest percentage of GDP spent on health care in the United States. The U.S. spends $6,102 per person as compared to Canada's $3,165. Yet, the results are measurably better in Canada, where there is greater longevity and lower infant mortality.

Every advanced country in the world, with the exception only of the U.S., has some version of a public health insurance plan. None is perfect, but what system is? Virtually all have better statistics than the U.S., are less costly, and provide care to everyone.

Another critically important element in economic security is a reasonable minimum wage, a priority cruelly neglected in the U.S. The opposition always maintains that raising it will increase unemployment. A few years ago, Allan Kreuger a Princeton economist, and some of his colleagues examined the results of an increase in minimum wage among 330 fast food workers in New Jersey and another 80 plus in Pennsylvania, following an increase in the minimum wage in New Jersey to $5.50 an hour. The study found no evidence that it increased unemployment. A decent minimum should be established, and it should rise automatically with inflation.

Wages, of course, aren't helpful without job security. In recent years, the outsourcing of jobs through so-called free trade has eroded all employment security in the U.S. So much of what is talked about as free trade really is not trade at all, in the sense of the classical economists. Instead it is nothing more than the outsourcing of jobs to be performed offshore for unbelievably lower wages with the goods or services then shipped back, with a devastating impact on economic security. It is not unusual to see the entire economic base of a community wiped out in this way.

Many of these arrangements are with countries that have authoritarian governments, manipulating their unions and controlling wages and conditions, so that anything resembling what the theoreticians describe as free trade in not remotely possible. One cannot have free trade with slave societies.

A new progressive era must deal effectively with all these issues. What is needed is to use the leverage of market access to raise wages in the developing countries, so that they may embark on the path, not of being destitute consumers, but of becoming income-earning producers and therefore customers of their own products. Then they can also become customers on the world stage. They can then maintain jobs in the producing countries, not undercutting and destroying them, but rather enabling all countries to become buyers and sellers, to go about looking for new creative ways to be productive.

This dynamic cannot be overemphasized. Circumstances such as exist in Nigeria where the delta, rich with oil, provides virtually no benefits to the local population, or in the mineral-rich Congo, where the wealth disappears in corruption, both local and international, greatly exacerbate all the problems and do nothing to relieve any of them. If the citizens of these countries were sharing in the wealth of their own resources, they could be significant customers, making an enormous contribution to the well-being of their own people and of people around the world.

What labor seeks is fair trade agreements that include guarantees of human rights, of the right to organize and bargain collectively, that require environmental standards and safety and health standards. If we can protect intellectual property rights in trade agreements, as we do, we can protect human rights and the environment.

A new progressive era also requires that the labor movement be rebuilt and restored to its counterbalancing position in our society. The attack on the movement in the private sector over the past 30 years has had destructive results for everybody. It is instructive that the corporations buying up our companies come in many instances from countries where the labor movement's role in economic and social decision making is much more accepted as the way businesses operate. This is true across Europe and in Brazil, where the president of the country is the former president of the Metalworkers Union.

There is really only one institution that represents the democratically determined voice of the people in economic matters and that is the labor movement. That is why economies are more balanced, inequality is more contained and pressures to help the less fortunate are more sustained in those societies where there is a vigorous and strong labor movement.

Rebuilding the labor movement and, and the same time, ensuring that this country sustains manufacturing jobs will provide opportunities for all Americans that are essential to maintaining a solid middle class.

Lastly, in this new progressive era, there is the issue of quality, a word that encompasses a number of ideas. If we are to give our beautiful environment on planet Earth its proper respect, the reckless and wasteful use of resources of all kinds that has been a hallmark of so much of our economy must be significantly modified. This leads directly to the quality of the processes of production, in that use should be made through participative structures of the talents of all who are involved, including the union, and careful attention given to establishing and maintaining safe conditions and protection against occupational disease.

For some time now, the wonders of technology have led to speculation that human labor might be reduced, since so much abundance can be produced so efficiently. Still, Americans, living in the richest country on the face of the globe, have until recently worked the longest hours. Maybe now the congruence of such challenging developments as the potential destruction of our environment, the toxicity of some resources, and the shortage of others will motivate our society to look in some new and higher quality directions for the joys and satisfactions of life.

One can imagine a new flourishing of mankind's artistic, scientific and athletic talents, given the combination of basic security, fine educational opportunities and experiences, and the emphasis on quality envisaged in this new progressive agenda.

These are the areas in which our restless and competitive energies should be focused, not in warfare with each other, not in the exploitation of the weakest by the strongest, but in the leadership of the strongest in building a new global era worthy of the best of humankind's gifts and talents.

Note: Lynn Williams is President Emeritus of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees