Wednesday, December 11, 2013

48th Wedding Anniversary

It was 48 years ago today that I married Elaine Adams. We got hitched at the City Methodist Church in Gary, Indiana on December 11th, 1965 with a dinner afterwards at the Hotel Gary.

When I think of how long I’ve known Elaine I really do have to think about it. Let’s see…I met her in 7th grade. We were in the same home-room together. Home-rooms were the first period of the class day and were made up of students according to alphabetical last names.

I remember so well how pretty I thought she was. Although I had my eye on her, she wouldn’t give me the time of day. As a matter of fact, she teased me. She sat a few seats in front of me and I do remember our eyes meeting once and she just batted them at me. I couldn’t let anyone know I was interested in her because I was on the football team, and we weren’t really supposed to be very interested in girls. Most of the gals dated Freshman boys anyway.


It wasn’t until we were Juniors that we began dating. It was in August at the beginning of football season. After practice one day, she and a friend of mine who lived across the street from me and his girlfriend stopped in front of the house and honked their horn. I went out to see who it was and we ended up going to Lo-Jacks drive-in for a rum coke which were very popular in those days. 

 

The very next evening, they stopped by again honking their horn. We did the rum coke thing again and then parked in his drive way. I remember Elaine planted a kiss on me so hard it hurt my lip. Well, a few more similar evenings put me madly in love. I recall soon after telling her that I was going to marry her some day. We dated off and on our senior year, and after graduation in 1961, I went into the Navy and Elaine became a hair dresser. I was stationed in Pearl Harbor and came home two times for a month at a time.


I got out of the Navy in August 1965 and we set the wedding date for December 11. So, I think we’ve known each other since about 1956 which would make it about 57 years. Today will be very special for us both.

Elaine and I wish all of you a Happy Anniversary, whenever it may be, and have a joyful and safe Christmas and New Year's.



Monday, December 09, 2013

Education Is The Key

How do we get our fellow retirees and active union members to become more active in the fight to preserve Medicare and Social Security?  We must continue educating them. 

On October 3, SOAR Chapter 11-4, a SHIP (Senior Health Information Program) Representative presented a Medicare informational program to help our retirees better  understand and weave through the tangles of information.  Members of SOAR, AFSCM, AFGE, and people of the community attended.  Attendees had many questions and sharing of their own problems and successes dealing with the program. SHIP Representatives are volunteers who go through extensive training, so they are eager to share with any group or individual who many need help. 

I learned of SHIP through SOAR and I encourage all of our chapters to reach out to the SHIP Representative in your area.

Thank you to SOAR for keeping us educated so we may continue to educate our members.

Bonnie Carey, President of SOAR Chapter 11-4, Bettendorf, Iowa

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Report from the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM)

It’s that time of year again. The holidays are here and while this may be no sweat for folks who have prepared, it’s a bit stressful for those of us with some shopping left to do.  Because Congress is clearly uninterested in putting more Americans back to work, your pals at the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) are asking Santa for “more jobs.” But while we wait on Washington and hope St. Nick can help, we can still take the power of job creation into our own hands.

How? Buy American. We spend billions of dollars every holiday season on gifts for our loved ones. So let’s put that money to good use and support manufacturing jobs in the process! Why? When we invest in things made in our own communities, we invest in the future of our country. And there are several websites and directories that can help consumers do just that.

Here are two websites with products made here, at home, in union businesses. In the United States, Labor 411 http://labor411.org/ hosts a directory of over 4,700 products. From turkeys to tools, you can find great, high-quality gifts for your family and friends.  As for my Canadian brothers and sisters, check out some Canadian-made products at Shop Union http://www.shopunion.ca. Type what you’re looking for in the search box and Shop Union will tell you which union makes it. On behalf of AAM, I’d like to wish you a safe and happy holiday season. Now get shopping!

For more information, call me at 260-633-1060. Thanks for helping to “Keep it Made in America” www.americanmanufacturing.org

Rachel Bennett Steury, AAM Field Coordinator

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Senate Finally Fixes The Filibuster

The U.S. Senate finally voted to change the rules and end the practice of filibusters on presidential nominations to the executive branch and to the courts (except the Supreme Court).

The abuse of the filibuster to undermine policies that the minority could not defeat through the normal legislative process has harmed our democratic institutions and had to be addressed. With this change, the Senate has restored fairness and honor to the nomination and confirmation process for executive and judicial nominations.

Prior to this reform, the Senate was unable to act on issues important to all Americans. The President will be able to fill executive positions critical to creating middle-class jobs, fixing the housing crisis, cleaning our air and water, holding big corporations accountable, and so much more.

The Senate can now move forward and end the crisis in our judiciary system. Too many vacancies exist in our federal courts. They can now confirm judicial appointments ending the empty-bench crisis in our judiciary, filling critical judicial positions and ensuring that justice is no longer delayed and denied.

It is time to stop the partisan bickering in Washington. The Senate must perform in a constructive way that fulfills both their constitutional responsibilities and the needs of the American people. After all, that’s what they were elected to do!

Jim Centner, SOAR Director

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Keeping Health Care Promises

Much has been written and televised lately about a commitment to allow people to keep their health care if they like it. Our politicians in Washington are crying out that a promise made should be kept and that other options are more expensive. I agree to a point.

What I do not understand is why all of a sudden it is a miscarriage of justice to change health care plans for people. This has been happening for years to our retirees and other workers around the country. Many tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of our retirees have received similar letters in the past notifying them of a change or cancellation of their health care by their former employers. The big difference, as I see it, is that we had a written agreement, not a campaign promise, which was broken. Why did they not speak up for us then?

The USW has been in court many times defending our position that we traded raises for benefits and have that understanding in writing. Too many times the courts have ruled we did not understand what we agreed to or that the company did not have to live up to the agreement and not once was there an outcry from Washington that legislation should be passed to allow us to keep what we have.

I agree promises should be kept, but not selective promises. Our representatives should make sure ALL promises are kept.

Bill Pienta, SOAR President

Monday, December 02, 2013

Beneficiaries Celebrate the New Year with a COLA

      Many people ring in the new year with champagne. People who receive Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) get to ring it in with a COLA. For 2014, more than 60 million Americans will get a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in their monthly benefit payments. 
      The 1.5 percent increase begins with benefits for more than 57 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2014, and payments to more than eight million SSI recipients in late December 2013.
Some other changes that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages. For example, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security payroll tax will increase to $117,000, up from $113,700. Of the estimated 165 million workers who will pay Social Security taxes in 2014, about 10 million will pay higher taxes as a result.

Learn more by reading the press release at www.socialsecurity.gov/pressoffice/pr/2014cola-pr.html.

Source: Social SecurityOnline

Friday, November 29, 2013

Scrap The Cap And Any Thought Of A Chained CPI

Starting in 2014, the maximum tax on income for Social Security will be $117,000 per year. That means nothing more is paid into Social Security exceeding this amount. What that means is that the average working person pays the full 6.2% and that the wealthy Wall Street banker type and CEO’s making a million dollars per year are paying less than 1% of their income into Social Security. The higher their income, the less percentage they pay.

To put it another way, a person making a million dollars per year only has to work 15 hours to pay their Social Security tax and the average worker is working all year to pay their Social Security tax. A billionaire pays the same tax in less than a minute. 

Notwithstanding the fact that Social Security is financially sound for the next 20 years or more and does not contribute one cent to the Federal deficit, some are proposing to cut benefits by imposing a new cost of living formula called the “Chained CPI.”

Any long term concerns about Social Security funding can be substantially addressed by scrapping the cap and leaving the CPI (consumer price index) formula alone which would mean no cuts to Social Security benefits.

Today, when traditional pension plans are under attack and the “three legged stool” of retirement income consisting of one’s pension, Social Security, and savings is becoming unstable, is no time to cut Social Security benefits.

Bill Gibbons, PACE Representative for SOAR

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Jack Munro Was A Great Man

Jack Munro was one of my favorite characters. Although I didn't know him really well, he really impressed me with his ability to convince others that his way was the right way. I remember once at an Executive Board Meeting of SOAR (Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees) that he had just recuperated from a serious operation, A triple bypass heart operation I believe. The biggest cost to him was the parking lot of the hospital. You'll see what I mean when I say that you just couldn't help liking Jack Munro.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Union Veterans Alert

The Department of Veterans Affairs has issued a fraud alert about a marketing scam that is targeting veterans who misdial the VA National Call Center (800-827-1000) or the GI Bill Call Center (888-442-4551) phone numbers.  A marketing company created two phone numbers that differ from the real VA numbers by one digit.  If a veteran misdials and calls the bogus number, the answering party will offer a gift card and try to obtain sensitive personal data, to include credit card information.  Please note that the VA will “never” ask for credit card or banking information over the phone.

The two bogus numbers are 800-872-1000 and 888-442-4511.  Please forward this information to all your members, Posts and friends, and share it on your websites.  The bottom line is make sure you know who you are talking to before providing personal information over the phone.  The VA has notified law enforcement authorities.

For a list of toll-free VA phone numbers, go to the VA’s Inquiry Routing & Information System webpage at https://iris.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/1703.

Friday, November 22, 2013

ARA Friday Alert November 22, 2013

Richard Fiesta is Named Alliance’s Next Executive Director


Richard Fiesta has been named the Alliance for Retired Americans’ new executive director, succeeding Edward F. Coyle, who has managed and grown the 4 million-member grassroots advocacy organization since its 2001 founding. The Alliance’s Executive Board voted unanimously to appoint Fiesta, effective December 1. The director of the Department of Government and Political Affairs for the Alliance since 2001, Fiesta pledged that the Alliance will aggressively educate retirees, the public and lawmakers on ways to preserve and strengthen Social Security and Medicare, make prescription drugs affordable for future generations and ensure that all retirees can expect a dignified retirement after a lifetime of work.
“It is gratifying to see Ed enjoy his own retirement after improving the retirement circumstances of so many others,” said Barbara J. Easterling, president of the Alliance.  “I know that Rich will continue the Alliance for Retired Americans’ tradition of standing up for seniors.”
“I would not retire if I didn't believe that the Alliance is in good hands,” said Coyle. “Rich Fiesta has made a career of fighting for social and economic justice for retirees and the middle class.”
“I am honored to become the Alliance Executive Director, given our proven track record of advocacy and action,” said Fiesta. “Older Americans face many challenges. I look forward to building on our work to guarantee that the needs of retirees remain at the forefront of the nation’s agenda.” To read the full Alliance press release, including comments by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Alliance Secretary-Treasurer Ruben Burks, as well as a summary of Fiesta’s background, go to http://tinyurl.com/kv99lfr.

Seniors Remember JFK on 50th Anniversary of his Assassination
Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Many seniors remember him for his charisma as well as his leadership through some of the nation’s most dramatic moments, including the Cuban Missile Crisis and the battle for civil rights. Almost everyone remembers where they were when tragedy struck on November 22, 1963.What many may not remember is that the idea for Medicare originated with the 1960 Kennedy campaign for President!

Sen. Elizabeth Warren Makes the Case for Expanding Social Security
On Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) threw her support behind expanding Social Security benefits, joining Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in a growing push to calculate benefits through an index called CPI-E, which will increase payments to meet the needs of recipients. She was referring to S.567, the Strengthening Social Security Act. Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) introduced the House version, HR 3118.

During Sen. Warren’s remarks on Monday, she noted that The Washington Post had run an editorial that day mocking the idea of a looming retirement crisis. “To make sure no one missed the point, they even put the words ‘retirement crisis’ in quotation marks,” she said. On Wednesday, Sen. Warren told MSNBC listeners that increased benefits would help a middle class that has been “hammered for a generation.”

Update on Budget Negotiations: Talks Center on Sequestration
The federal budget deal that was reached in October created a budget conference to iron out the differences between the House and Senate budget resolutions. Because Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security would most likely come into play in a “grand bargain” scenario - which, to many, seems elusive at the moment - a main focus in the negotiations right now is on replacing sequestration cuts. According to the Center for American Progress, there are four factors making next year’s sequestration cuts even more damaging than this year’s. First, the sequester makes larger cuts in 2014 than it did in 2013. Second, many of the cuts that were legally made this year have not actually been implemented yet. More at http://tinyurl.com/ly6m2c4.
“Last month, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Democrats were united.  They did not give up anything,” said Mr. Burks. “We need to keep the pressure on lawmakers not to cut seniors’ earned benefits, so that dynamic does not change,” he continued. Pledge now to make a call on December 12th to tell your elected leaders to end the sequester, close tax loopholes, and raise the revenues needed for vital services. Click on the Alliance’s pledge, created with several coalition partners including AFSCME and Social Security Works, at http://tinyurl.com/n2rbz7c.

Social Security Administration Releases Facts and Figures for 2014
The Social Security Administration recently released its Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance Program (OASDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) rates and limits for 2014, available at http://tinyurl.com/lqqrpx7. One statistic the site shows is that Americans will pay Social Security taxes on only the first $117,000 they earn next year. “Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance Program” is the official name for Social Security. Supplemental Security Income is a Federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes). It is designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income, and it provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.

130 House Members Send Letter to Obama Regarding Trans-Pacific Partnership
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a trade agreement that the United States and 11 other Pacific-rim countries are negotiating — could raise the cost of prescription drugs and increase health care spending by governments and private payers. TPP negotiations are largely secret.  Although the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) consults with representatives of the drug and medical device industries, it does not do so with health care experts or the public.  Recently, a group of more than 130 House members urged USTR to adopt a more open negotiating process. Despite the secrecy, some negotiating texts have become public — and the newly leaked intellectual property chapter prompted sharp disagreements over access to generic medicines. To read the House members’ letter to President Obama, go to http://tinyurl.com/mv9p4tc.

AFL-CIO Showcases New Video Link, “Stronger Together”
Check out the AFL-CIO's newest video hit on collective action. The video is part of a new “Stronger Together” web page at http://tinyurl.com/kmtrxyy.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Where I was on November 22, 1963

The questioned has been asked, “where were you when President Kennedy was killed”. I suppose that most of us that were alive at that time remember where we were on Nov 22, 1963.

I was in the Navy at the time serving on a Destroyer, U.S.S. Walker (DD517). We were on our way back from Vietnam with several other ships. Being a Signalman, I was on the bridge when I received a message by flashing light that the President had been shot. I remember it so well. Not only because of the content of the message but also because it was a “flash” message which was of the highest priority and the only one I ever received.

I suppose, to be on the safe side, our group of ships turned around for a time and headed back to the Western Pacific until more information came in.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fiesta Named ARA Executive Director

For Immediate Release
November 20, 2013
Contact: David Blank – 202/637-5275 or dblank@retiredamericans.org 


Richard Fiesta Named Executive Director of the Alliance for Retired Americans


Washington, DC – Richard J. Fiesta has been named the Alliance for Retired Americans’ new Executive Director, succeeding Edward F. Coyle, who has managed and grown the four million member grassroots advocacy organization since its 2001 founding.  The Alliance’s Executive Board voted unanimously to appoint Mr. Fiesta, effective December 1, 2013.

Mr. Fiesta, the Director of the Department of Government and Political Affairs for the Alliance since 2001, pledged that the organization will aggressively educate retirees, the public, and lawmakers on ways to preserve and strengthen Social Security and Medicare, make prescription drugs affordable for future generations and ensure that all retirees can expect a dignified retirement after a lifetime of work.

“Ed Coyle launched the Alliance for Retired Americans and built it into a national voice for seniors,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance. “It is gratifying to see Ed enjoy his own retirement after improving the retirement circumstances of so many others. I know that Rich will continue the Alliance for Retired Americans’ tradition of standing up for seniors.”

“I would not retire if I didn't believe that the Alliance is in good hands,” said Mr. Coyle. “Rich Fiesta has made a career of fighting for social and economic justice for retirees and the middle class. He believes deeply in the power of grassroots organizing and collective action.  He will be a great Executive Director.”

“I am honored to become the Alliance Executive Director, given our proven track record of advocacy and action,” said Fiesta. “Older Americans face many challenges. I look forward to building on our work to guarantee that the needs of retirees remain at the forefront of the nation’s agenda.”

“Rich Fiesta knows what action and legislation is crucial for retirees, and he knows the intricacies of the Social Security and Medicare programs,” said Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO. “There is no one I would rather have leading retirees, community activists, and staff.”

Prior to 2001, Mr. Fiesta, a native of Connellsville, Pennsylvania, served in the Clinton Administration in congressional and public affairs positions at the Departments of Labor and the Interior. He worked in Congress as counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Labor Standards and in senior positions in the offices of Senators Harris Wofford (D-PA) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). He practiced law concentrating on labor and retirement issues.  He will also chair the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations for 2013-2014. He received his bachelors, masters, and law degrees from Georgetown University and studied in the legal history program at the University of Virginia. 

“I look forward to working with Rich as we head into the critical election season of 2014,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. “Retirees feel safe knowing that Rich will be channeling the energy of the Alliance’s four million members as they act to preserve and protect seniors’ earned benefits.”

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sometimes We Should Look On The Bright Side

For those things that we have some control over that need adjusting or fixing, we should make the adjustments or fix them.
For those things that we have no control over (none of our business) that need adjusting or fixing, we should try our best to look on the bright side.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

"We Had Some Great Scraps"

Alliance For Retired Americans Friday Alert, November 15, 2013

Veterans Day Message: “Don’t Cut Veterans’ Benefits”

The Alliance continued holding events with coalition partners around Veterans Day this week, drawing attention to the fact that veterans’ benefits would be cut in multiple ways if the chained CPI cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) formula were to be adopted. The chained CPI affects Social Security beneficiaries as well as those who receive veterans’ disability benefits and military pensions. Because of the number of programs that would be subject to the chained CPI, veterans would receive double, triple or more hits. With that in mind, Alliance members held events this week in cities including Waco, Texas; Ankeny, Iowa; St. Louis, MO; and Reading, PA. The events are taking place before a December 13 deadline, when a House-Senate budget conference committee is charged with reaching a 2014 budget compromise. Such a deal could contain a “grand bargain” that would cut seniors’ Social Security and Medicare benefits.

The Waco event focused attention on Texas Rep. Bill Flores, one of 51 House Republicans who signed a letter authored by Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI) advocating cuts to earned benefits. The letter argued for raising the retirement age; adjusting the COLA formula; means-testing Social Security benefits; and other cuts (http://tinyurl.com/psply6q).  See the Waco Tribune’s coverage of the Alliance’s Texas event at http://tinyurl.com/pqx6o6d.

The Iowa event focused on Sen. Charles Grassley (R), who is on the budget conference committee. For a TV clip about the event from Des Moines local news, go to http://tinyurl.com/n4zqans. For print coverage, see http://tinyurl.com/me4xpkf. The St. Louis event, held fittingly at the Soldiers’ Memorial, was covered by local radio as well as affiliates from NBC, FOX, and CBS. Finally, for coverage out of Pennsylvania, go to http://tinyurl.com/lkp33bh. “All of the events were great successes in letting people know what seniors and veterans could soon be facing,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance. “Some people needed a reminder that we should honor our veterans by ensuring that they receive all of their hard-earned benefits.”

Along those lines, Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, and J. David Cox, chair of the AFL-CIO Union Veterans Council and president of AFGE, co-authored a blog post that ran in Huffington Post on Veterans Day. They drew attention to the members of our armed services who gave their lives in service of our country, as well as to 3.2 million disabled veterans and their families -including the 350,000 spouses and children who live with a disabled veteran, or who lost a loved one in battle. To read the full post about benefits for them, go to http://tinyurl.com/lyb5zue.

700,000 Signatures Against Cuts Delivered to Budget Conference Committee Chairs
On Wednesday, Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) office received a petition signed by more than 700,000 people that said there should be “no grand bargain” in the budget negotiations being led by Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) “in exchange for cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) spearheaded the effort in the Senate. For video of the petition delivery to Rep. Ryan’s office, go to http://tinyurl.com/lzy7sn2. For video of the Alliance's drop-off at Sen. Murray's (D-WA) office, go to http://youtu.be/pKsLZCdY9_Q. If you have not yet taken action on this issue, you can now send a message to your Representative at http://bit.ly/1cwvMJd.

Senate Aging Committee Launches New Anti-Fraud Hotline, Enhanced Website
If you or someone you know suspects you’ve been the victim of a scam or fraud aimed at seniors, you can now call a new toll-free hotline that the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging has set up. Unveiled on Wednesday, it will be staffed by a team of investigators who have experience with investment scams; identity theft; Medicare and Social Security fraud; and other senior exploitation issues. Anyone with information about suspected fraud can call the fraud hotline at 1-855-303-9470, or contact the committee through its website, at http://www.aging.senate.gov/fraud-hotline. “The committee’s hotline offers a direct defense against cruel scams aimed at seniors,” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are the chairman and ranking member of the committee. This year, the panel has held hearings examining Jamaican lottery scams, tax-related identity theft, Social Security fraud and the impact of payday loans on seniors. The hotline’s unveiling coincides with the committee’s launch of an enhanced website, featuring large print, simple navigation and an uncluttered layout that enables seniors to find information more easily.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Releases Guides for Managing Others’ $Recently, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) published four guides to help financial caregivers, particularly those who handle the finances of older Americans, carry out their duties and responsibilities in managing someone else's money. Millions of Americans are acting as fiduciaries, meaning they manage money or property for someone else. About 22 million people age 60 or older have named someone in a power of attorney to make financial decisions for them, and millions of others have court-appointed guardians or other fiduciaries. The fiduciaries that help them are a critical source of support, but often have no training.

The CFPB released guides that explain the four main responsibilities of a fiduciary. The first duty is to act in the person’s best interest, which means, for example, not to loan or give the person’s money to themselves or others. Also on the list: maintaining good records; managing money and property carefully, such as by paying bills on time; and keeping the money and property separate from the fiduciary’s own. A copy of the guides can be found at http://tinyurl.com/llgeqhh.


Chained CPI or another Topic on Your Mind? Write a Letter to the Editor, Win a Pen!With Veterans Day in the news, Alliance members have an excellent opportunity to write a letter to the editor in their local paper. If you want others to know about the chained CPI or another topic, take a moment and start writing. If your submission is published, the Alliance will send you a free, union-made “Retirees with the Write Stuff” pen. Most recently, Linda Andrews, Bruce Bostick, Jo Etta Brown, Robert Dougherty, John Dyce, Lucy Edwards, Jim Hagerty, Gary Hall, Kathy Helmbock, Judy Jobes, Steve Kloppenburg, Gene Lantz, Terry Lochhead, Bette Marafino, Al Mumm, Harold Schuler, Carl Schwartz, Bob Shimabukuro, and William Stevens contributed to the national dialogue. Please e-mail aracommunications@retiredamericans.org if you have had a letter published. “Letters to the editor are a cost-effective way to get our message out,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance.

Download a printable version

Friday, November 08, 2013

ARA Friday Alert, 11-8-13

Headlines:
Alliance Salutes Veterans All Across the Country;
Ways and Means Committee Misleads on Chained CPI;
Sherrod Brown Co-Sponsors the Strengthening Social Security Act;
Election Day Brings Key Victories in Cincinnati and Virginia;
AFSCME Video Personalizes the Potential Detroit Bankruptcy

Alliance Salutes Veterans All Across the Country
The Alliance and its coalition partners are holding several events around Veterans Day to honor and thank all who served in the United States Armed Forces. The events also draw attention to the fact that veterans are affected in multiple ways by the chained CPI cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), a cut to earned benefits. On Thursday, seniors joined veterans at events in Albuquerque, New Mexico (Facebook photos at http://tinyurl.com/ng6dk5h); Appleton, Wisconsin; Champaign, Illinois (video at http://tinyurl.com/pjqebgl); and Dayton, Ohio (story at http://tinyurl.com/qxp6awy). The events are taking place before a December 13 deadline, when a House-Senate conference committee is charged with reaching a budget compromise. There is danger that the compromise will contain a “grand bargain” that would cut seniors’ Social Security and Medicare benefits as well as veterans’ benefits. “The chained CPI is a benefit cut that affects Social Security beneficiaries as well as those who receive veterans’ disability benefits and military pensions. Because of the number of programs that would be subject to the chained CPI, veterans would receive double, triple or more hits from the chained CPI,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.

At the Appleton event, approximately 45 activists rallied in front of Rep. Reid Ribble's (R-WI) office to oppose the Social Security benefit cuts that he and 50 other Republican Representatives proposed in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (http://tinyurl.com/psply6q). The protesters also delivered petitions from constituents opposing cuts in the name of deficit reduction and called attention to a new report exposing how the chained CPI will harm veterans and Social Security beneficiaries in Wisconsin (http://tinyurl.com/qggwv38). Rep. Ribble is an outspoken advocate for raising the retirement age, adjusting the COLA formula, means-testing Social Security benefits and other benefit cuts. For photos from the Appleton event, go to http://tinyurl.com/oyc7rtw (photo credits: Wisconsin AFL-CIO). Additional events around the country will take place next week.

“The greatest part of Veterans Day is that it is about honoring and thanking veterans among us. So if you know a veteran family member, a coworker or a neighbor, just take a moment to say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ said Jimmy Gilbert, Director of the AFL-CIO’s Union Veterans Council. “On behalf of the AFL-CIO's Union Veterans Council officers and staff, I would like to say no matter when and where you served our country, ‘Welcome home and thank you,’” he added.

Ways and Means Committee Misleads on Chained CPI
Social Security beneficiaries will get a 1.5% increase in their monthly payments in 2014, the Social Security Administration announced last week. However, the program’s COLA will be below 2% for the fourth time in the last 5 years. Following that news, House Ways and Means Committee Republicans were misleading when they released a statement on Monday, saying, “If the more accurate chained CPI was used to determine the 2014 cost of living increase, seniors would see a 1.7 percent increase as opposed to this year’s increase of 1.5 percent.” (http://tinyurl.com/l2k2s5m).

“Any economist will tell you, to use an earlier estimate for a figure – as they did – when an adjusted, more accurate number is available, is not sound analysis,” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance. “The Ways and Means Committee is intentionally trying to mislead us. The chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) would be a cut in benefits – that is why conservatives support it. It is a cumulative cut over time,” Mr. Coyle added.

In fact, an average earner retiring in 2011 at age 65 would lose more than $6,000 over 15 years if the chained CPI were adopted. (http://tinyurl.com/kxywnow). Experts won't know for sure what a hypothetical chained CPI COLA would have been for 2014 until January 2016, because the chained CPI is based on surveys of consumer substitution that are not completed until up to two years after the fact. This is one of the implementation problems a chained CPI COLA would face. Over the medium and long term, Social Security’s actuaries predict substantial differences across three possible COLAs: CPI for the elderly (CPI-E), CPI for Urban Wage Earners (CPI-W), and the chained CPI. It is long-term trends that matter when it comes to the impact of COLAs on benefits, since the effect of COLAs compounds greatly over time. To read the Alliance’s full statement on the Ways and Means Committee Republicans’ use of a less accurate number to make their case that the chained CPI would increase benefits, go to http://tinyurl.com/obmlejl.

On Thursday, the Alliance sent a letter (http://tinyurl.com/ndpvnzv) to Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) insisting that the misinformation be removed from the Committee’s web site. Go to http://tinyurl.com/ncaau69 to read a Huffington Post piece on the issue.

Sherrod Brown Co-Sponsors the Strengthening Social Security Act
In Youngstown, Ohio on Monday, Ohio Alliance President Norm Wernet shared the stage with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) as the Senator announced his co-sponsorship of S.567, the Strengthening Social Security Act (photo at http://tinyurl.com/okv4uda). “In times like these, people need more economic security, not less.  By phasing out the earnings cap on contributions, this legislation extends the life of the trust fund and increases average benefits by about $800 per year,” said Wernet. If you have not contacted your senators about S.567, click http://tinyurl.com/qgcbowb.

Election Day Brings Key Victories in Cincinnati and Virginia
On Tuesday, Alliance-endorsed candidate Terry McAuliffe was elected Governor of Virginia. For a photo of Alliance campaigners, including Ms. Easterling and Tom Webb, AFGE Retiree President, go to http://tinyurl.com/patwrqf. Also on Tuesday, voters in Cincinnati resoundingly rejected Issue 4, the attack on pensions and retirement security that was on the ballot, by a whopping 78.3% to 21.7% (http://tinyurl.com/pdhlaxe). “Thank you to everyone who volunteered, wrote postcards, and told their friends about Issue 4,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. The Alliance sent two pieces of mail about the issue to members in Cincinnati.

AFSCME Video Personalizes the Potential Detroit Bankruptcy
The potential bankruptcy in Detroit is not only a Detroit crisis; it is also an American crisis. Bankruptcy will increase economic hardship for broad portions of the middle class in Michigan, including retirees on fixed incomes whose pensions could be cut. To view “Detroit Matters,” an AFSCME video of real stories on the subject, and sign a petition, go to www.standwithdetroit.org.

For a printable version of this document, go to http://tinyurl.com/mzl47q2

Union Veterans Speak Out

Please read the following message from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and AFGE President and Union Veterans Council Chair J. David Cox.

On November 11 we celebrate Veteran’s Day, and it’s important to take this opportunity to honor the men and women who have served our nation to protect and defend the liberties and freedoms we all enjoy.

And yet it isn’t enough to speak words like “honor.”

America’s veterans need action, not words.

America’s veterans need a funded and functioning federal government. And veterans need us to protect Social Security, disability benefits and military pensions.

Think of the Vietnam veteran who travels for hours to the nearest VA clinic to get a hearing aid to help compensate for the endless ringing in his ears from a long-ago grenade explosion. To the 22 million veterans in America, the VA is more than “the government.” It’s a vital earned benefit. And when Congress fails to fund the government and closes the VA, it’s people like that Vietnam veteran who pay the price.

Because of the budget cuts last year known as “sequestration,” more veterans are homeless and fewer veterans get help looking for work, and tens of thousands of veterans have been furloughed.

The budget shutdown earlier this fall kept veterans from visiting war memorials.

And think of the members of our armed services who gave their lives in service of our country and of our 3.2 million disabled veterans. And think of their families, the 350,000 spouses and children who live with a disabled veteran or who lost a loved one in battle. For those heroic individuals, earned Social Security benefits are a lifeline.

Any cut to Social Security would make life harder for those families.

Lately, we have heard talk of “chained CPI” as a middle path for reforming Social Security. Don’t believe it. Chained CPI is just another way to say “cut” Social Security. For the average worker retiring at age 65, the Chained CPI would cut Social Security benefits by $650 a year by age 75, and by roughly $1,130 a year at age 85.The picture is actually worse for military retirees, who would get hit multiple times by chained CPI. Military pensions, Social Security and VA disability benefits would all be cut by chained CPI.

Congress should never balance the budget on the backs of the men and women who already sacrificed for our country. And we should honor our sacred obligations to the spouses and children of our wounded and dead veterans by protecting their benefits, not cutting them.

Let’s resolve this Veterans Day to do more than talk. The AFL-CIO’s Union Veterans Council stands alongside the VFW, the American Legion and the Vietnam Veterans of America in opposition to chained CPI.

Let’s make a stand together to end the sequestration cuts and to keep our government open, and let’s reject any cuts to Social Security, under any name and by any politician or any political party.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

More Time Off For Retirees Needed

Change oil in car....check.
Get Shingles shot.....check.
Got a new battery for my wrist watch.......check.
Picked up leaves......check.
Picked gourds.....check.
Roasted coffee....check.
Wrote a letter..........check.
Took a nap................check.
Painted basement floor.....check.

I think maybe we need to negotiate more time off for retirees.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Does NIPSCO Need New Managers and/or Supervisors?

It could be that NIPSCO (Northern Indiana Public Service Company) needs some new managers and/or supervisors, some that aren’t afraid to direct their work force.

I came to wonder this today after someone approached me asking where my gas meter was located. He said he wanted to check for gas leaks. Was he a qualified NIPSCO worker? No, he was a contracted employee with the URG company based in the state of Michigan of all places.

Does NIPSCO have good, qualified workers to do this type of work? Of course they do. So, why would an Indiana company like NIPSCO make the decision to contract out work that their own workers could do? Well, I can only guess and my guess is that the NIPSCO managers and/or supervisors in the gas department at NIPSCO are too darned lazy to see that this work is done properly by their own workers and so they’re  taking the easy way out by just contracting the work out.

I don’t like it. If there might be natural gas leaking onto my property, I would much rather have a qualified NIPSCO worker checking for the gas leak than someone with a so called leak detector machine trying to detect the presence of gas when the wind is  blowing so hard there’s no way some machine could detect natural gas. 

We don’t need any more natural gas explosions in Northern Indiana.

Friday, November 01, 2013

ARA Friday Alert, Nov. 1, 2013




Headlines:
Social Security Benefits to go up just 1.5% in 2014
Tuesday, November 5 is Decision Day in Key Elections, Ballot Initiatives
Conference Committee Holds Meeting in Advance of December 13 Budget Deadline
Groups Act to Close Loopholes that Allow Many Companies to Pay No Taxes
Maryland-DC and Vermont Alliance Chapters Hold Annual Conferences

Social Security Benefits to go up just 1.5% in 2014
Social Security benefits will rise by 1.5% next year, one of the smallest increases ever in the program's annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). The increase is down from the 1.7% increase for 2013. There was no COLA increase at all in 2010 and 2011, because prices fell during the recession. A 3.6% adjustment in 2012 has been the only significant rise in benefits in recent years.

Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance, explained the context of the COLA change as it relates to the chained CPI, a formula proposed by some politicians in order to reduce future Social Security COLAs. “Next year’s increase will be 1.5%. Imagine if it were even less,” said Mr. Coyle. “Then imagine if that smaller increase were to be compounded over time. That is the chained CPI,” Mr. Coyle said. To see the Alliance’s complete press statement reacting to the COLA news, go to http://tinyurl.com/oexe682.

Coinciding with the release of the COLA figure, Social Security Works hosted a conference of experts and advocates on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to discuss the retirement income crisis, the need to expand Social Security benefits, and how to make it a reality. Rich Fiesta, Director of Government and Political Affairs for the Alliance, and Alliance Legislative Representative Eva Dominguez spoke at the event. Several members of the U.S. House and Senate, as well as representatives from Alliance coalition partners, also headlined the event.

Tuesday, November 5 is Decision Day in Key Elections, Ballot Initiatives
Voters in Ohio, Virginia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York are among those going to the polls on Tuesday to decide key races. Of particular interest to many Alliance members are the Virginia and New Jersey Governors’ races, and Issue 4 in Cincinnati, a Tea Party-backed ballot initiative to eliminate public workers’ pensions.

The Alliance has worked to get Cincinnatians to vote “No” on Issue 4. The issue greatly affects many workers and retirees who depend on their pensions because they don't receive Social Security. The biggest change would be to workers employed by the city beginning in 2014: instead of getting a defined benefit at retirement, with a known payment each month, employees would have a 401(k) plan. Cost-of-living adjustments on current retirees’ pensions would also be cut, breaking the promise made to them. In addition, taxes and fees on Cincinnati residents would increase.

In Virginia, gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe (D) faces Ken Cuccinelli (R). The Alliance endorsed Mr. McAuliffe after he addressed Alliance members during a summer conference call. “Terry McAuliffe is a great friend of retirees,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance. “Terry wants to expand and strengthen Medicaid while his opponent wants to reject help that would give 400,000 Virginians health coverage they currently don’t have.” In New Jersey, State Senator Barbara Buono (D) is challenging Governor Chris Christie (R). Voters will also choose new mayors for New York City and Boston.

Conference Committee Holds Meeting in Advance of December 13 Budget Deadline
The agreement in October by the U.S. House and Senate to fund the government until January 15, and to raise the debt ceiling through February 7, has put in place a House-Senate conference committee charged with reaching a compromise on the FY 2014 budget by December 13. The conference committee had their first meeting on Wednesday. “There is danger of a ‘grand bargain’ that would cut seniors’ Social Security and Medicare benefits,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. “If you have not already stood with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and our coalition partners in demanding, ‘No grand bargain in exchange for cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits,’ go to http://tinyurl.com/q326j93.”

Liberals have insisted that Democrats vigorously resist efforts to reduce long-term deficits with savings in Social Security or Medicare. Sen. Sanders has been particularly outspoken, saying he fears a budget deal will contain the chained CPI. President Obama had proposed that remedy only if Republicans agree to raise tax revenue, and GOP lawmakers involved in the current budget discussions have said they would reject such a deal.

Groups Act to Close Loopholes that Allow Many Companies to Pay No Taxes
Among companies listed on the S&P 500, over 10 percent paid an effective tax rate of zero percent — or even lower — over the past year, according to an analysis by USA Today and a write-up by thinkprogress.org at http://tinyurl.com/nnwd8u3. The national Alliance and several state chapters have signed on to a letter urging Congress to include Sen. Carl Levin's (D-MI) bill, S. 1533, in the budget discussions by closing tax loopholes (http://tinyurl.com/jw2q35d).  A wide range of labor, consumer, and civil rights groups support closing outrageous loopholes in the tax code.

Maryland-DC and Vermont Alliance Chapters Hold Annual Conferences
Jim Baldridge, President of the Baltimore Area Council for Retirees and Seniors, was elected President of the Maryland-DC Alliance at the group's convention on Saturday in Pikesville, MD. Also elected to leadership positions were: Daisy Fields, Treasurer; Marjorie Taylor, Secretary; Dick Bissell, 1st Vice President; and Louis McLaughlin, 2nd Vice President. Twenty-five delegates and 14 guests attended. Speakers included Sen. Ben Cardin (D); Rep. John Sarbanes (D); Tefere Gebre, Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO; state Sen. Brian Frosh, the MD/DC AFL-CIO’s endorsed candidate for Attorney General; Maryland Delegate Veronica Turner; and Ms. Dominguez. The state chapter also presented a special Distinguished Service Award to Mr. Coyle. “I would like to say a heartfelt thank-you to outgoing President Frank Stella for leading the Maryland-DC Alliance,” said Ms. Easterling. “For years, we have valued his perspective on a long list of issues that affect retirees.”

The Vermont Alliance hosted its own annual conference, in Barre, on Saturday. Attendees heard from David Reynolds, the state’s deputy director of health reform policy; health care exchange navigators Brenda Lindemann and Peter Sterling; and Mr. Fiesta. The following were elected to leadership positions: Jane Osgatharp, President; Terry Macaig, Vice President; Ms. Lindemann, Secretary; and Ed Hutchinson, Treasurer.


For a printable version of this document, go to http://tinyurl.com/km6kq5y.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Clowns on Display

Republicans questioning Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius today at the House Energy and Commerce Committee made absolute fools of themselves. Case closed. Go Obamacare.

Monday, October 28, 2013

What's That Stuff?

I’ve been spending the last several days painting our basement floor. Actually, I call it a cellar because most people have basements that they can live in and you certainly wouldn’t want to live in ours. It’s chock full of .........well ........... "stuff" I guess you call it so I can only paint portions of it at a time, having to constantly be moving the “stuff” and waiting for the paint in that portion to dry. Then, of course, I have move the “stuff” back and then move some more "stuff" and then start painting again.
I guess a better method would be to paint a portion every year rather than wait until the whole darned thing needs painting.
Actually, most of the “stuff” down there I don’t even know what it is.

Friday, October 25, 2013

ARA Friday Alert, 10-25-13




Headlines:
Harry Reid: No Grand Bargain in the Near Future
Key Negotiator, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Does Not Want to Reduce Medicare Benefits
Detroit’s Bankruptcy Trial Begins
Troubling Trade Deal on the Horizon
New Hampshire and New Mexico Alliance Chapters Hold Conferences, Elect Officers

Harry Reid: No Grand Bargain in the Near Future
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) ruled out the possibility that a budget conference committee convening next week will reach a “grand bargain” that would cut Social Security and Medicare, raise taxes and reduce spending. “We are not going to have a grand bargain in the near future,” he said. Instead, he suggested negotiators should focus on a replacement for sequestration and forget “happy talk” about a grand bargain. The comments came a week after the deal he reached with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.

A House-Senate budget conference will be established to come up with long-term spending plans by December 13, 2013. Congress faces a Jan. 15 deadline to fund the government again to prevent a shutdown, and a Feb. 7 deadline to raise the debt ceiling. Reid said a wider deal could happen next year if mainstream Republicans can take control of the GOP away from the Tea Party. Mr. Reid signaled that he could be open to minor trimming of some Medicare or Social Security spending as part of deal that involves tax revenue. More at http://tinyurl.com/pk6n5to.

 “We still have to mobilize vigorously to make sure that seniors’ programs are not cut as part of the budget conference deal,” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance.

Key Negotiator, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Does Not Want to Reduce Medicare Benefits
On Tuesday, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (MD), the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said that said he would be open to finding Medicare savings in ways that give care providers incentives to cut costs, but that he would want to avoid changes that reduce the benefits that Americans receive. He said he would consider some changes to Medicare. One idea that would be a tough sell with Democrats is a change in the way that cost-of-living increases are calculated in Social Security. The change would be made by adopting the less-generous gauge of inflation known as the chained CPI. Such a plan “creates a whole lot of problems within the Democratic caucus,” Van Hollen acknowledged. To read more, go to http://tinyurl.com/ofdwvhx.

Detroit’s Bankruptcy Trial Begins
The trial over the city of Detroit’s eligibility for bankruptcy began on Wednesday. In an unexpected development, a lawyer for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said that the governor had agreed to testify at the trial, most likely next week. According to The New York Times, “Hundreds of protesters circled the downtown courthouse on Wednesday for the opening of the trial, many carrying banners and signs that attacked Mr. Snyder as favoring bondholders and banks over the city’s employees and its 23,000 retirees.” Lawyers for unions and retiree groups challenged an assertion that the city had made a good-faith effort to reach a deal with workers and retirees. They argued that the governor's handpicked emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, called for significant cuts in employee pensions and health care without offering unions an opportunity to bargain on the issue. Jennifer Green, a lawyer for some city pension funds, said e-mails and documents showed that it was a “foregone conclusion” that Mr. Orr’s law firm would pursue a “Chapter 9” filing as a way to circumvent a provision in the Michigan Constitution that protects public employee pensions. The judge in the case wants more information on why the legislation was passed as an appropriations bill, which makes it immune from a referendum to repeal it. More at http://tinyurl.com/ldqs7lg. To see a great video from AFSCME regarding the Detroit bankruptcy filing, go to http://www.afscme.org/giftroit.

Troubling Trade Deal on the Horizon
Have you heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade Agreement? If not, you’re not alone – the American people, by design, know very little about what U.S. negotiators are promising in closed-door talks with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and other countries. 600 corporate advisors have access to the text, but the rest of us do not. “What has come to light is that in addition to corporate-favored terms that would send American jobs offshore and decrease environmental and health safeguards, the TPP could undermine the ability of states or the federal government to moderate escalating prescription drug, biologic drug and medical device costs in public programs,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. “That includes limiting the government’s ability to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs through Medicaid and the Veterans Administration.”

The Alliance is joining with labor, public interest groups and others in urging Congress and the President to make the process of these negotiations transparent, allow public input, and ensure that the TPP agreement and future trade agreements do not limit the tools of states or the federal government to manage pharmaceutical and medical device costs in public programs or bind the U.S. to a 12-year exclusivity period for brand-name biologic drugs. More at http://www.citizen.org/TPP.

New Hampshire and New Mexico Alliance Chapters Hold Conferences, Elect Officers
Thirty activists attended the New Hampshire Alliance’s conference in Hooksett last Friday. Elected to leadership positions on the board were: Lucy Edwards, President; Jane Lang, Executive Vice President; Terry Lochhead, Secretary; and Jerry Conner, Treasurer. One speaker, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, advised seniors to be engaged politically in order to protect Social Security and Medicare. She was quoted in the Manchester Union Leader saying, “If you don’t sit at the table, you will be on the menu. Seniors, get active; let everyone know you won’t be on the menu.”

The next day, New Mexico activists gathered in Albuquerque for the New Mexico Alliance for Retired Americans’ Triennial Convention. Guests gave engaging speeches on the convention theme of “Retirees Built the American Dream” to another crowd of 30. Following a keynote by state senator Linda Lopez, delegates elected: John “JD” Doran, President; Elva Santos, 1st Vice President; Sally Gallosa, 2nd Vice President; Carolyn Devore-Parks, Treasurer; and Carlos Caballero, Secretary. Other speakers included Rep. Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D), state Federation of Labor President Jon Hendry, state Attorney General Gary King, and State Reps. Sheryl Williams-Stapleton and Patricia Roybal-Caballero. Go to http://tinyurl.com/q88dzgb for Facebook photos. “I would like to say a big thank-you to both of our outgoing Presidents, Pablo Trujillo in New Mexico and Ron Geoffroy in New Hampshire, for their hard work and dedication to further the cause of retirees,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the national Alliance.

For a printable version of this document, go to http://bit.ly/16yi9vj

Monday, October 21, 2013

Example of a Forked Tongue

Here’s what Obamacare does for seniors:

1. Your Medicare is protected.
2. You get more preventive services, for less.
3. You can save money on brand-name drugs.
4. Your doctor gets more support.
5. Obamacare ensures the protection of Medicare for years to come.

And here is what Indiana Congressperson Jackie Walorski said on a campaign T.V. add before she voted many times to repeal Obamacare and then to delay Obamacare.

“I’ll oppose any cuts in Social Security or Medicare.”….. “This is personal to me because Martha’s my Mom. I’ll always fight to protect her benefits and yours.” .....Jackie Walorski

Now if that's not an example of a forked tongue, I don't know what it is.

Friday, October 18, 2013

ARA Friday Alert, 10-18-13

Headlines:
Budget Agreement Averts Immediate Crisis, but Threats to Seniors Still Loom;
Alliance Chapters Protest Government Shutdown with Die-Ins, Other Tactics;
Poll Shows Public Once Again Disapproving of Cuts to Social Security, Medicare;
Medicare Enrollment Season is Here – is Your Current Plan Still the Best for You?

Budget Agreement Averts Immediate Crisis, but Threats to Seniors Still Loom
The U.S. House and Senate passed legislation on Wednesday night to end the government shutdown and stop the country from hitting its debt ceiling. President Obama immediately signed the bill into law before a default could ensue. The agreement contains four elements:

The federal government will be funded through January 15, 2014 at sequestration levels;
The debt limit is extended until February 7, 2014;
A House-Senate budget conference will be established to come up with long-term spending plans by December 13, 2013 (however, there will be no automatic enforcement mechanism should a conference report not be reached); and
Income verification steps will be added for recipients of subsidies under Obamacare’s newly-established health care exchanges

The bill, known as H.R. 2775, passed the Senate 81-18 and the House 285-144. No Democrats in either house voted against it. A majority of Senate Republicans voted for the bill, while a majority of House Republicans voted against it. The Senate roll call is at http://tinyurl.com/mzmzluy, and the House roll call can be found at http://tinyurl.com/lbz73tb.

On Thursday, both the House and Senate appointed conferees to the budget conference to come up with a plan to cut the deficit before a December 13 deadline. House Republicans named Budget Chair Paul Ryan (WI), along with Reps. Tom Cole (OK), Tom Price (GA), and Diane Black (TN). Democrats named Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (MD), James Clyburn (SC), and Appropriations Committee ranking member Nita Lowey (NY).

The Senate named the entire Budget Committee as conferees. They are committee chair Patty Murray (WA), and Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden (OR), Bill Nelson (FL), Debbie Stabenow (MI), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Mark Warner (VA), Jeff Merkley (OR), Chris Coons (DE), Tammy Baldwin (WI), and Tim Kaine (VA) as well as Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Angus King (I-ME), who caucus with the Democrats. The Republicans are Jeff Sessions (AL), Chuck Grassley (IA), Mike Enzi (WY), Mike Crapo (ID), Lindsey Graham (SC), Pat Toomey (PA), Ron Johnson (WI), Kelly Ayotte (NH) and Roger Wicker (MS).

The following Republicans who are on the conference committee voted against the agreement to reopen the government: Reps. Ryan, Price, Black and Sens. Sessions, Grassley, Enzi, Crapo, Toomey and Johnson.

The budget conference brings with it serious potential threats to Social Security and Medicare. If you have not already sent a message telling your U.S. Representative and Senators not to cut Social Security or Medicare as part of the budget conference, click on http://tinyurl.com/l9zrmgj.

“There is real danger ahead of a ‘grand bargain’ that would cut seniors’ Social Security and Medicare benefits, giving us more reason to be anxious. Such a deal would more accurately be termed a ‘Grand Betrayal,’" said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance. To read the Alliance’s press release regarding the budget deal, go to http://tinyurl.com/nx25adf. For a Politico article on how House members running for Senate seats voted, go to http://tinyurl.com/mdqe6tm

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said on Thursday in the Huffington Post that he would make sure to protect Social Security against attempts to trade cuts for sequestration relief (http://tinyurl.com/p6mtb7w). For a new Alliance fact sheet comparing the President's FY 2014 Budget to the Ryan House Budget and the U.S. Senate Budget, go to http://tinyurl.com/khxglqx.

Alliance Chapters Protest Government Shutdown with Die-Ins, Other Tactics
California Alliance members staged “Die-In’s” in Los Angeles and San Francisco on Wednesday afternoon to draw attention to the sobering cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other programs that are being discussed. On the eve of the government re-opening and debt ceiling extension, seniors, protestors  from the disability community and others wore black clothing and skull masks, adding to the effect by carrying black roses with signs reading: “Cause of Death: Cuts to Medicare.” News and compelling photos at http://tinyurl.com/qykx8wd, http://cbsloc.al/1cz1Ai0, and http://huff.to/1aSbY28 (photos at bottom!). Other Alliance chapters all across the country joined with AFSCME and coalition partners this week to put more pressure on Congress to re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling without cutting seniors’ programs. Alliance members also sent more than 14,000 pass-through letters to Congress with a similar message since just last week.

“Thank you to everyone who did your part to re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling without doing so at seniors’ expense,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.

Poll Shows Public Once Again Disapproving of Cuts to Social Security, Medicare
The public wants to reduce the debt, but is unwilling to cut Social Security and Medicare, according to a recent United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection poll. On Social Security, 76% of poll respondents say they don't want spending to be cut at all; just 21% say they want spending on the program to be reduced a lot or some. With Medicare, 81% oppose any cuts, while only 18% back reductions of any kind. Read more at http://tinyurl.com/lna783s.

Medicare Enrollment Season is Here – is Your Current Plan Still the Best for You?
The seven-week enrollment period for next year’s Medicare prescription drug and managed-care plans began on Tuesday. Seniors should not simply renew their policies and assume the current coverage will stay the same, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). That is because there is a likely payoff for those who pay close attention to the details. In the past, price hikes, poor performance, and changes in covered drugs were often not enough to spur the vast majority of seniors into action. Only 13% changed policies in the four years since Congress added the drug benefit to Medicare in 2006, according to another analysis released last week by KFF.

“If seniors keep the same plan despite an insurance company offering a bad deal, it gives the insurers an incentive to keep their prices high,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. For more on Medicare plans and open enrollment, go to http://tinyurl.com/ls8bkdv.


For a printable version of this document, go to http://tinyurl.com/op7g5tq

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Politics As Usual

Here we go again. Partisan politics are threatening to bring our fragile economic
recovery to a screeching halt. We have once again reached the point where Congress has to pass a Continuing Resolution in order for the United Sates to meet its financial obligations and to prevent our government from shutting down.

Continuing Resolutions are not new. It has been 14 years since the House, the Senate and the president have all agreed on a bill to fund the government for an entire fiscal year. In the past 26 years, Congress and the president have agreed to a year-long budget only three times, in 1989, 1995 and 1997, according to a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

So what is the big deal? Instead of moving forward and passing the resolution to keep things running, the Tea Party supporters are attempting to hold our government hostage in another attempt to destroy the Affordable Care Act. They have wasted countless hours and squandered millions of dollars opposing a bill that was passed by Congress, upheld by the Supreme Court and validated by a majority of Americans by the reelection of President Obama.

A recent CNBC poll indicates a solid majority of Americans generally oppose defunding the new health care law by a margin of 44% to 38%. The opposition increases sharply to 59% to 19% when the issue of shutting down the government or defaulting on debt obligations is included. Even Republicans oppose defunding, 48% to 36%, when the issue of a government shutdown or default is at stake.

The only groups who support defunding Obamacare are Tea Party supporters, even if it means a government shutdown or default on our debt obligations. It is a repulsive aspect of our democracy when such a relatively small group of right-wing extremists (Tea Partiers), driven largely by prejudice, greed and cold-heartedness, can have so much influence over the Republican Party and Congress in general.

Jim Centner, SOAR Director

Saturday, October 12, 2013

An Easy Fix from AAM

An Easy Fix: Lower the Trade Deficit, Lower the Budget Deficit

While tax reform and social program reforms are contentious topics in DC, America’s manufacturing sector waits for our legislators to turn their attention to our problematic trade deficit; which has been staring us in the face for decades. There is an obvious connection between the trade deficit and the budget deficit.  More people working decreases demand for public services while increasing tax revenue, which in turn, would lower our budget deficit.

But we can’t fix our budget deficit or our trade deficit without addressing the elephant in the room: trade with China. China’s trade practices, including its currency manipulation and the illegal subsidies it provides its industries, interfere with our ability to increase exports and create jobs.

There’s a clear connection. In the decade after the U.S. helped China join the World Trade Organization in 2001, America lost 2.4 million middle-income factory jobs. http://www.epi.org/publication/bp260/ and our trade deficit with China keeps growing: It was $315 billion in 2012 alone.

HR1276 -- the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act -- would give American businesses the ability to seek redress when a foreign government targets their industries with a rigged currency.  The bill has 129 cosponsors but we need more members of Congress to step up for American manufacturing.  Stop by your Congressperson’s office and ask them to support this bill.  Tell them that if you fix one deficit, you fix the other!  Millions of out-of-work Americans are waiting for their support.

For more information, call me at 260-633-1060.  Thanks for helping to “Keep it Made in America”  www.americanmanufacturing.org

Rachel Bennett Steury, AAM Field Coordinator

Friday, October 11, 2013

ARA Friday Alert 10-11-13

Headlines:
Seniors’ Issues Front and Center in Government Shutdown, Debt Ceiling Talks
More than Two Dozen House Republicans Open to a Clean Government Funding Bill
Gerrymandering Has Made the Tea Party Stronger
Early Voting for Cincinnati Pension Issue Has Begun
Pennsylvania Alliance Holds Its Convention in Grantville, PA

Seniors’ Issues Front and Center in Government Shutdown, Debt Ceiling Talks
On Wednesday, a letter instigated by Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI) was signed by 51 House Republicans, urging Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to make cuts to Social Security benefits before the debt ceiling is raised and the government is re-opened. To read the letter and see if your U.S Representative was one of those who signed it, go to http://bit.ly/164ZAZY. The letter recommends:

•    raising the retirement age;
•    implementing the chained CPI benefit cut to Social Security;
•    means testing Social Security benefits for higher income recipients; and
•    cutting the FICA withholding rate that funds the Social Security Trust Fund.

“The letter was nothing short of a direct assault on Social Security,” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance. “This will undoubtedly be a major issue for months to come and into the 2014 elections.” A blog post about the letter at The Daily Kos is here: http://bit.ly/GROQZe.

Also, on Wednesday, another Representative from Wisconsin, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal asking for cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in exchange for an increase to the debt ceiling http://tinyurl.com/larfndb. For the latest on the budget negotiations from Politico, go to http://tinyurl.com/kt6e2tk.

More than Two Dozen House Republicans Open to a Clean Government Funding Bill
Several House Republicans have said they are open to supporting a “clean” Continuing Resolution (CR, a government funding bill), but are not interested in forcing a vote on such a measure. Such a bill would re-open the government without cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid or any other conditions. Democrats have launched a discharge petition aimed at forcing a vote on that legislation; two hundred and eighteen signatures are required to compel a roll call, and that looks unlikely any time soon. Mr. Boehner has said a clean continuing resolution doesn’t have the votes to pass the House. President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) challenged him on Monday to prove it by scheduling a vote. To see which Representatives are open to a clean CR and what they are saying, go to http://tinyurl.com/mgqzw6x.

The Alliance sent a special message to activists from those Representatives’ and other Congressional Districts, including a pass-through letter to the U.S. House, on Wednesday. If you have not signed the letter demanding a Clean Continuing Resolution to Re-open the Government and No Cuts to Seniors’ Programs, go to http://bit.ly/1gwvc2a.

Gerrymandering Has Made the Tea Party Stronger
According to National Journal, resolving the serial showdowns over the federal budget and debt ceiling may be more difficult now than during the last shutdown under Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, because so many more House Republicans today represent safe GOP districts (http://tinyurl.com/k2ppet5). “Comparing today's 232-seat Republican majority with the 236 seats Republicans ultimately held after special elections and party switches from 1995-96 underscores the extent to which GOP legislators have succeeded in fortifying themselves into homogeneously conservative districts,” the article says – a reference to gerrymandering. Data show that the percentage of House Republicans in overwhelmingly safe districts has soared, while the portion in even marginally competitive seats has plummeted. This means that the personal electoral incentives for most House Republicans would encourage more—not less—confrontation as the standoffs proceed, notes Gary C. Jacobson, an expert on Congress at the University of California (San Diego). “The electoral threat of them angering anybody outside of their base is pretty low,” he says.

“I don’t think this is what our forefathers had in mind when they set up the American system of government,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. “Gerrymandering sets up a dynamic where a small, extreme faction can subvert the constitution.”

Early Voting for Cincinnati Pension Issue Has Begun
On Tuesday, the Alliance and AFSCME teamed up to recruit volunteers to defeat Issue 4, a ballot initiative to eliminate public workers’ pensions in Cincinnati. The biggest change would be to workers employed by the city beginning in 2014: instead of getting a defined benefit at retirement, with a known payment each month, employees would have a 401k plan. In addition, taxes and fees on Cincinnati residents would increase. Norm Wernet, President of the Ohio Alliance, and Betty Thomas, coordinator for Ohio AFSCME Retiree Chapter 1184, led a conference call with local Alliance and AFSCME members on Tuesday. Early voting on this issue has already begun, and the election will be held on November 5. “These are hard workers who depend even more on their pensions, because they don't receive Social Security,” said Mr. Wernet.

Pennsylvania Alliance Holds Its Convention in Grantville, PA
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans (PARA) held its Triennial Convention in Grantville, PA.  Wayne Burton was elected President, after previously serving as Secretary since 2010 and as a Zone Coordinator in 2008. Mr. Burton is a retired Political Science professor from West Chester University, and is the President of APSCURF, the retiree organization for the union representing all state university professors.  John White, an AFSCME Retiree, was elected Executive Vice President; Dwayne Thomas, a retired Mine Worker, was elected Secretary; and Mike Doyle, a community member from Bucks County, was re-elected Treasurer.  The delegates heard from speakers such as Alliance President Barbara Easterling; Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale and Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder; Alliance Director for Philanthropy and Corporate Relations Dani Pere; National Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) Director Jim Centner; and Assistant Director of AFSCME Retirees Karen Gilgoff.  Outgoing President Jean Friday and retired Board Member Charlie Kelly were both honored at the banquet for their service to PARA. 

“Congratulations to all the new and retired officers!” said Ms. Easterling. “We are sorry to see Jean Friday step down. She has been so instrumental in all of the Pennsylvania Alliance’s major accomplishments during her tenure. Pennsylvania’s 10 year anniversary of our chartering with the Alliance is coming up in 2014 – we wouldn’t have made it without you, Jean!”



For a printable version of this document, go to http://bit.ly/1cEkk24

Thursday, October 10, 2013

SNAP and the House of Representatives

A great deal has been written recently regarding the abuse of food stamps. The recent legislation passed in the House has cut nearly $40 billion from this vital program. I decided to do some research to try to understand the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) a little better. I was surprised to learn that the maximum benefit a couple could receive was $6.11 per person per day, based on a 30 day month.

This amount does not leave much room for abuse and pretty much puts to sleep the stories of exorbitant amounts of money spent in stores for food and other “goodies.” I was also surprised to read about what you can and cannot buy. I must also add that the $6.11 amount is the “maximum” daily benefit; the SNAP benefit is reduced using a formula, if there is any additional income. I for one would not want to try figure out how I would prepare three meals a day with six bucks.

With many of our retirees having to retire without pensions or with reduced pensions, it is becoming more important that we make sure that our elected officials do not become over zealous in their attempt to reduce the deficit, that they created, on the backs of our retirees. While there may be misuse in the system, I hope they concentrate on addressing those issues instead of attacking the safety net of the young and elderly who have come to need this benefit just to be able to feed themselves.

Bill Pienta, SOAR President

Sunday, October 06, 2013

The Mystery of the Ship of Fear
by Jim Hicks
Honolulu

The freighter Pomona, scabrous with rust, heavy-loaded with scrap iron, was a week off the California coast, westbound for Formosa, when her first mate, Alf Olsen, realized he had not seen the captain for a day and a half. this was not unusual. In 30 years at sea Capt. Jacob Natvig, 51, had developed a real attachment for whisky and he often stayed below. But Olsen decided to investigate. He rapped on the captain’s unlocked door and went into the sitting room. A chair was overturned and papers from the desk littered the floor. Olsen stepped uneasily to the adjoining bedroom and stopped in horror. The captain lay on his bunk, his head gashed below the right ear. Blood sheeted the walls and filmed the porthole so that a ghastly pink glow spread over the room. A big green fire axe which normally hung outside the door lay by the body.

Hands shaking, Olsen backed from the cabin, locked it and ordered the ship turned toward the nearest port. And she lies there now (above), tight-warped to a pier, filled with frightened men and the smell of death. She brought to land a story of violence. terror and appalling drunkenness at sea -- and the Honolulu waterfront dubbed her the “hell ship.”

The Pomona is a Liberty ship, built in the U.S. in 1943, now owned in Brazil, registered in Liberia and crewed in Norway. She sailed from Stavanger, Norway last October with a mixed crew of Norwegians, Finns, Spaniards and West Indians who hated each other almost from the beginning. Within a week a finnish sailor lost his mind and ran screaming through the hip until he was caught and subdued. He was put ashore at Bilbao, Spain.

But the trouble had started and the chief cause was the captain himself. Jacob Natvig was a convivial man. This cruise to last a year, would bring him to retirement. He like to have a glass or two over his nightly pinochle game and more over stories of his years at sea and ore for any reason at all. “The captain was a good guy,” a seaman said much later. “He was always drunk. We didn’t see him much when we were at sea.” Captain Natvig often drank with his chief steward, Anker Baardsen, though less for affection than for convenience. Baardsen was a tall and gloomy man given to fits of violent emotion. When not drinking with the captain, Baardsen was demolishing bottle after bottle with other officers. The abstainer among the officers, said the crew, was First Mate Olsen, 34, a round-faced man with curly hair and a worried look.

The crew was also drunk most of the time and fight among them were constant and savage. After Spain, the ship lurched through a half-dozen Caribbean ports. At Port-of Spain, an alcohol-crazed sailor jumped overboard and was recovered. Later he jumped ship at Guadalupe. The crew pilfered from the argo and when the captain accused a sailor of theft, the man called him a liar and went unpunished. Two stowaways boarded at Caribbean ports and rode untroubled to Baltimore Chief Steward Baardsen was seeing airy schools of flying fish that no one else could see.

From Baltimore the Pomona rounded through the Panama Canal and bore north for California. Another crewman tried suicide and was taken ashore. The ship was filthy. Cleaning was the chief steward’s duty and he was rarely sober enough to remember it. Litter coated the decks. Paint hipped and everywhere rust grew in ugly flecks. The heads -- shipboard bathrooms -- reeked. Nor was this the only neglect. Merchant ships normally conduct regular fire and lifeboat drills. But despite angry demands from the crew, again Natvig never held a single drill.

At San Pedro, Calif. the Pomona loaded scrap iron for Japan. She crossed the Pacific, lost another sailor to insanity and returned to California. On the bridge one night, the helmsman, Miguel Marriaga, and third mate, Reidar Klovnig, quarreled, Marriaga, who carried a long, wickedly sharp knife, snarled, “Try anything with me and you’re going to get a nice scar on your face.” Captain Natvig refused to punish Marriaga, and now all discipline vanished.

The men dared anything. The engine-room crew simply quit working. Officers took over and maintained steam until the crewmen were persuaded to go back to work. At San Pedro, the Pomona loaded scrap and set out for Formosa.

 A few days out, on a Wednesday night, Baardsen was in the captain’s cabin. Both were drinking heavily. It was the last time that Captain Natvig was seen alive. On Friday, May 15, Olsen found his body.

After turning the ship toward Honolulu, 600 miles to the southwest, Olsen went to Baardsen’s cabin. “You were drinking with the master Wednesday night,” he said. “What time did you leave?” Baardsen pondered, “About a quarter past midnight,” he said.

“What condition was the captain in?

“He was well, but drunk, of course. Why?

“The Captain’s been murdered,” Olsen said. “No!” Baardsen cried. “You’re crazy!” Olsen thought he appeared genuinely surprised. He told Baardsen to remain in his cabin and went to Chief Engineer Svensen, with whom Baardsen had finished the night of drinking. Svensen recalled that Baardsen had joined him at about 3 a.m. -- much later than Baardsen remembered it -- and that they had drunk Scotch whisky until 7 a.m. when Svensen had collapsed. Olsen decided to lock Baardsen up, not as a suspect but just because he was the last man known to have seen Captain Natvig alive. The crew jumped to the conclusion that Baardsen had gone mad and the ship was going to Honolulu to put him ashore. With three men insane in seven months, that seemed a reasonable deduction. But Olsen knew, and the mates and the radio operator knew, that there was a murderer aboard. For three days to Honolulu, they walked warily through the passageways and did not sleep. At Honolulu, a bizarre legal situation developed. Since the crime had taken place at sea in the foreign vessel, it was outside U.S. jurisdiction, Honolulu police made a “courtesy investigation” but could do nothing. The ship was of Liberian registry, but a trial in West Africa seemed pointless. Finally Norway decided that since both the captain and Baardsen were Norwegian, it would send two detectives out from Oslo.

On the second day in port Baardsen broke his dinner plate, slit his left wrist with the sharp edge and wrapped himself in his blanket to die. He was taken to a hospital, crying, “I didn’t do it. Everyone’s against me.” Most of the seamen and Olsen himself do not believe that Baardsen killed the captain. Though there was a tiny blood spot on his shirt, it was too small to analyze and he said he had cut his neck. Even his attempted suicide was considered not indicative, for he often was deeply depressed. He is tall and the Pomona’s men do not believe he could have swung an axe while drunk without striking the ceiling on the upswing. The captain’s ceiling is unmarked. Baardsen, recovering in a hospital, has agreed to accompany the detectives to Oslo, but there is no sign that he will be charged. The U.S. Immigration Service allows the men to go ashore, but they must report daily to the ship. They want to go home, but the company is trying to hold them to their year-long contracts and compel them to sail together again.

The authorities seem to have no suspects for captain Natvig’s death. No fingerprints were on the axe and no clues were found in the cabin. Most of the men on the ship believe that the murderer is still aboard and they are deeply frightened. They have individual cabins, but they have paired up for protection and those who sleep aboard do so with knives in their fists. They have refused to stand night watches. Officers move about the ship with their backs pressed to the steel bulkheads. The men will not work and the filth piles up on decks. Curiosity draws people to the pier to stare up at the crewmen at the rail. The men stare back. At night no one domes. The Pomona rocks slowly, her rusty plates creaking as they rub against the pier’s bumpers. On an upper deck Third Mate Klovning paces steadily, taking quick little dat glandes over his shoulder. He is afraid, as every man aboard is afraid, that the man who murdered the captain will strike again.