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.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Alliance Friday Alert 10-4-13




Headlines:
Activists at U.S. Capitol Warn: “Don’t Use Shutdown to Cut Benefits for Seniors”;
Rolling Stone Explains How Wall Street Wins at Public Workers’ Expense;
Video Explains Affordable Care Act as it Applies to Seniors;
Arizona Alliance Convention is Held in Phoenix;
California Alliance Holds its 10th Annual Convention

Activists at U.S. Capitol Warn: “Don’t Use Shutdown to Cut Benefits for Seniors”
Scores of seniors came to the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, joined hands with Members of Congress, and formed a human chain in opposition to the Chained CPI formula and all benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The Congressional Progressive Caucus hosted the demonstration, as Alliance members joined with Social Security Works and other allies. The event was emceed by Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Keith Ellison (D-MN). Other Members of Congress at the event included Reps. Cheri Bustos (IL); David Cicilline (RI); Yvette Clarke (NY); John Conyers (MI); Elijah Cummings (MD); Rosa DeLauro (CT); Alan Grayson (FL); Mike Honda (CA); Steven Horsford (NV); Barbara Lee (CA); Sheila Jackson Lee (TX); Alan Lowenthal (CA); Daniel Maffei (NY); Carolyn Maloney (NY); Jerrold Nadler (NY);  Mark Pocan (WI); Jan Schakowsky (IL); Mark Takano (CA); and Paul Tonko (NY). Politico wrote about the event at http://tinyurl.com/pp6e7te.

“Congratulations to everyone who made today a success or got this event started by hosting a human chain event on July 2nd,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.

“Seniors sent a message today: We are standing up for our hard-earned benefits and will not allow a government shutdown to force cuts to our Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid!” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance. “But today was also a part of a timely revolt against Republicans' hostage taking strategy. Whether shutting down the government to protest Obamacare or using a debt crisis to force the Chained CPI on seniors, Americans have had enough,” Coyle continued.

Go to http://youtu.be/Y75JKaLvwgQ to see video of Rep. Ellison from the day’s event. Group shots from the day’s demonstration, including video footage of Rep. Honda saying, “Cut the Crap, Scrap the Cap,” are at http://tinyurl.com/nhwct34. Go to http://tinyurl.com/pvf3c2w for video of the entire event. Click on http://tinyurl.com/o4krdww and http://tinyurl.com/nw2qhtn to see Facebook photos.

Rolling Stone Explains How Wall Street Wins at Public Workers’ Expense
Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone magazine writes, “All across America, Wall Street is grabbing money meant for public workers.” The piece explains how Rhode Island was used as a test case for the rest of the country, “at the behest of powerful out-of-state financiers with dreams of pushing pension reform down the throats of taxpayers and public workers from coast to coast.”

“This scathing, much-talked-about article explains how Wall Street benefits, while public workers are losing their pension funds,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. Read the piece at: http://tinyurl.com/kjag4xj.

Video Explains Affordable Care Act as it Applies to Seniors
Kaiser Health News’s Mary Agnes Carey appeared on the PBS Newshour last Thursday night to answer questions from seniors uncertain of how the Affordable Care Act will affect older Americans and what changes are coming for Medicare recipients. That video is available at http://tinyurl.com/onj5mm5.

On Tuesday, the online health insurance marketplaces — the centerpiece of President Obama’s health-care law — opened for business despite the government shutdown. The plan is for millions of Americans to go online to compare health plans, find out if they’re eligible for federal help with premiums and buy coverage. The Obama Administration acknowledged that the debut was not flawless - with some computer glitches - but officials expect the kinks to be ironed out soon.

An exchange is a Web site designed to make it easy to find health coverage. Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries aren’t eligible for them. Those who are in the country illegally are barred from them, and most workers at bigger companies that provide health coverage won’t use them.

Each state will have an exchange. Some states are running their own; the rest are either partnering with the federal government or relying on the federal government to operate theirs. Exchanges are designed for the uninsured, people who buy their own coverage, and those whose employer-provided coverage is too expensive or lacks important benefits. Initial open enrollment is Oct. 1 through March 31. Those who are eligible can find an exchange at www.healthcare.gov.

Arizona Alliance Convention is Held in Phoenix
Seventy-five Arizona Alliance members attended the group’s state convention at the new Painters' Union Hall in Phoenix on Monday. Sam Wercinski, with the Arizona Advocacy Network, showed the Bill Moyers film "The United States of ALEC" and then led a discussion surrounding ALEC's influence in politics. Rich Fiesta, Director of the Department of Government and Political Affairs for the Alliance, gave an invigorating talk about the political landscape for the 2014 election cycle and administered the Oath of Office for the new board. Alex Lawson from Social Security Works trained the attendees on messaging and winning words. Karen Gilgoff from AFSCME’s retirees also shared her expertise. The following officers were elected: Doug Hart, President; John Campbell, 1st Vice President; Bill Engler, 2nd Vice President; Dan Pollard, Treasurer; and Tino Torres, Recording Secretary. To see photos on Facebook, go to http://tinyurl.com/o8bb6gc.

California Alliance Holds its 10th Annual Convention
The California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA) celebrated their 10th anniversary on Oct 1st and 2nd as part of their 10th Annual Convention, held in Sacramento.  Over 250 delegates attended from around the state.  Keynote speakers included Ms. Easterling; Dr. William Vega from the USC Roybal Institute on Aging; Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones; California Secretary of Labor Marty Morgenstern, and Lenny Goldberg, Executive Director of the California Tax Reform Association.  Workshops included Becoming an Empowered Elder and The Affordable Care Act and Seniors. Over 200 phone calls were made at a phone bank regarding the protection of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to the state Congressional delegation. New board members were elected and installed; President Nan Brasmer was reelected, as was Secretary Dawn Bronsema.



For a printable version of this document, go to http://tinyurl.com/q8sj9hd

I.U. Health's Well Kept Secret

I.U. Health’s Well Kept Secret

Recently, I was diagnosed with a problem which required surgery. My family doctor, Dr. Dennis Dalphond in North Judson, scheduled an appointment with a specialist in Laporte, IN. After additional testing was done, I was instructed to make an appointment with a surgeon.  I was given the choice of three surgeons from which to choose. All were in LaPorte.

I preferred having the procedure done in Knox and I asked if there was a physician on the list from here.  I was told that there was a general surgeon in Knox but they didn’t know if this surgeon was “recommended” for this surgery. After waiting ten days with no call back, and getting the impression that the hospital in Laporte didn’t want the hospital in Knox to do the job, I called the office of Dr. Mangalore Subba Rao at the Starke Hospital and Physicians and was given an appointment.

I want everyone to know how great the employees at the Starke County hospital are and that their surgeons are second to none.  All were wonderful and I couldn’t have asked for better treatment. Everyone I came in contact with was kind and considerate, treated me with dignity and respect.  All were professional in every way, from the maintenance people to the  technicians, nurses, and surgeon.

The next time you need professional healthcare, my recommendation for people in the Knox area is to give the Starke Hospital and Physicians a try. You’ll be glad you did. I hope more patients will be encouraged to use IU Starke Hospital. 

Many thanks to Starke Hospital and Physicians employees, and special thanks to Dr. Mangalore Subba Rao.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

House Republicans' Shutdown Turns Seniors into Hostages

For Immediate Release
September 30, 2013
Contact: David Blank – 202/637-5275 or dblank@retiredamericans.org


House Republicans’ Shutdown Turns Seniors into Hostages

We must make sure these tactics are not “Rewarded” with Cuts to Social Security and Medicare


The following statement was issued today by Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance for Retired Americans.


"The Affordable Care Act offers seniors free preventive care and closes the doughnut hole gap in prescription drug coverage. For House Republicans to say that they don’t like it, and are therefore going to shut down the government over it, is a preposterous attempt to take our government – and seniors - hostage.

"The United States is a country of laws, and the Affordable Care Act is the law of this land. Health care reform was not only signed into law by President Obama in 2010 – it was also ratified once again by the American people when the elections of 2012 took place.

"As a result of furloughs and service cuts during the last shutdown, claims for Social Security and disability benefits were not being taken and callers were denied service on the Social Security Administration’s 800 number.

"During the 1995-96 shutdowns, veterans also saw their disability benefits and pension claims delayed.

"We must stand firm against these tactics, and not allow the House Republicans’ unreasonable demands to erode the Social Security and Medicare benefits that seniors rely on. In particular, we must make sure that these hostage-taking schemes are not used to negotiate the Chained CPI formula change to seniors’ future Social Security cost-of-living adjustments, cutting their benefits. That is one of the results that these hostage-takers would love to see happen most of all. We must also beware of attempts to shift Medicare costs to beneficiaries."

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The Alliance for Retired Americans is a national organization that advocates for the rights and well-being of over 4 million retirees and their families.

Contact information: David Blank, Alliance for Retired Americans, 815 16th Street, NW 4th floor, Washington, DC 20006