Posts Tagged 'labor'

Why Organized Labor Is Organizing Against Obamacare

This significant article shows a potential new source of support for winning Single-Payer healthcare: organized labor. Unions which had held back from embracing Single-Payer because they had their own health plans are now realizing that Obamacare does not just encourage employers to cut back full-time jobs to un-benefited part-time jobs. Obamacare also damages hard-won union-based health plans.

2013-09-17-GP_meeting-detail

Click to enlarge image.

The Fiscal Times, August 30, 2013

Why Organized Labor Is Organizing Against Obamacare
(Read this article on-line at http://tinyurl.com/pchnggr )

By ERIC PIANIN, The Fiscal Times

Now look who’s making a fuss about Obamacare.

President Obama has had his hands full fending off Republican assaults against Obamacare. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and a handful of other GOP lawmakers even favor shutting down the government, if necessary, to prevent the new law from fully taking effect.

But Obama is also getting blasted these days from an unexpected quarter: Major labor groups instrumental in helping the president win a critical second term are charging that Obamacare is undercutting existing union-sponsored health insurance programs and even encouraging employers to cut workers’ hours.

This is the latest bizarre wrinkle in the unfolding political drama over Obama’s signature program for extending health insurance coverage to millions of uninsured Americans.

Last month, leaders of three of the largest labor unions sent a scathing letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), warning that if the problems with the insurance program are not addressed, the new health care law will “shatter not only our hard-earned health benefits, but destroy the foundation of the 40-hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.”

The letter was written by James Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Joseph Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, and Donald Taylor, president of UNITE-HERE, a union that represents hotel, airport and food service workers. It stressed the unions’ displeasure with a law they all had previously supported and helped to pass.

“When you and the president sought our support for the Affordable Care Act, you pledged that if we liked the health plans we have now, we could keep them. Sadly, that promise is under threat,” said the letter. “We have been strong supporters of you. In campaign after campaign we have put boots on the ground, gone door-to-door to get out the vote, run phone banks and raised money to secure this vision. Now this vision has come back to haunt us.”

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka echoed those concerns Thursday, telling reporters during a breakfast event that the administration and Congress made some serious blunders in drafting the legislation that must be fixed to quiet the growing union discontent.

“We’ve been working with the administration to find solutions to what I think are inad-vertent holes in the act,” said Trumka. “When the act was put together, it wasn’t thought completely through. So we work on a daily basis. I’m hopeful we get something done in the very near future.”

PERVERSE INCENTIVE?

From labor’s perspective, arguably the biggest problem is that the law – when fully implemented – will create an incentive for employers to keep their workers’ hours below 30 hours a week.

The Affordable Care Act will eventually penalize firms employing 50 or more people that don’t offer health insurance – or that offer coverage below minimum standards. This is the so-called “employer mandate.” The White House this summer put that provision on hold until 2015 to give medium and large employers the opportunity to better prepare and plan for the changes and reporting requirements. But once that provision finally takes hold, union leaders say that companies will cut the hours of workers below 30 hours per week to get under the 50-worker threshold for providing health care coverage.

With salaries remaining relatively static during this tepid economic recovery, a cutback in hours would be tantamount to a substantial pay cut for many union and other workers who are struggling to make ends meet.

“Employers are trying to plan their future by creating a work force that gets 29-and-a-half hours or less a week, so that they don’t have to pay health care,” Trumka said yesterday. “That is obviously something that no one intended….Is that an issue? Yeah, that’s an issue.”

Labor leaders also fear that Obamacare may end up “destroying” the union’s multi-employer health plans unless it is changed.

At issue are “Taft-Hartley plans” – the non-profit health care plans long used by union-ized workers in the building trades and service industries and jointly administered by participating companies and unions. Those plans have traditionally allowed workers in transient industries to move between employers while still preserving the same quality of health care. Because union leaders have helped negotiate those plans, they typically offer strong coverage at a low out-of-pocket cost to workers.

Under the Affordable Care Act as currently interpreted by the administration, union members with this form of health insurance coverage would not be entitled to federal tax subsidies available to others who purchase policies from private companies in the new insurance exchange, according to labor leaders. Moreover, many union members who hold these “non-profit” policies may get hit with federal taxes to help offset the cost of the subsidies offered in the new state exchanges.

“Taken together, these restrictions will make non-profit plans like ours unsustainable, and will undermine the health-care market of viable alternatives to the big health insurance companies,” according to the letter sent to Reid and Pelosi by the labor chiefs.

The Treasury Department has signaled it views the Taft-Hartley plans as equivalent to other employer-based plans, which aren’t eligible for subsidies. And the Congressional Research Service, a nonprofit legislative analysis group, published a paper saying Taft-Hartley plans likely wouldn’t be eligible for subsidies based on the way the law is written.

The health care law is likely to be a prime topic of conversation when Obama addresses the AFL-CIO’s Quadrennial Convention next month in Los Angeles. Obama’s relations with labor have been rocky at times, for sure. Yet while he’ll talk about his plans to create jobs, provide better pay and strengthen workplace protections, the president’s speech on Sept. 9 may not include every reassuring word that labor leaders are right now longing to hear.

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Here’s Real History in the Making: Fighting to Save SF City College

Here’s Real “History in the Making”:
The People Fight Back to Save City College
Friday, January 11, 9–10:30 AM
SF City College, Ocean Campus
Between Diego Rivera Theater & Visual Arts Bldg.
MUNI # 9X, 9AX, 9BX, 29, 36, 43, 49, 54, and K
Balboa Park BART 3 blocks away on Geneva
See map of campus: http://tinyurl.com/aoq7yp6

Contact:
Allan Fisher, afisher800@gmail.com
Wendy Kaufmyn ,(510) 714-8687, kaufmyn@aol.com

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Students cross Phelan Avenue at the main campus of S.F. City College, which is under fire by the accrediting commission. Photo: Megan Farmer, The Chronicle / SF

City College of San Francisco students, staff, teachers and department chairs will picket and boycott the interim chancellor’s welcome address which traditionally kicks off the new semester. Instead of listening to Dr. Thelma Scott-Skillman’s speech, “History in the Making”, City College’s community will make its own history by conducting a press conference and rally addressing the people of San Francisco.

The people of San Francisco overwhelmingly showed a vote of confidence in CCSF by passing Proposition A, a parcel tax specifically dedicated to offset budget cuts, prevent worker layoffs, maintain essential classes, programs and student support services. However, the district is intending to use the funds for other purposes, namely paying high-priced consultants and bolstering reserves.

During this event people will be asked to sign a Pledge of Resistance stating their intention to take drastic action if the district doesn’t spend Proposition A funds (or reserves) as intended.

“San Francisco voters sent a clear message of affirmation for City College’s mission to serve the whole community,” said Leslie Simon, instructor in Women’s Studies and former department chair. “We denounce the district’s downsizing our mission, downsizing our college and limiting student accessibility.”

Allan Fisher, ESL instructor, insisted that, “The administration has failed to promote student enrollment, thereby creating a ‘budget crisis’. Meanwhile they are spending excessive amounts on administrative salaries, high paid consultants and lucrative interim administrative positions.”

Wendy Kaufmyn, Engineering instructor of 29 years, said, “ We need to remain steadfast in our commitment to the California Master Plan and its vision of free education for all and to AB1725, legislation which encourages an administrative role by department chairs elected by their peers.”

We accept the accreditation commission’s legitimate suggestions, we will not accept the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges undermining of mission of our community college. We demand a commitment to the California Master Plan and its vision of free education for all, and to AB1725, encouraging an administrative role by peer-elected department chairs.

Speakers at the action will denounce:

* how Proposition A funds are not being used as the voters intended for classes, programs, and student services, and to prevent layoffs

* the limiting of student accessibility through the downsizing of CCSF

* the narrowing of CCSF’s mission to serve the whole community

* the failure of the administration to effectively promote student enrollment, thereby creating a “budget crisis”

* the administration efforts to limit democratic culture and institute an authoritarian, top-down business model for CCSF

* the dismantling of the Department Chair structure, and the negative impact on the “diversity departments”

* the excessive spending on administrative salaries and high paid consultants

* the unilateral take-backs (an additional 9% salary cut from employees on top 2.85%) after six years of employee pay freezes and concessions

* the district proposals to limit or terminate health benefits and pro-rata pay for part-time employees

* the use of CCSF funds for lucrative interim administrative hiring positions

* the mantra of productivity expressed by the administration under the name “enrollment management” that negatively impacts educational quality

* the chronic misrepresentation of CCSF in the media

* the taking away of power from the elected local Board of Trustees

Short Link to this posting:   http://wp.me/p3xLR-tW

“Everybody In! Nobody out!” Means No Exclusion of Undocumented Immigrants

Since its inception, Single-Payer healthcare’s most enduring rallying theme has been “Everybody In!  Nobody Out!”  This vision, which resonates with our most basic striving for equality, is being challenged now, as progressives and sections of labor rally behind Bernie Sanders’ new single-payer law, S.915, which contains the fatal flaw of excluding undocumented immigrants.  (Section 102, Universal Entitlement)  Single Payer has always been about EQUAL, comprehensive, accessible, affordable, economical healthcare for EVERYONE.  The damage the working class would suffer from passing this bill as is, and splitting us into “legal” and “not legal” groupings, would negate any advances that would be made by getting rid of  insurance companies.

I would like to present a resolution that was submitted to the American Public Health Association in response to the Obama Health Plan’s exclusion of undocumented immigrants.  In the year before the American Public Health Association (APHA) had its 2010 annual meeting on the theme of “Social Justice,” a massive health reform law had passed which totally excluded some 12 million undocumented immigrants. And while immigrants had been hoping for far-reaching reforms and a measure of long-delayed justice, harassment and deportation of undocumented immigrants had markedly increased.  In response, members of the Health-Not-War group at APHA proposed the following resolution to send an unequivocal message that this is intolerable to us as human beings and as public health workers.

Opposing the Exclusion of Undocumented Immigrants from Health Care Reform

November 5, 2010

The American Public Health Association,

Noting that this March, 2010, Congress passed and the President signed a massive Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), which not only leaves at least 23 million uninsured1, but explicitly excludes ALL undocumented immigrants,1 and,

Noting that the PPACA even forbids undocumented immigrants from using their own money to buy health insurance at discounted prices through the exchanges,2 and,

Noting that, of all groups, undocumented immigrants have arguably the greatest need of having healthcare expanded to them because:

FIRST: Undocumented immigrants are twice as likely to be uninsured as documented immigrants,3 and,

SECOND: Undocumented immigrants are generally excluded from Medicaid and SCHIP by federal law, and state-funded exceptions to this pattern will become rarer as state budgets languish. Moreover, most undocumented immigrants must wait five years after gaining legal residency to apply for Medicaid and SCHIP.4

THIRD: Undocumented immigrants’ future access to healthcare will be more challenging because  (1) increasing raids5 and deportations6, Arizona’s SB 10707, and the Secure Communities Initiative8 are likely to make undocumented immigrants more fearful of registering at health facilities and traveling to them, (2) State and County budget cuts are eliminating health services for  undocumented immigrants9, (3) Anti-immigrant groups are pressing jurisdictions to withdraw health services from undocumented immigrants10, and (4) Legislators are considering withdrawing citizenship from US-born children of undocumented immigrants, compromising their children’s access to healthcare as well as overturning a 150-year old constitutional right,11 and,

FOURTH:  Many of the factors contributing to poor access to healthcare for immigrants in general are worse for undocumented immigrants, such as immigrants’ fears of presenting at health institutions, immigrants’ increasing unemployment rates combined with the higher cost of buying individual insurance, and health institutions’ fear of losing funding for treating immigrants.   Even among the insured, immigrants’ and their children’s access to ambulatory and emergency care is worse than that of citizens,12 and,

FIFTH: Future funds for hospitalization of the uninsured, including undocumented immigrants, will be reduced, as PPACA reduces Medicare and Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital payments to hospitals serving the uninsured. Though these hospitals’ burden of uninsured will drop over time, PPACA specifies DSH payments must drop faster13, and Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services Chief Actuary estimated that the combined reductions at $64 billion over ten years.14

SIXTH: Reducing undocumented immigrants’ already poor access to healthcare is particularly dangerous and morally indefensible in light of their increased rates of injury, illness15, and death16 from hazardous  occupations17 and housing18, compounded with their vulnerability to deportation if they report dangerous conditions or seek treatment.

Noting that measures taken to deny healthcare to undocumented immigrants often result in citizens losing healthcare also, as exemplified by the 2004 cancellation of Colorado’s Presumptive (Medicaid) Eligibility program, which had allowed pregnant women to receive prenatal care while their Medicaid applications were being processed. The entire program was eliminated because about half of the women were found to be ineligible by immigration status. Citizen and immigrant women alike were put at risk, as well as their unborn children.19

Noting that  APHA has taken a clear positions against withholding medical care from undocumented immigrants in its resolution 2001-23, which “Urges the President and the Congress to oppose denial of eligibility for programs providing nutritional, prenatal, public health, medical care, and behavioral health benefits and services to any person residing in the United States on the basis of her or his immigration status”;20  its resolution 9501, which “Opposes any mandates and initiatives that would limit access to public health interventions and health services for undocumented and documented immigrants and their children;”21 and its resolution LB04-07, which “Deplores and warns against measures curtailing, eliminating, or disrupting health care to undocumented immigrants.”22

And finally, noting that the recent passage of this massive Health Reform law that explicitly and categorically excludes the grossly underserved undocumented immigrant population presents public health advocates with a grave challenge,

Therefore, the American Public Health Association

1.  Calls on the President, and Congress to end the exclusion of healthcare for undocumented immigrants from Health Reform, and

2.  Calls on the President and Congress to support health reform that provides equal, comprehensive, affordable, accessible healthcare for every person, regardless of their status of health, employment, income, or legalization,  and

3.  Calls on the President and Congress to assure that community health centers receiving $11 billion of dollars of federal aid over the next five years through the PPACA23 continue to give undocumented immigrants comprehensive health care, and

4.  Encourages public health advocates to attend future events on immigration reform (public rallies, demonstrations, press conferences and the like) with the demand of comprehensive, affordable, accessible medical care for all immigrants, regardless of legalization status.

References:

1.  Kaiser Health News. Some Will Remain Uninsured After Reform. Available at: http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/Stories/2010/March/24/Some-Will-Remain-Uninsured.aspx.   Accessed October 3, 2010.

2.  Lewin Group.  Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA): Long Term Costs for Governments, Employers, Families and Providers.   Available at: http://www.lewin.com/content/publications/LewinGroupAnalysis-PatientProtectionandAffordableCareAct2010.pdf.  p. 22.  Accessed October 3, 2010.

3.    Pew Hispanic Center.  Hispanics, Health Insurance and Health Care Access.   Available at: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1356/hispanics-health-insurance-health-care-access.  Accessed October 3, 2010.

Working Immigrants.  Health uninsured rates among immigrants: far higher.  Available at: http://www.workingimmigrants.com/2009/08/health_uninsured_rates_among_i.html.  Accessed October 3, 2010.

4.   Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured,  Summary: Five Basic Facts on Immigrants and Their Health Care.   Available at: http://www.kff.org/medicaid/upload/7761.pdf.  Accessed October 3, 2010.

5.   Coalicion de Derechos Humanos.  Massive ICE sweep terrorizes Arizona communities following state passage of anti-immigrant profiling law.   Available at: http://www.derechoshumanosaz.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=166&Itemid=1.  Accessed October 3, 2010.

6.   Common Dreams.  Obama Administration Immigration Deportations Exceed Bush’s Record.   Available at: http://www.commondreams.org/print/56327.  Accessed October 3, 2010.

7.   Arizona Daily Star, National Physician Groups Condemn Arizona SB 1070.  Available at: http://azstarnet.com/news/blogs/health/article_ca3a8c46-62c6-11df-9a0a-001cc4c002e0.html.  Accessed November 3, 2010.

8.   San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network.   San Francisco Immigrant Legal And Education Network Opposes The Implementation Of The Dangerous Secure Communities Program In San Francisco.   Available at: http://www.sfimmigrantnetwork.org/comments/sfilen_opposes_implementation_of_secure_communities_program_in_san_francisc, Accessed October 3, 2010.

9.   New York Times.  Reprieve Eases Medical Crisis for Illegal Immigrants.   Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/06/us/06grady.html.  Accessed October 3, 2010.

Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report.  Economic Recession Forcing Local Health Departments To Reduce Services to Undocumented Immigrants.   Available at: http://www.kaisernetwork.org/daily_reports/rep_index.cfm?DR_ID=57497.  Accessed October 3, 2010.

New York Times,   Immigrants Facing Deportation by U.S. Hospitals.   Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/03/us/03deport.html?_r=1&hp=&pagewanted=all.  Accessed October 3, 2010.

10.   Washington Independent.   Anti-Immigration Activists See Opportunity in Health Care Debate.  Available at: http://washingtonindependent.com/55044/anti-immigration-activists-see-opportunity-in-health-care-debate.   Accessed October 3, 2010.

11.   Newsweek Magazine.  The Next Front on Immigration.   Available at: http://www.newsweek.com/2010/08/01/the-next-front-on-immigration.html.  Accessed October 3, 2010.

Politico.  John McCain backs citizenship hearings.  Available at: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0810/40589.html.  Accessed October 3, 2010.

12.   Health Affairs.  Left Out: Immigrants’ Access to Health Care and Insurance January/February 2001.   Available at: http://www.projectshine.org/files/shared_images/Left_Out.pdf ,   Accessed October 20, 2010.

13.   The Hospital & Healthcare Association of Pennsylvania.  The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

(PPACA) of 2010 and the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act (HCEARA) of 2010. Available at: http://www.haponline.org/downloads/HAP_Summary_2010_PPACA_HCEARA_April2010.pdf.  Accessed November 4, 2010.

14.  Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Estimated Financial Effects of the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” as Amended.  Available at https://www.cms.gov/ActuarialStudies/Downloads/PPACA_2010-04-22.pdf.  Accessed November 4, 2010.

15.  Moure-Eraso R,  Friedman-Jimenez G.  (2004) Occupational health among Latino workers: a needs assessment and recommended interventions.  New Solutions. 14/4:319-47.  Available at: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10641&page=129.  Accessed November 4, 2010.

16.   Richardson, S. Fatal work injuries among foreign-born Hispanic Workers. Monthly Labor Review, October, 2005.   Available at:  http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2005/10/ressum.pdf.   Accessed on November 4, 2010.

17.   APHA Policy Statement 2005-4: Occupational Health and Safety Protections for Immigrant Workers.  December 14, 2005.  Especially see Richardson S, Ruser J, Suarez P. Hispanic Workers in the United States: An Analysis of Employment Distributions, Fatal Occupational Injuries, and Non-fatal Occupational Injuries and Illnesses in National Research Council: Safety is Seguridad. Washington, D.C., National Academies Press, 2003.  Available at: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10641&page=48  and http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10641&page=57.  Accessed November 4, 2010.

18.   Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  Living in America: Challenges Facing New Immigrants and Refugees.  Available at: http://www.rwjf.org/files/publications/other/Immigration_Report.pdf.  Accessed November 4, 2010.

19.   Wall Street Journal.   Prenatal Care Is Latest State Cut In Services for Illegal Immigrants.   Available at: http://www.uniset.ca/naty/maternity/wsj_imm_med.htm.  Accessed October 3, 2010.

20.   APHA Policy Statement 2001-23: Protection of the Health of Resident Immigrants in the United States.  Available at: http://www.apha.org/advocacy/policy/policysearch/default.htm?id=262.   Accessed October 3, 2010.

21.   APHA Policy Statement 9501: Opposition To Anti-Immigrant Statutes.   Available at: http://www.apha.org/advocacy/policy/policysearch/default.htm?id=96.   Accessed October3, 2010.

22.   APHA Policy Statement LB04-07: Responding to Threats to Health Care for Immigrants.  November 9, 2004.

23.   PPACA Health Care Reform Timeline.   Available at: http://stabenow.senate.gov/healthcare/Health_Care_Timeline.pdf.  Accessed October 3, 2010.

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Celebrate and Defend Social Security on its 75th Birthday (August 14, San Francisco)

Celebrate and Defend Social Security on its 75th Birthday
Saturday, August 14th, from 11 AM to 1 PM
At the New Federal Building, 7th and Mission Streets, San Francisco.

Join the California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA) and the San Francisco Central Labor Council to celebrate and defend America’s most successful social program.  Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are under severe attack by business groups, deficit hawks, and the Obama administration. Social Security, the longest established and most financially secure of these programs, is under particular attack, with media promoting lies such as Social Security being the verge of collapse, draining the national treasury, and providing bloated benefits to undeserving seniors.

The facts of Social Security are:  (1) Its benefits have already been entirely paid by workers’ payroll taxes. (2) It has a $2.5 billion surplus.  (3) If nothing were done, it could pay full benefits until 2037, and 75% benefits afterward.  (4) If higher incomes were subjected to payroll taxes, it could pay full benefits indefinitely.   (5) The majority of seniors, disabled people, and surviving spouses are dependent on Social Security, particularly minorities and women.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are under immediate threat because (1) the President’s Fiscal Commission on the Deficit, heavily stacked against these programs, is due to make its recommendations to Congress the first week in December 2010, and (2) Congress has promised to prioritize an up-or-down vote the Commission’s recommendations without amendment. So Social Security celebrates its 75th birthday under fire.

This event is (1) to give the truth about Social Security, the most successful social program in the US for seniors, people with disabilities, kids, and low-income families, (2) to warn these communities of the dangers that Social Security faces, and (3) to mobilize these communities to pressure Obama’s Deficit Commission and Congress to not privatize Social Security, reduce its benefits, or raise its retirement age.

Representatives of Bay Area US Congresspersons and US Senators are invited to hear our message, and respond. Similar events are planned for Fresno, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

Contact Michael Lyon,  mlyon01@comcast.net

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Israel Grows Uneasy Over Reliance on Migrant Labor

New York Times, July 8, 2010

Israel Grows Uneasy Over Reliance on Migrant Labor

TEL AVIV — Perched 22 stories above an affluent suburb of this prosperous seaside city, three Chinese construction workers inched their way along the arm of a crane last autumn and refused to budge. Facing deportation because of expiring visas, theirs was an act of desperation aimed at getting thousands of dollars in wages they claimed their Israeli employer had illegally withheld.

The daredevil protest had the desired effect: after the men spent nine hours on the crane, the construction company agreed to pay each the equivalent of $1,000. Satisfied, they climbed down and voluntarily headed to the airport.

For Israelis, the crane standoff — the second in a matter of months — was an unwanted reminder of their country’s troubled economic experiment with foreign labor. Since the first intifada of the early 1990s, more than a million migrants from the developing world have come to Israel to replace the Palestinians, who were the country’s original source of cheap labor.

At least 250,000 foreign laborers, about half of them illegal, are living in the country, according to the Israeli government. They include Chinese construction workers, Filipino home health care aides and Thai farmhands, as well as other Asians, and Africans and Eastern Europeans, working as maids, cooks and nannies.

“Israelis won’t do this work, so they bring us,” said Wang Yingzhong, 40, a construction worker from Jiangsu Province in China who arrived in 2006.

But even as foreign workers have become a mainstay of the economy, their presence has increasingly clashed with Israel’s Zionist ideology, causing growing political unease over the future of the Jewish state and their place in it.

The government has lurched through a series of contradictory policies that encourage the temporary employment of migrants while seeking to impose tight visa and labor restrictions that can leave them vulnerable to abusive employers, advocates for the workers say.

Those who overstay their visas and try to remain in Israel live in fear of the Oz Unit, a recently created division of immigration police officers who hunt down illegal migrants and assist in their deportation.

The government insists it wants unskilled jobs to go to unemployed Israelis, especially Arab citizens and ultra-Orthodox Jews. Critics say the policies are hypocritical and racist because they treat foreign workers as undeserving of legal protection.

“All too often we have to fight to make Israelis see that these foreign workers are human beings,” said Dana Shaked, the coordinator for Chinese laborers at Kav LaOved, a workers’ rights group.

Although the Israeli government issued a record 120,000 foreign work permits in 2009, the country’s political leaders say they want to phase out migrant labor. “We have created a Jewish and democratic nation, and we cannot let it turn into a nation of foreign workers,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a conference of the Israel Manufacturers Association in January.

The No. 1 target is the Chinese, who in recent years have received nearly all of the construction work permits. Chinese accounted for a quarter of all deportations from 2003 to 2008, more than any other foreign group. The rate was expected to soar as 3,000 of those permits lapsed at the end of June.

The Chinese end up in the most desperate straits here partly because they are recruited through a murky network of manpower companies that rights groups say operate like human trafficking rings. Chinese pay up to $31,000 in illegal recruitment fees, the highest fees of all foreign workers, according to Kav LaOved, which says the money ends up in the pockets of go-betweens and government agencies in both countries.

The Chinese must work for an average of two years just to repay the money they borrow to afford those fees. Unaware of their rights and unable to speak Hebrew or English, many fall victim to a minefield of abuse like squalid living conditions, withheld wages and the early termination of work permits, which make them liable for deportation before they have repaid the recruitment fees or saved money for themselves.

Most Chinese endure the injustices more quietly than the workers who staged the dramatic crane protests last year. Some, like Liu Shiqi, 39, said he showed up to his job as a cook one March morning to find the restaurant closed and the owner gone without paying him. “They know we’re alone and don’t speak Hebrew, so they take advantage of us,” he said.

Worker advocates say the Chinese Embassy has long been indifferent or even hostile to the workers’ plight. When 170 construction workers went on strike in 2001 seeking back pay, embassy officials warned them that they would be imprisoned upon their return to China for breaching their contracts and breaking Chinese labor law. The men who protested on the crane did so after the embassy ignored their pleas, they told Kav LaOved.

Yang Jianchu, the Chinese consul for immigration affairs, says his staff does all it can to help those in trouble. He also dismissed accusations by worker advocates that the Chinese government profits from the exorbitant recruitment fees. “We don’t know where the money goes,” Mr. Yang said. “This is the truth.”

Laborers who become illegal after losing their jobs or overstaying their visas say they are easily exploited by Israeli bosses.

One 40-year-old Chinese worker from Jiangsu Province said he was once forced to sleep in a shipping crate. Fears of being arrested by the immigration police consume him. “When I sleep, they catch me in my dreams,” said the man, surnamed Jiang, who asked that his full name not be printed.

The government has quietly begun to replace Chinese with other non-Israelis, issuing 15,000 construction permits to Palestinians this year. This comes as right-wing politicians have heightened accusations that foreign workers are stealing Israeli jobs and threatening the nation’s Jewish character, an assertion many on the left dismiss.

“Saying foreign workers are diluting the Jewish state is racism,” said Nitzan Horowitz, a member of the Israeli Parliament and a critic of the foreign-worker policy. “On one hand, Israel is bringing them here and making money off their backs, and on other they face all sorts of harassment.”

Even if the law is changed, it will be too late for people like Lin Qingde, a Chinese construction worker who is one of 26 plaintiffs to sue an Israeli-Arab merchant accused of stealing $1.7 million from hundreds of workers, money that he was supposed to wire to their families in China. The police arrested the businessman, but, while waiting to testify at the trial, Mr. Lin’s work visa expired and he was also arrested.

Stuck behind bars for five months and afraid he might be killed in China for failing to repay a $40,000 debt, Mr. Lin was finally called into court in May to give his account. A few days later, he was deported.

Hay Haber, the lawyer for Mr. Lin and the other plaintiffs, said he was ashamed of Israel’s justice system. “These workers, unfortunately, have no place in Israel,” Mr. Haber said, surrounded by stacks of evidence files in his Tel Aviv office. “Here they are nothing but cheap slaves.”

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We don’t want just any immigration reform!

Renee Saucedo

We don’t want just any immigration reform!

Last week, we witnessed the powerful marches of immigrant communities in Washington D.C., and in other cities, in support of “immigration reform.” These righteous protests allowed those impacted by unfair immigration laws to remind lawmakers of what they are demanding: legalization for themselves and their families.

But some of the groups that organized the march in Washington, led by beltway advocates like the National Immigration Forum and the National Council of La Raza, are supporting policies beyond legalization which actually harm immigrant communities. Reform Immigration For America, or “RIFA,” the coalition spearheading a national immigration reform campaign, recently came out in support of the conservative, Senate proposal, authored by Senators Lindsey Graham (Republican-SC) and Chuck Schumer (Democrat-NY). In a recent email, RIFA celebrated President Obama’s support for this “bi-partisan blueprint for reform” and mentioned the rally in San Francisco as further support for a “bi-partisan bill.”

It is horrifying that immigrant rights groups would support a proposal that would have devastating impacts on immigrants. Among other things, the Graham-Schumer plan proposes an intensification of raids, detentions, deportations and militarism of the US-Mexico border. Over 350,000 undocumented migrants were incarcerated last year in private detention centers. This number will rise under the bi-partisan plan.

Graham-Schumer also propose creating a biometric national identity card that everyone, including US citizens, must carry to prove authorization to work. This means that people working without papers will be fired and even imprisoned. And they propose to expand guest worker programs that have been documented numerously to be highly exploitative. It will be harder for immigrant workers to defend their rights, organize unions and raise wages.

In the area of legalization, the Graham-Schumer proposal involves “going to the back of the line of prospective immigrants to earn the opportunity to work toward lawful permanent residence.” It offers no real alternative to the current system and makes it almost impossible for most to legalize their status.

As the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) states, “(the bi-partisan blueprint) sets a low bar for the debate, placing harsh and failed enforcement strategies at its heart in hopes of drawing conservative support, regardless of the human rights consequences of such policies.” (Press Release dated March 20, 2010). The “bi-partisan blueprint” outlined by Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and supported by President Obama, is a horrible starting point for legalization.

Many respectable advocates argue that, while Graham-Schumer may not be the ticket, we should support less onerous proposals such as the Luis Gutierrez bill, introduced by the Illionois Congressman in the House of Representatives. “It’s best to get at least residency for some, even if this means accepting provisions which would lead to further criminalization and exploitation for others,” they say. “It’s the best we’re going to get.” They make a strategy argument rather than a political or ideological one.

However, Luis Gutierrez’s bill, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009, offers benefits to some, but criminalizes the vast majority of undocumented immigrants. While it eliminates the program encouraging collaboration between local law enforcement and Immigration, provides an avenue for undocumented youth to apply for residency, and improves the oversight in the current detention system, it does little in the area of legalization. The Gutierrez bill creates a new “conditional non-immigrant visa status” (CNIS) and those who qualify could apply, with no guarantee, for residency. The only real difference between this proposal and the current system is that applicants’ biometrics would be registered witht he Department of Homeland Security and they would have to wait at least 6 years to gain their residency. Most undocumented immigrants I’ve spoken to about this proposal do not consider it to be beneficial.

Even if the Gutierrez bill was favorable in the area of legalization, it still does more damage than it does good. Among other things, it increases border militarization and enforcement, raids, and deprtations, instead of addressing the economic and social issues that fuel migration across the border. The bill also mandates the use of an “Employment Verification System (E-Verify), requiring all employers to fire employees whose names do not match their Social Security numbers. Finally , the bill creates a Commission with an anti-worker character, since its stated goal is to pursue “employment-based immigration policies that promote economic growth and competitiveness, while minimizing job displacement, wage depression, and unauthorized unemployment.” The establishment of this commission is the first step towards setting up an expanded guest worker program.

Of course, the human rights implications of both the Graham-Schumer and Gutierrez proposals are deadly and catastrophic. Under both, more families will be separated, more people will suffer and die while attempting to cross the US-Mexico border. More workers will be exploited and discriminated against. Employers will still be ble to exploit cheap immigrant labor while temporary workers would be barred from many of the benefits and rights of US citizenship, as well as from many of the labor protections guaranteed under US laws. And undocumented migration to the US will continue to conveniently mischarcterized as a “criminal,” or “illegal,” issue, rather than as a consequence of economic trade agreements and political repression which displaces millions. Employers want to keep it this way to ensure their supply of cheap, vulnerable, exploitable labor.

No immigrant, labor, or human rights organizaiton can in good conscience rationalize the support of the Graham-Schumer or Gutierrez proposals.

Instead, we must hold steadfast to what immigrant communities really want and deserve: Immediate legalization for the millions of undocumented and a reasonable legalization process for future immigrants; An end to the criminalization of immigrants, workplace enforcement, and raids; The repeal of Employer Sanctions; the Expansion of Family Visas to end the backlogs in family reunification; An end to the detention and deportation system; The end of border militarization and protection of human rights of border communities; An end to guest worker programs; The protection and expansion of civil rights, labor rights and due process for immigrants.

We must continue to organize around just immigration policies in terms of labor mobility and human rights, not as an issue of national security and enforcement.

In 1986, Employers Sanctions was traded in exchange for legalization for some. This proved to be disastrous in the long run for millions of workers who cannot get work legally, or who are discriminated against by employers.

Why are we chopping off our bargaining power away so early in the game? Why don’t we demand everything that we want from the start, knowing that we will probably have to compromise on some things as the process moves forward? I don’t understand why advocates believe we must begin negotiations with the lowest common denominator.

I believe that we should never fight for the rights of some at the expense of others. Legalization for some will be an empty victory if at the same time most undocumented immigrants are facing higher exploitation, suffering, and even deaths.

We must continue to support immigrant communites in their struggle to obtain a fair legalization law. We must not allow certain advocacy organizations to negotiate away rights on their behalf. By organizing, marching, etc. we must continue to demand just immigration laws and to work towards ending policies which criminalize and exploit members of our community. In the long run, the immigrant rights movement will be stronger for it.

Renee Saucedo is the Community Empowerment Coordinator at La Raza Centro Legal, in San Francisco.  Her email address is renee@lrcl.org.

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Social Security Agency To Investigate If California Is Illegally Denying Social Security Disability and SSI Claims

California Disability Action Community Network,  November 23, 2009

Social Security Agency To Investigate If California Is
Illegally Denying Social Security Disability and SSI Claims

Social Security Commissioner Says Furloughs of Federally Funded State Employees In Dept. of Social Services Who Help In Determining Eligibility May Be Cause of Possible Violations of Federal Social Security Laws – Investigation Comes After Charges Made by San Diego Congressman Who Charged That  Denials of Claims Are Coming At “Expense of Those In Greatest Need”

SACRAMENTO, CALIF (CDCAN) [Updated 11/23/09  07:20 AM  (Pacific Time)  -  The US Social Security Administration will investigate allegations by Rep. Robert Filner (Democrat - San Diego) made before the US House Way and Means Subcommittee on Social Security on November 19th that California is improperly denying social security and SSI (supplemental security income) program claims as a means to get around delays caused by mandatory furloughs of state workers in the Disability Determination Service division within the Department of Social Services, who play a critical role in determining eligibility for those two programs.  The investigation will also look at similar policies and problems in Hawaii which has instituted similar mandatory furloughs of its state employees.

There was no official statement by the Schwarzenegger Administration reacting to the Social Security Administration's investigation.

As a budget cutting measure, earlier this year Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered mandatory furloughs of all state departments and agencies - including the Department of Social Services, which are closed on the first, second, and third Friday of each month until June 30, 2010.  The Department of Social Services' Community Care Licensing Division and the Disability Determination Service Division offices will remain open and operate on "self-directed furloughs".

Commissioner Michael J. Astrue who heads the federal agency, said on Friday (November 20) that in a memo to Patrick P. O'Carroll, Inspector General of the Social Security Administration, ordered the investigation writing that:

...Governor Schwarzenegger has insisted on furloughing California Disability Determination Service...employees, despite the fact that we fully fund both their salaries and overhead.  According to Congressman Robert Filner, the State is attempting to find ways to improperly circumvent the effects of the furlough at the expense of some of the State residents who are in the greatest need.

The action by the Social Security Administration, which has no immediate impact on the state, does add yet more uncertainty about various state budget reductions, with California facing yet another huge budget shortfall - now estimated to be $21 billion by the end of the 2009-2010 State budget year (June 30, 2010).  Advocates and policymakers alike expect more major spending cuts to be proposed in the coming months to close the growing shortfall.

Congressman Filner Makes Charges of Improper Denial of Claims

Congressman Filner testified last Thursday that the California's Disability Determination Service (known as "DDS" - same initials as the "Department of Developmental Services" which is a completely different state agency)  is denying the claims of disability applicants who fail to return a 25 page report within 20 days - a practice which has been adopted since the mandatory state furloughs were implemented earlier this year, reporting the following:

  • One California Disability Determination Service field office, Filner claimed, had closed 30% of its cases due to an individual's failure to return the completed application form within 20 days.
  • In addition, Filner said he believed that California Disability Determination Services (under the California Department of Social Services) may be manipulating its service numbers by assigning claims to fictional examiners or supervisors, which Filner says would allow the state to hide the fact that these cases are not actually being reviewed.

Commissioner Is Bush Appointee - Reports Directly to President Obama

Commissioner Astrue, appointed by President Bush on September 14, 2006 and confirmed by the US Senate on February 2, 2007, was sworn into office on February 12, 2007 for a 6 year term that expires January 19, 2013.

The commissioner, who oversees the independent federal agency with over 60,000 federal employees and 1,500 offices across the nation,  reports directly to President Obama.  The headquarters is in Baltimore, Maryland.

Impact on People With Disabilities, the Blind & Seniors

The issue has actual and potential impact on thousands of children and adults with disabilities, mental health needs and seniors, among others, who are applying for federal social security disability benefits or federally funded SSI grants.  In California the SSI recipients also include an additional state funded "SSP"  (Supplemental Security Payments) grants.

Any delays or outright denial of claims - especially those dealing with SSI/SSP - could have a ripple effect also on a person's immediate accessible and affordable housing, transportation and medical and other support needs.

The Department of Social Services estimated in May the SSI/SSP caseload by June 30, 2010, will total 1,290,473 persons:

  • 376,163 who are seniors or 30% of the projected caseload
  • 20,225 persons who are blind (or 2% of the projected caseload)
  • 894,085 who are children and adults with disabilities (or 68% of the projected caseload)

Background of Disability Determination Service

  • The federal Disability Insurance program, established under Title II of the federal Social Security Act, provides benefits to wage earners and their families in the event the wage earner becomes disabled.
  • The Supplemental Security Income program, established under Title XVI of the federal Social Security Act, provides benefits to financially needy individuals who are aged, blind, or disabled.
  • The federal Social Security Administration (SSA) is responsible for implementing policies of handling and determining eligibility of disability claims under the Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income programs.
  • Persons apply for either social security disability or SSI at any Social Security office. If the person applying meets the non-medical criteria, their application would then be sent to the state's Disability Determination Service, who will then obtain the applicant's medical and other related records to determine severity of the disability or impairments and the impact on the ability to engage in work.
  • In each of the 50 states (plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico), eligibility - or determinations under both Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income are performed by its own "Disability Determination Service" (known as "DDS" - same initials used for the Department of Developmental Services, which is a different state agency entirely, though the same person could have gone through Disability Determination Service for SSI eligibility - and then to the Department of Developmental Services for supports and services) in each state. In California, the Disability Determination Service is a division under the Department of Social Services. It has 11 branch field offices, including 3 in Los Angeles County.
  • The federal Social Security Administration reimburses state Disability Determination Services for 100% of allowable expenditures up to its approved funding authorization.

Social Security Administration Previously Raised Concerns of State Furlough Impact on Social Security Disability and SSI Claims

In a related action by the Social Security Administration dealing with the impact of California's furloughs, on October 16th, the US Department of Justice, on behalf of the Social Security Administration,  filed a "Statement of Interest" in the state lawsuit "Union of American Physicians and Dentists v. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California" that seeks to stop the mandatory state furlough program.    The state lawsuit, filed in the Alameda County Superior Court, is still pending further action.  It is one of several lawsuits filed by different unions and agencies regarding the mandatory state furloughs.

The Union of American Physicians and Dentists includes state employees of the California Disability Determination Services Division under the Department of Social Services, who evaluate the medical or health part of a person's Social Security Disability or SSI (Supplemental Security Income) claims.  The federal government fully pays for the salaries and overhead costs for these state employees in all 50 states.

The "Statement of Interest" which indicates in this instance support of this specific lawsuit, notes that California's furloughs of these specific state employees are inconsistent with the state's obligations and responsibilities under the federal Social Security Act which requires a state, in carrying out disability determination functions, "to the best of its ability, facilitate the processing of disability claims by avoiding personnel freezes, restrictions against overtime work, or curtailment of facilities or activities."

Commissioner Astrue said in October:

...for many months we have been trying to convince California officials that furloughing [Disability Determination Service Division state] employees does not save the state a single penny, and actually costs the state money.  It also unnecessarily harms their citizens with disabilities and their civil servants. Unfortunately, our arguments have fallen on deaf ears.  We hope our Statement of Interest will awaken state officials to the irreparable damage their furlough policy is causing.

Asture said in October that California’s furlough of Disability Determination Service employees under the Department of Social Services costs the state $849,000 per furlough day in administrative funding and that  ”…each furlough day results in a delay costing California’s disabled citizens over $420,000 in much-needed Social Security benefits”.

The State, represented by the California Department of Justice, is denying those claims in the various lawsuits.

TEXT OF COMISSIONER ASTRUE’S MEMO ORDERING INVESTIGATION

The following is the memo to Social Security Administration Inspector General Patrick P. O’Carroll from Commissioner Astrue, dated November 20th:

At yesterday’s [November 19th] hearing before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, I testified about some disturbing practices the State of California has instituted that aggravate, rather than help, in response to its budgetary situation.  As you know, Gov. Schwarzenegger has insisted on furloughing California Disability Determination Service (DDS) employees, despite the fact that we fully fund both their salaries and overhead.  According to Congressman Robert Filner, the State is attempting to find ways to improperly circumvent the effects of the furlough at the expense of some of the State residents who are in the greatest need.

Congressman Filner indicated that since the furloughs began, the California DDS [CDCAN Note: same initials as Department of Developmental Services which is a different state agency] has begun denying the claims of those disability applicants who fail to return a 25-page report within 20 days.  This practice, if true, places applicants in an untenable position because the substantial amount of information required must often be gathered from third parties.  If an applicant fails to return complete information within the time set by the State, the DDS deems the applicant to have failed to cooperate and closes the file, thereby depriving that applicant of fair and full consideration.

I am also greatly concerned by Congressman Filner’s report that the California DDS may be manipulating its service numbers by “staging” claims, assigning them to fictional examiners or supervisors, rather than to actual examiners.  According to Congressman Filner, this practice would allow the DDS to claim that the cases have been assigned, rather than indicate that they are still in queue, thus minimizing the effects of the furlough.

If true, these practices are, of course, very disturbing.  Therefore, I am asking you to undertake a full review of the practices of the California DDS to determine the scope and breadth of any inappropriate practices.

I am also concerned about the State of Hawaii, which is furloughing its DDS employees for as many days as California, and which has made statements about new business efficiencies that closely track statements made by California officials.  Accordingly, I ask that you also review that agency to ensure they are fully adhering to all SSA rules and policies.

Thank you for your assistance.

NOTE: There may be updated information located on our homepage. Also, don’t forget to check out the post tags to narrow your search.

REMEMBERING THE LIVES OF EDWARD M. KENNEDY, EUNICE KENNEDY-SHRIVER, JOAN LEE, DONALD ROBERTS AND BILL YOUNG

Note from Marty Omoto:

I have decided to return to the work of advocacy for the lives that matter. Thanks to all the hundreds of email messages, phone messages from so many people across the state who reminded me what I often have reminded others of: that we are a part of all that we have met – and that we no choice but to continue and to survive, and to fight for what is right and to always remember the lives that mattered – and the lives that still – and will always matter. That is what we fight for. And that is what we cannot let the State or anyone forget.

And we will get through this.

Gandhi once wrote that we must be the change we want to see in the world. And so we will be that change together. Marty Omoto

California Democratic Party to says to Obama, Get Out of Afghanistan

Common Dreams,  November 16, 2009

Biggest State Party to Obama: Get Out of Afghanistan

By Norman Soloman

This week begins with a significant new straw in the political wind for President Obama to consider. The California Democratic Party has just sent him a formal and clear message: Stop making war in Afghanistan.

Overwhelmingly approved on Sunday by the California Democratic Party’s 300-member statewide executive board, the resolution is titled “End the U.S. Occupation and Air War in Afghanistan.”

The resolution supports “a timetable for withdrawal of our military personnel” and calls for “an end to the use of mercenary contractors as well as an end to air strikes that cause heavy civilian casualties.” Advocating multiparty talks inside Afghanistan, the resolution also urges Obama “to oversee a redirection of our funding and resources to include an increase in humanitarian and developmental aid.”

While Obama weighs Afghanistan policy options, the California Democratic Party’s adoption of the resolution is the most tangible indicator yet that escalation of the U.S. war effort can only fuel opposition within the president’s own party — opposition that has already begun to erode his political base.

Participating in a long-haul struggle for progressive principles inside the party, I co-authored the resolution with savvy longtime activists Karen Bernal of Sacramento and Marcy Winograd of Los Angeles.

Bernal, the chair of the state party’s Progressive Caucus, said on Sunday night: “Today’s vote formalized and amplified what had been, up to now, an unspoken but profoundly understood reality — that there is no military solution in Afghanistan. What’s more, the vote signified an acceptance of what is sure to be a continued and growing culture of resistance to current administration policies on the matter within the party. This is absolutely huge. Now, there can be no disputing the fact that the overwhelming majority of California Democrats are not only saying no to escalation, but no to our continued military presence in Afghanistan, period. The California Democratic Party has spoken, and we want the rest of the country to know.”

Winograd, who is running hard as a grassroots candidate in a primary race against pro-war incumbent Rep. Jane Harman, had this to say: “We need progressives in every state Democratic Party to pass a similar resolution calling for an end to the U.S. occupation and air war in Afghanistan. Bring the veterans to the table, bring our young into the room, and demand an end to this occupation that only destabilizes the region. There is no military solution, only a diplomatic one that requires we cease our role as occupiers if we want our voices to be heard. Yes, this is about Afghanistan — but it’s also about our role in the world at large. Do we want to be global occupiers seizing scarce resources or global partners in shared prosperity? I would argue a partnership is not only the humane choice, but also the choice that grants us the greatest security.”

Speaking to the resolutions committee of the state party on Saturday, former Marine Corporal Rick Reyes movingly described his experiences as a warrior in Afghanistan that led him to question and then oppose what he now considers to be an illegitimate U.S. occupation of that country.

Another voice of disillusionment reached party delegates when Bernal distributed a copy of the recent resignation letter from senior U.S. diplomat Matthew Hoh, sent after five months of work on the ground in Afghanistan. “I find specious the reasons we ask for bloodshed and sacrifice from our young men and women in Afghanistan,” he wrote. “If honest, our stated strategy of securing Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaeda resurgence or regrouping would require us to additionally invade and occupy western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc. Our presence in Afghanistan has only increased destabilization and insurgency in Pakistan where we rightly fear a toppled or weakened Pakistani government may lose control of its nuclear weapons.”

Hoh’s letter added that “I do not believe any military force has ever been tasked with such a complex, opaque and Sisyphean mission as the U.S. military has received in Afghanistan.” And he wrote: “Thousands of our men and women have returned home with physical and mental wounds, some that will never heal or will only worsen with time. The dead return only in bodily form to be received by families who must be reassured their dead have sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can anymore be made.”

From their own vantage points, many of the California Democratic Party leaders who voted to approve the out-of-Afghanistan resolution on Nov. 15 have gone through a similar process. They’ve come to see the touted reasons for the U.S. war effort as specious, the mission as Sisyphean and the consequences as profoundly unacceptable.

Sometime in the next few days, President Obama is likely to learn that the California Democratic Party has approved an official resolution titled “End the U.S. Occupation and Air War in Afghanistan.” But will he really get the message?

Norman Solomon is a journalist, historian, and progressive activist. His book War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death has been adapted into a documentary film of the same name. His most recent book is “Made Love, Got War. ” He is a national co-chair of the Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign. In California, he is co-chair of the Commission on a Green New Deal for the North Bay; http://www.GreenNewDeal.info .

Honduran Dictatorship Is A Threat to Democracy In the Hemisphere

Huffington Post,  November 23, 2009

Honduran Dictatorship Is A Threat to Democracy In the Hemisphere

A small group of rich people who own most of Honduras and its politicians enlist the military to kidnap the elected president at gunpoint and take him into exile. They then arrest thousands of people opposed to the coup, shut down and intimidate independent media, shoot and kill some demonstrators, torture and beat many others. This goes on for more than four months, including more than two of the three months legally designated for electoral campaigning. Then the dictatorship holds an “election.”

Should other countries recognize the results of such an election, to be held on November 29th? Latin America says absolutely not; the United States is saying, well, “yes we can”- if we can get away with it.

“There has been a sharp rise in police beatings, mass arrests of demonstrators and intimidation of human rights defenders,” since President Zelaya slipped back into Honduras and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy, wrote Amnesty InternationalHuman Rights Watch, the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and human rights groups worldwide have also condemned the violence and repression perpetrated by the Honduran dictatorship.

On November 5, the 25 nations of the Rio Group, which includes virtually all of Latin America, declared that they would not recognize the results of the November 29th elections in Honduras if the elected President Manuel Zelaya were not first restored.

Why is it that Latin American governments can recognize this threat to democracy but Washington cannot? One reason is that many of the governments are run by people who have lived under dictatorships. President Lula da Silva of Brazil was imprisoned by the Brazilian dictatorship in the 1980s. President Michele Bachelet of Chile was tortured in prison under the brutal Pinochet dictatorship that was installed with the help of the Nixon administration. The presidents of Bolivia, Argentina, Guatemala, and others have all lived through the repression of right-wing dictatorships.

Nor is this threat merely a thing of the past. Just two weeks ago the President of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, had to fire most of the military leadership because of credible evidence that they were conspiring with the political opposition. This is one of the consequences of not reversing the Honduran military coup of June 28th.

Here in the United States we have been subjected to a relentless campaign of lies and distortions intended to justify the coup, which have been taken up by Republican supporters of the dictatorship, as well as by hired guns like Lanny Davis, a close associate of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Perhaps the biggest lie, repeated thousands of times in the news reporting and op-eds of the major media, was that Zelaya was overthrown because he was trying to extend his term of office. In fact, the non-binding referendum that Zelaya proposed had nothing to do with term limits. And even if this poll of the electorate had led eventually to a new constitution, any legal changes would have been far too late for Zelaya to stay in office beyond January 29.

Another surreal part of the whole political discussion has been the attempt to portray Zelaya, who was merely delivering on his campaign promises to the Honduran electorate, as a pawn of some foreign power – conveniently chosen to be the much-demonized Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. The anti-communist hysteria of 1950s McCarthyism is still the model for these uncreative political hacks.

What a disgrace it will be to our country if the Obama team follows through on its current strategy and recognizes these “elections!” It’s hard to imagine a stronger statement than that human rights and democracy in this hemisphere count for zero in the political calculations of this administration.

This op-ed was distributed by McClatchy Tribune Information Services on November 18, 2009 and published by the Sacramento Bee and other newspapers.

U.S. Income Inequality Is Frightening–And Much Worse Than We Thought

The Business Insider, September 30, 2009

U.S. Income Inequality Is Frightening–And Much Worse Than We Thought

The newest economic inequality numbers, which ran counter to the expectations of almost all experts, are frightening.

The Associated Press released an article titled, US income gap widens as poor take hit in recession. The opening paragraph of the article, based on recent census data, reads:

The recession has hit middle-income and poor families hardest, widening the economic gap between the richest and poorest Americans as rippling job layoffs ravaged household budgets.

The article, which then discussed the Census statistics that led to this conclusion, failed to mention that the Census Bureau considered the differences between 2007 and 2008, with regard to economic inequality, statistically insignificant.

But, whether the Census Data shows a meaningful increase, or not. is irrelevant. The Census Data reports that, contrary to the almost universal expectations of economists, economic inequality most likely did not decrease in 2008. Experts had anticipated that the declines in income of the rich would lead to a reversal in this groups ever–widening share of our national income. Instead, the Census reported that the 2008 income losses by the top 10% of Americans were offset by larger losses among middle class and poorer Americans.

MIT economist Simon Johnston appears to have been one notable exception to this expectation of a shrinking income gap.

Let’s review what we know about the measurement of income inequality before discussing the disturbing implications of this newest government report.

About two weeks ago, I critiqued a Sept 10, 2009 front page story in the Wall Street Journal titled, Income Gap Shrinks in Slump at the Expense of the Wealthy. My critique had three central points:

First, economists have, with few exceptions, agreed that Census Data is inappropriate for measuring income inequality because it consistently understates the income of the wealthiest families. To protect the privacy of reporting individuals, the Census “top-codes” income, which means that no one is ever recorded as making more than about $1.1 million in a single year. So, oil traders, hedge fund executives and anyone else at the super-high end of the income strata who might earn $100, $50 or $5 million in a single year, always earn $1.1 million or less in this Census Data. In addition, the Census Data does not include capital gains income, which is typically a large source of income for the wealthiest Americans.

Two economists, Professors Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, developed a method for measuring income inequality using IRS data, which avoided the problems inherent in using Census Data. This data was recently updated in response to the IRS release of 2007 information, and found that: Economic inequality in 2006 was, by some measures at the highest levels, ever found in the data available for the past 95 years. In 2007, these same measure showed a further jump further bringing America to it it’s highest levels of economic inequality in recorded history.

As a consequence of Census top-coding and the lack of capital gains data, the Saez-Piketty methodology has consistently shown that the Census substantially understates the extent of economic inequality in the nation. This means that, there is a real possibility that the the new Census Data understated the extent to which income inequality grew in 2008, and that the relative losses of the wealthiest families, versus less fortunate Americans, will be more than statistically insignificant.

It is possible that losses in reported capital income by the wealthiest Americans, if captured by the Saez-Piketty methodology, will be larger than the the incomes above $1.1 million that were not reported and offset the Census findings, leading as economists anticipated to a decline in the share of income going to the rich. However, I view this as unlikely. In considering this possibility, its important to remember that the IRS works on reported income gains, not gains which were never captured as taxable income. For income reporting purposes, the question is not whether the market value of capital assets declined but whether they were sold at an actual loss from their purchase price.

We will not know the answer to this question until July or August 2010, but in weighing the available evidence my working hypothesis is that as demonstrated by this new Census Report, income inequality did not decrease from 2008 to 2007.

Second, the original Journal article expressed a strong expectation that, as a result of the Great Recession, the ongoing growth of income inequality would decline substantially through 201o. My critique indicated that this was “far from clear.” The conventional economic wisdom, based on historical data, is that income inequality decreases, at least temporarily, as the richest Americans lose income faster than less-well-off Americans during a downturn. In contrast, this new data suggests that the dangerous cycle toward increasing income at the top of America has become even more self-reinforcing than previously recognized. We are now at the point where the pure market forces, which many economists told us would eliminate this issue, are no longer effective.

Third, the Journal article implied that the decrease in economic inequality it incorrectly predicted might be the start of a long-term trend. Instead, I demonstrated that, even if income inequality did decline in 2008 and 2009, it would almost certainly be “temporary.” The historical evidence shows that economic inequality frequently declines in a downturn, in the absence of strong government action, but that it will almost inevitably rebound and continue its march forward.

Now, let’s return to our main point:

Early next week, my new book It Could Happen Here will be released by HarperCollins. The book is an in-depth look , based on a historical analysis, of the implications of our historically high levels of economic inequality for the nation’s ultimate, long-term political stability. As economic inequality grows, nations invariably become increasingly politically unstable: Should we complacently believe that America will be different?

A central conclusion of the book is that once economic inequality reaches a self-reinforcing cycle it is halted only by inevitably controversial, hard-fought, bitterly opposed government action. Senator Jim Webb encapsulated this idea, when he wrote in his book, A Time to Fight: Reclaiming A Fair and Just America:

“No aristocracy in history has decided to give up any portion of its power willingly.”

In 1928, economic inequality was near today’s levels. Franklin Roosevelt succeeded in reversing the trend toward the continuing concentration of wealth, but it was a turbulent battle. In 1936, while campaigning for his second term and speaking at Madison Square Garden, FDR told the crowd:

“Never before in all our history have these forces [Organized Money] been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me and I welcome their hatred.

I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said, wait a minute, I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.”

In FDR’s era and in our own, money brings power: both explicitly and implicitly, in hundreds of different ways, both large and small. Today, the wealthiest Americans, together with a number of financial and corporate interests that act on their behalf, protect their ever-increasing influence through activities that include, among others, lobbying, supplying expertise to the councils of government, casual conversation at dinner parties, the potential for jobs after government service, the power to run media advertisements that influence public opinion. Indeed, MIT economist Simon Johnston, writing in The Atlantic asserted that the U.S. is now run by an oligarchy:

The great wealth that the financial sector created and concentrated [ from 1983 to 2007] gave bankers enormous political weight–a weight not seen in the U.S. since the era of J.P. Morgan (the man) … Of course, the U.S. is unique. And just as we have the world’s most advanced economy, military, and technology, we also have its most advanced oligarchy.

The new inequality data suggests that the potential problems for the nation associated with the concentration of wealth and power are even more severe than previously recognized. Two weeks ago, I wrote that “Once income concentration becomes a reinforcing cycle of the kind we are witnessing, it is never stopped by pure market forces.” This mechanism is now in full swing. The market forces associated with the Great Recession, which many economist had expected to stem the growing, corrosive gap between the rich and the poor, appear to have become ineffective.

The great strength of American democracy has always been its capacity for self-correction. However, Robert Dahl, the eminent political scientist, recognized that political power fueled by wealth may ultimately neutralize this central aspect of our democracy. In his 2006 book, On Political Equality, Dahl wrote:

As numerous studies have shown, inequalities in income and wealth are likely to produce other inequalities..

The unequal accumulation of political resources points to an ominous possibility: political inequalities may be ratcheted up, so to speak, to a level from which they cannot be ratcheted down. The cumulative advantages in power, influence, and authority of the more privileged strata may become so great that even if less privileged Americans compose a majority of citizens they are simply unable, and perhaps even unwilling, to make the effort it would require to overcome the forces of inequality arrayed against them.

In the chapter following this quote, Dahl notes “that we should not assume this future is inevitable.” He’s right. But, was clearly concerned. Three years late, we should be even more concerned.

Many current Executive Branch initiatives deserve our support and praise: However, nothing proposed to date will effectively halt growing economic inequality, and its corrosive impact on our economy and the long-term future of the nation. (In a future post, I will explicitly discuss the proposed regulatory reform of the financial sector.)

My analysis in It Could Happen Here concludes that without a vibrant middle class, the the American democracy as we know it, is not sustainable. Before the Great Recession, the middle class was in far worse shape than was generally acknowledged. In an economy with a record number of job seekers for every available job, the potential for nearly one-half of all home mortgages to be underwater, and increasing foreclosures, the collapse of the middle class will accelerate. With each job loss and each foreclosure, another family becomes a member of the former middle class.

America has never been a society sharply divided between have’s and have not’s. Unfortunately, this new data says to me we continue to head in that direction. Economists assumed that the Great Recession would be a circuit breaker that would halt this advance, at least temporarily. It did not.

With no new legislation, it appears we are potentially on course for 13 million foreclosures, almost one in every four mortgages in the nation, from the end of 2008 through 2014. Do we really believe that we can turn such huge numbers of Americans out of their homes with no consequences for the health of our system of governance? Could our democracy survive a transformation into a nation composed principally of a privileged upper class and an underclass which struggles from paycheck to paycheck and lacks basic economic security?

We will only stop the growth of economic inequality if the President and the Congress are ready to fight in the style of Franklin Roosevelt. FDR was a divider not a conciliator. Before World War II, he fought an all-out war at home. Today, “There’s class warfare, all right,” as Warren Buffett said, “but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

I fervently hoped that we have not passed the point of no return, described by Professor Dahl. The recent news shows we are one step further on this road. If we continue down it, our nation may be on the path to becoming a House divided against itself, which ultimately cannot stand.


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