Should we Democrats stay silent as our house burns down?

Friends and fellow Democrats,

Our house is on fire. The fate of one million children is in that burning house. Our public schools are on in danger of collapse.  In 2008, we were 47th in the nation in school funding. Since then, billions more have been cut. The fire is growing worse every day and every year. Yet even though it is the Paramount Duty of our State legislature to provide a fire truck to put out this fire, and even though the Democratic Party has clear majorities in both the House and the Senate, last week Ross Hunter proposed a budget slashing billions more from our public schools – including suspending a monthly Basic Education payment – something which has never been done before in the history of our State. This week, Ed Murray proposed a budget which would slash school funding even more than Ross Hunter’s draconian budget! In fact, Ed would slash Basic Education funding by hundreds of millions of dollars more. Ross and Ed tell us they can not use the Fire Truck to put out the fire – because it might upset Tim Eyman.   

Resolutions have been passed unanimously by the 45th LD Democrats and the 32nd LD Democrats and some County Democratic organizations demanding that our Democratic Leaders use the fire truck to put out the fire. All of these Resolutions point to the Paramount Duty in our State Constitution – a Constitution which our Democratic Leaders have sworn an oath to uphold. 

We are now told we should not pass these Resolutions. Our Coalition Partners want us to think small and go slow and remain silent and trust our leaders – the same leaders who got us into this mess in the first place. Despite being faced with BILLIONS in budget cuts, we are told we should support House Bill 2078 which would shave a mere $44 million per year from tax exemptions our State hands to Wall Street Bankers. What we are not told is that on page 2, line 20 of this bill, it states: “the total amount each person may deduct under this section for any calendar year may not exceed one hundreds million dollars.”  So every Wall Street banker still gets $100 million in corporate welfare??? For reference, one hundred million dollars would pay for at least one thousand teachers. Instead of corporate welfare for the 10 major banks – each of which is making billions in record profits – we could save the jobs of 10,000 teachers and save the future of one million school children. 
The $44 million proposed cut in corporate welfare represents less than a 5% of the total we give away every year to these Wall Street Bankers – the very bankers who brought down our economy. According the Bureau of Economic Analysis, these same banks handed out a record $50 billion in bonuses to their top executives in 2010. http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/national/gdp/gdpnewsrelease.htm 

This is our elected Democratic Leaders’ idea of a solution to our multi-billion dollar fire? $44 million represents less than 1% of the billons being cut from our public schools. For that matter, $44 million represents less than 1% of bank bonuses in 2010! Shockingly, the DOR has stated that no other State even offers this exemption! Yet we are asked to remain silent as our house burns down and be happy House Democrats have offered us this squirt gun of a solution. 

This week Ed Murray offers us another even smaller squirt gun. Senate Bill 5944 would not provide a single dollar to help put out the fire. Instead, it enshrines the Unconstitutional Two Thirds Tim Eyman rule for nearly every source of revenue except tax exemptions. When union leaders complained that this bill would not come close to putting out the Fire which is destroying our Schools and our State, and may make the fire worse, Ed told them to stay silent because he had 20 years worth of experience and he knows better than the rest of us what is best for our State. This is the same Ed Murray who in 2003 voted for the Boeing Blackmail bill which started the fire of corporate tax breaks in the first place. The same Ed Murray who earlier this week proposed cutting Basic Education funding by hundreds of millions of dollars. Ed Murray needs to spend less time writing bills which only add fuel to the fire – and more time reading our State Constitution, 

The question now is whether we as loyal Democrats will heed the call of our Coalition Partners to remain silent as our house burns down? Or will we instead pass Resolutions demanding that our elected leaders honor our State Constitution and their Paramount Duty to put out the fire by suspending BILLIONS in tax exemptions to the wealthiest most profitable corporations in the history of our planet?  

It is never too late to change course, It is never too late to speak truth to injustice. It is never too late to demand that our elected officials uphold their oath of office to honor our State Constitution. Please go to our website, realwashingtonstatebudget.info and read more about what is really happening in Olympia . Urge your friends and neighbors to sign our Petition. It is never too late to at least try to put out the fire.

Regards, David Spring springforschools@aol.com.

Cut workplace injuries, not workers compensation

Last Thursday night the state experienced the tragic on the job fatality of a worker at the Smurfit Stone Recycling Co.,  a paper recycling plant in Renton.  Rudimentary research efforts reveal that the state has a significant problem of fatal workplace injuries and that Smurfit Stone has a highly questionable workplace safety record.

This only calls more attention to the need to crack down on workplace safety problems as a way of saving money in the workers’ compensation system rather than cutting benefits.

More detail about how people are dying in workplace incidents can be found on the website of the Bernard Law Group.

http://www.4injured.com/blog/personal-injury/woman-killed-in-recycling-plant-accident/

The state government’s data on workplace fatalities can be found at this website:

http://www.lni.wa.gov/claimsins/insurance/datastatistics/laborstatistics/default.asp

After the shock of last week’s fatality, it is even more shocking to learn that there were 75 fatal workplace injuries in the state in 2009, the latest year for which a table exists.  There were 83 in 2008 and 88 in 2007.   Classified by industry, 60 were from private industry, 29 were from goods producing industry, 17 were from natural resources and mining and 17 were from agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting.  Classified by event, 23 were from transportation, 22 were from assault and violent acts, 19 were from contact with objects and equipment, 5 resulted from falls and 3 resulted from exposure to harmful substances and environments.

High Beam research reported on October 3, 2009 that the Smurfit Stone company was fined $19,325 for OSHA violations stemming from the electrocution of a worker at its container board mill in Fernandina Beach, FL.  OSHA had previously issued a citation and notice of penalty Angust 25 for serious violations, five of which were electrical hazards.   This also suggests that  a low level of fines was issued by OSHA under the Bush administration, creating an environment of lax standards.   

According to the website of attorney Steven J. Malman in Illinois, on June 10,2010 Smurfit Stone settled an unlawful business practices case over alleged concealment of workers injuries and discouragement of workers compensation claims.

This is a report of criminal charges filed by Monterey County against Smurfit Stone for covering up injury data to create the appearance of lower injury rates.

www.4injured.com/blog/personal-injury/woman-killed-in-recycling-plant-accident/

This case was settled by the company, as was the Illinois case.

 www.co.monterey.ca.us/…/Press%20Release-%20Smurfit%20Stone%20061610.pdf

More on this case can be found at: http://www.workerscompensation.com/compnewsnetwork/news/smurfit_stone_fraud.html

[Note: I do not understand why WordPress insists on putting text in italics with an underline and will not format this thext in regular type.  Perhaps the WordPress mavens can provide information on this]

Chapter11cases.com contains a link to legal documents concerning the claims of asbestos injury sufferers in the company’s bankruptcy case.

One of the company’s plants caught on fire in May 2010:

http://chronicle.augusta.com/latest-news/2010-05-26/firefighters-work-put-out-blaze?v=1274898726

Fire crews reported that the cause was an electrical problem in a piece of equipment:

http://www.wrdw.com/home/headlines/94941634.html

Hiding Behind Tim Eyman


Democratic leaders hiding behind Tim Eyman
Democratic leaders hiding behind Tim Eyman


[From top right, clockwise:  House Chair Rep. Frank Chopp,  Sen. Steve Hobbs,  Rep. Judy Clibborn, Gov. Christine Gregoire,  House Ways & Means Chair Ross Hunter (on bottom left), Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, House Majority Floor Leader Larry Springer,  Lt. Governor Brad Owen (on upper-left)]

During the run-up to the 2010 election, our Democratic leaders depended on advocacy groups and Bill Gates, Sr. to market the idea of fair taxation. Now, despite the unconstitutionality and immorality of I-1053, our leaders fail to challenge I-1053.

Our leaders don’t lead.

Most of them say they oppose and certainly regret I-1053. But they won’t stick their necks out to challenge it.

Wouldn’t it be better to lose an election than to lose your soul?

The core problem is that voters vote against their own self-interest, because progressive voices are drowned out, squelched and disorganized. And part of the reason for that is the Democrats’ failure to lead. Perhaps the politicians fear retribution from the voters. Perhaps some (a few?) of them are corrupt and really don’t give a damn.  I’m sure that some of our legislators are afraid of the lobbyists who would descend like locusts on Olympia were they to try to remove tax exemptions.   For whatever reason, our leaders hide behind Tim Eyman.

Another problem is the over use of citizen initiatives. The reason we don’t have direct democracy (where the voters vote for legislation, without relying on elected representatives in Congress) is that many issues are too complex for the average person. Furthermore, voters are easily deceived and can be convinced to vote for unjust initiatives, such as I-1053, which are against their own self-interest.

BTW, someone suggested I show scenes of suffering and loss that will result from I-1053.  If people send me such images I’ll combine them into a Flash animation that might be more effective than the static image above.

Political Extortion

What will it take for elected Democratic legislators in our state, and the governor, to refuse to accede to extortionists?

EXTORTION – excerpt from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

“The term extortion is often used metaphorically . . .   It is also often used loosely to refer to everyday situations where one person feels indebted against their will, to another, in order to receive an essential service or AVOID LEGAL CONSEQUENCES . . . . .

“Neither extortion nor blackmail require a threat of a criminal act, such as violence, merely a threat used to ELICIT ACTIONS, money, or property from the object of the extortion.”

Unfortunately, a pattern of Democratic acquiescence has set in with the passage of Eyman’s I-1053.  This is not the same as being willing to compromise, a necessary part of democratic governance.

We are at a financial impasse caused by the apparently tacit agreement among Democrats in our legislature not to challenge Eyman’s I-1053 voting restrictions on the legislature in matters of taxation. Presumably, this is due to fear of possible political fall-out at the next election.

Because I-1053 is unconstitutional on its face since it is in direct conflict with at least four articles of the Washington state constitution, its status must be determined by our state Supreme Court.

Until its constitutionality is settled,  the legislature should proceed on the premise that it is not constitutional, especially in the area of ending or suspending selected corporate tax reductions.

This would enable the legislature to produce a budget for our educational needs that more closely resembles the needs of a modern state, instead of the Draconian lopping off of essential parts that the proposed budget now entails.

It changes nothing at all for the victims of current budget priorities if the Democratic enablers of Eyman’s I-1053 in our legislature are in pain and wish they could do otherwise.

What they must do is undertake a reassessment of whether or not to confront the extortionists head-on for the benefit of the people of our state.

Washington voters have repeatedly shown their support for education. With truthful, forthright explanation of why we must remove tax exemptions  in order to restore funding for education in this exceptionally straitened economic context, the potential “political fall-out” could not only be avoided, but turned into a political victory.

How much courage does it take to do the right thing?

Elaine Phelps

WSDCC State Committee Woman
President, May Arkwright Hutton Chapter, WSFDW

Washington Uprising! Demonstrators Occupy the Capitol and Demand Fair Budget

Folks are coming to Olympia in droves this week to demand a fair State budget. This is a week of action based on demands for a fair budget that were delivered to thCourtesy US Uncut Olympiae lawmakers on March 17Courtesy Devin CP at Flickerth. The Olympia Coalition for a Fair Budget put on a bang-up day of speech and music and entertainment on Tuesday, April 5th. Washington Can took up the action on Wednesday, April 6th. US Uncut joined OLY Fair Budget and Washington CAN and by Wednesday night, hundreds of people had occupied the rotunda, chanting and singing for a fair budget.

SEIU, AFSME, and health care unions are expected to take up the baton today and tomorrow. If you are in the area, come to Olympia. The march today begins downtown at Sylvester Park at 11:00 am and heads to the Capitol. Bundle up, it’s a little chilly this morning, but it’s going to burn off and be a beautiful day to be at the State Capitol.

Hope to have video up soon.

Devin CP at Flicker has a good set of photos up from the action yesterday. Sorry about the blurry pics, I am still working on grabbing video of the actions and trying to find the hours needed to capture the video from digital tape and render it to something that plays on the web.

To our state legislators: challenge I-1053!

The Democrats should be challenging Eyman’s I-1053 instead of  treating it as the law of the land. As it is, the legislature cannot fulfill its CONSTITUTIONAL DUTY so long as it continues on its current path.

You have the power right now to end or at least suspend the corporate tax reductions that may have been appropriate in better economic times but that are hurting us now.

Be strong, act with courage and on principle to let the voting public know that you are following the constitutional provisions that no initiative can repeal and under which the legislature is obliged to function. [Editor: see I-1053 is Unconstitutional]

You have sworn an oath to do so.



Thoughts on achieving real change

Real change in our country has never been easy.  The main avenue for its success has always been by pushing, and pushing, and pushing against prevailing standards and power blocks.  What may look impossible today becomes less so if pressure continues and expands.  The right wing certainly knows this. Today’s liberals/progressives seem not to be up for the long-range struggles.

One thing is absolutely guaranteed: no pressure from progressives, no progress.
The Democratic leaders in the state legislature, apparently with the acquiescence of their caucuses, have decided that if they in any way challenge Eyman’s I-1053 they will antagonize the voters and could lose the majority in 2012.  They may be right.

They could also be wrong.  The restrictions on revenue that I-1053 imposes, unconstitutionally in the opinion of many including me (not a lawyer), are so severe that many extremely important and popular programs are being radically diminished or totally eliminated by – guess who? – the Democratic majority.  True, they are deeply anguished by having to do this, they wish it were otherwise, but (their) political “acumen” tells them it is the only course to follow if they are to be re-elected.

What ever happened to Democrats fighting for what they believe in, namely, socio-economic fairness and justice, each generation to enjoy a better life than its predecessors?  What about making the case to the voters that the Republicans and major corporations here and nationally are engaged in a long-term class war against labor and the middle class, etc etc etc?
From a  member of the shrinking “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party”

Washington Uprising – A Community Response to Budget Cuts

I think for the next ten days, my thoughts, time, money are on the Washington Uprising.

A bunch of groups are coordinating activities around the State and carrying the message to the Governor and the Legislators in Olympia. Washington State is jumping on the austerity bandwagon. We have a Democratic Governor, Christine Gregoire, who is a reasonable person. Governor Gregoire is no Scott Walker, but she is not fighting for us. She is not fighting for her own values. The War on the Poor has to stop. The Class War is in full gear. The top 2% of wealth and income scale have to be forced to start paying their fair share. Once that happens, we have no need for the cuts. You cannot balance the budget on the backs of the poor and disabled, you have to balance the budget by fixing the revenue streams that fund critical public endeavors like education, health care, parks, transportation, housing, services to the disabled, and so much more.

If trickle down economics worked for the benefit of all of us, if deregulation of private industry created responsible wealth and employment, if the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few created stable communities, we would all be eating rainbow pie by now.

Government serves functions that private, for-profit industries will never address. If there is no money, no profit in it, the globalization capitalists have declared war on it. Prisons are fine because they can be operated at a profit by corporations. We can keep schools are if we can get rid of qualified teachers and privatize education and put control in the hands of private entrepreneurs to create cash flow and train a work force to flip burgers and fry potatoes. Health care is great if we can manage cost and ration care to create stock dividends and CEO bonuses and not get too concerned about the actual health of the population sitting in the waiting room or standing in line at a free clinic.

Have to stop and work on a media project in support of the activities being planned for next week. Hope you can take a day off next week. I am taking the week off to be involved in the activities. If you want to know more about the Washington Uprising, try

We are Washington. It’s one website that organizers are using to get the word out.   Olympia Coalition for a Fair Budget is another website that is getting the word out and organizing activities.

Workers compensation bill SB5566: a step towards Wisconsin?

Is Washington State SB5566, passed in the State Senate Saturday March 5, a dangerous step in the direction of Wisconsin?

The measure, strongly opposed by Labor, would establish an option for lump sum payments.

The text of the bill and the roll call vote are posted here on leg.wa.gov.

Here are some links to articles about the bill:

http://www.seattlepi.com/local/6420ap_wa_xgr_workers_comp.html

http://www.therepublic.com/view/story/b7c287cdfceb4808b261b6446a7ab3fb/WA-XGR–Workers_Comp/

http://www.wslc.org/reports/2011/March/07.htm#JJ

Discussion

The replacement of “sure and certain relief” in the form of a pension by opening the door to lump sum settlements is a drastic change and not a minor adjustment.

Fortunately an attempt to end workers compensation at the age of Social Security or to offer settlements at that age has been deleted from the bill.  Although we hear numerous platitudes alleging that the retirement age for Social Security is 62 or 66, the fact is that the level of benefits one obtains by starting Social Security at those ages is not enough to live on and the adequate level of benefits does not start until the age of 70.  Furthermore, an injured person on workers compensation has not been paying into Social Security at the same rate as someone who has been employed full time over the same years.  Stopping the workers compensation pension would result in an income gap that would leave this population of senior citizens with no resources over a period of years.

It is part of a larger effort by companies to eliminate benefits or eliminate the number of jobs that have benefits.  The irony is that the labor unions are the true fiscal conservatives, since the packages they have negotiated over the long term have emphasized saving and necessities over discretionary cash and spending.  The corporations, which falsely claim to be the conservatives, raised cash salaries during the 1990s in order to recruit young, highly skilled workers in the high tech industry.  At the same time benefits, which the young do not think about and sometimes do not understand, were systematically cut back.  The compensation structure offered by the phony conservatives promotes discretionary spending rather than ensuring medical care and a pension in old age.  We are in an era where the liberals are the real  conservatives and the conservatives are the wild rebels.

The attempt to weaken workers compensation is a part of this overall attack on benefits.

The availability of a settlement option produces the possibility of scams, as the injured worker may believe that a particular sum of money is a large amount and that he or she has had a windfall of wealth, but such individuals may have an incorrect perception in believing that a particular sum is a lot of money.   Furthermore, a private individual may end up with attorneys who are incompetent or unscrupulous.

What is lacking in this debate is the narrative.  Consider the hypothetical case of John Doe, who is a full time worker with an auto loan, a student loan and a modest amount of credit card debt.  Suddenly he has an accident at work and his whole life is turned upside down.  He files a claim for workers compensation.  What happens next?  How is the claim decided?  Under what circumstances would the idea of a settlement arise?  What is the process by which John Doe would be put in the situation of having to fight against an attempt to give him a settlement instead of a pension?  How would the long appeals drag out, as the labor council warns about?  Wouldn’t a decision be required from the state after a fixed number of days?

If John Doe gets a settlement, do his creditors have the right to take it away?  Is the settlement really a means to make sure that the individual has a sum the creditors can go after, while Mr. Doe will be left with nothing?

This really shouldn’t be “about” whether unions are to blame for costs.
This should be “about” what happens to John Doe.

The Seattle PI article states that the long term pensions result in much of the cost of workers compensation.  It is surprising that there would be so many cases of people becoming so disabled that they cannot work, with workplace injury as the cause.  Controlling workplace injuries is not rocket science.  An organization that obtains a standards certification (such as ISO 9000 a decade ago) can create work spaces in which accidents are prevented.  Instead of blaming the costs on the unions, we should be asking why companies are cutting corners on safety and risking lawsuits and workplace compensation costs rather than putting the right preventive procedures in place to begin with.

The following website contains statistics on the incidence of workplace injuries.

lni.wa.gov/ClaimsIns/Insurance/DataStatistics/WorkersCompData/default.asp

One of the disturbing trends in this data is high percentages of complaints in occupations that are populated with Hispanic workers: farm workers, maids and home care aids.  This raises the question of whether the attempt to weaken workers compensation is another form of racial harassment against the Hispanic population.

Another trend in the data is a high percentage of injuries in construction when the company has 1-5 employees.  In other words, the big contractors may have safety practices in place, but there are small firms where the owners are careless or incompetent.  This not only applied to a variety of building trades, but to the cheese and unlaminated plastics industries.

Related to this is a high incidence of injuries in occupations where there is a great deal of self employment: truck drivers, plumbers and pipefitters.  It seems that such people may be overextending themselves beyond what they can handle to earn a living as they get older, or overextending themselves because of the perceived need to earn more at the expense of their health.

I was dismayed at the incidences of injuries among retail sales personnel, although research into the level of seriousness of the accidents might reveal that that this sector is not producing the long term disability cases.

The point is that the way to control the costs of workers compensation is to study this data, determine what industries and occupations are producing the highest cost to the system,  and enforce or reward implementation of the best practices for avoiding injuries, and to crack down on those industries, such as farming, that have a history of abusing their laborers.

Thousands rally in Olympia

In solidarity with Wisconsin citizens protesting the hostile takeover of public sector jobs and unregulated privatization of public works contracts proposed by WI Gov. Scott Walker, thousands of people here in Washington rallied at the state capitol  in Olympia yesterday. Amid chants of “What’s disgusting…union busting” and “Hey, hey,  ho, ho, Scott Walker’s got to go”, workers from IBEW, the Teamsters, SEIU and other unions carried signs defending the right to organize and bargain collectively that is under attack in Wisconsin. Other signs warned of the growing disparity between rich and poor in the US that is being exacerbated by unbridled privatization that puts tax dollars collected from the working class into the hands of corporations  driven by the profit motive rather than the common good. A large display created by Movement for the People contrasts the actual preamble of the Constitution, beginning with the familiar words, “We the People of the United States,” with a preamble recast as “We the Corporations, Transcending the boundaries of Nations, In order to protect us from the People, Insure our right to Extract and Exploit, Provide the Defense of Profit with Impunity, and Secure the Blessings of Wealth and Privilege for those who have it already, Do ordain and appropriat­e this Constituti­on of the United States of America.”

Because that what this is folks…a fight for our human rights as outlined by FDR in his Second Bill of Rights in 1944. Make no mistake: we can have a democracy or a plutocracy, but not both.