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.

Come Together, Right Now

Tomorrow is a big day. It’s going to be cold in the Northwest, but there are a lot of calls for turnout and solidarity with the unions of Wisconsin and elsewhere that are under attack. If you have feet, down, below your knees, you should plant them in solidarity tomorrow.

Marylea and I are over to Shelton mid morning to shoot some video footage for a biomass documentary that we are working on. The solidarity event in Olympia is noon at the Tivoli Fountain. Bundle up.

Come together, right now. See you in the streets.

I-1053 is apparently unconstitutional

Constitutions exist to protect the People from unjust laws and initiatives.

The Washington State Constitution specifies that a bill becomes law if a majority of legislators support it. Hence I-1053 (the voter initiative requiring 2/3 majorities of legislators to approve tax increases) would appear to be unconstitutional, as would many or all of Tim Eyman’s similar initiatives.

According to SECTION 22 PASSAGE OF BILLS of the Washington State Constitution, “No bill shall become a law unless on its final passage the vote be taken by yeas and nays, the names of the members voting for and against the same be entered on the journal of each house, and a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.” (emphasis added)

In other words, the minority don’t get to decide the law in Washington State.

But I-1053 requires that “legislative actions raising taxes must be approved by two-thirds legislative majorities or receive voter approval.”

What’s particular obnoxious about I-1053 is that it seems to make it difficult or impossible to eliminate the many tax giveaways that burden Washington’s tax code. Many of these tax exemptions are special-case sweet deals for politically connected fat cats.

Many of the largest donors to the pro-I-1053 campaign were out-of-state corporations. According to this Ballotpedia article, BP Corporation donated $50,000 towards the effort. Tesoro Companies (a Texas-based refiner and marketer of petroleum products) donated $40,000. JPMorgan Chase (TX) donated $30,000. Green Diamond Resource donated $20,000.

No doubt they got a hefty return on their investment, since I-1053 would make it almost impossible to increase the state’s Hazardous Substances Tax — which is meant to help protect our waterways from dangerous runoff from petroleum products.

So while these corporations benefit, vulnerable people will lose out. The Basic Health program for poor people faces the chopping block. Hospice care for the elderly, funding for police, and education for our children will suffer.

The American education system is falling further behind other nations. But the high tech companies on which much of Washington’s prosperity depends don’t need to worry too much. Many of their employees are foreigners, with H-1B visas. I’ve worked at, and applied to, some of the largest high tech companies. In my estimation, between 1/3 and 1/2 of the engineers are foreigners, mostly Indians and Chinese. In some work groups, there are no Americans. Of course, many of these employees earn in the high six figures and so benefit from low taxation. (On the other hand, only the top 1% or 2% of Washingtonians benefit from the defeat of I-1098.)

The state constitution says: “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.” Hence Our Legislature has a Constitutional Duty to Reform our Tax Code.

It made some sense for voters to oppose tax increases. But it made no sense at all for them to favor extension of unfair tax exemptions that benefit mostly the wealthy and the powerful. And it made little sense for them to oppose I-1098, which would have rebalanced the tax system so that the super-rich pay their fair share.

Washington State has one of the most regressive tax systems in the nation, yet the voters continue to vote against their own interest. It’s no surprise, given the dominance of media organizations such as Fox News, conservative talk shows on AM radio, and The Seattle Times, which strongly opposed I-1098 and supported I-1053.

This Sightline Daily article BP & Eyman’s I-1053: Unconstitutional has an excellent analysis of I-1053.

Unfortunately, the state Supreme Court is wary about ruling on such measures, because they concern the operating procedures of the legislature. The Supreme Court tries to keeps its nose out of the legislative branch’s affairs, as state constitutional law scholar Hugh Spitzer explained to Crosscut. The justices have twice dismissed on technical grounds challenges to minority rule initiatives. Most recently, they regarded a case brought by the Senate Majority Leader as a procedural dispute with the state Lieutenant Governor (the senate’s presiding officer, who chose to enforce I-960). Whether the Lieutenant Governor will continue to disregard the constitution, and whether the Supreme Court will allow him to do so, is anyone’s guess.

On the merits, the central legal issue is straightforward: Even in conservative Alaska, the state supreme court rejected a minority-rule ballot measure as unconstitutional, because it tried to change the constitution without going through the required steps.

In fact, Washington is the only state in the nation where minority rule has been imposed through a regular law. (In 16 states, citizens have voted to amend their constitutions to enact minority rule on votes that increase (certain) taxes. These constitutional amendments were undemocratic and ill-conceived, but at least they were legally enacted.)

Repeat a lie often enough and people start to believe it.

That’s the conservative approach to government. They keep repeating that Social Security contributes to the deficit, that taxes are too high (when, in fact, they’re lower than they’ve been in decades), that taxes and regulations are the problem, and that private companies do everything better. But this isn’t at all the case. Without government bailouts, we’d be in a serious depression. Government-run health care in many countries is both higher quality and much cheaper than America’s insurance-based health industry. Without government research we’d have many fewer technologies. Reckless deregulation was a major cause of the subprime crash. Without government regulations, many of us would be dead or ill. Without the police and FBI, we’d be in sorrier shape. Without government, we’d in fact be hunter-gatherers. Government is like a computer’s operating system: a response to libertarians and Bring on the Reagan Counter-revolution explain these points in more detail.

The article Will the Courts Overturn I-1053 explains how to overturn I-1053:

What could force the court to issue a judgment on I-1053′s constitutionality? First, the legislature would have to pass a tax increase or something that had the same effect by less than two-thirds. That is, the legislature would have to ignore I-1053′s minority-rule provisions.

Then, some outside party would have to bring suit against the tax as void because its passage violated I-1053. At that point, the courts would have little choice but to adjudicate the constitutionality of 1053.

Unfortunately, no such case will emerge unless leadership of both houses in Olympia ignore 1053. But Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen, who has presided in the state senate since 1996, has consistently enforced minority rule, under each variation that voters have approved.

Mr. Spitzer says that if and when the members of the court finally have the question squarely before them, they will almost certainly rule I-1053 unconstitutional.

I call on our legislators (Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen, in particular) to stand up for the State Constitution and vote to eliminate unfair and unsustainable tax exemptions.

No doubt the legislators fear voter backlash and wish to respect the will of the people. But I-1053 is clearly unconstitutional, and the elimination of unfair tax giveaways would, I believe, be consistent with the will of the vast majority of Washington voters.