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.

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What to do about funding requests?

I got email today from Chris Bowers (Campaign Director, Daily Kos) asking me to donate money to support the recall of GOP politicians in Wisconsin: “On Monday, I sent you an email about how the recall against Republican state Senators had begun in Wisconsin. You can support the recall by contributing to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, which is the central organizing hub for the campaign. The DPW has already gathered 15% of the petition signatures required to force a recall election.”

Every day I get solicitations from progressive and Democratic causes. It’s hard to know which causes to support.

It’s a shame but many people are hesitant to donate to the Democratic Party because of its mixed record with regard to defending progressive values. Sure, the Republicans are worse, but my point is that many donors, and voters, are reluctant to support wishy-washy compromisers who use progressive rhetoric but in the end turn around and support conservative views.  Republicans rarely compromise and often vote unanimously for hard right positions. Many  Democrats are “centrist” and compromise.   So, of course, the nation’s politics are moving further and further to the right.

President Obama himself said, “We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it’s easy, but when it is hard.”

But I gotta say: President Obama’s repeated compromises with Republicans, and his repeated betrayals of progressive values, will likely cause tremendous damage. He deserves a large part of the blame for the shellacking in November and for the Democrats’ failure to stop playing defense.

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Jill Richardson: Agroecology vs. Modern Farming Methods

Jill Richardson, food system expert, author, and founder of Lavidalocavore.org, has a great post up at Daily Kos today on the viability of agroecology leading the way to double food production in 10 years.

Agroecology applies science to indigenous and traditional farming practices to provide natural, sustainable, high yield farming methods using local resources. Following are two examples from Jill’s post:

Example 1:
“You first start growing your rice plants and then you time the hatching of your ducklings so that the rice plants are just a little too big for them to eat. As your rice grows, the ducks grow too, pooping out fertilizer and snacking on weeds and bugs that might otherwise harm your rice. And you can also grow azolla, an aquatic fern, in this system. Azolla crowds out weeds, fixes nitrogen, and serves as duck food.”

Example 2: “The “push-pull” method involves pushing pests away from corn by interplanting corn with an insect repelling crop called Desmodium (which can be fed to livestock), while pulling the pests toward small nearby plots of Napier grass, “a plant that excretes a sticky gum which both attracts and traps pests.” In addition to controlling pests, this system produces livestock fodder, thus doubling corn yields and milk production at the same time. And it improves the soil to boot!”

Why not just have Monstanto supply GMO seeds and chemical fertilizers?

“chemical inputs are a bit like drugs. Your land gets hooked. Once you’ve killed your soil and you no longer have the local varieties of seeds you used to use, you NEED those seeds and fertilizer every year. When the inputs are no longer free or subsidized, you’re screwed. And often, over time, you’ll need MORE fertilizer and pesticides just to get the same yields, once your soil is depleted and the bugs begin to evolve resistance to the pesticides.”

Big ag is big business, and big business has big influence on governments the world over. But big ag isn’t the solution to the global food shortage. It is bad for the environment, produces less healthy food, and damages the soil and culture of indigenous peoples.

If you care about farming practices and food safety, I recommend reading Jill’s article, which is also posted in much more detail at Alternet, and reading her book Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We Can Do to fix it. And you can stop in at her blog, lavidalocavore.org.

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Economics 101 v. Contemporary Arrogance

“The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance.”
— Paul Johnson

Keynesian economics are the solution to recessions and depressions. In the battle of great ideas, Keynesian economics can lose traction to free market economics and for folks who have six hours can learn lots about the push and pull of economic theory by watching the PBS series Commanding Heights.

Keynesian economics and the commanding heights of manufacturing lose steam when they fail to accommodate and incorporate the power of human desire, the engine of capitalism. Fashion, this year we want fins on our cars, the next year we want round headlights, the next year we want two tone paint jobs and chrome, the next year we… you get the idea… one thing I took away from watching Commanding Heights is that these human desires and the dynamics of popular capitalism are like a force of nature, they are like wind and tides. Simply dismissing fashion and desire is a big mistake. The wind will blow.

One thing that happens when keynesian economics are employed (see the deficit spending of the Obama administration and started by the Bush administration in response to the economic meltdown) is that governments run deficits. This is a normal cycle of keynesian economics. The deficits are made up in good times if you leave tax rates alone. If the free market capitalists manage to drive tax rates down in the good times and cause the accumulation of wealth, the paydown of debt by government does not occur and we are ill-prepared to deal with the next downturn. This is where we were in 2008-2010. It doesn’t help that the financial planners around Bush and Obama were intent on saving bankers instead of homeowners, but the flattened tax schedule of the Reagan revolution had prevented economic good times from paying down deficits. There is also the issue of the wisdom of spending on war economies instead of peace and manufacturing economies, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Our current situation has created deficit issues and the deficit hawks/vultures are seizing the moment to attack social democracy institutions such as education, health care and social security.

Alternet has a good piece by Larry Beinhart from March 1st.

The Astonishing Stupidity of Not Raising Taxes on the Rich When Budgets Are Tight

The current economy is routinely and universally referred to as the worst recession since the Great Depression.

It makes sense, therefore, to look back at government tax and spending policies during the Depression and what the results were.

1932 — Hoover raises the top tax rate from to 25 to 63 percent.

1933 — Roosevelt comes into office. He begins spending at the same time that new tax hike comes into effect. The Depression bottoms out.

1934 — Recovery begins. The GNP rises 7.7 percent, unemployment falls to 21.7 percent.

1935 — New government spending on public works and rural electrification. A push to strengthen labor and raise wages. New taxes through the creation of Social Security.

The GNP grows another 8.1 percent, and unemployment continues to fall.

1936 — The top tax rate is raised again. This time to 79 percent.

GNP grows a record 14.1 percent; unemployment falls even further.

1937 — Roosevelt is afraid of deficits! He cuts spending for 1937.

There’s a new recession. It continues for a year.

Might be a good time to review our history, kids.

 

 

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Towards more effective approaches, by Bev Harris

TOWARD MORE EFFECTIVE APPROACHES (AND WHY HACKING DEMOs ARE NOW INSANITY)

by Bev Harris

Reprinted with permission of Black Box Voting

About once a week, I am asked to bring in a team somewhere and demonstrate the hacking of a voting system. I don’t, because I’ve concluded this is a form of insanity, tracking the old adage that insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over again and expecting a different result.

If you want to see a demonstration of hacking voting machines, just click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hNxBa6KENE to watch the Emmy-nominated HBO documentary “Hacking Democracy.”

That was a groundbreaking effort, by the Black Box Voting organization and two exceptional British filmmakers (Russell Michaels and Simon Ardizzone). But in the end it changed nothing, and new hacking demonstrations never will.

That’s because they focus public attention on security, diverting attention from the real issue: Our right to self-government, and how current election systems have stripped away necessary public controls.

The crucial concept here is not “security” — because as it turns out, you can NEVER secure a system against its own administrator — but rather, the right to self-government. It is smack dab front page in the US Constitution that representatives shall be chosen “by the people”, and what has happened with our election system is that the choosing system for our governance has been usurped by the government itself, removing it from the public. And if you doubt that we have an inalienable right to self government, take a close look at the Declaration of Independence, and for added academia read the diagrams carefully in the eminent Laurence H. Tribe’s book “The Invisible Constitution,” where self-governance is a cornerstone.

Back to hacking: You cannot secure a computer from its own administrator. Its administrator is an insider in a government office, and/or the vendors he selects.

WHY WON’T HACKING MORE SYSTEMS PROVE OUR POINT?

It was a good start, to help the public with conceptual issues about computerized vote counting. But:

1. Nothing meaningful has changed, and some elections jurisdictions actually went right out and purchased the exact specifications they saw in the demonstrations, for in-house use.

2. Further thought on this reveals an incontrovertible truth: Any concealed, computerized system can be subverted by its own administrator.

3. Focus on computer security gave birth to an ivory tower and rather greedy little sub-industry, self proclaimed “security” experts who promise to make a system that we could trust. Upon further review, what they mean is that we should trust THEM to tell us that the system “has been verified.”

If you doubt this, try asking any one of these consultants if they mean “the public can see and authenticate” or “it will be verified for the public to trust.” Inevitably, (after professing not to understand your question and sometimes, attempting to divert you to some altogether different topic), they come down to this: “It will be verified [by us] for you.”
Click HERE to see the rest of the article.

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Is it Coup Yet? The Unstoppable Plutocratic Takeover

“The proprietors are rich, and very holy; 
but the wage they pay to these poor brothers and sisters of theirs is 
only enough to keep them from dropping dead with hunger. The work-hours 
are fourteen per day, winter and summer–from six in the morning till 
eight at night–little children and all. And they walk to and from the 
pigsties which they inhabit–four miles each way, through mud and slush, 
rain, snow, sleet, and storm, daily, year in and year out. They get four 
hours of sleep. They kennel together, three families in a room, in 
unimaginable filth and stench; and disease comes, and they die off like 
flies.”

–Mark Twain: “The Mysterious Stranger”

Pure, unrestrained capitalism is as ugly as the most grotesque machinations of communist dictators. In order for capitalism to be an acceptable economic system, it needs much guidance; the type of guidance that comes from labor unions and government that is committed to social and economic justice, environmental protection, and human rights.

The class war is afoot, and the extremely wealthy are empirically winning. The top 1% own 42% of the wealth, the bottom 80%, just 7% of the wealth. In the mid-1970s, the top 1 percent received less than 10% of total income. By 2007, it had risen to 23.5 percent. This isn’t a war between rich and poor. It is between right and left. I don’t believe the conservatives’ aim is the destruction of the middle class, nor is it their goal to cause an epidemic of medical bankruptcies or the extinction of polar bears. But I do think those are natural consequence if their ideology prevails.

Even though thirty years of declining marginal tax rates, deregulation of energy, banking, investment, insurance, and other industries, and a steady march towards entirely unrestricted trade have quashed the middle class and all but destroyed our economy, many still believe in supply side economics, the elimination of all trade barriers, and that during our most prosperous times, steeply progressive taxation was somehow on the wrong side of the Laffer curve.

Others adhere to a precept of Adam Smith’s invisible hand – that society is accidentally served better if we act in our own best interest, than if we purposefully attempt to do what’s best for society. It is a beautiful thing. No matter how many tens or hundreds or thousands of millions one makes, he can take comfort in the knowledge that the byproduct of his own indulgence eliminates more poverty and suffering than does philanthropy. I have no issue with laissez-faire so long as the rules of the game are properly fixed. Governments should not plan economies, they should construct fiscal and regulatory mechanisms that promote the general welfare of the population as a whole.

Union membership is a fraction of what it was a couple of generations ago (8% of workforce now, 35% in 1950), and real wages for workers have been flat for decades while executive pay has increased many hundred percentiles. Nevertheless, an idea that has burgeoned lately is that union overreach has made it necessary for our jobs to be euphemistically “outsourced” to third world countries, and caused the national debt crescendo to unfathomable heights. In a world without trade barriers, and technology that allows industry to pitch factories in the middle of third world populations that will work for pennies an hour, no imaginable degree of wage concession on the part of U.S. workers will be sufficient for them to compete. In a perfectly free and global market economy, the prevailing wage is driven to subsistence, the planet to a state of inhabitability.

Wealth concentration and income disparity are at levels unseen in nearly a century, and on the rise. There is no FDR in our presidential pipeline, and the Supreme Court, in a fit of nearly unprecedented judicial activism, weighed in on Citizens United vs FEC, elevating the richest individuals and corporations essentially to the status of ruling class. The more money they have, the more power they wield over Congress, and the greater success they have in preserving and augmenting the very policies that are fueling the demise of the working class and widening the great divide between rich and poor.

In particular, the policy of low marginal tax rates for the rich is especially culpable. The halving of top marginal tax rates from 70% in the 1970’s to 35% is more than any other factor responsible for the corresponding increases in national debt and wealth disparity, and was a significant contributor to the orgy of Wall Street excesses that led to our financial collapse. So what does a Democratically controlled Congress do? It extends the Bush tax cuts for the rich. The fix is in, folks. The oligarchs are in control.

The political right’s mission is to eliminate unions, the minimum wage, public education, environmental protection, progressive tax rates, welfare, social security, equal rights for gays, reproductive rights, and even writs of habeas corpus, and they will look upon the attainment of those goals as necessary to make America strong and prosperous. They won’t be entirely successful, and America won’t revert to Twain’s capitalism (although it will exist elsewhere so that Walmart can provide value to its customers), but simply playing defense, and as much as possible preserving the status quo, isn’t sufficient. The status quo has us squarely on a path to plutocracy.

We may very well have reached a tipping point from which there is no recovery. I fear the return of a robust middle class is a lost cause. But then, perhaps lost causes, as Clarence Darrow surmised, are the only ones worth fighting for.

 

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Is a General Strike Coming?

The Wobblies appear to be thinking that a general strike is needed. The IWW commissioned Eric Drooker to create graphics and posters. I spotted the graphic on Ten Bears’ website first, then came across it again at Boing Boing.

There is so much going on in the world. The revolt in the Middle East to dump their corrupt governors is inspiring and dangerous. People are dying for their hope to throw off oppressive regimes. Gaddafi is clearly willing to use every weapon he possesses to kill Libyans who want him gone.

The guy/idiot (deputy attorney general Jeff Cox from Indiana) Wisconsin who fantasized about using live ammunition against citizens “assembling to petition the government for redress” (sound familiar? check out amendment numero uno) has been sent packing for his impolitic speech. But state violence against protesting citizens is not a hollow threat in the US.

I was struck yesterday by the language that is being used to describe the unrest in the Middle East. I heard on NPR that a Day of Rage was called in Saudi Arabia. I wonder if that is an accurate translation of the call or more linguistic framing, like using the term terrorist instead of insurgents.

We live in interesting times. See you in the streets?

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Bad, Bad Tim Eyman

(click arrow to hear) (Re-recorded)

From the state of Washington
comes a dude named Tim Eyman.
He hates government and taxes,
Gives the rich folks all they want.

You see, Eyman he is a hater.
He thinks police and schools are bad.
Poor and sick and old folks suffer.
He don’t give a damn. Ain’t that sad?

Chorus:

He’s bad, bad Tim Eyman,
The baddest man in Washington,
Tax breaks for them rich folks,
Service cuts for me and you.

Lyrics, guitar, and vocals by Don Smith.
Music by Jim Croce

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