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Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
February 12, 2006

We Should Be Fuming Over This One
If you missed it when we posted An Appeal From the Farm Labor Organizing Committee on the Daily Labor News Digest Wednesday you should take a look at it and act accordingly. FLOC warns,

"Methyl iodide is a chemical that EPA is now evaluating for registration as a replacement for the fumigant methyl bromide, which is being phased out because it causes ozone depletion in the atmosphere. Methyl iodide and methyl bromide are highly volatile fumigant pesticides that are injected into the soil to kill soil-borne pests. Because of the high application rates and gaseous nature of these chemicals, they drift away from the application site to poison neighbors and farmworkers. Fumigant-intensive crops include tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, tobacco, melons, potatoes and other root crops. FLOC workers are involved with such crops, and we all eat them.

"Methyl iodide is even more hazardous to human health than methyl bromide. Cancer researchers have used methyl iodide in laboratories to induce cancer. California lists it as a carcinogen under Proposition 65. EPA found that methyl iodide caused thyroid tumors, and evidence linked to metabolic disorders and immune function, respiratory tract lesions, neurological effects, and miscarriages."

More background on this threat, as well as information about how to participate in the public comment on the EPA proposed change, can be found in the linked story mentioned above.

A Little Good News From the Constitution State
One complaint I get about these columns is that they always seem so negative. Unfortunately, I don’t create the news; I only review it. While negative is the prevailing drift there are some bright spots here and there to encourage us to keep up the good fight.

The Connecticut Independent Labor Union, which is affiliated with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), showed us a good example of the results of effective organizing this past week.

First, there was a landslide win in an election to represent Stamford workers who drive the city's plows and garbage trucks, maintain golf courses and fix city vehicles. The Teamsters had spoken for these workers for over a half-century but had accomplished little. The UE won 82 percent of the vote. 87 percent of those eligible participated in the voting. The city now knows they are dealing with a solid union, not just some well dressed official.

The very next day, the same union won a unanimous vote to represent a similar bargaining unit for the town of Cromwell.

Social Security I
(In the spirit of full disclosure I must acknowledge that Social Security payments are my sole source of regular income.)

The White House budget submitted to congress includes a major proposal to privatize Social Security. It didn’t make the cut for the final draft of President Bush’s State of the Union Address and has been largely ignored by pundits of all stripes.

By 2010 the process of shifting no less than 710 billion dollars of Social Security funds out of secure government holdings into private accounts would begin. Regardless of how the market fares this means a bonanza for stock brokers and money managers--subsidized by precious Social Security dollars. It also means putting the retirement future of account holders at risk.

But wait, there’s more! According to the Alliance for Retired Americans the budget would also,

* End benefits at age 16 for the child of a deceased, disabled or retired worker if that child is no longer attending school full time. Savings over 10 years: $1.5 billion.

* Eliminate the $255 death benefit paid to surviving spouses or entitled children of a beneficiary who dies. Savings: $2.0 billion.

* Increase enforcement of an existing law that reduces benefits for public sector workers who receive a pension from work not covered by Social Security (the Government Pension Offset, or GPO, and Windfall Elimination Provision, or WEP). Savings: $2.4 billion.

* Change the reduction in disability benefits that applies to beneficiaries who also receive workers' compensation payments. Savings: $0.4 billion, although the Social Security Administration (SSA) intends to revise it so that savings are zero.

But even that’s not all. The budget cuts Medicare by 36 billion and Medicaid by 13.7 billion over the next five years. And, cuts in the Older Americans Act and various block grant programs will decimate services such as Meals On Wheels, adult day care, and transportation assistance.

All of the savings at the expense of us old codgers will be diverted to the greatly expanded war budget.

Social Security II
I was somewhat puzzled after reading a PAI account of a speech by Change to Win chair Anna Burger to the Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Project Conference. Burger gave a good description of the pension crisis facing U.S. workers. But then she kind of lost me with talk about a whole new pension system that "would be unlike both traditional pensions and more-shaky 401(k) accounts." According to the article,

"Burger outlined basic principles for a proposed pension system: Universal coverage; adequate retirement income, ‘such as 70 percent of pre-retirement income’ guaranteed against market shocks, inflation and longer lives; required predictable, stable contributions from all employers; simplicity; portability from job to job; investment pooling to reduce risk and increase returns for individuals, and worker election of board members who then run the system."

Except for "investment pooling," and election of some kind of board, there is nothing here that couldn’t be dealt with in the present Social Security system--which is universal, portable and receives stable funding from virtually all employers. The percentage of pre-retirement income can be raised simply by eliminating the income cap on employee contributions and increasing the share paid by the employer.

"Investment pooling" is at the heart of most schemes to privatize Social Security. The best way to guarantee against "market shocks and inflation" is to have the fund backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government–as is Social Security presently. This ill-considered new pension scheme is not a change that can win for American workers.

Past generations of union leaders dropped the ball when they first got into employer based pension plans. We need to fight to defend–and expand–Social Security, not just for old folks like me but for the young workers just entering the work force as well.

Willie Nelson, Janet Jackson, and the Mine Operators
When Janet Jackson suffered her famous "costume failure" on live television during a Super Bowl, CBS was fined 550,000 dollars. Fines for 276 safety violation citations at the Sago mine (where twelve miners were killed in January) over 2004-2005 totaled 33,600.

Collectively, mine operators owe sixteen million dollars in unpaid safety fines. MSHA says they are stumped over how to get them to cough up. Stephen Webber, who headed the mine agency's assessments office at the end of the Clinton administration and for a few years under the Bush administration said "If mine operators are not paying their civil penalty assessments, they're not going to have the right attitude toward health and safety. 'They'll just get another assessment and not pay it."

Coincidently, sixteen million is what Willie Nelson was alleged to owe in income tax in 1990. The IRS wasn’t stumped at all. They auctioned off Willie’s every possession and told him to work to get them more.

ISP=Innovative Scams for Profit
Most of us pay somewhere between twenty to fifty bucks a month, depending on how broad our band, to an Internet Service Provider. Presumably a chunk of this goes to cover the expense of us both sending and receiving e-mail messages.

This column goes out by e-mail to subscribers on five continents. We started out using our regular e-mail account, listing the subscribers "bcc." Then our ISP (SBC, now dba ATT), in the name of fighting spam, started restricting the number we could copy on a message. We then contracted with a "white listed" service, IntelliContact, which worked well for about a year.

The last couple of months we have had delivery problems galore. Everything to AOL subscribers has been blocked. Comcast has frequently been a problem and SBC was on at least one mailing.

At first we thought we were dealing with some of the all too common glitches that show up in cyberspace that are ultimately repaired at a snail’s pace. Now we’re not so sure.

AOL and Yahoo announced last week plans to charge "mass mailers" to guarantee delivery past their "spam filters." Pay the tribute and you can spam all you want.

Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft have all admitted to collaborating with the Chinese government in tracking down and arresting dissidents using the Internet. So far no disclosures about how they may be ratting out American customers to U.S. spy agencies.

We can’t say for sure that we are being pressured to pay to mail, or are victims of government engineered disruption. With a list that still only numbers in triple digits it would be a stretch to label us a "mass mailer." We’re not so arrogant to think Bush is losing sleep over this web site. Still, eternal paranoia is the price of liberty.

As usual, much of the material for this column came from stories posted on the Daily Labor News Digest.

That’s all for this week.

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