by Bill Onasch
Happy Indigenous Peoples Day!
The Iconic Icahn
Carl Icahn is a stripper. I apologize to any hard working dancers who may take offense at being associated with the self-styled “richest man on Wall Street.” Carl doesn’t work with a fan or a pole–he uses past ill gotten gains to buy troubled companies cheap in order to strip them of assets.
Usually he tries to sell the lean and mean remains before moving on to the next victim but if flipping doesn’t offer sufficient profit then down the tubes they go. When that happens there’s no George Clooney flying in to ease them out gently. Predictable numbers of suicides and divorces are certain among these disposable workers.
Whether or not he envisions closing, Carl the Stripper always demands take backs from workers under palpable threat of a termination as humane as the judicial system in the Islamic State. Frequently he seeks corporate welfare from government as well. His string of targets over the last 35 years includes many on–or once on–the Fortune 500 list.
The Stripper is back in the news again. A story in the Philadelphia Inquirer says,
“Carl Icahn, a billionaire investor and buying distressed properties, controls the fate of Trump Entertainment because he owns $286 million in first-lien debt and stands first in line to be paid in any bankruptcy deal. As a condition of keeping Trump Taj Mahal open, Icahn wants massive concessions from labor and government. Under the proposal detailed last Friday in a motion to reject Local 54’s collective bargaining agreement with the Taj Mahal, union members would have their traditional pension replaced with a 401(k) plan and lose their company-paid health insurance. The bankrupt Trump Entertainment Resorts, which owns the Taj Mahal, proposed ending the present labor contract. The union has pushed back at Icahn.”
Now Carl isn’t the only icon trying to strip the stressed out entertainment palace. Even more in the limelight, if not quite as rich, Donald Trump is demanding his name be removed. It turns out this jovial former reality show boss has not been involved in ownership or management of Trump Taj Mahal. As he has done with other ventures, he merely sold his name to appear on the marquee. Concern about his name is not Shakespearean; it’s all about this commodity’s price point being diminished by its attachment to a loser.
But the workers are indeed pushing back as the same Inquirer article reports,
“Over 700 members of Unite Here Local 54, the union that represents most casino workers here, let Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., know just how they feel about the proposed cuts to their health care and pension plans. They staged a ‘civil disobedience’ march starting around 5:30 p.m. downtown, blocking traffic from in the heart of downtown at the busy intersection of Arkansas and Arctic Avenues near the Tanger Outlets, The Walk, outdoor mall, and causing mass gridlock. About two dozen people were arrested and charged with resisting an officer’s order or blocking traffic, or both.”
Neither Carl nor Donald were anywhere near Arkansas & Arctic but I understand they are likely to meet in the future at the intersection of Fire & Brimstone.
Hillary’s Not the Only One Back
While there are at least a couple of functioning state Labor Party bodies, and some local chapters have reorganized as Labor Party Advocates, the national party has not been able to function for some time. Mergers and leadership changes in affiliated unions steadily withdrew needed financial support. So when I received an e-mail message from our long unpaid national officers I was surprised and pleased. Here are some excerpts:
We are writing to let you know about an exciting development in the South Carolina Labor Party. The state party has nominated Harold Geddings as a candidate for South Carolina’s second congressional district for this November’s election.
Brother Geddings is a member of Local 399 of the Sheet Metal Workers union and has worked at the Savannah River Site as well as on various political campaigns. At its annual convention earlier this month, the South Carolina AFL-CIO endorsed Harold’s candidacy after he gave a rousing speech to delegates. Harold is passionate about fighting for working people:
We believe Harold’s campaign has the potential to help re-establish an organizational presence for the Labor Party in South Carolina and prepare us for future campaigns. It is consistent with our national priority to re-open a discussion about independent working class political initiatives.
We urge you to forward this email to friends and colleagues, to read more about Harold Geddings and to make a generous contribution to his campaign.
Mark Dudzic – National Organizer, Labor Party
Katherine Isaac – Secretary-Treasurer, Labor Party
You can check out the Hard Hats for Harold campaign website here. The site also has a PayPal link for campaign contributions.
It’s getting to be that time for us old folks to decide who will be the gatekeeper for our access to medical care next year. Some advocates of Canadian style single-payer coverage for all use the slogan Medicare for All. They are undoubtedly under the age of 65.
Medicare, passed during the Johnson administration in the face of fierce opposition from the medical profession, has undoubtedly contributed to longer life expectancy for Americans. It has also made short sighted doctors far richer than they ever dreamed possible. And private insurance companies have been encouraged to get a piece of the action as well.
What’s now called “original” Medicare, Part A, pre-paid through the dedicated Medicare payroll tax, mostly covers only what can be done in your doctor’s office. More serious and expensive hospital or outpatient surgery, treatments, tests and therapy requires signing up for an optional Part B. This additional coverage of up to eighty percent of the charge for many of these services comes with an additional premium which can conveniently be deducted from your Social Security payment. When Part B was established, that monthly fee was three dollars. Today a sliding scale averages about forty times that amount.
Since even a twenty percent co-pay for many services under Part B could mean financial ruin for most seniors, demand was created for special private insurance. It was once common to negotiate union contracts including such insurance benefits for retirees but they are rapidly disappearing. The sole contribution of my old employer, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, is a whopping 21.50 per month–before taxes–toward my Part B premium.
This year I paid 270 dollars a month out of our household income for a decent Blue Cross Medicare Supplement. Such protection was valuable when I needed expensive eye surgery last year. But there are still many out of pocket expenses–and no drug coverage. Even though I am in reasonably good health for a person my age I am spending nearly five thousand dollars this year on monthly premiums and about 1500 on prescriptions–on top of my original Medicare. I know next year will cost even more.
The private sector was not content with selling supplements that were beyond affordability of many retirees. With bipartisan encouragement, further privatization was launched with subsidized Medicare Advantage plans run for profit. Sixteen million–about a third of all those on Medicare–have been guided in to the nurturing arms of the insurance robber barons. 23 million pay for private prescription drug discount plans under the misleading label of Medicare Part D.
An article by Robert Pear in today’s New York Times exposes some of the myth about vaunted private sector efficiency,
“Federal officials say they have repeatedly criticized, and in many cases penalized, Medicare health plans for serious deficiencies, including the improper rejection of claims for medical services and unjustified limits on coverage of prescription drugs….Medicare officials impose civil fines and take other enforcement actions when they see practices that could harm beneficiaries by delaying or denying access to care. Insurers usually do not dispute the audit findings, but say the care they provide is superior to that in the traditional fee-for-service Medicare program.”
These companies accept that they will get caught once in a while in what is clearly systemic cheating. The occasional penalties assessed are simply chalked up to the cost of a highly profitable business.
Medicare is better than what most folks have under the subsidized compulsory private insurance of the Affordable Care Act. But it is no model for the health care that is needed and possible. And even this inadequate program is under assault from both the White House and the cracked tea pots.
As we all await the bad news of open enrollment it is time to recall that even though the American economy spends far more on health than any other country the delivered results are mediocre and unevenly distributed according to class and color. Single-payer would be a useful reform. Even better would be a model based on the British National Health Service–also under attack. We’ll get no meaningful progress of any kind until we break the boss monopoly of politics with a party of our own.
Heading North Again
Later this week I’ll be on the road to Minneapolis once more. My friends in Socialist Action have invited me to give a report on workers and climate change to the SA national convention. Allowing for both preparation and travel time I won’t be updating the news on the Labor Advocate blog again until Tuesday, October 21, and the next WIR will follow soon after.
That’s all for this week.
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