Archive for the ‘National’ Category

RRB announces change in service hours for field offices

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

http://www.ble-t.org/pr/news/newsflash.asp?id=5831

(Source: U.S. Railroad Retirement Board press release)

CHICAGO, April 26 — Effective at noon on June 1, 2016, U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) field offices around the country will be closed to the public on Wednesday afternoons. Field office representatives will not be available to assist walk-in customers or to answer the phones during Wednesday afternoons only. All RRB offices will remain open from 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays, and during their usual hours of 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on the remaining weekdays, except for Federal holidays.
The change is necessary due to reduced staffing levels, coupled with increased workloads in several key areas, and will allow the staff in the RRB”s nationwide network of 53 field offices to focus on processing applications for benefits, conducting necessary verifications for pending applications or claims, resolving complex cases and reducing backlogged workloads.
RRB customers will continue to have the opportunity to conduct most business through the agency website (http://www.rrb.gov) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or by calling the RRB”s nationwide toll-free telephone number, (877) 772-5772, and speaking with a field office representative during regular business hours.
Current railroad employees can use the www.rrb.gov website to apply for and claim unemployment benefits, file a claim for sickness benefits, check the status of their unemployment or sickness claim, view their statement of account under the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act, view their service and compensation history, or get an annuity estimate. Annuitants currently receiving benefits can request a letter verifying the amount of their annuity, a duplicate tax statement, a replacement Medicare card or a copy of their service and compensation history. All services are accessible through the “Benefit Online Services” section of www.rrb.gov or by calling the RRB”s toll-free number at (877) 772-5772.

Rail Workers: Deadly Tired….but Still Working

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

Rail Workers: Deadly Tired…but Still Working

by ntsbgov

By Georgetta Gregory The rail business is an industry full of tired, stressed workers. It is an epidemic. I know this first-hand because, before coming to the NTSB several years ago, I spent more than 30 years working in the freight railroad industry. While freight railroad managers and crews count on reliable schedules to make … Continue reading Rail Workers: Deadly Tired…but Still Working

2016 Iowa Caucuses

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

 

Brothers, FYI
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz led the Republican field in the Iowa caucuses, claiming 28 percent of the vote Monday night and beating out national front runner Donald Trump in a victory fueled by a strong turnout from evangelical voters.
In what Iowa party leaders are calling the closest Democratic caucus ever, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders were locked in a virtual tie for most of the evening. Early Tuesday morning, the state party announced that Clinton achieved a slight edge in delegate counts, with just one precinct still out. The third Democratic candidate, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, received less than 1 percent of the vote and suspended his campaign.
On the Republican side, Trump’s populist insurgency fell short in the face of Cruz’s political organizing across Iowa. Trump won 24 percent of the vote, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio made a surprisingly strong showing at third, with 23 percent.
Iowa Results“Tonight is a victory for the grassroots,” Cruz said as he claimed victory. “Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives across Iowa and for courageous conservatives across this great nation.”
Rubio was clearly delighted with his share of the caucus votes, higher than that predicted in the polls. “This is a night they said would never happen,” he told supporters.
A more subdued Trump congratulated Cruz, and said “We finished second, and I want to tell you something, I’m just honored.”
None of the remaining GOP candidates received more than 10 percent of the caucus votes. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa contest in 2008, announced Monday night he was suspending his campaign.
On the Democratic side, the state party reported early Tuesday morning that Clinton was awarded  699.57 state delegate equivalents,   Sanders was awarded 695.49 state delegate equivalents, and O’Malley received 7.68 state delegate equivalents
In a Monday night speech, Clinton commended Sanders and O’Malley for “a real content of ideas.” She pledged to continue to expand access to health care, address climate change, enhance gun safety, improve the education system and make college more affordable.
“I am a progressive who gets things done for people,” Clinton said, standing on stage with her husband, former president Bill Clinton, and her daughter. “I am honored to stand in the long line of American reformers who make up our mind that the status quo is not good enough, that standing still is not an option.”
Sanders followers chanted “Feel the Bern,” and they cheered wildly as Sanders declared the evening a “virtual tie” against the “most powerful political organization in the United States of America. He hit on his campaign themes of college affordability, income inequality and campaign finance reform.
“The people of Iowa have sent a very profound message to the political establishment and to the media establishment, and that is given the enormous crises facing these country it is just too late for establishment politics,” he told supporters.

Teamsters Rail Conference opposes hostile takeover of NS

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

CLEVELAND, January 19 — The Teamsters Rail Conference is adding its voice to the dozens of elected officials, shippers and labor unions that strongly oppose an apparent attempt at a hostile takeover of Norfolk Southern (NS) by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP).

The Rail Conference represents more than 70,000 active railroad workers whose constituent unions are the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED). The group stated its opposition to the forced takeover attempt in a letter from Rail Conference President Dennis R. Pierce to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) dated January 18, 2016.

Instead of the “substantial value creation” identified by CP in its December 16, 2015 presentation to investors, the Rail Conference predicts the opposite. CP’s hostile takeover of NS would trigger a round of additional Class I rail mergers, eventually reducing the industry to just two transcontinental railroads, “which is not in the best interests of our members, U.S. shippers or the public.” It could lead to a “death spiral” of job cuts and deferred plant and equipment maintenance industry wide, resulting in the loss of vital service — similar to the crisis that crippled rail service in the Northwest and Midwest between the 1960s and late 1970s.

Pierce, who is also National President of the BLET, raised questions about CP’s reliance upon a voting trust to move ahead with the forced takeover outside of the STB’s standard rail merger approval process. “At the very least, the Board should immediately make clear to CP that it will not tolerate any attempt to short-circuit the process set forth in the law and accompanying STB regulations.”

President Pierce concluded: “CP’s proposal — while it may be good for Wall Street, hedge funds and certain investors — is bad for the shippers, bad for the railroads’ workers, and bad for the public. I urge the Board to reject any and all attempts at this hostile takeover, and thank you in advance for your most serious consideration of our position.”

The Teamsters Rail Conference represents more than 70,000 rail workers employed as locomotive engineers, trainmen and maintenance of way workers across the United States as members of the BLET and BMWED. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Vice President John Murphy serves as Director of the Rail Conference. Teamsters Vice President at Large Freddie N. Simpson is National President of the BMWED.

A PDF copy of the Rail Conference letter is available from the BLET National Division website:
http://www.ble-t.org/pr/pdf/Rail_Conf_STB_CP_NS_Letter.pdf

BLET/SMART TD statement on Positive Train Control, crew size following fatal Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

May 19, 2015

(The following is a joint statement by Dennis R. Pierce, National President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and John Previsich, President, SMART Transportation Division, regarding questions that have arisen since the fatal Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia on May 12, 2015.)

Previsich_150_px


Previsich

CLEVELAND, May 19 — Members of BLET’s Safety Task Force and SMART Transportation Division’s National Safety Team, in addition to representatives from the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the Teamsters Rail Conference (BMWED), are working with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to assist in the investigation of the catastrophic May 12 derailment of Amtrak Train 188.

Significant progress has been made in understanding how the accident occurred on May 12. That portion of the investigation is not yet complete, however, and even more work needs to be done to determine why the events of that tragic night transpired the way they did.

BLET and SMART TD do not make official comments about any ongoing NTSB investigation. Due to the number of press inquiries concerning issues not under investigation, however, we are providing the following information on why Amtrak trains on the Northeast Corridor are manned by a lone engineer in the control cab and why Positive Train Control (PTC) has not been installed on the Corridor.  The answers to both questions begin with the United States Congress.

pierce


Pierce

Why a One-Person Train Crew?
In 1981, Congress passed legislation (the Northeast Rail Service Act of 1981) that ended the previous Conrail requirement that there be a second crew member in the control cab of commuter rail trains on the Northeast Corridor.  Armed with that legislative precedent — and mindful of where its funding originates — Amtrak has since 1983 refused to crew Northeast Corridor trains with more than one employee in the cab – the locomotive engineer.  Although BLET and SMART TD have steadfastly maintained that there should be two crew members in the cab of all trains to ensure public safety, only Congress can change the 1981 legislation that reduced crew size on the Northeast Corridor.   But this is only one piece of a very large, complex puzzle.

Why No Positive Train Control?
On the heels of another catastrophic railroad accident in Chatsworth, Calif., the federal government mandated in 2008 that Positive Train Control (PTC) be put in effect by the end of this year.  That was seven years ago. Even with that mandate in place, and with the exception of some railroads such as BNSF Railway, the industry at large has spent the interim finding reasons to avoid implementing PTC technology. They have created the situation about which they all now complain — they say they cannot meet the December 31, 2015 deadline.  Each death caused by the delay of PTC implementation is one too many, yet Congress is preparing to consider a blanket 5-year extension to 2020.  This is most certainly not in the public interest.

Since 2005, the NTSB has completed 16 investigations of railroad accidents that could have been prevented or mitigated with PTC. These 16 accidents claimed 52 lives — many being BLET and SMART TD members — and injured 942 people, with damages totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. NTSB has publicly stated that the accident on May 12, 2015 was also PTC preventable. There is no disagreement over the value of PTC technology.

That said, there is no technology available today that can ever safely replace a second crew member in the cab of the locomotive.  The only thing on a locomotive that is not a machine is the crew. The uncontrolled external environment in which trains are operated along with regulatory and operational demands of a safe transportation service demand a crew of at least two fully trained and qualified employees in the control cab of every train. PTC is only a safety overlay that ensures a safer operation, and no technology can replace the level of safety provided when two crew members are on board and can serve as a check and balance to one another.

Even with all the safety-related technology that the government has mandated on commercial airlines, the public would never accept an airline operation with a single person in the cockpit. There is no reason that rail employees and rail passengers’ lives should be viewed any differently.

Contrary to what some in government may say, the only place that crew size and PTC do connect is when it comes to funding. That is especially true in the case of Amtrak, because the government has woefully underfunded Amtrak since its inception. Additional crew members and new technology both cost money, and so long as those in Congress see fit to underfund the operation, they undermine their own mandate and shortchange the safety of the traveling public.

# # #

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents more than 55,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The SMART Transportation Division is headquartered in the Cleveland suburb of North Olmsted, Ohio. It is a broad-based, transportation labor union representing about 125,000 active and retired railroad, bus, mass transit and airline workers in the United States. It is a division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers based in Washington, D.C.

RRB announces fall 2015 dates for Informational Conferences, Pre-Retirement Seminars

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

CLEVELAND, June 8 — The U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) has announced a schedule of dates for the agency’s fall 2015 Informational Conferences and Pre-Retirement Seminars.

Informational Conferences will be held in 14 locations across the country, beginning September 11 in Roanoke, VA, and Duluth, MN. Started nearly 60 years ago by the RRB’s Office of the Labor Member, the conferences provide rail union officers with a comprehensive overview of the provisions and financing of the railroad retirement and unemployment insurance systems. These officials, in turn, pass on to their fellow rail labor membership the information acquired at the conferences.

Pre-Retirement Seminars are planned for August 28 in Houston, TX, and September 18 in Chicago, IL. Designed for railroad employees and spouses planning to retire within 5 years or less, the seminars familiarize attendees with the retirement benefits available to them, and also guide them through the application process. The program began in 2014 on a pilot basis.

Informational Conferences are open to union officials and their spouses by invitation only. Labor representatives who do not receive an invitation to a conference in their area should contact the RRB toll-free at 1-877-772-5772 and request that they be added to the agency’s invitation database. Registration for each conference begins at 8 a.m., with the program starting at 8:30 a.m. and concluding at 12:15 p.m.

Pre-Retirement Seminars are open to the railroad public. However, persons wishing to attend are asked to print and complete a registration form, which is available by visiting the RRB’s website at www.rrb.gov, and selecting the Office of the Labor Member’s Educational Materials link in the Spotlight section of the home page. Seminar space is limited and registration is accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. Completed forms should be mailed or faxed to the RRB office listed on the form as soon as possible. Check-in for each seminar begins at 8 a.m., with the program starting at 8:30 a.m. and concluding at 12:30 p.m.

Individuals who have not previously submitted documents required when filing a railroad retirement annuity application, such as proofs of age, marriage, or military service, are encouraged to bring this material (original documents or certified copies required) to the seminar. Attendees should also bring along an additional copy of each item to leave with the RRB field personnel leading the seminars.

Those unable to attend the seminars but still seeking pre-retirement information should contact the RRB. Individual retirement counseling is available in person at an agency field office, or by phone by contacting the RRB toll-free at 1-877-772-5772.

Fall 2015 Informational Conference Schedule

SEPTEMBER
11 – Roanoke, VA
11 – Duluth, MN
18 – Fort Worth, TX
18 – Harrisburg, PA
25 – Salt Lake City, UT
25 – Milwaukee, WI

OCTOBER
9 – Spokane, WA
9 – Nashville, TN
16 – Louisville, KY
16 – Pittsburgh, PA
23 – Philadelphia, PA

NOVEMBER
6 – Houston, TX
20 – New Orleans, LA

DECEMBER
4 – Tampa, FL

Fall 2015 Pre-Retirement Seminar Schedule

Visit www.rrb.gov and select the Office of the Labor Member’s Educational Materials link in the Spotlight section of the home page for registration forms and contact information for the following seminars.

RRB Office: Houston
Date: Friday, August 28, 2015
Location: Leland Federal Building, 1919 Smith Street, 1st Floor Conference Room, Houston, TX 77002 Phone: 877-772-5772.

RRB Office: Chicago
Date: Friday, September 18, 2015
Location: Lipinski Federal Building, RRB Headquarters, 844 N Rush Street, 9th Floor Auditorium, Chicago, IL 60611, Phone: 877-772-5772.

Monday, June 08, 2015
bentley@ble-t.org

 

U.S. is paying the price for not investing in trains, and it’s stupid

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

Mon May 25, 2015 at 09:55 AM PDT

U.S. is paying the price for not investing in trains, and it’s stupid

byLaura ClawsonFollow forDaily Kos Labor

Amtrak train

attribution: Jack Snell/Creative Commons
House Speaker John Boehner may think it’s “stupid” to suggest that the recent fatal Amtrak crash had anything to do with lack of funding, but the evidence keeps piling up that Boehner’s the stupid one here. The United States spends far less than its peers on rail, and:

As a consequence, industry experts say, despite having some of the least-extensive passenger rail networks in the developed world, the United States today has among the worst safety records. Fatality rates are almost twice as high as in the European Union and countries like South Korea, and roughly triple the rate in Australia.Analysts say the impressive safety record in Europe and Asia is the result of steady government spending of billions of dollars on development and maintenance of railroad infrastructure — including sophisticated electronic monitoring and automated braking systems developed over the past 20 years.

As a percentage of gross domestic product, the American investment in rail networks is just a quarter of that in Britain and one-sixth that in France and Australia, while Japan spends nearly three times as much per person as the U.S. does.

Over the past decade, even developing countries including India, Russia and Turkey have consistently invested far greater shares of their G.D.P. on rail.

Not exactly grounds for a “We’re number one” chant, there.We’re looking at a consequence of Republican refusal to invest in American infrastructure. It’s played out not just in less safe trains but in slower trains and fewer trains. If Republicans hadn’t stood in the way all these years, we could have had a speedy, energy-efficient, safe rail network and thousands of jobs creating and maintaining it. Instead, we have a desperately underfunded, inadequate rail system and John Boehner saying it’s stupid to see the facts for what they are.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Mon May 25, 2015 at 09:55 AM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Hawks, DK GreenRoots, and Daily Kos.

State Battles Roundup

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

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State Battles Roundup

Photo courtesy WFIU Public Radio on Flickr

In many states, legislative sessions have ended recently or are about to end and local governments are often active year-round. This means tons of legislation, both good and bad, is moving, providing opportunities for working families and their allies to pass laws that will help make people’s lives easier or stop laws that will make things worse. Here is a look at some of the key state battles that recently have passed or could be on the agenda this week or next.

Indiana: Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed a series of anti-worker bills, including a repeal of the prevailing wage for construction and the prohibition of local governments from establishing their own local prevailing wage laws, a law that both weakens wage theft rules and allows companies to charge employees up to 5% of their salary for required uniforms and equipment, the undermining of teachers’ voices on the job, and others.

Massachusetts: The Boston City Council unanimously passed a new ordinance providing for up to six weeks of paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child for certain city employees.

Minnesota: The Minneapolis City Council passed a measure that will allow city workers to earn up to three weeks of paid parental leave. The plan goes into effect in July.

Missouri: Extreme members of the state legislature used a procedural move to get past a filibuster and ram through “right to work” legislation, although Gov. Jay Nixon (D) has indicated he will veto the measure when it gets to his desk.

New Jersey: Two union members won local elections last night, bringing to 817 the number of candidates to graduate from the New Jersey State AFL-CIO Labor Candidates program and win election to office. John Amodeo of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 825 won a seat on the Margate City Commission and Harry Kumburis of IUOE Local 68 was elected to the Cedar Grove Township Council.

New Mexico: The Albuquerque City Council passed a equal pay measure that provides incentives for companies that offer equal wages to both female and male employees.

Executive PayWatch 2015: CEO Pay Continues to Skyrocket

Executive PayWatch 2015: CEO Pay Continues to Skyrocket

CEOs of the nation’s largest corporations received a 16% pay raise in 2014, and the pay gap between CEOs and the typical worker widened to 373-to-1, according to the latest data from the AFL-CIO Executive PayWatch. Top executives of the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index companies received, on average, $13.5 million in 2014, even as the average production and nonsupervisory worker earned only $36,000 in annual salary in 2014.

The data from the 2015 Executive PayWatch underscore the work that needs to be done to combat the nation’s persistent income inequality and push for higher wages for working families. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka asked more of the country’s big corporations:

America faces an income inequality crisis because corporate CEOs have taken the raising wages agenda and applied it only to themselves. Big corporations spend freely on executive perks and powerful lobbyists to strip rights from workers, but when it comes to lifting up the wages of workers who make their companies run, they’re nowhere to be found. Too often workers are seen as costs to be cut, rather than assets to be invested in. Americans deserve better from those who have earned so much off the backs of working men and women, and we must start by adding transparency to the CEO pay process and requiring companies to disclose their CEO-to-median employee pay ratios.

 As one of the most egregious examples of this type of inequality, mega-retailer Walmart is highlighted in this year’s PayWatch. Doug McMillon, the company’s CEO, earns $9,323 an hour. His starting employees get only $9 an hour, meaning it would only take those workers 1,036 hours to earn one hour of McMillon’s pay.

Tiffany, a former Walmart worker, explained the struggles caused by the company’s low wages:

In 2013, I earned about $12,000 as a full-time employee, which, at Walmart, isn’t always 40 hours each week. These poverty wages forced my family to receive public assistance. Walmart doesn’t value me. I believe in working hard and that my work should be valued. This is why I will not stop fighting until Walmart commits to raising wages and begins valuing all of its workers.”

The Executive PayWatch is the most comprehensive searchable online database tracking the excessive pay of CEOs of the nation’s largest companies. The website offers visitors the ability to compare their own pay to the pay of top executives, highlights the 100 top-paid CEOs and breaks out CEO pay data by state and by industry. The site also tracks and grades votes cast by 106 of the largest mutual fund families on executive compensation at the public companies they invest in. Mutual funds own more than one-fifth of all shares in U.S. public companies, giving them a great deal of influence in determining executive pay at these companies.

Executive PayWatch also gives you a chance to take action and ask the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to require big corporations to disclose their ratio of CEO to median employee pay.

The real reason for the GOP’s all-out war on Obamacare

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

Sun Aug 11, 2013 at 01:35 PM PDT

The real reason for the GOP’s all-out war on Obamacare

During his press conference on Friday, President Obama pondered why the GOP’s “number one priority, the one unifying principle in the Republican Party at the moment is making sure that 30 million people don’t have health care.” But in attributing the 40 Affordable Care Act repeal votes, the threats to shut down the government over Obamacare funding, the tens of millions of dollars in misleading ads and another summer of town hall rage to the GOP’s “ideological fixation,” the President was only partly right.

At its core, the Republicans’ scorched-earth opposition to Obamacare has never been so much about “freedom” or “limited government” or any other right-wing ideological buzzword as it has been about political power, pure and simple. Now as for the past 20 years, Republicans have feared not that health care reform would fail the American people, but that it would succeed. Along with Social Security and Medicare, successful health care reform would provide the third and final pillar of Americans’ social safety net, all brought you by the Democratic Party. To put it another way, the GOP was never really concerned about a “government takeover of health care”, “rationing”, “the doctor-patient relationship” or mythical “death panels,” but that an American public grateful for access to health care could provide Democrats with an enduring majority for years to come

But what Utah Senator Orrin Hatch called a “holy war” to block health care reform didn’t start when Barack Obama took the oath of office in January 2009, but instead when Bill Clinton was inaugurated in 1993. It was then that former Quayle chief of staff and Republican strategist William Kristol warned his GOP allies that a Clinton victory on health care could guarantee Democratic majorities for the foreseeable future. “The Clinton proposal is also a serious political threat to the Republican Party,” Kristol wrote in his infamous December 3, 1993 memo titled “Defeating President Clinton’s Health Care Proposal,” adding:

“Its passage in the short run will do nothing to hurt (and everything to help) Democratic electoral prospects in 1996. But the long-term political effects of a successful Clinton health care bill will be even worse–much worse. It will relegitimize middle-class dependence for ‘security’ on government spending and regulation. It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government.”

And that, for Kristol, meant it had to be stopped at all costs:

“The first step in that process must be the unqualified political defeat of the Clinton health care proposal. Its rejection by Congress and the public would be a monumental setback for the president; and an incontestable piece of evidence that Democratic welfare-state liberalism remains firmly in retreat.”

As the American Prospect recalled, Kristol’s war plan:

Darkly warned that a Democratic victory would save Clinton’s political career, revive the politics of the welfare state, and ensure Democratic majorities far into the future. “Any Republican urge to negotiate a ‘least bad’ compromise with the Democrats, and thereby gain momentary public credit for helping the president ‘do something’ about health care, should be resisted,” wrote Kristol. Republican pollster Bill McInturff advised Congressional Republicans that success in the 1994 midterm elections required “not having health care pass.”

So, Republicans and their media water carriers followed Kristol’s advice to the letter. In the Senate, long-time health care reform supporter Bob Dole adopted Kristol’s mantra, declaring “Our country has health care problems, but no health care crisis.” Long before she introduced the easily debunked “death panels” fraud, Betsy McCaughey almost single-handedly undid the Clinton health care reform effort with the false claim that “the law will prevent you from going outside the system to buy basic health coverage you think is better.” In 1993, GOP Senators Hatch and Chuck Grassley, among those who would 16 years later call the ACA’s individual mandate unconstitutional, joined 19 other Republican Senators in proposing their own bill that “would have required everyone to buy coverage, capped awards for medical malpractice lawsuits, established minimum benefit packages and invested in comparative effectiveness research.” (As Hatch later justified his turnabout, “We were fighting Hillarycare at that time.”)

The rest, as they say, was history. At least, that is, until history began repeating itself with the election of Barack Obama.

Continue reading below the fold.

The dire warnings from the right began within days of Obama’s election. Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute parroted the think-tank’s claim that Obama’s health care proposal is “socialized medicine” and sounded Kristol’s old clarion call:

“Blocking Obama’s health plan is key to GOP’s survival. Ditto Baucus’ health plan. And Kennedy’s. And Wyden’s.”

Approvingly citing Norman Markowitz’ assertion at PoliticalAffairs.net that “national health care [and other measures] will bring reluctant voters into the Obama coalition,” Cannon fretted that “making citizens dependent on the government for their medical care can change the fates of political parties.” For arch conservatives, that formula spells trouble for the GOP.James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute also picked up Kristol’s baton. Concerned that “creating the Obamacare Class would pull America to the left,” Pethokoukis echoed Cannon’s obstructionist line. Writing in US News, he recounted the grim warning from a Republican strategist who told him:

“Let me tell you something, if Democrats take the White House and pass a big-government healthcare plan, that’s it.”

Just two weeks after Barack Obama was sworn in, Kristol left no doubt that he believed the Republican Party should repeat the obstructionism that destroyed the Clinton health care plan in 1993 and 1994. GOP leaders in Congress, Kristol told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto, should emulate the roadblock Republicans of the 1990’s to halt Obama’s economic recovery package now and everything else – including health care reform – later:

“But the loss of credibility, even if they jam it through, really hurts them on the next, on the next piece of legislation. Clinton got through his tax increases in ’93, it was such a labor and he had to twist so many arms to do it and he became so unpopular……That it made, that it made it so much easier to then defeat his health care initiative. So, it’s very important for Republicans who think they’re going to have to fight later on on health care, fight later on maybe on some of the bank bailout legislation, fight later on on all kinds of issues. It’s very important for them, I think, not just to stay united at this time, though that’s important, but to make the arguments.”

Of course, the arguments Republicans made during the right-wing’s health care “hissy fit” of 2009 and 2010 were all specious ones. Senate Minority Leader McConnell, who previously denied that 47 million Americans “go without health care” because they can go to the emergency room, repeated his mantra that “all of us want reform, but not reform that denies, delays, or rations health care”. “Death panels” became Politifact’s 2009 Lie of the Year. In 2010, that bogus GOP talking point lost its title to another, “government takeover of health care.”But when they weren’t inventing “facts” out of whole cloth, the GOP’s best and not-so-brightest in rare moments of candor gave away the Republican game on health care reform. In November 2009, Senator Hatch confessed his darkest fear about a Democratic win on health care:

HATCH: That’s their goal. Move people into government that way. Do it in increments. They’ve actually said it. They’ve said it out loud.Q: This is a step-by-step approach —

HATCH: A step-by-step approach to socialized medicine. And if they get there, of course, you’re going to have a very rough time having a two-party system in this country, because almost everybody’s going to say, “All we ever were, all we ever are, all we ever hope to be depends on the Democratic Party.”

Q: They’ll have reduced the American people to dependency on the federal government.

HATCH: Yeah, you got that right. That’s their goal. That’s what keeps Democrats in power.

In August 2011, the very short-lived GOP White House frontrunner MIchele Bachmann echoed the point that the successful entrenchment of health care reform would be mean a permanent Democratic majority. As CNN reported, Bachmann explained why at a campaign event in South Carolina (around the 1:41:00 mark in the video):

Bachmann stressed the need to repeal President Obama’s health care reform law, or so-called Obamacare, before it “metastasizes” like a cancer and “we will not be able to get rid of it.” “You can’t put socialized medicine into a country and think that ever again you can elect a Republican as president – or a conservative or even a tea partier as president – and think that somehow we’re going to get back to limited government,” Bachmann said. “It won’t happen because socialized medicine is the definition of big government.”

It’s wonder that after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act allowing adult children to join their parents’ policies, ending lifetime caps, prohibiting insurers’ bans on pre-existing conditions, enabling over 30 million Americans to get insurance cover and more, conservative analyst and former Bush speechwriter David Frum admitted as much, announcing “Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s.”But while Republicans continue to peddle horror stories about America’s future under Obamacare, the very satisfied residents of Massachusetts are telling a different story today. Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Medical Society released survey findings showing continued strong support for the 2006 law signed by Republican Governor Mitt Romney, one its architect Jonathan Gruber described as “the same f**king bill” as Obamacare:

The survey finds that 84 percent of Bay State residents are satisfied with their health coverage — considerably higher than the approximately 67 percent of Americans nationally who are happy with their health care. Specifically, respondents praised high quality of care and good access to medical services as the reasons for their satisfaction. An additional 75 percent said that finding the kind of medical care they need isn’t difficult.Those results track with earlier polls on Massachusetts’ reform law. In 2011, a survey administered by state insurance officials found that 86 percent of residents were pleased with the range of services covered by plans under the law’s insurance marketplace and 82 percent were pleased with their choice of doctors.

The popularity of “Romneycare” should come as no surprise. After all, the program now in its seventh year reduced the ranks of the uninsured from 10 percent to a national low of just two percent. Neither the supposed “rate shock” nor the hordes of angry residents forced to pay penalties for non-compliance came to pass: just 44,000 out of 6.6 million people paid the fine rather than comply with the individual mandate in 2010.To be sure, the national Affordable Care Act and the Massachusetts law are not exactly the same and different states are differentially situated. As the Washington Post explained in May, “Massachusetts is a relatively rich and liberal state that already had a fairly high rate of health insurance.” And there’s another reason why “the Massachusetts experience might not prove an apt guide to the national experience”:

Although the Massachusetts reforms are architecturally similar to the Affordable Care Act, they didn’t have to contend with a political party working relentlessly to undermine their implementation.

And in Texas, Florida, Wisconsin, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and everywhere else where Republicans are working relentlessly to undermine the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, millions of their constituents will suffer. While blue states like California, Maryland, New York and Oregon running their own insurance exchanges and accepting the federal expansion of Medicaid will provide their residents greater coverage and lower premiums, the tragedy that is red state health care will needlessly continue.Continue, that is, until constituents in Republican states demand the same access to and quality of health care they see their cousins enjoying in Democratic states. Starting next year, Americans will know who to blame for trying to deny them health care and who to credit for making reform possible. As Bill Kristol fretted two decades ago, that triumph will cement the Democrats’ brand “as the generous protector of middle-class interests.”

Originally posted to Jon Perr on Sun Aug 11, 2013 at 01:35 PM PDT.

Also republished by I Vote for Democrats and Daily Kos Classics.

A MESSAGE FROM PRESIDENT AND CEO JOE BOARDMAN ON TRAIN 188

Friday, May 15th, 2015

 

A MESSAGE FROM PRESIDENT AND CEO JOE BOARDMAN ON TRAIN 188
The derailment of Northeast Regional Train 188 was a terrible tragedy that we are responding to with every resource we have available. The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation to determine the cause of the incident, and Amtrak is providing full cooperation.
With truly heavy hearts, we mourn those who died. Their loss leaves holes in the lives of their families and communities. On behalf of the entire Amtrak family, I offer our sincere sympathies and prayers for them and their loved ones. Amtrak takes full responsibility and deeply apologizes for our role in this tragic event.
We recognize that for everyone onboard the train, including those who suffered injuries, the healing process may be long. Within 24 hours of the incident, Amtrak set up a Family Assistance Center in Philadelphia to work closely with the family of passengers and crew on the train. We are also working with the individuals and families affected by this event to help them with transportation, lodging, and of course, medical bills and funeral expenses.
Amtrak is ever grateful to the City of Philadelphia—its first responders who bravely worked in difficult conditions, including the dark of night, to rescue and provide aid to hundreds; its hospital personnel who went into full alert as patients arrived at emergency rooms; its officials who quickly implemented a response plan; and its citizens who opened their doors to offer assistance.
Although our current focus is on the passengers and employees affected by this incident and the resulting service disruption along the Northeast Corridor, we must also take time to learn from this event. Passenger railroading is at its core about people; the safety of our passengers and employees was, is and always will be our number one priority. Our goal is to fully understand what happened and how we can prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the future. We will also continue to focus on completing Positive Train Control implementation in the Northeast Corridor by December of 2015.
Thank you for your support of America’s Railroad during this difficult time.
Sincerely,
Joe Boardman President and Chief Executive Officer
Amtrak.com
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