Friday, 11 July 2008

True Friendship

During the past few days, apart from following the world's latest news and doing my part to spread socialist values in the corner I inhabit, I have also turned my attention to some lifestyle blogs. I found a number of blogs that were quite interesting and have added them to my blog list.

Whilst reading a post on one of these blogs, I came across the following passage:

"When I mentioned how I hadn’t heard from a certain friend in months, mom asked, “So, why didn’t you call her?”

“Why should I?” I shot back angrily. “It’s always me. I’m always the one chasing after people to hang out with me. Do you know [how] that makes me feel? Like some loser who has to try and convince people to hang out with me all of the time. If they can’t be bothered to pick up the fucking phone or shoot me an e-mail every now and again, then why should I bother wasting any more of my time? I’m so sick of this shit.”

During my university years, I managed to develop some friendships with a number of classmates. Over the four years that I spent at university, some of those friendships grew quite strongly. The shocking part of the story is that almost immediately after the graduation ceremony, most of those people just drifted away. I used to send emails, call them over the phone to meet....I eventually realised that I was usually the one chasing these "friends". One of them got married around a year after we left university; he did not bother to invite me to his wedding. By the way, I was the person who had introduced him to the girl he married!!!

Nowadays, even though I am very happily married, there are still times when I feel that I have to chase certain people in order to do something together. I find this issue quite disturbing. As a person, I do not smoke or use any drugs whatsoever. If I drink, I only do so on a social basis and I never go overboard. I have countless interests and enjoy laughing. Financially, I could be in a better position, but it is not so easy to be very rich when you are working in a country that promotes its low operating costs to attract foreign investors! Why, I ask myself, do many people seem to get invited to events almost every weekend whilst I - with all the qualities I have - frequently end up being the one to chase another person to organise something?

In the past, I have often wondered whether I expect too much from those individuals that I consider to be true friends. I am aware that we live in a fast-paced world with several things to do in a relatively short span of time. Yet, with all the technological advances witnessed during the last few years, I find it extremely hard to believe that a person cannot find a couple of minutes to send an email, a text message, or to make a quick phone call. Is it really that complicated to show some care towards another human being, to say something like "Hi there, just wanted to make sure that you are fine! Can't wait to meet up sometime soon...!?" It took me a few seconds to write those words myself! LOL

Throughout the past ten years or so, many people have crossed my life path. The vast majority of them ended up drifting away for one reason or another. A few of them were initially very friendly, but ended up hurting me a great deal. Of course, you do learn from every experience, but the painful memories also add up. Every time a so-called "friend" drifted away, I felt abandoned, used, lonely, sad...

In spite of the above, I still believe in the existence of true friendship. To me, a real friend is one that will always stand by you. That person might not agree with you about everything (anyway, is that ever possible?), but he/she will always care about your well-being. It is a pity, though, that it seems to be so hard to find such people. Long live true friendship!!!

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Another Attack on Workers' Rights

Employers use federal law to deny benefits

Saturday July 5, 11:31 pm ET

By Mark Sherman, Associated Press Writer

Workers - and some judges - frustrated in legal fights over benefits with large employers

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Dying of cancer, Thomas Amschwand did everything he was told to make sure his wife would collect on the life insurance policy he had through his employer.

"He was obsessed with dotting every `i' and crossing every `t'," Melissa Amschwand-Bellinger recalled about her husband, who died in 2001 at age 30.

But Spherion Corp., the temporary staffing company where Amschwand worked, told Amschwand-Bellinger she would not receive any of the $426,000 in benefits she believed she was due. When she went to court, Spherion succeeded in getting her lawsuit thrown out. The Supreme Court on June 27 refused to review the case.

Amschwand-Bellinger received a refund of the few thousand dollars in insurance premiums she and her husband dutifully had paid. The total, she said, would not cover the costs of his funeral.

The story has played out often under the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Designed to protect employee benefits, the law has been used by employers as a shield against suits.

Federal appeals courts, interpreting Supreme Court decisions dating to 1993, consistently have said companies that offer health, life and retirement benefits under ERISA cannot be sued for large amounts of money, or damages. Instead, they can be sued only for typically smaller sums such as Amschwand's insurance premiums.

Several federal judges have bemoaned the unfairness even as they have felt constrained to rule in favor of employers.

"The facts ... scream out for a remedy beyond the simple return of premiums," Judge Fortunato Benavides of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in the Amschwand case. "Regrettably, under existing law it is not available."

The Bush administration has argued that the appeals courts are misreading the precedents and has asked the high court at least twice to clarify the earlier rulings. So far it has refused.

Congress, which could amend ERISA to make clear such suits are allowed, also has taken no action.

The result, in the view of ERISA experts, the administration and some lawmakers, is perverse.

"The beneficiary under the policy didn't get the promised benefit," said Colleen Medill, an expert on ERISA at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "To say we're just going to return your premiums, that's a total farce. That's not what they paid the premiums for. They paid them for the benefits."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said at a recent hearing that before ERISA became law, employees clearly could sue for benefits in state courts.

The court rulings, said Leahy, D-Vt., have left people "more vulnerable than they were before the law was passed."

Spherion's decision to deny benefits to Amschwand-Bellinger turned on an odd set of facts. Spherion, which employs about 300,000 people, switched insurers after Thomas Amschwand was diagnosed with a rare form of heart cancer. The new policy did not take effect until an employee worked one full day. Spherion never informed Amschwand of the requirement.

Amschwand asked repeatedly whether there was anything else he needed to do and was told no. He asked that the new policy be sent to him. Spherion never did so.

He died without returning to work. His widow said he easily could have worked a day if that was what it took to activate the new policy. Spherion could have waived the one-day-of-work provision, as it did for other employees but not for Amschwand.

Spherion spokesman Kip Havel issued a brief statement when contacted by The Associated Press after the high court declined to review the case. "We are pleased the court has made its decision and the matter has finally been resolved," Havel said.

The court also recently turned down an appeal from Louis Gerard "Gerry" Goeres, who sued Charles M. Schwab & Co. over hundreds of thousands of dollars in retirement plan benefits.

For 16 months, Schwab mistakenly refused to acknowledge Goeres as the beneficiary in the retirement plan of his domestic partner, Stephen Ward, a Schwab employee who died in 1999. By the time Schwab acknowledged its error, the value of the account had declined by more than $500,000. Goeres sued for the rest. Federal courts dismissed the suit. "Unfortunately, legal relief is not available," U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer said in ruling against Goeres.

"You know the Schwab commercial, `Talk to Chuck?'" Goeres said. "I thought if Chuck knew this, he'd say, 'Oh my God, this is so wrong.' I live on naive dreams."

Schwab said in court papers that Goeres could have taken legal action soon after Ward's death, when he first was told he was not the beneficiary.

Amschwand-Bellinger said the cases show the need for either the court or Congress to provide "some sort of meaningful remedy for employees when employers have a breach of fiduciary duty."

A Texas native who lives in an unincorporated Houston suburb, she has since remarried and has an 18-month-old daughter. She is president and executive director of the Amschwand Sarcoma Cancer Foundation, which she founded with her first husband.

She recognizes that she is more fortunate than many others who have fought similarly futile battles for benefits under ERISA. "What if we had had children and I was a stay at home mom?" said Amschwand-Bellinger, who previously worked for a public hospital system. "What if I was 60 years old, with no skill sets, and I had to go back to work?"