The Human Cost Of Trump’s Rollback On Regulations
- Created on 16 April 2017
If Tom Ward had to die from his work, he’d rather fall off a scaffold than endure the slow death his father did from the debilitating lung disease silicosis. “I would choose to go much quicker,” he said, “rather than to have my family watch me suffer.” Ward fears that other workers will face the same suffocating illness as his father, thanks to the regulatory rollback underway by the Trump administration.
Ward’s father spent several years working as a sandblaster in Michigan. It was most likely on that job that he breathed a lethal amount of crystalline silica, a carcinogenic dust that comes from sand and granite. Excessive silica has been ruining workers’ lungs for as long as rock and concrete have been cut. Frances Perkins, U.S. labor secretary under Franklin D. Roosevelt, spoke publicly of the dangers of silica back in the late 1930s.
After numerous efforts under other presidents failed, the Obama administration finally tightened the regulations covering silica last year, further restricting the amount of dust that employers can legally expose workers to. The tougher standards were 45 years in the making, the subject of in-depth scientific research and intense lobbying by business groups and safety experts. When the rules were finalized in March 2016, occupational health experts hailed them as a life-saving milestone.
But now the enforcement of the rules has been delayed ― and the rules themselves could be in jeopardy.
Last week, the Trump administration announced that it was pushing back the implementation of the new silica regulations. For now, the delay is just three months ― from late June to late September, since “additional guidance is necessary due to the unique nature of the requirements,” as the Labor Department put it. A spokeswoman said the agency wouldn’t comment beyond that.
But to occupational health experts who’ve waited years for the tighter rules, the new delay casts a cloud of uncertainty over their future. The leading home-building trade group and other business lobbying groups have sued to halt the regulations, saying they are too costly for employers. Defending the silica rule would now be the responsibility of the Trump administration, which has eagerly dismantled one Obama-era regulation after another at the urging of corporations. (The rule could also be subject to an appropriations rider by the GOP-controlled Congress.)
While the administration has not signaled that it intends to reverse the silica rule, it has issued an executive order directing all agencies to review the regulations currently on their books, presumably for potential watering down or scrapping. Trump’s own labor nominee, Alexander Acosta, cited that order during his confirmation hearing as one reason he would not yet commit to enforcing the silica rule if he becomes labor secretary.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) noted the huge public health implications at stake. “You can’t tell me whether or not, high on your list of priorities, would be to protect a rule that keeps people from being poisoned,” she told Acosta.
I never dreamed I would have to spend my retirement years in this debilitating manner.Leonard Serafin, silicosis victim
The delay of the new silica regulations was not a surprise to Ward, given the Trump administration’s promises to deregulate businesses in order to boost hiring. But it was nevertheless painful to see. Ward now leads training at the Michigan Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Union, a personal mission given that his father died at age 39 after “an awful few years” of suffering from silicosis.
“Knowing it was 100 percent preventable is the part that really hurts,” he said.
Silica has been called the “silent killer.” It’s not visible to the naked eye ― particles can be one hundred times smaller than a grain of sand ― and the effects on the lungs are cumulative. But there are clear ways to curb exposure to silica, like wetting down rock that’s being cut, installing ventilation or dust-collecting equipment on the worksite, and wearing respiratory equipment designed to filter out the dust.
When the proper precautions aren’t taken, the results can be debilitating. Railroad worker Leonard Serafin shared the story of his own battle with silicosis in a letter his family provided to The Huffington Post in 2012.
At the time, the Obama White House was sitting on the silica rule, and advocates worried that the reforms might not be finished before Obama left office. Serafin had worked as a trackman on a railroad for 32 years, laying out the crushed rock and gravel in which the tracks were laid. He said the work led to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and a litany of other lung maladies.
“I never dreamed I would have to spend my retirement years in this debilitating manner,” Serafin wrote. “I find it difficult to attend social events such as concerts and plays with my family because of my chronic cough. Even coughing while standing at a cash register line at a retail store causes people to distance themselves from me. ... When I exert myself, my daily coughing becomes a spastic type of cough, which leaves me exhausted, breathless with chest pain.”
Although U.S. regulators had been aware of silica’s dangers for decades, it wasn’t until 1971 that the federal government imposed legal limits on workers’ exposure to it: 100 micrograms per cubic meter for laborers in most industries, and 250 micrograms for those working in construction and shipyards. Many experts believed those limits were too meager, however. The caps weren’t lowered to the 50 micrograms recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention until Obama’s presidency.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has estimated that the new rules would cut down silica exposure for roughly 2.3 million workers, preventing an estimated 600 deaths annually. Extrapolating on that data, the AFL-CIO labor federation says even the three-month delay in enforcement “will lead to an additional 160 worker deaths.”
David Michaels, the head of OSHA under Obama, called the reform “the most important health standard OSHA has issued in decades.”
But in the eyes of the construction industry, it’s one of the most expensive. OSHA says that instituting the new controls would cost businesses an estimated $511 million annually. Meanwhile, industry lobbies say the real cost to them would be in the billions each year ― most of it due to additional equipment and labor.
While praising the Trump administration’s decision, a consortium of construction industry trade groups urged Trump to extend the delay well beyond the original three months, saying it “remains concerned about the overall feasibility of the standard in construction and has requested that the agency delay enforcement for a year.”
Supporters of the rule note that those upfront costs don’t take into account the long-term financial benefits to workers and society. Preventing disability and death saves money, after all.
OSHA estimated that the reforms would have a net benefit of $7.7 billion each year, largely due to savings on health care and lost productivity. The Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, calls the silica rule a “case study” in how seemingly expensive safety regulations can have economic benefits over the long term.
Ward thought the debate over the rule’s financial costs had finally been put to rest. For years, he heard dollars and cents being weighed against lives lost or saved. Now that he’s hearing it again, he’s worried about the bricklayers who will come up after him.
“The rule really was to prevent future illnesses,” said Ward. “It may be too late for me and my generation. This is about the future generation of craft workers.”
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Competition-winning 4th grade robotics team told to 'go back to Mexico
- Created on 19 March 2017
A group of black and Latino fourth graders from Pleasant Run Elementary in Indianapolis won a regional robotics challenge — and were in turn taunted by lesser-ranked competitors and their parents with cries of "go back to Mexico!" The five-person Pleasant Run PantherBots, three of whom are Latino and two of whom were black, became the target of the racist bullying at both a school auditorium and parking lot at the Plainfield, Indiana, competition, the Indianapolis Star reported.
The team consists of Elijah Goodwin, 10; Angel Herrera-Sanchez, 9; Jose Verastegui, 10; Manuel Mendez, 9; and Devilyn Bolyard, 9.
"They were pointing at us and saying that 'oh my god, they are champions of the city all because they are Mexican. They are Mexican, and they are ruining our country,'" Diocelina Herrera, mother of Herrera-Sanchez, told the IndianapolisStar.
"It's not going to affect us at all," Goodwin, the team's leader, said. "I'm not surprised because I'm used to this kind of behavior ... When you have a really good team, people will treat you this way. And we do have a pretty good team."
n a statement, Plainfield Community Schools Superintendent Scott Olinger condemned the racist behavior and singled out parents who participated for particular dismay.
"The Plainfield Community School Corp. does not condone or tolerate language or behaviors that degrade others," Olinger wrote, according to the Star. "Had our organizing team been made aware of the alleged behaviors by unknown adults on Feb. 2, we would have taken immediate action."
The statement continued:
"We were pleased to host such an impressive array of young students, and we were equally proud of the teamwork, camaraderie, knowledge and fun that these children displayed. To learn now that adults may have acted in a way that distracted from the success of the day is disheartening. In the Plainfield schools, such behavior is unacceptable, regardless of whether it comes from adults or students."
While it's not clear what motivated this particular hateful attack, similar stories of racism in schools have been cropping up in recent months. According to a survey by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the bigoted campaign rhetoric of President Donald Trump and his hardline policies in office has negatively affected the K-12 school environment.
While it's not exactly clear what spurred this specific racist incident, similar events have been on the upswing in recent years.
Of the more than 10,000 teachers, counselors, administrators and other school employees who responded to the poll, 90 percent said the election had negatively affected the environment at their school.
Eight in 10 reported fears for marginalized students including "immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans and LGBT people," while four in 10 reported "derogatory language" directed at minority students.
"More than 2,500 described instances of bigotry and harassment directly related to election rhetoric," the SPLC added.
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Even Mitch McConnell Doesn’t Think Mexico Will Pay For The Border Wall
- Created on 12 March 2017
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is skeptical that Mexico will pay for the wall President Donald Trump promised to build along the U.S. border.
When Politico Playbook asked McConnell if he thought that Mexico would pay for the wall, he replied, “Uh, no.”
Having Mexico foot the bill became a rallying cry at Trump’s campaign events last year.
“And who’s going to pay for it?” he would ask. “Mexico!” the crowd would shriek in reply.
Yet it became clear just days into Trump’s presidency how unfeasible such a plan would be. Press secretary Sean Spicer floated the idea of raising taxes on imports from Mexico by 20 percent as part of a broader package to fund the wall’s construction in January. He quickly retracted the suggestion.
Mexico, meanwhile, has absolutely no intention of paying for the wall.
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Father of slain soldier who criticized Trump says travel rights reviewed
- Created on 07 March 2017
The father of an American soldier killed in Iraq who came under criticism last year from then-candidate Donald Trump said he has canceled a speaking engagement in Toronto after being notified that his U.S. travel privileges were under review.
Khizr Khan, an American citizen born in Pakistan, had planned to speak at a luncheon in Toronto on Tuesday in a discussion about President Trump's administration, according to Ramsay Talks, a speaker series based in Toronto hosted by Bob Ramsay.
The organization said on its Facebook page on Monday that Khan, a U.S. citizen for over 30 years, was notified Sunday evening that his travel privileges were being reviewed.
Khan, in an accompanying statement, said he had not been given a reason as to why his travel privileges were being reviewed and apologized to ticket-holders for the cancellation. He declined to comment further in an email exchange with Reuters.
"This turn of events is not just of deep concern to me but to all my fellow Americans who cherish our freedom to travel abroad," Khan said in the statement included in the Facebook post. "I am grateful for your support and look forward to visiting Toronto in the near future."
It was unclear who called for the review or the grounds for it.
U.S. Customs & Border Protection said it does not contact travelers in advance of their travel out of the United States, according to an official who said any U.S. citizen with a passport may travel out of the country. CBP would not comment specifically on the Khan case, citing privacy protections.
Trump signed a revised executive order on Monday banning citizens from six Muslim-majority nations from traveling to the United States, but Pakistan is not one of those countries and the ban does not apply to U.S. citizens or legal permanent U.S. residents.
"Mr. Khan will not be traveling to Toronto on March 7th to speak about tolerance, understanding, unity and the rule of law," said Ramsay Talks, which announced guests would be refunded the ticket price of $89.
Khan and his wife, Ghazala Khan, appeared at the Democratic National Convention in support of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and shared the story of their son, U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed during the Iraq war.
During his speech, he asked Trump if he had ever read the U.S. Constitution and said that he would gladly lend him his copy. He urged Trump to "look for the words liberty and equal protection of law" in the document.
Trump responded by questioning whether Clinton's aides scripted Khan's speech and questioned whether Ghazala Khan was allowed to speak.
Khan and Trump went on to exchange further criticism, dominating the presidential campaign for several days over the summer.
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White House Refuses To Guarantee People Won’t Lose Health Insurance From Repeal
- Created on 26 February 2017
White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to assure Americans on Sunday that anyone currently covered under the Affordable Care Act would not lose their coverage under President Donald Trump’s health care plan. Sanders repeatedly dodged the question on ABC’s “This Week,” saying Trump had promised to repeal Obamacare and replace it “with something that’s better.”
Host George Stephanopoulos pressed Sanders on why, if Trump was so intent on replacing the law with something better, the White House couldn’t guarantee that everyone currently with insurance wouldn’t lose it. Sanders said it was “a goal” to make sure people didn’t lose coverage, but she stopped short of saying people would be able to keep their current insurance, or would even be offered similar plans.
“We cannot survive under the current system,” Sanders said. “We have to make a massive overhaul to the health care system in America, because it is simply just not sustainable, and everybody agrees with that.”
“There is nobody that argues that we’re on a track that we can maintain,” she continued. “So we’re looking at every possible way to do exactly that: repeal a terrible, failed system and replace with something better.”
When Stephanopoulos pressed again whether that meant Trump wouldn’t sign a replacement bill that would cause people to lose coverage, Sanders said she wouldn’t “speak specifically for the president on that topic.”
“What I can say is he’s made it a high priority and a No. 1 focus that we make sure that people that have insurance continue their insurance, particularly those in the highest need,” she said.
A consulting firm told governors Saturday that the Republican plan to replace Obamacare could lead to millions losing their health coverage, with many people covered under the Medicaid expansion suddenly unable to afford health insurance.
When he was running for president, Trump told “60 Minutes” in 2015 that everyone would win from his health care replacement.
“I am going to take care of everybody,” Trump said. “I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”
More recently, in January, Trump vowed “insurance for everybody,” but congressional Republicans have taken to guaranteeing “access” to health care, rather than health care itself, meaning if individuals have the money to pay for insurance, they can get it.
According to the presentation given to governors on Saturday, the effect of the GOP replacement bill would be huge insurance enrollment losses and greater budget pressure on states to make up the loss in federal money for programs like the Medicaid expansion.
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