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Date: Thursday, 24 Jan 2013 20:01
OK, is this thing on? By this point you probably know about the great and glorious bipartisan deal to sack Senate rules reform and replace it with something that can be called the same. A week or so ago I crawled out of retirement to castigate the bogus PR of the McCain-Levin compromise, which didn't only do nothing but actually would make the Senate operate worse in some respects. It comes as little surprise that this is almost precisely what will go into effect, right down to the sunset on the reforms to nominations and the motion to proceed, meaning they expire at the end of this Congress. Basically the changes amount to "Majority Leader Time Management Reform." The Majority Leader will get to stack some nominations together and move from one bill to another faster. It makes Harry Reid's job easier. It won't allow for much else. No wonder Reid pulled the trigger on it. The various changes are here and here. I've already said my peace about them. They're accompanied by a "gentlemen's agreement" that the leadership of both parties will force more accountability on the individual Senators doing the filibustering. Somehow I don't believe that a Majority Leader this pissed off about, well, accountability for his colleagues, will enforce that gentlemen's agreement.
At Tuesday's closed-door caucus meeting, Merkley was upbraided by Reid for breaking unspoken Senate rules and naming specific senators in a conference call with Democratic activists last week, according to sources familiar with the exchange. "He's pissed off so many in the caucus," said one Democratic aide piqued at Merkley. "He has been having conference calls with progressive donors and activists trying to get them energized. He's named specific Dem Senators. Many are furious. He was called out on Tuesday in caucus and very well could be again today."
I'm not in the Senate, so let me call them out. Carl Levin, Max Baucus, Dianne Feinstein, Patrick Leahy, Barbara Boxer, Mark Pryor, and perhaps Jack Reed and Joe Manchin. You can go back and forth on why these mostly old lions did what they did. Maybe they were concerned about "protecting minority rights" in the instance that Democrats return to it. This is a B.S. argument. The Senate aide who said "Roe v. Wade might be dead and Social Security would be private accounts" in a filibuster-less world apparently doesn't know that Roe v. Wade was a court case and that private accounts in Social Security, the last time it was introduced, didn't even come up for a vote in the majoritarian Republican-led HOUSE, let alone the Senate. The main usage of the filibuster in its early history was to block anti-lynching legislation. It's been employed most vigorously to stop civil rights laws. The history of the filibuster is a history of blocking liberal progress. And even if it WASN'T, there's a very direct and determined hatred of democracy here. Tom Harkin is pretty much the only Senator who dares to say this, but if the nation decides to elect a particular majority, that majority should have the ability to enact an agenda, and if the public doesn't like it afterward they can vote them out. That's basically how it works, or rather how it should work. Obviously this is a simplistic rendering that doesn't take into account gerrymandering and malapportionment (my top 5 Senate reforms are actually 1) abolition, 2) turning it into the House of Lords and making it irrelevant, 3) majority rule, 4) the "talking filibuster" or 5) shifting the burden on the minority), but that all ought to be worked on as well. The "but the Republicans have the House now, who cares?" argument is similarly bogus and shows no long-term strategy whatsoever. That's particularly true on Senate confirmations, where cabinet-level officials and all federal judges above the district level face basically the same playing field as they always did. House Republicans don't factor into that at all. Most everyone involved in the process, including Harry Reid, said at one point or another that there were 50 votes to do more than the crappy McCain-Levin template we're getting. Put another way, what there really weren't 50 votes for is using the process of changing the rules with 50 votes.  And that's a sad commentary on the upper chamber, which is so afraid of the small-d democratic process they refuse to use it to govern themselves, let alone the rest of the country. This was the first time that outside groups really forced themselves into the conversation on Senate reform, and brought it to a larger segment of the public as a democracy-distorting crisis that needed to be fixed. Fix the Senate Now had a broad coalition. They had money. They had a grassroots strategy. They ran ads. It wasn't Health Care for America Now, but it was pretty darn big for an internal procedural matter. Ultimately, they couldn't help people who refuse to help themseles. As I understand things, it took 22 years to get the cloture threshold lowered from 67 to 60 votes. Incoming freshmen Democrats almost totally supported stronger changes, and while it's not as simple as just picking off the old lions (the Senate does things to your mind, I'm afraid), I don't think the Fix the Senate groups will disband. They may come back stronger, in fact. The problem is that the planet may not have that kind of time. The Senate does move at a glacial pace, but the question is whether or not we'll still have glaciers by they time they get around to fixing things.
Author: "noreply@blogger.com (dday)"
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Date: Friday, 19 Aug 2011 13:37
(FDL is undergoing some maintenance, so posting here for the moment)

There have been a lot of ups and downs in the Libyan civil war, and with the unpredictability on both sides I think it's fair to question whether anything can be decisive. But the rebel taking of the oil refinery at Zawiya is crucial because it cuts off the key supply line and the key supply (oil) to Moammar Gadhafi and his forces in Tripoli. It turns Gadhafi into a sitting duck.

On Thursday , jubilant rebels set up checkpoints at the refinery. Engineers were turning off the supply of petrol to Tripoli, the besieged capital of Gaddafi's rapidly shrinking empire. "Some people were for Gaddafi. Today, these people are less. Sooner or later he is finished," (refinery engineer Yusuf) Hamad predicted, adding that it would be possible to get the refinery going again soon.

After an uprising that has already gone on for seven months, it would be rash to make predictions about when, or if, the Gaddafi regime will crumble. But the government's options are narrowing. The rebels now control the coastal highway between Tripoli and the Tunisian border, a crucial gateway and main supply route for water, petrol, rice and tomatoes.


The rebels are now confidently predicting that they will control Tripoli by the end of the month. A UN envoy is meeting with both sides of the civil war in Tunisia. I don't believe the report that Gadhafi will flee to the neighboring country, but he certainly may be looking for an escape, either to Venezuela or inside Libya as part of a negotiated settlement. That's if the rebels agree to any concessions when they have Tripoli staring them in the face. If they are motivated by freedom and not revenge, they will cut a deal and reduce the loss of human life.

I share the uncontroversial opinion that Gadhafi is a bad guy, and that he should be brought to justice. This six-month ordeal still leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Even today we don't have a full picture of who the Libyan rebels are. There have been reports of atrocities and frontier justice against regime supporters. There has been infighting which led to the assassination of the top military commander. Employing NATO for close air support puts the coalition in a position of responsibility in the future that may or may not be desirable.

Throughout I hoped it would work out, and the potential end of Gadhafi's reign of terror is an objectively good thing. Like all of the Arab uprising revolutions, it's a beginning, not an end.
Author: "noreply@blogger.com (dday)" Tags: "Libya"
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I Did It   New window
Date: Wednesday, 18 May 2011 23:26
I knocked down Blogger so Ann Althouse would be vanquished.

Ain't I a stinker?
Author: "noreply@blogger.com (dday)" Tags: "Ann Althouse, mets"
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Date: Thursday, 07 Oct 2010 06:39
This is mainly for reference.

Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin
Author: "noreply@blogger.com (dday)" Tags: "foreclosures"
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Date: Monday, 13 Sep 2010 03:06
Because this thought doesn't fit on a political news blog...

People are talking about my man Denard Robinson for the Heisman Trophy because of his "total offense" stats. This is a wildly misleading statistic. A quarterback who also primarily runs the ball for his team is going to have very eye-popping stats. Robinson didn't run the ball or pass against Notre Dame on, I believe, 12 plays. 500 yards total offense is pretty impressive in and of itself, but the spread system will generate those kinds of yardage numbers.

Robinson's obviously a good quarterback, but he's a system quarterback who will gain 300-350 yards pretty much by accident every game, simply by virtue of getting the call in the running game 25 times and throwing short outs another 10-15 times.

This has been a random sports post.
Author: "noreply@blogger.com (dday)" Tags: "sports, University of Michigan"
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Date: Saturday, 21 Aug 2010 14:47
Just wanted to put this here to remind myself:

Democrats propose X.
Republicans propose Y.
Democrats propose X and Y. This would build confidence that Democrats can get things done.
Republican say no, they can't accept X.
Democrats pass Y.
Then they tell everyone they really wanted to pass X, and they'll fix Y later.
Author: "noreply@blogger.com (dday)" Tags: "Democrats, Republicans"
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Date: Wednesday, 28 Apr 2010 17:05
I'm a blogger fellow with Brave New Films on their 16 Deaths Per Day campaign for worker safety. Join us on Facebook.



Today is Workers Memorial Day, the day we remember those who have died on the job. They come from all walks of life, merely trying to get ahead and create a better world for themselves and their families. And yet, each year, thousands of people die from unsafe working conditions or hazardous duty; 16 deaths per day, in fact.



Over the weekend I attended a Workers Memorial Day event in Los Angeles, at the UCLA Labor Center near MacArthur Park. I saw the makeshift memorial to some of the 404 workers who died at their place of employment in California in 2008, adorned with pictures, flowers, and also the tools of work - cleaning supplies, a computer mouse, fruits and vegetables, a surgical mask, and paint rollers. I read about Damien Whipple, 24, who fell off a train into the tracks while working to switch out rail cars. I read about Abdon Felix, 42, who collapsed in 108 degree heat while loading grapes at Sunview Farms in Delano. I read about Carlos Rivera, a 73 year-old dockworker at the Port of Long Beach who was struck by a forklift carrying rolls of sheet metal.

Every year, worker rights and safety advocates, unionists, clergy, and the families of the victims gather in Los Angeles, to honor these workers and bring awareness of the real problem of worker fatalities. They hold a mock funeral procession around the area, to make everyone in the community aware of the issue, and to demonstrate solidarity with the cause. Leaders read names of 40 of the 404 who died, and after every name, the crowd assembled replied "Presente!" in a show of unity.

Representative Laura Richardson (D-CA) of nearby Long Beach spoke at the event. She's a former member of the Machinist's Union, and she talked about her employment history. "I worked at 'The Bomb Shelter,' a restaurant area, when I went to UCLA. I cleaned the toilets and the tables, and I never recall anyone offering me any gloves," Richardson said. "I worked at UPS, and no one offered me steel-toed shoes." She painted a picture of workers often taken advantage of on the job, of a lack of protective gear and supplies, a lack of training, a lack of empathy by forcing workers to show up even when sick or injured, upon threat of termination.

"That's why I support HR 2067, the Protecting America's Workers Act," Richardson announced to the crowd. "Even though our laws in California are better than most, they're not good enough, and the federal laws haven't been improved in 40 years."

In fact, Workers Memorial Day Coincides with the anniversary of the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and Richardson is correct - many of those statutes have not been updated for a changing workplace since their passage. "It's not good enough to put a poster on the wall," Richardson said, "we need supervisors following the law, and if they aren't they should be penalized."

We're seeing with the recent high-profile cases of worker deaths, like with the Gulf of Mexico oil rig explosion, that employers have grown savvy at beating the system and circumventing regulations. That's why they need to be strengthened and given the teeth needed to truly provide for a safe workplace.



And if anything, the recession has deepened that need. We've seen corporate productivity rise as their workforce gets reduced. Basically, most companies are producing more with less. The staffs have increased stress and that can lead to more accidents. Some advocates for hotel workers told me that hotel staff has been slashed across the board even as amenities increase and the workload rises. This can easily lead to preventable accidents.

In a proclamation today on the 40th anniversary of OSHA, President Obama recognized the need for constant vigilance in protecting America's workers:

Although these large-scale tragedies are appalling, most workplace deaths result from tragedies that claim one life at a time through preventable incidents or disabling disease. Every day, 14 workers are killed in on-the-job incidents, while thousands die each year of work-related disease, and millions are injured or contract an illness. Most die far from the spotlight, unrecognized and unnoticed by all but their families, friends, and co-workers -- but they are not forgotten.

The legal right to a safe workplace was won only after countless lives had been lost over decades in workplaces across America, and after a long and bitter fight waged by workers, unions, and public health advocates. Much remains to be done, and my Administration is dedicated to renewing our Nation's commitment to achieve safe working conditions for all American workers.

Providing safer work environments will take the concerted action of government, businesses, employer associations, unions, community organizations, the scientific and public health communities, and individuals. Today, as we mourn those lost mere weeks ago in the Upper Big Branch Mine and other recent disasters, so do we honor all the men and women who have died on the job. In their memory, we rededicate ourselves to preventing such tragedies, and to securing a safer workplace for every American.


Now OSHA merely needs the proper tools to succeed in their mission. And the Protecting America's Workers Act can provide it.
Author: "noreply@blogger.com (dday)" Tags: "Barack Obama, Laura Richardson, Los Ange..."
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Date: Thursday, 22 Apr 2010 22:10
I'm a blogger fellow with Brave New Films on their 16 Deaths Per Day campaign for worker safety. Join us on Facebook.



Tonight in New York City, football executives will change the lives of hundreds of young men at the NFL Draft. Young men from around the country will see their fortunes arrive with the call of their name from the podium. They will be feted with signing bonuses and performance bonuses and endorsement contracts and millions of dollars in salary. And then in the fall, we'll all trudge out to our local stadia to cheer on these same players to victory.

But what will we be watching? Actually, we'll be invited into the workplace of two football teams, a workplace as cruel and debilitating as any in the nation. Over the past several months, members of Congress have investigated the prevalence of concussions and neurological injuries arising from the game of football, and the results have been unsettling.

Are professional football players at greater risk of dementia and other neurological problems?

The question took center stage in Congress on Wednesday during hours of testimony from doctors, retired athletes and National Football League executives. A congressional committee waded through conflicting perspectives on past and current studies, and urged the use of greater precautions to help protect participants in one of America's most popular pastimes [...]

"Surely, an $8 billion a year industry can find it within its budget to make sure players are adequately protected and that any victims of long-term brain disease are fairly compensated," said Michigan Rep. John Conyers, the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

These are "life and death issues. They go to the heart of our nation's most popular sport, and equally importantly, they affect millions of players of all ages and their families."


The New York Times has done a particularly good job of covering this issue. Through their coverage, you can see the NFL first deny, then admit the long-term effects of concussions on their employees; allow the co-chairs of their concussion committee to quit, and select new ones; set new rules on players returning from concussions (they now have to wait longer); and yet continue to deny the magnitude of the problem, rejecting the evidence that concussions and repeated contact can lead to long-term brain damage.

But that evidence is very clear. Take the case of former NFL lineman Ralph Wenzel, now living in an assisted living facility:

The five paper-clipped sheets that were slipped into a wire basket at the Van Nuys State Office Building looked no different from the other workers’ compensation claims filed by welders and cashiers. But this packet was different: it will almost certainly become a test case in considering National Football League teams’ liability for the dementia experienced by retired players.

The claim was filed by Dr. Eleanor Perfetto on behalf of her husband, Ralph Wenzel, contending that his dementia at 67 is related to his career as an N.F.L. lineman from 1966 to 1973... They estimated the case’s potential value at more than $1 million if it reaches its conclusion, probably in two or three years [...]

After watching her otherwise healthy husband begin to lose his mental faculties in his mid-50s and be placed in an assisted-living facility at 64, Dr. Perfetto has become one of the most outspoken voices in football’s dementia debate. She testified at a United States House Judiciary Committee hearing on brain injuries in October and served as a resource for other spouses of former players with dementia; in December 2008 she tried to attend a meeting between N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell and retired players but was turned away.

“Having a judge deem this is work-related would move this forward and keep it very visible,” said Dr. Perfetto, a senior director at Pfizer who holds a Ph.D. in public health from the University of North Carolina. “I think when they look at all the information it will just be undeniable.”


This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to anybody. The repetitive stress of banging heads with other large men equipped with helmets and pads is bound to take a toll on the body and the brain. Football players are well-compensated for the risks they take, but the cumulative effect of constant hitting is undeniable. And football owners and medical personnel, along with the culture inside locker rooms, keep players in danger and on the field even when they're injured. This PBS story on Hall of Famer John Mackey is simply devastating.

However, I notice a difference between how the concussion story has played in media and on Capitol Hill versus, well, every other workplace in America. When football heroes are faced with a hazardous workplace, there are multiple hearings, and massive media coverage, and serious pressure on management to fix the problem and make the workplace safer. When your manufacturing plant, or hotel, or restaurant, or other place of business, has an unsafe workplace, there are no cameras, there are no hearings, frequently there are no inspectors. This is the problem that the Protecting America's Workers Act intends to fix.

We don't have spectators at our jobs. We don't make millions of dollars. We cannot expect the kind of pressure on our bosses to fix our problems. Government must ensure safe workplaces for everyone, from the football star to the mine worker. And so we need PAWA to update the rules for worker safety and create the kinds of penalties to make employers change their behavior.

I worry about the stars who will be drafted tonight, and the hazardous work environment they will face. I also worry about the rest of the workers in America. Someone needs to look out for them, too.
Author: "noreply@blogger.com (dday)" Tags: "football, OSHA, sports, workplace safety"
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Date: Wednesday, 07 Apr 2010 16:43
I'm a blogger fellow with Brave New Films on their 16 Deaths Per Day campaign for worker safety. Join us on Facebook.



The disaster at the Upper Big Branch mine in Coalmont, West Virginia has justifiably brought a lot of attention to the issue of worker safety and the need for strong regulation to protect America's workers. But as Chris Bowers points out, this is the kind of story you can write every day in America. Worker safety didn't become a problem because of one mine explosion in West Virginia. Indeed, 16 American workers die every single day, on average, at the workplace, and the federal agencies tasked with making sure that doesn't happen need more resources and more tools to combat such tragedies.

Why, just days before the Massey Energy mine accident, another energy plant saw a deadly workplace disaster:

The death toll from Friday’s fire at Tesoro’s Anacortes refinery in Washington state grew to five, according to news reports.

Three refinery workers were earlier reported to have died following the fire, and a fourth and fifth died of their injuries after being taken to a hospital in Seattle, according to news media reports.

Two other injured workers remained in critical condition at the Seattle hospital.


Sources indicated to Reuters that the fire was caused by a failed heat exchanger, which alternately heats and cools hydrocarbons at the plant. Workers were replacing a separate heat exchanger when this one failed, causing an explosion.

The Chemical Safety Board, an independent federal agency which oversees refineries like this, was already investigating a flash fire at a separate Tesoro refinery in Utah from last October, as well as multiple other fires across the country. A similar blast killed 15 workers at a BP refinery in Texas in 2005. This is becoming an epidemic.

CSB (Chemical Safety Board) Chairman and CEO John Bresland said, “The CSB has 18 ongoing investigations. Of those, seven of these accidents occurred at refineries across the country. This is a significant and disturbing trend that the refining industry needs to address immediately.”


And yet, the Chemical Safety Board cannot issue citations or fines, only safety recommendations. They can request that a refinery shut down because of safety concerns, but they cannot mandate it.

This is just an example of where government lacks the tools and resources necessary to keep American workers safe at their jobs. There are worker's memorials all over the country which are a living reminder that we have not succeeded in creating safe and secure workplaces. Every April, Worker's Memorial Day serves to deliver that reminder.

That's where the Protecting America's Workers Act (PAWA) comes in. The Obama Administration under the leadership of Hilda Solis is actually doing a great job of restoring the gutted agencies under the Labor Department's purview, which have been ravaged by 30 years of deregulation and industry capture. But the regulations themselves need to be beefed up, in addition to having better regulators and better tactics. David Michaels and Jordan Barab are leading the Occupational Health and Safety Administration into a new era. They actually slapped the largest fine in history on BP for their failure to fix safety violations even AFTER their 2005 refinery explosion. OSHA is reconfiguring their inspections to target severe violators.

All of this is good. But now they need to be given the ability to succeed. PAWA would do that, by extending OSHA coverage to 8 million more workers, by updating civil and criminal penalties for violations, and by providing an effective deterrent to employers to maintain unsafe workplaces.

We need to eliminate the kinds of headlines we see in West Virginia or Washington or Texas. We need employers to live up to their responsibilities. We need to protect America's workers.
Author: "noreply@blogger.com (dday)" Tags: "energy, Hilda Solis, oil companies, OSHA..."
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Date: Wednesday, 31 Mar 2010 05:15
I'm a blogger fellow with Brave New Films on their 16 Deaths Per Day campaign for worker safety. Join us on Facebook.



It's hard to find a tougher job in America than harvesting in the fields. Throughout California, known as the nation's salad bowl, farmworkers, frequently migrants with little knowledge of their rights as workers or even the English language, toil in triple-digit heat, often without shade or water breaks. Needless to say, this dangerous work has resulted in serious injury and even deaths.

Jose Rosario Valencia started feeling nauseated just after 9 a.m. on July 17. His heart rate sped up and his knees buckled.

Valencia was scared. He'd heard of other farmworkers dying of heat stroke in the fields.

"I thought about my family and how they would suffer," said Valencia, 46, who moves irrigation pipes in the onion fields.

Even though California passed a groundbreaking law in 2005 to protect farmworkers from heat illness and death, there have been as many as 10 heat-related fatalities in the years since. Among the victims in 2008 were a pregnant teenager who died when her body temperature climbed to 108 degrees after working in a Lodi vineyard and a 37-year-old man who suffered heat stroke after loading table grapes near Bakersfield. The state has confirmed heat as the cause of six of the deaths and said it may have been a factor in the others.


Farmworkers get paid by the piece, based on how much they load, and their employers set quotas that they are expected to cover. They have every incentive to avoid breaks and work as hard as possible; in some cases, the water is simply out there for display. As a result, farmworkers skip bathroom breaks. They skip water breaks. They stay out in the fields under 100-degree heat with the fear that they would be fired if they did not. And as a result, workers die.

The most celebrated case in recent years was that of Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, a 17 year-old farmworker who died of heat strike in the fields in the summer of 2008. She was pregnant at the time.

Maria collapsed while working for Merced Farm Labor in a vineyard owned by West Coast Grape Farming outside of Stockton, CA. Maria worked for nine hours in temperatures that reached 101 degrees. There was no water nearby. There was no shade.

After about 2 hours of delays, Maria was finally taken to a clinic. Her temperature upon arrival was 108.4 degrees. Maria's heart stopped six times in the next two days before she passed away. Doctors said if emergency medical help had been summoned or she had been taken to the hospital sooner, she might have survived.


In 2009, Cal-OSHA, the state occupational safety board, delivered regulations to combat heat-stress related injuries and deaths. The employers first tried to amend the regulations, trying to classify the vines in the vineyard as "shade." But they failed, as Cal-OSHA refused to rewrite the laws.

However, lobbying for changes in the law is only one way that employers evade oversight. Under the Schwarzenegger Administration and during the historic budget crisis in the state, funding for Cal-OSHA has shrunk. Only two HUNDRED inspectors monitor all the worksites in the nation's most populous state, including the 35,000 farms. There are more fish and game wardens in California than worksite inspectors.

And if an employer is cited, they can use a favorable appeals process to reduce the fines or dismiss the violations, something which has been done repeatedly in recent years. All violations can be appealed to a judge, appointed by the appeals board. Then the appeals board can vacate the judge's ruling. This offers many opportunities to game the system.

The head of the state Senate's Labor Committee accused a workplace safety board Wednesday of being biased toward employers and ignoring a law that requires fines for failing to report on-the-job injuries.

After a hearing, Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) said he might introduce legislation that could lead to criminal charges against board members if they continue to disregard the law that calls for a $5,000 fine for employers' failing to report accidents in a timely manner.

The hearing came after a Times investigation last fall that found that the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health appeals board repeatedly dismissed and reduced the penalties levied by division inspectors, even in situations in which workers had died or were seriously injured.


One recent case was dismissed based on a spelling typo in one document. And this is more about ideology than budget problems: for example, Cal-OSHA received stimulus money to hire more inspectors, but has so far declined to do so.

Despite all of these obstacles, the new emphasis on worker safety by Cal-OSHA in the last growing season did pay some dividends. Last year, more vigorous training and enforcement efforts did serve to reduce heat-related illnesses and deaths. But already Cal-OSHA is talking about backing off, content that the media storm over the plight of the farmworkers has largely ended.

Rising compliance and awareness, Welsh said, may allow his agency to relax its inspection efforts in 2010.

"The 3,400 inspections we did last year was a little more than we can sustain," he said.


This is why we need HR 2067, the Protecting America's Workers Act (PAWA). A fully resourced OSHA could fill in the gaps where the state-level agencies often fail. They could deliver larger penalties without the byzantine appeals process at agencies like Cal-OSHA. They could provide the ability for families to seek justice from employers through the courts. Simply put they could restore the promise of a safe and health workplace for everybody in America.

Even in the fields.
Author: "noreply@blogger.com (dday)" Tags: "agriculture, California, OSHA, workers r..."
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Date: Thursday, 25 Mar 2010 00:56
I'm a blogger fellow with Brave New Films on their 16 Deaths Per Day campaign for worker safety. Join us on Facebook.



Last week, the House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing on HR 2067, the Protecting America's Workers Act (PAWA). This bill would strengthen and modernize OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and give them the tools to actually carry out their mission of ensuring a safe workplace for all Americans.

We tend to think of health care as simply a matter of insurance and doctors and pills. But workplace safety plays just as vital a role. Most of us spend a majority of our waking hours at our workplaces. We often carry out dangerous tasks at worksites which are not fully screened by regulators. We are offered little training or safety equipment to carry out these tasks. And a lot of us die - 16 deaths per day, in fact, over 5,000 deaths a year due to workplace accidents, and many more - over 50,000 - from occupational disease.

Many of these deaths are preventable, and simply due to OSHA not having the resources or the tools to carry out its mandate. PAWA would change that. It would extend OSHA coverage to state, local and federal government workers, as well as airline and railroad employees, which (incredibly) do not currently get OSHA protections - well over 8 million workers. It actually raises civil penalties for worksite violations, for the first time in two decades, so that fines for keeping a hazardous workplace is not the cost of doing business. Any violation involving a worker death would be susceptible to a mandatory minimum penalty. And PAWA would provide accountability, by allowing prosecutions against employers who allow worker injuries and deaths willfully (employees and their families would have means to hold employers accountable as well). This would represent the first update of the Occupational Safety and Health Law since its enactment in 1970.

A report last week suggested that workplace injuries have declined, despite no changes to the law. Certainly the Chamber of Commerce has been throwing these statistics around. But these numbers from the Labor Department are often preliminary, involve changes to reporting standards, and never count the 50,000-plus deaths due to occupational diseases and toxic exposure. Indeed, the Chamber works hard to create reporting rules beneficial to their businesses, which mitigate reporting statistics. There's also conflicting data, like the jump in workplace suicides. Meager successes - if they exist - do not eliminate the need for continued action.

The regulatory reform at OSHA over the past several years, prior to the Obama Administration, is legendary, and admirably summed up by this report from the Center for Progressive Reform. The current leadership of OSHA - Assistant Secretary David Michaels and Deputy Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab - have been handed a dysfunctional agency without the means to cover every worksite in America, nor the enforcement capabilities to force compliance. An excerpt:

Observing OSHA in its struggle to implement and enforce the OSH Act is a study of regulatory dysfunction. OSHA and its state partners employ fewer than 2,100 inspectors to keep tabs on more than 8 million U.S. workplaces. OSHA must meet so many analytical requirements that it takes more than a decade to implement a single new standard. By one
count, OSHA is subject to 18 different statutory, court-created, and administrative limits on its rulemaking process [...]

If conducted properly, a compliance assessment at a very large worksite might take 2,000 employee-hours. The accompanying legal proceedings can drag on for months or years. In Fiscal Year 2010, OSHA will spend about $227 million on federal enforcement programs, but will only have the capacity to inspect 40,000 of the nation’s more than 8 million workplaces.

Proactive rulemaking to manage emerging hazards, such as lung disease linked to diacetyl, and other flavoring chemicals used in the popcorn industry, can also be a huge resource drain. Every type of OSHA employee – economists, engineers, occupational health specialists, lawyers – is involved in the development of new health and safety standards. Coordinating their work is difficult and costly.

Yet, OSHA operates on a shoestring budget. OSHA’s budget climbed steadily in the 1970s, funding the agency’s growing capacity to develop new rules and enforce the OSH Act, which in turn triggered a backlash from the business community. Under the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, OSHA’s budget was first cut and then held roughly even with inflation. The Clinton administration gave OSHA a boost, and the agency’s budget reached an historic high in 2001. But that was the same year that the agency published its ill-fated ergonomics standard, and, like OSHA’s aggressive enforcement in the late 1970s, the ergonomics standard elicited a backlash in the business community and a subsequent whittling-away of the agency’s budget under George W. Bush.


The whole report is worth reading. You could tell this story in virtually every regulatory agency in America. The Reagan revolution ushered out real enforcement of industry and ushered in industry capture or resource starvation. This has continued largely unchecked until today. PAWA would change that, on a variety of levels.

And this isn't an abstract problem. There are real consequences to inattention to our workplaces. To take just one example: in July 2009, a temporary worker in Camden, NJ named Vincent Smith died from falling into a vat of chocolate. He was untrained, without job security as a temp and making the minimum wage. And it turned out that the food processing plant didn't have a license to make chocolate. They operated for six or seven years without scrutiny from federal or even local inspectors, and workers had no whistleblower protections to call OSHA and report the violations. In an effort to save money, Hershey sub-contracted out their chocolate processing to plants like this, and that savings comes at the expense of worker safety.

Local inspectors took out their wrath on the processing plant, fining them a whopping.... $1,152. Eventually, federal authorities investigated the plant, and they did come up with a fine for the multiple safety violations and the death of Vincent Smith - $39,000. This is considered a major fine for OSHA, and yet it's a mere pittance of the profits for a company operating illegally without a license for 6 years.

Smith's family has filed a personal injury lawsuit. But we cannot rely on the courts, absent regulators, to prevent the next death, or provide the deterrent needed to get employers to provide a safe workplace. We need the Protecting America's Workers Act.
Author: "noreply@blogger.com (dday)" Tags: "OSHA, regulations, regulatory agencies, ..."
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Date: Saturday, 30 Jan 2010 17:55
OK, that didn't work out. I throw myself on the mercy of the court.

The news site doesn't leave much room for personal writing, sadly.

I have noticed that the text for typing a Blogger blog is much smaller than a Wordpress blog, but additional insights are wanting.

OK, gotta go. More later. (No Really!)
Author: "noreply@blogger.com (dday)" Tags: "meta"
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Date: Saturday, 02 Jan 2010 01:30
I'm going to use this site more in 2010 than I have since my FDL gig started.

I don't quite know how, or in what fashion. Maybe for cultural observations. Maybe for TV/movies/music/literature. Maybe just to rip on Tucker Carlson's new "news" site. I don't know. But for something. It'll be nice to have a free-form outlet.

Like most resolutions, this will probably putter out around January 3rd. But it's in writing and in public, making neglecting it more embarrassing. So.
Author: "noreply@blogger.com (dday)" Tags: "meta"
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Date: Wednesday, 18 Nov 2009 14:20
(This post is part of Brave New Films' 16 Deaths Per Day campaign, for which I am a blogger fellow.)

Steven Greenhouse reports in the New York Times that employers are routinely underreporting illnesses and injuries to their workers.

The report, by the G.A.O., the auditing arm of Congress, said many employers did not report workplace injuries and illnesses for fear of increasing their workers’ compensation costs or hurting their chances of winning contracts.

The report also said workers did not report job-related injuries because they feared being fired or disciplined and worried that their co-workers might lose rewards, like bonuses or steak dinners, as part of safety-based incentive programs.

“The widespread underreporting so clearly documented in this report is undermining the health and safety of American workers,” said Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “If we don’t know the full extent of the workplace hazards workers face, we cannot fully address these risks.”

Mr. Harkin was one of the Congressional leaders who requested the report.


It's hard to even determine the problems with workplace safety when employers are systematically undermining the data. And it's impossible for industry to take credit for declines in workplace injuries and even fatalities if the official data cannot be trusted (that decline can also be attributed to the overall decline in the workforce due to the recession, too, as well as the decline in staffing at the agencies that keep the records). In fact, the GAO report concluded that OSHA may have failed to account for "up to two-thirds of all workplace injuries and illnesses."

See, OSHA relies on data from employers for a bulk of its surveying about workplace safety. That's right, the foxes write up the reports about the henhouse. When you start talking to people other than the site managers, some interesting statistics crop up:

The accountability office also found that more than a third of the occupational health practitioners it surveyed said that employers or workers had pressured them to provide insufficient medical treatment to hide or play down work-related injuries or illnesses.

The safety and health administration requires employers with more than 10 workers to record every work-related injury or illness that results in lost work time or medical treatment other than first aid. Some occupational health practitioners say that to avoid recording an injury, some employers will try to limit treatment for a serious injury to just first aid.

In other cases, the practitioners said, employers might seek alternative diagnoses if the initial diagnosis would result in a recordable injury or illness.


They want to avoid OSHA site inspections, which they know the agency is only equipped to perform on the most egregious violators. If you stay out of sight, you'll be out of OSHA's mind, in all likelihood.

When you read the independent reports, outside of OSHA, you begin to get the true picture of what American workplaces look like. In the low-wage market, there are all kinds of systematic violations, forcing employees to work longer hours for less pay - and these violations extend to health and safety. This stress and strain may account for the shocking rise in workplace suicides over the last year.

“This report confirms that when it comes to the documenting of workplace injuries, we can’t just take employers at their word,” said Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington and chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety. “The system, to this point, has been all too easy to game.”


Which is why we need real changes to the system like the Protect America's Workers Act.
Author: "noreply@blogger.com (dday)" Tags: "labor, workers rights, workplace safety"
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Date: Friday, 13 Nov 2009 00:41
(This post is part of Brave New Foundation's 16 Deaths Per Day campaign, where I am a blogger fellow.)

Back in July, a temp worker died from falling into a vat of chocolate. He had been on the job two weeks.

A temp worker at a Camden chocolate processing plant died this morning after he fell into an eight-foot vat that was mixing and melting chocolate to be used in Hershey's candy.

Vincent Smith II, 29, of Camden, was standing atop a platform and tossing blocks of solid, raw chocolate into the tank, Jason Laughlin, spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, said.

The tank was heated at 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and paddles inside stirred the chocolate as it was thrown in.

When Smith fell around 10:30 a.m., one of his three coworkers on the platform immediately rushed to turn the machine off and the two others tried to pull him out.

But Smith had been struck by one of the paddles, suffering fatal injuries. He was pronounced dead at the scene, and Camden firefighters pulled his chocolate-covered body out of the tank.


A few local newscasts in the Philadelphia area had some fun with this story, barely suppressing giggles and making predictable puns as they gave it a brief mention.

But they never followed up on the story. In fact, the owners of the plant, Lyons & Sons, never had a license to make chocolate (yes that's a Fox news link):

Officials say a cocoa processing center in New Jersey was operating illegally when a worker fell into a vat of melting chocolate and died.

Camden cited Lyons & Sons Inc. for not having a business license after Vincent Smith II died Wednesday.

Authorities say the 29-year-old was hit by a mixing paddle.

Company spokesman Kevin Feeley says that it's a misunderstanding and that Camden officials knew the firm was operating in the former Campbell Soup plant.


I'm sure the company spokesman would call it a misunderstanding.

The lack of a license - after "six or seven" years of operation, according to the initial story - may explain why Lyons & Sons didn't have any prior OSHA violations. Hard to investigate businesses when they aren't carrying licenses and the city inspectors don't know of their plant's existence, making them unable to refer problems to OSHA. In fact, the plant was never zoned for melting chocolate, but cocoa-bean storage. And Lyons & Sons actually was contracted through a company called Cocoa Services (presumably so one could blame the oversights on the other). And John Lyons was listed as the President of both businesses.

Ultimately, one business is really culpable here. Hershey doesn't make their own chocolate anymore. They sub-contract it out to companies like Lyons & Sons to cut costs. Included in those cost savings are worker benefits - and worker safety.

Nancy Cleeland wrote about Smith's story in October for The American Prospect.

Safety is of particular concern in food-processing plants, which often feature slick floors, powerful machinery, and raised platforms. Any one of those features can be deadly. Falls are the second leading cause of death on the job in the U.S., after highway accidents, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even as the overall occupational death rate has dropped, the toll from falls has been steadily rising for 15 years -- with 847 reported fatalities in 2007.

"In many of these plants you have bits of food flying everywhere, and it gets on the floor," says Jackie Nowell, occupational safety and health director of the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW), which represents workers in beef- and poultry-processing plants, among others. "That makes it very dangerous. Employers struggle with this issue all the time. And it's a very big concern for workers."

Worries about safety have driven many organizing campaigns and contract negotiations in food processing. Unions representing workers in the industry invest in health and safety research and advocacy and include safety language in contracts. "There's a great history of it," Nowell says. "I've got old contracts from the '40s that talk about safety committees. It was important that there be a system that workers could go through. They learned to look for hazards and felt comfortable reporting them."

But without job security or the support of a union, temp workers are seldom forthcoming with their concerns, she adds. And when accidents do happen, the victim's interests sometimes languish as blame is passed around. "There has to be a better definition of who's the employer," Nowell says. "There has to be a closing of the loop."


Understand the circumstances surrounding Smith's death. He lived in Camden, one of the most economically depressed cities in America. He had been looking for a job for months and was praying for one, according to family. So when the opportunity to work at the chocolate factory came around, he took it. He was getting just over the minimum wage, with no benefits, sick days, or even the promise of a future job, as a temporary employee. And worker safety was far less stringent on a non-union plant of contractors like Lyons & Sons.

In this case, OSHA is investigating, and Lyons & Sons have shut the illegal production facility down. But how many other factories are out there, beyond the reach of OSHA, operating in violation of current law, and unwilling to do anything about it because the risks from federal regulators are so minimal?

That's why we need the Protect America's Workers Act to give workers like Vincent Smith more protections. Death by chocolate may sound funny, but it's no laughing matter.
Author: "noreply@blogger.com (dday)" Tags: "Brave New Films, OSHA, workers rights"
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Date: Tuesday, 10 Nov 2009 15:40
(Disclosure: I am a blogger fellow with Brave New Films, the creator of this video and the 16 Deaths Per Day campaign)



Every day in America, 16 people die at work from employer negligence.

That's the backdrop to 16 Deaths Per Day, a new video and website from the advocacy group Brave New Films, seeking to highlight the often-neglected issue of worker safety.

The video makes the point that employers who provide an unsafe work environment are almost never prosecuted in the event of a death of an employee. Even if they were, the crime of contributing to an employee's death is only a misdemeanor, with a maximum prison sentence of six months and a maximum fine of $70,000. Under the Bush Administration, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) hardly ever referred cases to the Justice Department for prosecution, lowered fines for noncompliance so that they represented a minor cost of doing business, and underfunded the agency so it could never inspect worksites across America for unsafe conditions. In addition, OSHA protections currently do not apply to all public employees at the state or federal level.

The video takes a look at the stories of several workers. Travis Koehler-Fergen, an employee at the Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas, and Tina Hall, from Toyo Automotive Parts USA, both died at their workplaces in accidents. The Orleans was found by OSHA to have broken the law, but were never referred for prosecution. 16 safety violations were found at the Toyo plant prior to the accident that killed Tina Hall, but the highest fine ever levied on the company was $7,000.

Members of Congress, including Lynn Woolsey and the late Ted Kennedy, introduced a bill this April called the Protecting America's Workers Act, which would tighten up worker safety laws, and give OSHA the ability to impose legitimate fines on noncompliant work sites, making the law adequate to deal with serious violators. Among other things, the bill would:

• Expand workplace protections to state, county, municipal, and federal employees who are not currently covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act
• Increase financial penalties for those who kill or endanger workers
• Strengthen criminal penalties to make felony charges available for willful negligence causing death or serious injury
• Expand OSHA coverage to millions of other employees who fall through the cracks (like airline and railroad workers)
• Provide protection for whistleblowers
• Give employees the right to refuse hazardous work that may kill them
• Improve the rights of workers and families, requiring OSHA to investigate all cases of death
• Prohibit employers from discouraging reporting of injury or illness


16 Deaths Per Day has a petition for members of the relevant House and Senate committees, urging them to pass this bill. There's a Facebook page as well.
Author: "noreply@blogger.com (dday)" Tags: "Brave New Films, OSHA, workers rights"
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Date: Friday, 06 Nov 2009 17:15


You may know Andy Cobb from the series of humorous video sketches he's done about Republicans, the media, and assorted inanities. But he works by day as an actor. And a few years ago, he was a commercial spokesman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida. Now, he's speaking out about the insurance industry in a new video produced by Brave New Films for their Sick For Profit campaign (disclosure: I am a blogger fellow on this campaign).

Andy, who lives in Los Angeles, describes himself as a "spokesjerk" put in front of the cameras by the industry to deliberately stand in the way of reform and maintain the status quo. He asks for solidarity from spokesjerks like him - the Sham-wow guy, for example - to stop pitching products that rip off Americans.

More on this at The Huffington Post.
Author: "noreply@blogger.com (dday)" Tags: "Blue Cross, comedy, health care, insuran..."
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Date: Wednesday, 04 Nov 2009 23:45
(Sick for Profit)

Senate Democrats are trying to extract some embarrassing information from the insurance industry about their deceptive practices.

First, Tom Harkin, who is seeking to subpoena insurers for failing to provide information requested by his committee.

Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said his committee may demand information from health insurance companies about the reasoning for steep increases in premiums faced by small businesses.

"I've been inundated with letters and information about the exorbitant increases in premiums for small businesses in this country," Harkin said during an appearance on MSNBC. "I asked them to come and testify at a hearing I had yesterday. They refused."

"So now I'm asking them to give us information on which we can make some decisions on why these premiums are going up so much for small businesses," he added.


Here's the video:

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy



Jay Rockefeller also wants some information about the industry's "medical loss ratio," and how they cook the books to pretend that they spend a substantial amount of premium money on treatment and care.

The New York Times reports: "The health insurance industry likes to cite figures showing that 87 cents of every dollar in premiums is spent on medical claims. But a new Senate analysis suggests that for-profit insurance companies are spending much less than that, especially for policies sold to individuals and small businesses. Instead, as little as 66 cents of each dollar paid in premiums goes toward doctor and hospital bills, while the rest covers administrative expenses, marketing and company profits, according to the analysis. .... The [health reform] legislation that may reach the House floor later this week would initially require insurers to spend at least 85 cents of every dollar in premiums on medical claims."

A long-standing complaint from individuals and small businesses is that they get less for their money. "But insurance companies generally do not disclose how much they spend in different segments of the market. The Senate analysis of the figures does not include information from California, because that state's filings are not available through the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. ... The insurance industry's trade group, America's Health Insurance Plans, said Monday that the 87-cent figure it cited as the industry average was based on information collected by the federal government and was an accurate reflection of how much of each dollar in premiums was spent on medical claims." (Abelson, 11/2).


This comes at a time when the Senate is about to unveil their health care bill. This information could be crucial to massing public opinion against the industry and keeping the entire Democratic caucus on board with reform.
Author: "noreply@blogger.com (dday)" Tags: "health care, insurance industry, Jay Roc..."
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Date: Tuesday, 03 Nov 2009 04:38
(Sick for Profit)

The House and Senate will be voting on health care bills in a matter of weeks. But the forces behind the status quo have not quit in their efforts to derail the bill or at least get as many goodies out of it as they can.

The lobbying expenses of the top 13 health insurers and their industry association, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), spent nearly $8.2 million in the third quarter of 2009 to influence Congress on upcoming health care legislation, according to analysis released today by the nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog Public Campaign Action Fund (PCAF). The total marks an 11 percent increase over the pace of their spending in the first half of the year.

"Congress is marching toward passing landmark legislation to overhaul the health care system, and the health insurance industry is fighting them every step of the way," said David Donnelly, national campaigns director of Public Campaign Action Fund. "These insurance giants may be running out of time, but clearly they haven't run out of political cash."


This brings the total in lobbying to nearly $23 million this year, including $6.3 million from AHIP, $3.5 million from WellPoint, $3.5 million from UnitedHealth and $2 million from Aetna. Humana, which has spent $1.85 million in lobbying fees this year, saw their earnings rise 65% in the third quarter, a lot of it off the wasteful Medicare Advantage program, which represents a corporate handout and which is earmarked for scale-backs in the health care bills. Majority Leader Reid's office released this statement in response:

“It’s no wonder why Humana has been misleading seniors about health insurance reform -- they saw their profits rise 65 percent last quarter and want to make sure the gravy train doesn’t end. The insurance industry is making billions by gaming the Medicare Advantage system, at the expense of seniors’ traditional Medicare coverage, and taxpayers are footing the bill.

“The American people have had enough, but unfortunately Senate Republicans have sided with insurers like Humana and are working to protect insurance industry profits over Americans’ health care needs. When we pass health insurance reform this year, this will all come to an end. Our seniors deserve better and American taxpayers should not be asked to pad the profits of the insurance industry.”


Insurers like Humana are ready to pounce on this legislation when it hits the floor in both Chambers, particularly in the Senate, where they will use the amendments process to try and cripple reform and the cloture process to outright kill it. But the insurance industry isn't just fighting for their own self-preservation, they're fighting the interests of the people.
Author: "noreply@blogger.com (dday)" Tags: "health care, insurance industry, lobbyis..."
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Date: Tuesday, 27 Oct 2009 03:06
(I'm a blogger fellow for Brave New Films and their Sick For Profit campaign)

After today's announcement from Harry Reid, adding a public option to the Senate health care bill, some might think that a great victory has been achieved. And it's a significant accomplishment to this point. But we're at the beginning of the end, not the end. And now that this public option, with a state opt-out, represents the lower bound of health care reform, you can bet that the insurance industry will redouble their efforts to kill the bill and retain the status quo. In fact, they've already started. Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina has begun to lobby their customers to work against the bill, asking them to contact Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC). Not a front group, or some ad hoc organization funded by BC/BS. No, just the company itself.

(The mailer) reads:

Public option?
Government Cooperatives?
Community plan?
Single payer?
No matter what you call it, if the federal government intervenes in the private health insurance market, it's a slippery slope to a single payer system.

Who wants that?


The enclosed postcard to Hagan reads:

Senator Hagan,
Please oppose government-run health insurance. We can meet our health care challenges without the government unfairly competing with the private sector. Tell Senate leaders that North Carolina doesn't need government-run insurance.


They've also deployed lobbyists and shills to Capitol Hill to make completely dubious arguments. At a hearing about the insurance industry's anti-trust exemption, this amazing exchange occurred:

University of Arkansas business professor Lawrence Powell, who testified on behalf of the medical malpractice insurance industry.

"The best possible outcome from repealing McCarran is continuation of the status quo," he said. "However, it is also likely that repealing McCarran would have negative consequences for consumers, by decreasing competition and accuracy in insurance pricing."

Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse pointed out that the professor was relying on outdated information.

"You cite for the proposition that insurance markets are highly competitive an article by Paul Joskow. Do I have the date of that article correct, it's 1973?" he asked Powell. "I believe so," came the answer.


And, they've started to push their message out to media, getting an AP reporter to buy the canard that poor, henpecked insurance companies just don't make a lot of money.

WASHINGTON – Quick quiz: What do these enterprises have in common? Farm and construction machinery, Tupperware, the railroads, Hershey sweets, Yum food brands and Yahoo? Answer: They're all more profitable than the health insurance industry.


The missing ingredient here is scale. Tupperware is more profitable than health insurance on a percentage basis, but 1/6 of the US economy doesn't go through Tupperware. In real dollars, the insurance industry makes a mint. And remember, "profit" doesn't count salaries, not even what's given to CEOs.

The truth is that, even with this public option, insurers will do just fine in the health care bill. They get millions of new customers, with competition that is limited (not everyone can get the public plan, under even the most expansive version). But it's just not good enough for them. The notion that they might have to offer coverage with actual benefits, and not cherry-pick the healthy to pay their premiums, which would cut into those profits, is just distasteful to them. So they will fight. And we will be ready.
Author: "noreply@blogger.com (dday)" Tags: "antitrust law, Associated Press, Harry R..."
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