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Labor: Tragedy At A Non-Union Mine

Yesterday, the AFL-CIO held a forum for Democratic presidential candidates in Chicago, allowing working men and women to ask the candidates questions on issues that affect working families. The issues posed were so gripping that commentators said they could "change American political history."

August 8, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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LABOR

Tragedy At A Non-Union Mine

Yesterday, the AFL-CIO held a forum for Democratic presidential candidates in Chicago, allowing working men and women to ask the candidates questions on issues that affect working families. The issues posed were so gripping that commentators said they could “change American political history.” Specifically, the questions raised at the debate on workplace safety and unionization rights are now more pressing than ever in the wake of continuing efforts to rescue six workers trapped in the collapsed Crandall Canyon mine in Utah. Despite unions ensuring that miners work in safe environments, President Bush has gone to lengths to gut workplace safety standards and union strength. While the exact cause of the mine collapse is currently under debate, the tragedy has raised important questions about the safety standards of the miners that have been neglected under the Bush administration.

THE NEED FOR UNIONS: The Crandall Canyon mine, which employed non-union labor, has run up “a record of more than 300 safety violations, of which 118 were considered to be serious enough to cause injury or death.” The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) union is sharply critical of the mine’s safety record. “If it were one of our union mines, we wouldn’t allow the pattern to continue,” said Bob Butero of the UMWA, noting that an effort to organize mine workers failed six or seven years ago. Mine owner Bob Murray — who yesterday boasted about his “non-union mine” — is notorious among miners for his union-busting history. After 13 miners were trapped and killed in the Sago mine in West Virginia in early 2006, Murray attacked proposed state safety reforms as “seriously flawed, knee-jerk” reactions. In Ohio, he refused to hire union workers because of their “costly health and pension benefits“; in another operation, he paid his workers “less than $3 an hour.” At a press briefing yesterday, Murray used a media appearance to criticize global warming proponents, and only later “emphasized that his heart and his priorities are with the trapped miners and their families.” He urged the press to “not believe anything [the UMWA] says about the disaster.”

A PREVENTABLE TRAGEDY?: At the presidential forum last night, one widow whose husband died in a mine accident “asked how candidates would strengthen worker safety laws,” as mine safety standards have plummeted under the Bush administration. Last year, 40 miners were killed on the job, more than any year since 2001. Early in his administration, Bush appointed mining executive David Lauriski to head the Mine Safety Health Administration (MSHA), who then rescinded “more than a half-dozen proposals intended to make coal miners’ jobs safer.” In 2006, Bush recess-appointed former Murray Energy executive Richard Stickler, whom the Senate had twice rejected because the mines he managed “incurred injury rates double the national average.” In March 2007, the AFL-CIO warned that MSHA was “moving too slowly on mine safety” and that “another Sago [is] possible.”The Utah tragedy “happened too soon” for reforms after Sago to be implemented, as “government-mandated changes involving communication and tracking equipment do not take effect until 2009.” “Manufacturing delays” prevented the Utah mine from stockpiling the required four days of food, water and oxygen. “In all, the Bush administration abandoned or delayed implementation of 18 proposed safety rules that were in the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s regulatory pipeline in early 2001, a review of agency records shows.” Nonetheless, Stickler believes that “no new laws or regulations are needed.”

ASSAULT ON THE WORKPLACE: Several of Bush’s top regulatory appointments — from Susan Dudley to Michael Baroody (who later withdrew his nomination) — are industry allies who oppose stringent worker and consumer safety requirements. In April, a New York Times expose showed how the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “charged with overseeing workplace safety,” has placed safety “in the hands of industry.” The agency “had killed dozens of existing and proposed regulations and delayed adopting others” by the end of 2001, and it has since “vowed to limit new rules and roll back what it considered cumbersome regulations that imposed unnecessary costs on businesses and consumers.” From opposing the Employee Free Choice Act to appointing “easily the most anti-worker labor board in history,” the Bush administration has denied the right to organize to at least “8 million workers in 200 occupations.”

UNDER THE RADAR

IRAQ — TRAVELING COMPANION OF O’HANLON AND POLLACK CONTRADICTS ROSY IRAQ ASSESSMENT: After an eight-day trip in Iraq, Brookings Institution analysts Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack last week published an op-ed in the New York Times stating that we are “finally getting somewhere in Iraq.” But O’Hanlon and Pollack were not alone on their military-planned trip. Center for Strategic and International Studies analyst Anthony Cordesman, who traveled with them, came to very different conclusions on the success of President Bush’s escalation strategy. “It is scarcely surprising that my perceptions of a recent trip to Iraq are different from that of two of my traveling companions,” Cordesman wrote in his trip report. “From my perspective, the US now has only uncertain, high risk options in Iraq. It cannot dictate Iraq’s future, only influence it, and this presents serious problems at a time when the Iraqi political process has failed to move forward in reaching either a new consensus or some form of peaceful coexistence.” Though Cordesman does note some signs of progress, he concludes that there is only a “tenuous case for strategic patience in Iraq,” which is greatly at odds with Pollack and O’Hanlon’s contention that the current strategy has the “potential” to produce “a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.” Talking Points Memo’s Greg Sargent wonders, “Will Cordesman’s conclusions get anywhere near the same level of media attention that the big news orgs lavished on O’Hanlon and Pollack?”

RADICAL RIGHT — RIGHT-WING PREACHER PLANS FUNERAL PROTESTS AGAINST VICTIMS OF MINNEAPOLIS BRIDGE COLLAPSE: 
Right-wing preacher Fred Phelps’s “anti-gay hate group Westboro Baptist Church” is planning “protests at funerals of victims of the 35W bridge collapse to state that God made the bridge fall because he hates America, and especially Minnesota, because of its tolerance of homosexuality.” Shortly after the bridge’s collapse, the Westboro group put out a release headlined, “Thank God for Minneapolis Bridge Collapse.” This instance is far not the first time Phelps has exploitedcalamity and catastrophe to promote his right-wing cause. In response to the July 2005 London attacks, Phelps posted a release stating, “Thank God for the bombing of London’s subway today — July 7, 2005 — wherein dozens were killed and hundreds seriously injured. Wish it was many more.” Phelps’s cult has also traveled the country disrupting military funerals, picketing dozens of burial services with messages such as “Thank God For AIDS” and “God Hates Fags.” These “protests” forced Congress to pass the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act in 2006, which “bars protests within 500 feet of a military cemetery from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral if those protests involve disruptive noises or other disturbances.” Banned from military funerals, Phelps is excited to be taking his hate agenda to the victims in Minneapolis. 

ENVIRONMENT —  U.N. WEATHER REPORT FINDS ‘HOT EXTREMES’ MORE FREQUENT:
According to a report released yesterday by the U.N. World Meteorological Organization (WMO), this year has already “experienced a range of weather extremes…well outside the historical norm and is a precursor of much greater weather variability as global warming transforms the planet.” The report concluded that “hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent,” leading to “an increase in extreme events as the global temperatures rise.” Consequently, “Europe and the United States are likely to become more prone to flooding and areas closer to the equator will experience more drought.” The increase in extreme weather events is “happening more quickly than earlier models predicted, which tells us that the effects of the buildup of greenhouse gases is probably more damaging than we’ve thought.” Yesterday speaking in Singapore, Al Gore lambasted the misinformation campaign led by the world’s leading carbon polluters. “There has been an organized campaign, financed to the tune of about $10 million a year from some of the largest carbon polluters, to create the impression that there is disagreement in the scientific community,” said Gore. “In actuality, there is very little disagreement.”

THINK FAST

During the debate over FISA last week, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell told congressional leaders he was getting intense pressure from “the other side.” His changes of position left some members suggesting that he “had become a puppet for the White House.” Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) called McConnell’s role in the debate an “unsatisfactory, even embarrassing performance.”

“The Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, a coalition that includes MoveOn, is mounting a multimillion-dollar campaign aimed at 23 senators and 70 representatives to chip away at support for Bush’s war strategy. The 10-week-long campaign includes nearly 100 organizers in 15 states.”

“Four U.S. military personnel and a British soldier have been killed in attacks, military officials said yesterday, raising the number of U.S. deaths in August to 19 in a possible sign that extremists are regrouping after a decline in U.S. casualties last month.”

The AP writes that President Bush “need only look in the mirror” to see the type of American who still supports him: “a conservative, white, Republican man, an evangelical Christian who goes to church regularly.” Bush’s approval rating is now at just 29 percent.

Adults aged 19 to 29 are the biggest group of the newly uninsured,” composing “30 percent of the 45 million Americans without health insurance in 2005.”

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused far more dislocation to Louisiana’s population than previously estimated.” Earlier studies of New Orleans suggested that 226,000 residents left after the storm. The new study finds that about “246,000 left the city, about 50,000 moved from one house in the city to another, and about 20,000 moved in from elsewhere.”

And finally: “At a hearing Wednesday before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Management, Investigations and Oversight, Chairman Christopher Carney (D-Pa.) made an awkward foray into hip-hop parlance when he gave special props to one of the witnesses testifying before his panel. ‘Tip of the hat to the homies here,’ was his greeting to a subcommittee guest.”

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GOOD NEWS

FEMA “has done an about-face” and announced that it “will immediately stop using, buying and selling disaster-relief trailers because they could be contaminated with formaldehyde.”

STATE WATCH

NEW YORK: New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D): “Humility has to be more than just a talking point.”

MASSACHUSETTS: Lawmakers are set to renew standards to ensure school children have access to nutritious foods.

VIRGINIA: “Ex-gay” group allowed to distribute scientifically-unsound “conversion” materials to public school children.

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Editorials on FISA: “Unnecessary and dangerous expansion of President Bush’s powers.”

MEDIA MATTERS: On Fox News, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer mischaracterized the new FISA law as limited to foreign-to-foreign communications.

COMMON SENSE: In an effort to defend President Bush’s opposition to an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Department of Health and Human Services sent copycat letters to the editor under different names.

THE NOTION: Operation Straight Up, an official arm of the Pentagon’s America Supports You program, plans to mail copies of a controversial apocalyptic video game to soldiers serving in Iraq.

DAILY GRILL

“Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms.”
— Brookings Institution analysts Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, 7/30/07

VERSUS

“From my perspective, the US now has only uncertain, high risk options in Iraq. It cannot dictate Iraq’s future, only influence it, and this presents serious problems at a time when the Iraqi political process has failed to move forward in reaching either a new consensus or some form of peaceful coexistence.”
— Center for Strategic and International Studies analyst Anthony Cordesman, 8/6/07, on his recent trip to Iraq with O’Hanlon and Pollack