Rand Paul: Black Lung Regulations "Too Costly"

With some 1,500 American miners still succumbing to black lung disease every year and the number rising, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is proposing a plan to reduce the number of such deaths through the stricter regulation of coals. But Kentucky's Tea Partying Senator Rand Paul is voicing opposition to the proposed new regulations saying that they would be "too costly."

“Every regulation doesn’t save lives,” Senator Paul said at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “There is a point or a balancing act between when a regulation becomes burdensome and our energy production is stifled. We have to assess the cost.” 

By "cost", the libertarian Senator from Kentucky means the cost in dollars, not the cost in lives.

Senator Paul also argued that black lung disease is on the decline. Well this is really a case of when you pick your data point. Paul is saying that since 1970 when regulations were first enacted, black lung cases are on the decline. That's true. But also true is that they are now rising again after the Bush Administration loosened regulatory standards in 2001. Over the past decade, black lung disease has claimed the lives of over 10,000 miners.

From the Institute for Southern Studies:

Coal miners get black lung from breathing coal dust. The dust builds up in a miner's lungs and gradually reduces his ability to breathe. The body is unable to remove this dust from the lungs. Continued exposure to coal dust for a miner who has developed simple coal workers' pneumoconiosis results in complicated coal workers' pneumoconiosis marked by large, black, fibrotic scars from 2 to 10 centimeters in diameter. The lung appears blackened. Miners with black lung breathe short, raspy breaths. Black lung slowly strangles its victims to death. 

Reports from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) tell us that between 1993 and 2002, West Virginia recorded nearly 2,300 deaths as a result of black lung. West Virginia recorded the highest number of age-adjusted black lung deaths for that time period nationwide.

NIOSH also reports a rise in the number of black lung cases from 1995 to the present time, indicating 13 percent of miners with 25 or more years experience have the disease. Southern West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky and Southwestern Virginia show the largest increases. Data from the Enhanced Coal Workers' Health Surveillance Division of NIOSH report this fatal condition is appearing in miners at a younger age -- miners with less than 25 years in the mines.

 

 

Senator Paul said that he was concerned that these new MSHA regulations, the rules were actually first proposed last October, where too costly base on projections made by National Mining Association (NMA). The NMA told the Louisville Courier-Journal would cost the industry $1.8 billion in lost revenues, a figure the MSHA disputes.

This Tuesday marked the first anniversary of the Upper Big Branch tragedy in West Virginia. Twenty-nine out of 31miners at the site owned and operated by Massey Energy were killed making the Upper Big Branch the worst mining disaster in the United States since 1970. While the disaster has brought some renewed interest to mining standards and safety, Republicans continue to stymie any efforts to tighten mining regulation. For them, profits come before lives.

 

 

Virginia Limits Abortion Coverage

Lawmakers in Virginia have approved an amendment that would ban private insurance plans from covering abortions if they participate in the commonwealth's health care exchange. Virginia thus joins at least seven other states that have passed bans on coverage of abortion in state health care exchanges. Over the weekend, Republican Governor Bob McDonnell had quietly amended a bill that outlined how Virginia would create a health exchange, inserting a provision that barring participating insurance companies from covering abortions except when the mother's life is in danger or the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the states must set up health benefit exchanges by 2014, allowing individuals and small businesses to pool their buying power and choose coverage plans offered by private insurers. While Federal law prohibits Federal funding for abortions, the new law allows plans in the exchanges to cover abortions as long as they collect a separate premium from policy holders and that money is kept apart from Federal subsidies.

Increasingly however, Republican controlled legislatures are adding restrictions that would prevent insurance companies from offering any coverage of abortion. Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee passed bans last year after the federal legislation was approved, and at least 20 states are considering doing the same. 

In response to Governor McDonnell's assault on the reproductive freedom of women in the commonwealth, Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia said "It flies in the face of free market principles and limited government, which is what the governor always says he supports." Perhaps but we all know that when it comes to our sex lives, the GOP jettisons its so called principles.

And yet despite this rather severe restriction on reproductive freedom, religious conservatives believe that the bill does not go far enough. The Washington Post has some more background on the debate in Virginia.

Governor McDonnell is also on a bit of roll. He also restored nearly $1 million in abstinence-only educational funding that legislators had stripped out of his proposed budget and he is working to kill a proposal that would for the first time allow gay couples to adopt children in Virginia saying he thinks that the current nondiscrimination regulations are “proper,” but should not be expanded to “inhibit the very fine work some faith-based organizations are doing.”

Around the World

News from around the globe impacting your world.

Portugal Seeks Relief for Its Troubled Banks. The caretaker government of Socialist Prime Minister José Socrates announced he was asking for financing from the European Union on Wednesday, saying the risks to the economy had now become too great to go it alone as borrowing rates soared in recent weeks. More from Reuters.

China Levels Charges Against Dissident. Ai Weiwei, best known for designing the 'Bird's Nest' stadium for the 2008 Olympics, has been charged with "economic crimes" by Chinese authorities. The 53 year old artist was seized by border police Sunday at the Beijing airport as he prepared to board a flight to Hong Kong. He is the latest dissident detained in a series of arrests that began in February. Other high-profile dissidents held by Chinese authorities include Noble Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo and blind activist Chen Guangcheng. More from the Los Angeles Times.

Meanwhile US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman has called upon Beijing to ease its crackdown against political dissidents. Speaking on Sino-US ties at a function held in Shanghai Wednesday, Huntsman said there was room for improvement in bilateral diplomatic ties. He said US envoys to Beijing would continue to speak out publicly in support of dissidents activists Ai Weiwei and others. More on this side of the story from RTT News.

French Forces in Côte d'Ivoire Fighting. French forces hit military vehicles belonging to troops loyal to strongman Laurent Gbagbo during a helicopter-borne mission that rescued Japan's ambassador to the West African country today after Gbagbo's soldiers broke into the residence of Ambassador Yoshifumi Okamura. The full story in The Independent.

India Opens Talks with Japan. India and Japan today started an economic-strategic talks that promises to have important strategic ramifications regarding balancing China. More from The Times of India.

China's Bubble Economy. The Asia Sentinel examines the Chinese economy warning that an inevitable slowdown will affect the entire world – from commodity producers to governments issuing debt. The ramifications of a meaningful slowdown in Chinese economic activity are profound, ranging from the risk of widespread social instability to a collapse of several commodity markets.

Bank of England Holds Rate Steady. The Bank of England kept its benchmark interest rate at 0.5 percent, a record low for the 26th consecutive month, as policy makers judged the need to aid the recovery took precedence over the fastest inflation in more than two years. More from Bloomberg News.

Beyond Obama

If over the past few months, I've thought about anything it is how the presidential prospects for the Democratic Party post-Obama aren't exactly glimmering with hope. It is pretty evident that in this coming 2012 electoral cycle for progressives in particular and for Democrats generally, there is really no alternative to supporting the President's re-election even if lukewarmly. No doubt, Barack Obama is a huge disappointment to progressives but whom else do we have? 

It gets worse when you start thinking about 2016. Look at the Republicans and you'll find a plethora of possible candidates. There's Rep. Paul Ryan with his Path to Perdition and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida who is beginning to raise his profile positioning himself as the Hispanic reincarnation of Ronald Reagan. Also waiting in the wings is the current object of pachyderm affection, New Jersey's Chris Christie. Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty could conceivably run again, so could Newt Gingrich not mention the loony twins Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann. On the more moderate side, there's even former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman. Even the libertarians can boast Gary Johnson of New Mexico and Rand Paul of Kentucky. But what about the Democrats?

There just aren't that many Democrats with a national profile at the moment or even Democrats in a position to raise their national profile and that should concern us. The New York Times does profile one Democrat today who apparently does harbor national ambitions but if you read the lead in you're not exactly left with a warm glow.

He has clashed with unions, who he believes have helped drive his state into bankruptcy. He has been praised by prominent conservatives like Sarah Palin and Rudolph W. Giuliani. And he has taken thousands of dollars in campaign money from the New York billionaire David H. Koch, who with his family has financed the Tea Party movement.

His name: Andrew M. Cuomo, the governor of New York, a state where Democrats dominate and where his father, Mario M. Cuomo, is still invoked as a paragon of activist government and liberal principle.

In his first months in office, Governor Cuomo is taking a different tack. The man who began public life advocating for homeless people won passage of a budget that makes steep cuts to schools, health care and social services. In a year when Wall Street posted record profits, Mr. Cuomo firmly rejected a politically popular income tax surcharge on the wealthy that was sought by many Democratic lawmakers. And Mr. Cuomo has promised to press for a cap on local property taxes, an idea with its modern roots in the conservative-led California tax revolt of the 1970s.

Mr. Cuomo’s approach to governing has burnished his prospects for higher office — an ambition he neither confirms nor denies — playing against the conventional stereotype of a New York Democrat and drawing praise from the political right (some of it, perhaps, not entirely sincere). Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican, has called Mr. Cuomo “my soul mate.” The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page has praised Mr. Cuomo’s “ruptures with Democratic orthodoxy.”

But Mr. Cuomo’s choices have also rankled some former allies and stirred suspicions among some fellow Democrats about his motivation.

“Governor Cuomo wants to be president, and he would do anything to be president,” State Senator Rubén Díaz Sr., a Bronx Democrat, said in a speech on the Senate floor as lawmakers debated the budget whose terms were largely dictated by Mr. Cuomo. “He would take away the Medicare from the people,” Mr. Díaz said, “he would take the services from the poor, he would take the money from education.”

We have five years to find an alternative to Andrew Cuomo.

Kloppenburg Takes a Narrow 234 Vote Lead in Wisconsin

With 3,629 precincts out of 3,630 reporting on the Associated Press' spreadsheet, Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg has 739,589 votes to incumbent Judge David Prosser's 739,355 for a slight lead of 234 votes. The sole remaining precinct is in Jefferson county where Prosser won 58 percent of the vote. It's not clear how many votes remain outstanding but the likelihood that Prosser would be able to overcome the margin is unlikely though certainly within the realm of possibility.

No matter the outcome, it is clear that a recount will be triggered. Gear up for a protracted legal battle.

UPDATE: WTMJ Channel 4 is reporting a final unofficial tally that gives JoAnne Kloppenburg a 219 vote lead.

Glenn Beck to "Transition Off" a Daily Show at Fox News

The notorious fact-averse, conspiracy-laden, tear-prone, pseudo-libertarian and religious zealot Glenn Beck will end his daily Fox News Channel program later this year. His departure was jointly announced in a statement on Wednesday by Fox and Mr. Beck’s company, Mercury Radio Arts. The statement did not specify an end date for the show, called “Glenn Beck,” which has been telecast at 5 PM on Fox News since early 2009.

Here is the release:

FOX NEWS AND MERCURY RADIO ARTS ANNOUNCE NEW AGREEMENT
(New York, NY)  Fox News and Mercury Radio Arts, Glenn Beck’s production company, are proud to announce that they will work together to develop and produce a variety of television projects for air on the Fox News Channel as well as content for other platforms including Fox News’ digital properties. Glenn intends to transition off of his daily program, the third highest rated in all of cable news, later this year.

Roger Ailes, Chairman and CEO of Fox News said, “Glenn Beck is a powerful communicator, a creative entrepreneur and a true success by anybody’s standards.  I look forward to continuing to work with him. ”

Glenn Beck said: “I truly believe that America owes a lot to Roger Ailes and Fox News. I cannot repay Roger for the lessons I’ve learned and will continue to learn from him and I look forward to starting this new phase of our partnership.”

Joel Cheatwood, SVP/Development at Fox News, will be joining Mercury Radio Arts effective April 24, 2011. Part of his role as EVP will be to manage the partnership and serve as a liaison with the Fox News Channel.

Roger Ailes said:  “Joel is a good friend and one of the most talented and creative executives in the business. Over the past four years I have consistently valued his input and advice and that will not stop as we work with him in his new role.”

“Glenn Beck” is consistently the third highest rated program on cable news.

For the 27 months that “Glenn Beck” has aired on Fox News, the program has averaged more than 2.2 million total viewers and 563,000 viewers 25-54 years old, numbers normally associated with shows airing in primetime, not at 5pm. “Glenn Beck” has dominated all of its cable news competitors since launch.


According to the release, Beck will be transitioning to a new role at Fox helping to develop a variety of programs for Fox News and its digital properties. Oh joy.

The Elephant in the Room

I remain rather incredulous how any serious deficit reduction plan doesn't include the obvious necessity of raising taxes on the wealthy. For a bunch of pachyderms, today's GOP is surely missing the elephant in the room.

If there is one truth teller in the country today, it certainly isn't Paul Ryan, it is Robert Reich, the former Labor Secretary during the Clinton Administration and currently a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. This past week, before Rep. Ryan unveiled yet another proposal to lower the top marginal rate on the supra-wealthy to just 25 percent, Robert Reich wrote in his blog on Truth Out:

Here’s the truth: The only way America can reduce the long-term budget deficit, maintain vital services, protect Social Security and Medicare, invest more in education and infrastructure, and not raise taxes on the working middle class is by raising taxes on the super rich.

Even if we got rid of corporate welfare subsidies for big oil, big agriculture, and big Pharma – even if we cut back on our bloated defense budget – it wouldn’t be nearly enough.

The vast majority of Americans can’t afford to pay more. Despite an economy that’s twice as large as it was thirty years ago, the bottom 90 percent are still stuck in the mud. If they’re employed they’re earning on average only about $280 more a year than thirty years ago, adjusted for inflation. That’s less than a 1 percent gain over more than a third of a century. (Families are doing somewhat better but that’s only because so many families now have to rely on two incomes.)

Yet even as their share of the nation’s total income has withered, the tax burden on the middle has grown. Today’s working and middle-class taxpayers are shelling out a bigger chunk of income in payroll taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes than thirty years ago.

It’s just the opposite for super rich.

The top 1 percent’s share of national income has doubled over the past three decades (from 10 percent in 1981 to well over 20 percent now). The richest one-tenth of 1 percent’s share has tripled. And they’re doing better than ever. According to a new analysis by the Wall Street Journal, total compensation and benefits at publicly-traded Wall Street banks and securities firms hit a record in 2010 — $135 billion. That’s up 5.7 percent from 2009.

Yet, remarkably, taxes on the top have plummeted. From the 1940s until 1980, the top tax income tax rate on the highest earners in America was at least 70 percent. In the 1950s, it was 91 percent. Now it’s 35 percent. Even if you include deductions and credits, the rich are now paying a far lower share of their incomes in taxes than at any time since World War II.

Congressman Ryan calls his budget proposal the "Path to Prosperity"; a more apt title is the "Road to Ruin" or perhaps the "Path to Perdition." This is a budget that seeks to remedy our fiscal problems by increasing the tax burden on the dwindling middle class while callously and immorally destroying the last vestiges of our rather limited to begin with social safety net for the poor and elderly while granting the supra-wealthy yet another tax break. It's time to address the elephant in the room and return to a more equitable progressive tax scheme. 

An Attack in the Sudan Raises Questions

This story is getting scant, if any, attention in the Western media but Sudanese authorities revealed on Tuesday that a Sonata vehicle was destroyed as a result of an attack in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan by either missiles or from a jet. From The Sudan Tribune:

Multiple security sources told Sudan Tribune that the two men who were inside the car and killed instantly, had just arrived in town through Port Sudan airport.

Their identities however, remain unknown and the sources said that both men appear to have been under the careful watch of the party that carried out the attack throughout their stay in the country.

The Sudanese Media Center Website (SMC) which is widely believed to be run by the country’s security bureau, was the first to report the news saying that a foreign plane launched the attack at 9 pm local time (1800 GMT) in an area known as Kalaneeb which was described as 14 kilometers away from the coastal city of Port Sudan and on the main road leading to the regional airport.

It further reported that Sudanese ant-aircraft defenses responded with heavy fire forcing the plane to flee their airspace.

However, in the early morning hours of Wednesday SMC quoted the deputy Red Sea governor Salah Sir Al-Khitim Kenna as saying that no planes were involved and that it was only a missile fired against the target but did not elaborate.

Earlier today, the police issued a statement saying that a missile hit the car "from an unknown source" but added that it was likely fired from the Red Sea. It also gave a different time for when this took place saying it happened at 8:05 PM (17:05 GMT)

The confusion is exacerbated by separate remarks made by the deputy chairman of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in the Red Sea state Mohamed Tahir Hussein who said that eyewitnesses told him that a plane came from the Red Sea, hit the car and headed back.

Hussein added that "mystery" surrounds the identity of the attackers but he pointed fingers at Israel’s spy agency (Mossad) and suggested that the planes belongs to them and was tracking down arms smugglers.

"This is absolutely an Israeli attack," Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti was quoted by the online edition of the left-leaning Israeli daily Haaretz. Israeli officials, as is their custom, are declining to comment.

This wouldn't be the first attack by Israel on targets in the Sudan. In January 2009, Israeli warplanes attacked a convoy of trucks in Sudan killing 39 people according to US intelligence though the Sudanese government claims 119 people were killed. That attack was confirmed by US intelligence as having been carried out by Israeli warplanes. Then US officials, citing classified intelligence, claimed that there had been intelligence reports that an operative from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps was in Sudan at the time, coordinating the effort to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip. 

Whereas the January 2009 attack clearly targeted a convoy of illegal Iranian arms bound for Gaza, it's less clear why Israel felt compelled to use such overwhelming force - either aircraft or missiles - to kill two men in a car.

Around the World

News from around the globe impacting your world.

Ecuador Expels US Ambassador. The government of Ecuador has declared Susan Hodges, the U.S. ambassador to the small Andean country, a "persona non grata," demanding the envoy leave over disparaging remarks made by her about the country's police chief, Jaime Hurtado Vaco. The remarks were revealed in the leaked Wikileaks cables. The full story in the Los Angeles Times.

Germany's Free Democrats Select a New Leader. The pro-business Free Democrat Party (FDP) have selected Philipp Rösler to replace outgoing party leader Guido Westerwelle. Rösler, 38, was born in Ba Xuyen Province in 1973 in what was then South Vietnam and adopted by a German couple at the age of nine months. Rösler, a physician, currently serves as the Health Minister in Chancellor Merkel's cabinet. He is expected to retain that post and not assume the post of Foreign Minister that Mr Westerwelle held. The FDP has been in a free fall ever since Westerwelle led the FDP to its best-ever general election results in September 2009 when it garnered 14.6 percent of the vote. Since then however, the FDP has had disastrous losses in three major state elections in Saxony-Anhalt, Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. Under Westerwelle, the FDP came to be seen as a party predominantly focused on getting tax breaks for its core corporate constituency. More from Der Spiegel.

Inflation Pressures in Emergent Asian Economies. Asia's emerging economies, a diverse group of economies that includes China, India, Azerbaijan, Thailand and Fiji among others, are expected to grow 7.8 percent in 2011 and 7.7 percent in 2012, robust rates albeit slower than the 9 percent seen in 2010, the Asian Development Bank said in its latest Asian Development Outlook report. At the same time, inflation is expected to quicken to an average 5.3 percent this year from 4.4 percent in 2010, before easing to 4.6 percent in 2012, the ADB said. Some countries such as Vietnam and Pakistan could see inflation rates climb well into the double digits. More from Reuters India.

In related news, China's central bank increased interest rates on Tuesday for the fourth time since October, raising suspicions that data next week may show inflation rose more than expected in March. China is due to report the March consumer price index on April 15. Economists expect the data to show that consumer inflation rose to 5.1 percent in March, matching a 28-month high seen in November. China has set a 4.0 percent target for inflation in 2011.

India Bans Japanese Food Imports. India has imposed a three-month ban on imports of food articles from the whole of Japan on fears that radiation from an earthquake-hit nuclear plant was spreading to other parts of the country, becoming the first country to introduce a blanket ban.

Negotiations Ongoing in the Côte d'Ivoire. France and the United Nations forces continue to prepare the framework for strongman Laurent Gbagbo's departure after air strikes prove decisive in battle with opposition. The crisis has sent 130,000 refugees across the border into Liberia, displaced up to a million people internally and set a toll which is expected to rise sharply from the 1,300 deaths reported so far. More from All Africa.

In Wisconsin Supreme Court Race, A Deadlock

In the closely watched Supreme Court race in Wisconsin, a contest with national implications, with 97 percent of the precincts reporting the incumbent conservative-leaning Justice David Prosser clung to a narrow lead over the liberal-leaning Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg of fewer than 2,000 votes. More from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Justice David Prosser clung to a narrow lead over Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg in the state Supreme Court race early Wednesday, after a hard-fought campaign dominated by political forces and outside interest groups.

But even with 97% of the vote counted, less than 2,000 votes separated the candidates.

That close margin had political insiders from both sides talking about the possibility of a recount, which Wisconsin has avoided in statewide races in recent decades. Any recount could be followed by lawsuits - litigation that potentially would be decided by the high court.

The razor-thin result was the latest twist in Wisconsin's ongoing political turmoil. The state has drawn the attention of the nation in recent weeks because of the fight over collective bargaining, which caused massive weeks-long protests in the Capitol, a boycott of the Senate by Democrats and attempts to recall senators from both parties.

Interest groups on both sides had portrayed the election as a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker's agenda and particularly on a controversial law sharply restricting public employee unions. Conservatives backed Prosser, and liberals supported Kloppenburg, even though the candidates themselves insisted they were politically neutral.

Legal challenges to the new law - which would eliminate most collective bargaining for most public employees - are expected to reach the high court, but it's not clear if the justices would take up the case before Tuesday's winner is scheduled to be sworn in Aug. 1.

A recount seems likely. Either candidate can request a recount once the votes have been officially canvassed. If the margin between the candidates is less than 0.5 percent, there is no charge to the candidate to conduct the recount. If the margin is between 0.5 percent and 2 percent, the candidate asking for the recount must pay $5 per ward.

As of 2:14 AM CDT, Justice David Prosser held a 585 vote lead over Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg. Prosser has received 733,074 votes to Kloppenburg's 732,489 votes.

UPDATE: The margin with 99 percent of precincts reporting remains 585 votes. However, of the 34 uncounted precincts, most of them are in counties that voted for Kloppenburg, including 12 in Milwaukee and 1 in Dane (which includes Madison).

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