Thoughts From a Hospital Bed

Esquire

Thoughts From a Hospital Bed

And what it means to be healthy, or unhealthy, in the United States of 2017.

By Charles P. Pierce    May 3, 2017

I wasn’t awake for 30 minutes Wednesday morning before the panel on MSNBC’s Morning Zoo Crew made me wish that there was a procedure by which they could put my gallbladder back, just so they could take it out again. The subject was Hillary Rodham Clinton’s appearance at a woman’s conference on Tuesday. First, Harold Ford came on—and who’s more of an expert of losing winnable elections than Harold Ford, Jr.?—and said that, instead of talking about the election just passed, HRC should be out there talking about “what she would be doing as president.”

Just thinking about the reactions in many quarters, from this bunch, from The New York Times’ Washington Bureau, if she actually did this—She’s Delusional! She Thinks She’s President!—made me long to be back on Toradol again. (By the way, if you know anyone who wonders why NFL players do what they call “riding the T train” before every game, send that person to me. Toradol is very good at its job.) Then, Mika informed us that one of the major blunders of the Clinton campaign was that it didn’t realize that the arrival of Donald Trump “changed the moral calculus” of the race and would sideline Bill Clinton as a political asset. That got me longing to start the whole process again, perhaps with a rusty lawnmower blade.

I can’t leave you alone for a minute, America.

So anyway, this happened. Last Tuesday, I awoke in the middle of the night feeling as though I’d swallowed an ankylosaurus, spiked tail and all. (It was a good day for dinosaur news, because it’s always a good day for dinosaur news, but it wasn’t a good day for metaphorical dinosaur news.) That brought me to the emergency room. The next afternoon, I felt as though someone was pounding a railroad spike into my right side. After a series of tests that covered 14 hours and included an endoscopy, an ultrasound, an MRI, and a more elaborate MRI, it was determined that the ol’ gallbladder had run the race, that it had to come out, but that it had not made the argument for its removal in a conventional way. I had, as they said, “an atypical presentation of a common condition.”

New title for the memoirs!

So, anyway, this happened. Before relieving me of the offending organ, the surgeon and I were chatting, and he mentioned that, in college, he’d played defensive tackle at Trinity College in Connecticut, in which capacity he annually ran into a plucky offensive lineman named…Bill Belichick. So that was weird.

The staff at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, all of them, will always have my thanks and prayers. But although Jimmy Kimmel beat me to this by a couple of days, what continued to strike me over the past week was the fact that the critical element in my care was that I could afford it.

The critical element in my care was that I could afford it.

After a while, the Toradol and I conjured up a guy in Mississippi who worked in a plastics plant. (He also works at the local Piggly Wiggly to make ends meet.) Last Tuesday, he wakes up in the middle of the night with the anklyosaurus in his gullet. He probably downs an over-the-counter stomach medicine. The next day, at work, he feels the railroad spike’s being driven in. He has to make calculations in currencies with which I am not familiar and in which I am not fluent. Antibiotics exchanged for food, school fees bartered for an ultrasound. Or maybe he just soldiers through, day after day, until a chronic condition becomes catastrophic and the ankylosaurus breaks through into his life like the critter from Alien leaping from John Hurt’s chest. I really got to like this guy. I wished him well.

From this standpoint, with my Mississippi plastics worker hanging out at the side of my bed, I watched the Republicans fall all over themselves trying to destroy the Affordable Care Act while pretending they weren’t doing that very thing. (An atypical presentation of a common condition.) For a good, long, healthy while, I was completely one of The American People, my privileged view of our democratic follies clouded for a moment by more than just the pharmaceuticals. I was looking through a haze of frustration and pain, and considerable anger, for me and for my phantom pal from the plastics plant. Human health is not a commodity, to be bargained and sold and traded as though it were any other consumer good.

I was lying in a hospital, doped to the gills, chatting in my mind with an imaginary fellow citizen, and I could figure that out. Why in bloody hell can’t they? They’re out to wreck the only piece of effective legislation that made this a little easier for me and for my pal that has emerged in the last half-century. Everything about the proposed replacement is cruelly inadequate, because that’s what it was designed to be. The pre-existing conditions protections are cheesecloth; the high-risk pools are guaranteed to bring us back to the days of generally unaffordable premiums. It’s still a tax bill dressed up as healthcare reform, which is like calling a crop subsidy a law enforcement measure.

And hand things back to the states? To Sam Brownback’s Kansas, or Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, or even my phantom companion’s Mississippi? Somehow, doing this, bringing millions of Americans back to the brink of a cliff they’d almost forgotten over eight years, makes those Americans more free? This is crazy. I turned on the hockey game.

Human health is not a commodity, to be bargained and sold and traded as though it were any other consumer good.

The debate on the essential American political identity—which I contend began in all modern contexts with the belated acknowledgement of the rights granted to African-American citizens in the wake of the Civil War—has not even half-begun. The question of who we are as a nation is as unresolved as it ever has been. The value of the political commons—and the distribution of the benefits thereof—is still in a perilous place. The notion that the American republic is an ongoing experiment in self-government is one to which I still subscribe, but, dammit, these days, we seem to be closer than ever to the moment when that experiment turns to one of complete devolution, as we walk the republic back through all the mistakes of the past from which we’d thought we learned. Hell, the Greeks knew that social inequality was the route through which democracy turns to oligarchy. We were supposed to have learned that in 1787.

Also, in case you haven’t noticed, the president* of the United States is bughouse bananas and he’s getting worse.

So, anyway, all this happened. My family and I would like to thank you magnificent bastids, one and all, for the great outpouring of thoughts, prayers, good wishes, and raisings of the glass that came to us from all across the Intertoobz. There’s something stirring out in the land, I swear to god there is, and I’m glad we’re all here in this thing called life together.

So, anyway, that all happened. The shebeen is open again, praise be. God bless all here!

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A look at the House Republican health care bill

Associated Press May 4, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans on Thursday passed legislation to roll back much of former President Barack Obama’s health care law. The legislation would rework subsidies for private insurance, limit federal spending on Medicaid for low-income people and cut taxes on upper-income individuals used to finance Obama’s overhaul.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Republican bill would result in 24 million fewer people having health insurance by 2026, compared to Obama’s 2010 statute.

Here are key elements of the bill:

__Ends tax penalties Obama’s law imposes on individuals who don’t purchase health insurance and on larger employers who don’t offer coverage to workers.

__Halts extra payments Washington sends states to expand Medicaid to additional poorer Americans, and forbids states that haven’t already expanded Medicaid to do so. Changes Medicaid from an open-ended program that covers beneficiaries’ costs to one that gives states fixed amounts of money annually.

__Erases Obama’s subsidies for people buying individual policies based mostly on consumers’ incomes and premium costs. Replaces them with tax credits that grow with age that must be used to defray premiums. The credits are refundable, which means they can go to people with little or no tax liability. Credits may not be used to buy policies that provide abortion coverage.

__Repeals Obama’s taxes on people with higher incomes and on insurance companies, prescription drugmakers, some medical devices, expensive employer-provided insurance plans and tanning salons. Obama’s law has used the revenue to help pay for expanded coverage.

__Requires insurers to apply 30 percent surcharges to customers who’ve let coverage lapse for more than 63 days in the past year. This would include people with pre-existing medical conditions.

__Lets states get federal waivers allowing insurers to charge older customers higher premiums than younger ones by as much as they’d like. Obama’s law limits the difference to a 3-1 ratio.

__States can get waivers exempting insurers from providing consumers with required coverage of specified health services, including hospital and outpatient care, pregnancy and mental health treatment.

__States can get waivers from Obama’s prohibition against insurers charging higher premiums to people with pre-existing health problems, but only if the person has had a gap in insurance coverage. States could get those waivers if they have mechanisms like high-risk pools that are supposed to help cover people with serious, expensive-to-treat diseases. Critics say these pools are often under-funded and ineffective.

___Provides $8 billion over five years to help states finance their high-risk pools. This late addition, aimed at winning over votes, is on top of $130 billion over a decade in the bill for states to help people afford coverage.

__Retains Obama’s requirement that family policies cover grown children to age 26, and its prohibition against varying premiums because of a customer’s gender.

___

Sources: U.S. Congress, The Associated Press, Kaiser Family Foundation

GOP Health Care Bill Would Cut About $765 Billion In Taxes Over 10 Years

NPR Politics

GOP Health Care Bill Would Cut About $765 Billion In Taxes Over 10 Years

Scott Horsley   May 4, 2017  

The Affordable Care Act took money from the rich to help pay for health insurance for the poor. The repeal bill passed by House Republicans would do the opposite. The health care bill passed by the House on Thursday is a win for the wealthy, in terms of taxes.

While the Affordable Care Act raised taxes on the rich to subsidize health insurance for the poor, the repeal-and-replace bill passed by House Republicans would redistribute hundreds of billions of dollars in the opposite direction. It would deliver a sizable tax cut to the rich, while reducing government subsidies for Medicaid recipients and those buying coverage on the individual market.

Tax hikes reversed

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is funded in part through higher taxes on the rich, including a 3.8 percent tax on investment income and a 0.9 percent payroll tax. Both of these taxes apply only to people earning more than $200,000 (or couples making more than $250,000). The GOP replacement bill would eliminate these taxes, although the latest version leaves the payroll tax in place through 2023.

The House bill would also repeal the tax penalty for those who fail to buy insurance as well as various taxes on insurance companies, drug companies and medical device makers. The GOP bill also delays the so-called “Cadillac tax” on high-end insurance policies from 2020 to 2025.

All told, the bill would cut taxes by about $765 billion over the next decade.

The lion’s share of the tax savings would go to the wealthy and very wealthy. According to the Tax Policy Center, the top 20 percent of earners would receive 64 percent of the savings and the top 1 percent of earners (those making more than $772,000 in 2022) would receive 40 percent of the savings.

Help for the poor reduced

Over time, the GOP bill would limit the federal contribution to Medicaid, while shifting control of the program to states. Depending on what happens to costs, states may be forced to provide skimpier coverage, reduce their Medicaid rolls, or both. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that an earlier version of the bill would leave about 14 million fewer people covered by Medicaid by 2026. (The House voted on the current bill without an updated CBO report.)

CBO also anticipated fewer people would buy insurance through the individual market. With no tax penalty for going without coverage, some people would voluntarily stop buying insurance. Others would find coverage prohibitively expensive, as a result of changing rules governing insurance pricing and subsidies.

The GOP bill would allow insurance companies to charge older customers up to five times more than younger customers — up from a maximum 3-to-1 ratio under the current health law. The maximum subsidy for older customers in the GOP plan, however, is only twice what is offered to the young.

The bill also allows insurance companies to offer more bare-bones policies. As a result, young, healthy people could find more affordable coverage options. But older, sicker people would likely have to pay more.

In addition, because the subsidies offered in the Republican plan don’t vary with local insurance prices the way subsidies do in Obamacare, residents of high-cost, rural areas would also suffer. That could include a large number of Trump voters.

A Vote To “Harm Millions of Americans:” Study Released Today Predicts Disaster With TrumpCare.

DailyKos

A Vote To “Harm Millions of Americans:” Study Released Today Predicts Disaster With TrumpCare.

By Dartagnan    May 04, 2017

Republicans working hard to screw millions of Americans out of their health care

David Leonhardt of the New York Times draws our attention to a Harvard study being released today that reveals just how harmful a “health care” package the Republican House and Donald Trump are about to foist on the American public. It is one that will raise premiums and prompt millions to opt instead to go uninsured, further driving prices up for everyone.

The study is based on an analysis of Massachusetts’ subsidized exchange health insurance system system. Put simply, it shows that when even relatively modest premium cost increases are imposed on lower income individuals, they tend to choose to go uninsured, preferring to stick to “emergency room” treatment.

The Massachusetts method allocates subsidies to lower-income people by separating them into categories of income—a family making  $ 44,701 per year, for example, can end up paying several hundred dollars more per year then someone making $44,699.  It’s not a perfect or even wholly equitable system, but it has the virtue of being well-studied. The clear-cut thresholds of income-based premium costs that result from the Massachusetts system provide an opportunity to analyze people’s behavior in a more straightforward way, with fewer variables and more reliable results.

What the Harvard study clearly shows is even a slight price increase in premiums will make lower-income folks disinclined to sign up. And if that sounds obvious, it should. All this new study does is back it up with hard data:

Why? Partly because people know that they have an alternative. They can instead rely on last-minute emergency-room care, in which hospitals typically treat them even if they lack insurance. Such care is problematic: It tends to be expensive, raising costs for other patients, and it’s often not as good as preventive care. But many poorer families choose E.R. care over taking money from their stretched budgets for health insurance.

The Republican plan being voted on today will increase costs to low income individuals not just a little, but significantly. Most affected will be lower-income, older Americans because of the way the system is designed—tax credits based primarily on age, not geographic area or ability to pay. That is a major distinction between the Republican plan and The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), and its impact will be staggering, because for low-income, aged individuals only the very sick (and desperate) will be willing to pay those premiums. According to the three authors of the Harvard study—one of whom, Amy Finkelstein of MIT, is regularly touted by such conservative outlets as the Wall Street Journal– the rest will largely opt out of the entire system:

“When premiums go up, it’s the healthier enrollees who drop out,” said Amy Finkelstein of M.I.T., another author of the study.

The implications of the Harvard study on what the Republicans are voting on today are even more ominous than the already damning analysis of the Congressional Budget Office, which predicted that the Republican plan will kick 24 million people off of their health insurance:

[T]he magnitude of the new results suggests the C.B.O. estimates of insurance losses were conservative. Nathaniel Hendren of Harvard, the paper’s third author, said that the Republican proposal would effectively end enrollment in the insurance markets for families that make less than $75,000 a year.

So this is what the Republicans are voting to do to the American public today. Their prime—indeed their only– motivation for this is to cut the same taxes on multimillionaires that permitted Obamacare’s success in providing millions of Americans with good health care coverage . As Leonhardt notes:

The Republican health bill is simply a bad bill. It’s been blasted by conservative and liberal health experts, as well as groups representing patients, doctors, nurses and hospitals. Above all, the bill cuts health benefits for the poor, the middle class, the elderly and the sick, and it funnels the savings to tax cuts for the rich.

The Republican health care bill is a recipe for disastrous, out-of control premium hikes for millions.  Unfortunately for all of us, the GOP Party leadership has secured just enough “yes” votes to make its passage probable today, while sparing so-called “moderate” members of their caucus the political consequences and allowing them to vote “no.”

But those “moderate” Republicans own this as much as their colleagues, because this act of violence against Americans in taking away a system (“Obamacare”) already proven to work has been the longstanding, explicit policy of their Party leaders, whom they eagerly voted into that position.  And the pain it causes will affect all Americans, including ones who live in so-called “moderate” Republican Districts:

The bill could cause more people to lose insurance than previously predicted and do more damage to insurance markets. The $8 billion sweetener that Republicans added to the bill on Wednesday would do nothing to change this reality. President Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan are continuing to push a policy that would harm millions of Americans.

Americans must remember that in 2018, when it will be time to pay back the GOP for what it did today.

House Republicans are hell-bent on ripping away our health insurance. Call your member of Congress at 202-224-3121, and demand they vote NO on a renewed Trumpcare that is worse than the one before. Remind them they work for you.

If you have trouble getting through or their “mailbox is full,” you can work through AARP (which vehemently opposes this Bill) to connect you to a live person to answer: AARP’s #: 844-259-9352.

After announcing her retirement, one GOP congresswomen is torching the GOP health care plan.

DailyKos

After announcing her retirement, one GOP congresswomen is torching the GOP health care plan.

By Jen Hayden    May 04, 2017

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) recently made a surprise announcement that she will be retiring, not seeking re-election in 2018. Perhaps that has freed her up to speak the truth about the impending disaster of a massive tax cut for the wealthy, stealthily disguised as a health care plan , because today she issued a statement saying she intends to vote against the Trumpcare AHCA bill. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen plainly says this bill “fails to prove for the needs of my constituents” and has the “potential to severely harm the health and lives of people in South Florida.” Read her statement and see why she isn’t just a no, she’s a HELL NO:

“Despite amendments and changes, the AHCA still fails to provide for the needs of my constituents. I will not support a bill that has the potential to severely harm the health and lives of people in South Florida and therefore I remain steadfast in my commitment to vote NO on the AHCA. The recent addition of further funds to high risk pools continues to be inadequate and fails to cover those who need it most. If enacted, the older and poorer South Floridians will be worse off and will find it more difficult to obtain quality healthcare. My constituents should not have to take a step backward in their ability to obtain treatment for any illness and thus, I will vote NO.”

Too bad her colleagues are caving right and left, ignoring the will and the needs of their constituents. The midterm elections take place on November 6, 2018. We have 551 days to get these bums out of Congress and restore our health care protections.

Here’s what you need to know about preexisting conditions in the GOP health plan

Washington Post, Fact Checker

Here’s what you need to know about preexisting conditions in the GOP health plan

By Glenn Kessler    May 4, 2017   

Inside the messy, last-minute rush for the GOP health-care plan

With House Republicans prepared to take a vote Thursday on yet another version of a plan to overhaul the 2010 Affordable Care Act, attention has been especially focused on whether Obamacare’s popular prohibition against denying coverage based on preexixting medical conditions will remain in place. Republicans, from President Trump to lawmakers pushing for the bill, insist that it remains intact, just in different form. Democrats and opponents of the bill say the guarantee is gone or greatly weakened.

The reality is more nuanced and complicated, as is often the case in Washington policy debates. Despite Ryan’s tweet that people with preexisting conditions are protected, there is no guarantee that they will not face higher costs than under current law. The impact of recent tweaks to the proposed legislation is especially unclear because lawmakers are rushing ahead without an assessment by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. So here’s The Fact Checker’s guide to the debate.

What’s the issue?

Before the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies could consider a person’s health status when determining premiums, sometimes making coverage unaffordable or even unavailable if a person was already sick with a problem that required expensive treatment. The ACA prohibited that, in part by requiring everyone to purchase insurance.

But that “individual mandate” was unpopular and Republicans would eliminate that requirement in their proposed American Health Care Act. As a replacement, the AHCA initially included a continuous coverage provision that boosted insurance rates by 30 percent for one year if he or she has a lapse in coverage. (We explored this interaction between the provisions earlier.)

As part of an effort to attract more votes, Republicans have added an amendment, crafted by Rep. Tom McArthur (R-N.J.), that instead allows states to seek individual waivers from the law. One possible waiver would replace the continuous coverage provision so that insurance companies for one year could consider a person’s health status when writing policies in the individual and small group plan markets. Another possible waiver would allow the state to replace a federal essential benefits package with a more narrowly tailored package of benefits, again limited to the individual and small-group markets.

The theory is that removing sicker people from the markets and allowing policies with skimpier options would result in lower overall premiums.

Who would be affected?

If the law passed, a person generally would not be affected unless they lived in a state that sought a waiver. Moreover, they would need to have a lapse in health coverage for longer than 63 days and they would need to have a preexisting condition. Finally, they would have to purchase insurance in the individual market, i.e., the health exchanges in Obamacare that currently serve about 18 million Americans.

Someone who got their insurance from an employer – and that’s most Americans (155 million) – presumably would not be affected, though the CBO did project that under the initial version of the AHCA 7 million fewer people would be covered by employers than under current law by 2026.

Then, for a period of one year, a person who fell into this category would face insurance rates that could be based on their individual condition. But states that seek a waiver are required to operate a risk mitigation program or participate in what is called an invisible risk sharing program. Alaska currently has such a program that helps cover the bills for one of 33 conditions (such as HIV/AIDS or metastatic cancer). The individual with the condition still submits bills to the insurance company, which then turns around and bills the state. But then the insurance company does not consider the cost of this care as part of its calculation for premiums to other individuals in the state.

All told, the AHCA would allot $138 billion over 10 years for a variety of funds that would seek to keep premiums lower or to assist with cost-sharing. Just this week, $8 billion over five years was added to the pot to woo wavering lawmakers, with the idea that the additional funds could be used for so-called high-risk pools. Many states had such pools to help people with preexisting conditions before the ACA. But the proposal does not require a state with a waiver to set up such a pool.

What could go wrong then?

There are many uncertainties about this path. The health insurance market has a lot of churn, so many people may experience a gap in coverage of just a few months. One estimate, by the Commonwealth Fund, indicated that 30 million adults would have had such a gap in 2016, potentially exposing them to a surcharge or being placed in a high-risk pool. On top of that, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that 27 percent of the people in the individual market have existing conditions that would have been uninsured before the ACA.

The AHCA eliminates cost sharing and offers a stingier tax credit to defray premium costs, likely resulting in higher overall health costs that may make insurance unaffordable for many people. (The CBO projected that 24 million more people would be without health insurance than under current law by 2026.)

Then, if people get sick, they may suddenly find themselves for a year being priced on their illness if they live in a state that sought a waiver. Depending on the approach taken by a state, some people might find it difficult to keep up their coverage for a full year before they qualify for prices at the community rate.

A big question is whether the funding to cover these folks is adequate. High-risk pools were big money losers and underfunded in the pre-Obamacare days, even though many had restrictions, high premiums and waiting lists. A $5 billion federal pool, established by the ACA as a bridge to the creation of the exchanges in 2013, covered about 100,000 people but was suspended when it ran out of money.

The Center for American Progress, a left-leaning group that opposes the AHCA, produced an analysis that indicated that even with the additional $8 billion, the maximum enrollment the AHCA’s funds would cover is about 700,000 people. If just 5 percent of the people currently in the individual market ended up in high-risk pools – and all states sought a waiver – that would overwhelm the proposed funding.

Avalere Health, a consulting firm, said in an analysis that $23 billion is specifically allocated in the bill for helping people with pre-existing conditions. That would cover about 110,000 people. If states allocated all of the other available funding, that would cover 600,00 people. “Approximately 2.2 million enrollees in the individual market today have some form of pre-existing chronic condition,” the analysis said.

When states had high-risk pools, people in those pools represented just 2 percent of the non-group health insurance participants. But given the limitations of those funds, that percentage may not be a good guide for what would happen under the AHCA.

Whenever health-care laws are changed, there are unknown and unintended consequences. The current system does not take into account a person’s health status when assessing premiums. But, as a Brookings Institution analysis suggested, under the AHCA’s provisions, healthy people might have an incentive to join plans based on health status. That would leave sicker people in the community rated plans, which in turn would face higher premiums. Over time, that could make the community rating meaningless. Another possible outcome: If the pool of money is used to pay insurance companies for the difference in costs for patients with preexisting conditions, there may be little incentive for companies to keep their prices low; the difference would be made up by U.S. taxpayers.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to health care, readers should be wary about claims that important changes in health-care coverage are without consequences and that people are “protected” – or that the changes will result in massive dislocation and turmoil. There are always winners and losers in a bill of this size. In this case, if the bill ever became law, much would depend on unknown policy decisions by individual states – and then how those decisions are implemented.

How the Affordable Care Act Drove Down Personal Bankruptcy

Consumer Reports

How the Affordable Care Act Drove Down Personal Bankruptcy

Allen St. John, April 24, 2017

As legislators and the executive branch renew their efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act this week, they might want to keep in mind a little-known financial consequence of the ACA: Since its adoption, far fewer Americans have taken the extreme step of filing for personal bankruptcy.

Filings have dropped about 50 percent, from 1,536,799 in 2010 to 770,846 in 2016 (see chart below). Those years also represent the time frame when the ACA took effect. Although courts never ask people to declare why they’re filing, many bankruptcy and legal experts agree that medical bills had been a leading cause of personal bankruptcy before public healthcare coverage expanded under the ACA. Unlike other causes of debt, medical bills are often unexpected, involuntary, and large.

“If you’re uninsured or underinsured, you can run up a huge debt in a short period of time,” says Lois Lupica, a bankruptcy expert and Maine Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Maine School of Law.

So did the rise of the ACA—which helped some 20 million more Americans get health insurance—cause the decline in bankruptcies?

The many experts we interviewed also pointed to two other contributing factors: an improving economy and changes to bankruptcy laws in 2005 that made it more difficult and costly to file. However, they almost all agreed that expanded health coverage played a major role in the marked, recent decline.

Some of the most important financial protections of the ACA apply to all consumers, whether they get their coverage through ACA exchanges or the private insurance marketplace. These provisions include mandated coverage for preexisting conditions and, on most covered benefits, an end to annual and lifetime coverage caps. Aspects of the law, including provisions for young people to be covered by a family policy until age 26, went into effect in 2010 and 2011, before the full rollout of the ACA in 2014.

“It’s absolutely remarkable,” says Jim Molleur, a Maine-based bankruptcy attorney with 20 years of experience. “We’re not getting people with big medical bills, chronically sick people who would hit those lifetime caps or be denied because of pre-existing conditions. They seemed to disappear almost overnight once ACA kicked in.”

The first attempt to repeal and replace the ACA, in March, failed to gain enough Congressional support and never came to a vote.

Then in April, details of a new replacement plan were released. Although President Donald Trump has said that this new version, like the first bill that was pulled from consideration, will cover pre-existing conditions, the revised law gives states broad latitude to allow insurance companies to increase rates for consumers with an existing illness.

Since the start of the year, more than 2,000 consumers have answered an online questionnaire from Consumer Reports’ advocacy and mobilization team, sharing their experiences with the ACA. Katie Weber of Seattle was one of them.

In 2011, she had just landed her first job out of college, as a teacher with AmeriCorps, she explains in a phone interview. That’s when the unusual numbness in her hand began, which she—and her doctor—at first mistook for a pinched nerve. Then came debilitating headaches and nausea and, ultimately, a diagnosis of medulloblastoma, a fast-growing cancerous brain tumor.

The treatment for her tumor was straightforward: surgery, radiation, then chemotherapy. Figuring out how to pay for it was much less clear. She worried that the insurance she had through AmeriCorps wouldn’t cover enough of her bills.

“My dad said to me, ‘Your health is the most important thing. If you have to declare bankruptcy at age 23, it’s no big deal,’” Weber says.

Because of the ACA, she says, it never came to that. After her year with AmeriCorps, the new healthcare law enabled her to get coverage under her parents’ insurance plan.

The ACA provisions required that the family’s insurance company cover her even though she had already been diagnosed with cancer. That would not have been the case before the ACA, which mandates the coverage of pre-existing conditions for all consumers.

Later, when she aged out of her parents’ insurance, Weber was able to enroll in Apple Health, Washington state’s version of Medicaid, a program that was expanded once the ACA was passed. That coverage, she says, has been crucial to her financial and medical well-being, especially once the cancer returned last fall.

Weber says she now spends more time discussing treatment options and less time worrying how she’ll pay for MRIs and drugs. These are covered in full under her Apple Health policy.

“Cancer is really expensive,” she says. “My insurance saved my life.”

Numbers Plummet

If you want further testimony about how much personal bankruptcies have dropped over the past decade, talk to Susan Grossberg, a Springfield, Mass., attorney.

For more than 20 years she has helped consumers push the financial reset button when debt triggered by divorce, unemployment, or a costly illness or medical episode became too much to handle. “Medical debt can get really big really quickly,” Grossberg says. “When you’re in the emergency room they’re not checking your credit score while they’re caring for you.”

With the advent of the ACA—and before that, expanded state healthcare in Massachusetts—she says fewer clients with large medical debts walked through her door.

Grossberg adds that her bankruptcy business has slowed so much that she has been forced to take on other kinds of legal work—landlord-tenant and housing discrimination cases—to cover her own bills.

The American Bankruptcy Institute suggested that veteran Chicago bankruptcy attorney and trustee David Leibowitz could also help parse the reasons for the decade long decline.

First, he says, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 made it more difficult for consumers to file for bankruptcy. The law required credit counseling and income verification and forced many consumers to seek protection under Chapter 13, which restructures, but does not eliminate, most debt. The piles of paperwork also meant most filers needed a lawyer, which made bankruptcy more costly and therefore not an option for many poor consumers.

Then there was the economy. After a slow and steady recovery following the housing crisis of 2008, Leibowitz explains that American consumers generally had fewer problems with their mortgages, better employment prospects, and greater access to credit, which made them less likely to file.

The final factor, according to Leibowitz, has been the ACA, which afforded health coverage to many more consumers and expanded protections for all.

Of course, not everyone sees such a direct connection between the decline in bankruptcies and the emergence of the ACA.

Thomas P. Miller, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and co-author of “Why ObamaCare is Wrong for America” (HarperCollins, 2011), cautioned against “reaching broad conclusions” because the subject is so complex.

“Certainly there are fewer people declaring bankruptcy, and certainly fewer are declaring bankruptcy because of healthcare spending,” he says. But his earlier research suggested that some studies exaggerated the degree to which high healthcare bills cause bankruptcies. “They tended to reflect other problems with credit card balances well beyond healthcare,” he says. “It stems from multiple causes.”

Figuring Out Why

Over the past decade, determining the cause-and-effect relationship between medical debt and bankruptcy has become a political football, particularly during the years the Obama administration was trying to pass the ACA through Congress.

The truth is that it’s not that easy to determine how many bankruptcies are caused by medical debt. Examining the paperwork doesn’t always offer insight because debtors often juggle their indebtedness, for example, using a credit card to pay an outstanding medical bill while leaving other debts unpaid.

But a 2014 study from Daniel Austin, a bankruptcy attorney and, at the time, a professor at the Northeastern University School of Law, offers some of the most in-depth research to date.

Austin and his team selected a nationwide group of 100 bankruptcy filers meant to represent a cross-section of the U.S. population, studied their paperwork, then followed up with a survey asking filers, basically, “Why?”

His team’s research found that medical debt is the single largest factor in personal bankruptcy. First, Austin analyzed the paperwork of individual case files, which suggested that medical bills were a factor in 18 percent of filings. But when he directly asked the same filers, in a survey, the number was even higher, with 25 percent citing medical bills as a factor in their decision to file bankruptcy.

In addition to the nationwide group, Austin isolated a group of 100 bankruptcy filers from Massachusetts. Why Massachusetts? Because its citizens, starting in 2006, had been covered by a comprehensive state healthcare program similar to the ACA known as Romneycare, after the state’s former governor, Mitt Romney.

The differences between the two groups were striking. Even though the Massachusetts filers owed substantially more in unsecured debt (that is, debt not backed by a home, a car, or another asset) than their counterparts in other states, they reported less than half as much medical debt, which is also unsecured.

“The average medical debt in Massachusetts in 2013 was relatively low at just $3,041 (6 percent of total unsecured debt) compared to $8,594 (20 percent of total unsecured debt) nationwide,” Austin writes in his 2014 study, portions of which were published in the Maine Law Review.

“Only about 9 percent of Massachusetts debtors felt their bankruptcy filing was a result of medical bills,” Austin explains. “This compares to 25 percent for debtors from [other] jurisdictions.” Austin’s research found that comprehensive medical coverage in Massachusetts had all but eliminated medical bills as a cause for bankruptcy.

“Not only in absolute numbers—they had much smaller medical debt—but psychologically, medical debt did not loom nearly as large for people in Massachusetts as it did for other people in other states.” And in 2010, four years after Romneycare began, the state had a bankruptcy rate that was about 30 percent lower than that of other states.

In Search of Certainty, Consistency

At its most basic level, health insurance allows consumers to pay for the medical care they need. Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determines how well the system is working by surveying Americans and asking a simple but powerful question: Did you have problems paying medical bills in the last 12 months?

The percentage of those reporting problems has dropped from 21.3 percent of households when they first asked the question in 2011 to 16.2 percent in 2016. That’s almost 13 million fewer Americans no longer facing collection notices from a doctor or hospital.

“It’s been happening across the board, by race, by age, by insurance status, by gender,” says Robin Cohen, the study’s lead author.

But insurance is also about peace of mind. And judging from the consumers who have shared their stories with Consumer Reports, that certainty is in short supply as the fate of the ACA is decided. People are wondering what comes next: Repeal? Replace? Improve? Retain and neglect? No one really knows the answer. Americans are concerned about how the future of healthcare will affect them and their families.

In CR’s Consumer Voices survey in January 2017, 55 percent of consumers said they lacked confidence that they or their loved ones would be able to afford insurance to secure that care.

Don Shope of Ocean View, Del., said the availability of ACA coverage gave him the confidence to leave a corporate job and start his own consulting business. But now, with the ACA’s future in limbo, he and his wife are watching the action in Washington and worrying that they might have to return to jobs with benefits.

“I’m not a liberal or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican,” Shope said in a phone interview. “Our biggest concern is that with repeal and replace we’re going to be left high and dry.”

He also believes in expanded health coverage for all. “If any American is sick, we should be willing to take care of them,” Shope says. “It’s the right thing to do. Economics and profit shouldn’t be part of the healthcare equation.”

Hanging On Every Dip and Turn

And then there’s Kristin Couch, who has channeled the uncertainty into her own brand of activism.

“I was kind of anxious,” Couch says about the day in March when Congress was set to vote on a less robust bill that would replace the ACA.

The 31-year-old public relations executive, of Gainesville, Ga., has started to follow health-care politics in the intense, almost obsessive way some people follow sports. The morning after Election Day, she called the offices of her local congressional representatives, urging them to preserve the protections the ACA offers.

Couch began caring about healthcare as a high school senior when she was diagnosed with lupus and since then has become something of a reluctant expert on how to manage not only her treatment but also the insurance that pays for it.

With friends and neighbors she talks about the law in simple but personal terms. “I tell people, ‘I have a pre-existing condition, and this has helped me,’” she says of the ACA. Couch follows the healthcare debate in Washington so closely because she knows firsthand what happens when you don’t have adequate coverage.

Couch remembers the time, before the ACA, when a new immuno-suppressive drug that wasn’t covered by her policy became available. “It was expensive,” she explained in an interview, “but it worked, and I knew I needed it. Every month I’d just put it on a credit card. When your medication is thousands of dollars a month, that’s the start of being in debt.” She considered bankruptcy but ultimately worked her way out from under the pile of medical bills.

As a result of the ACA, her coverage shifted again when her employer no longer offered a traditional plan and she had to switch to one with a high $3,000 deductible. Initially she was stunned by her out-of-pocket costs, but she quickly realized that her total costs would be capped once she’d met that threshold.

“It seemed scary and it seemed different,” she explains. “But it actually saved me money.” And now, she says, “I don’t have to worry about how much a new drug costs.”

So on the March day the House of Representatives was supposed to vote on repealing the ACA, she worried that the insurance she’d come to depend on was about to be yanked away. Only after emerging from a client meeting did she learn the vote had been canceled. “I started crying I was so happy,” Couch recalls. “It’s like a weight has lifted.”

But Couch’s relief was short-lived. Now she’s back to paying close attention to the rhetoric and vote-counting deals in Washington, awaiting another possible vote on the newly revised plan. “I’m still optimistic,” she said this week. “I think enough people will stand up and fight for the coverage.”

Consumer Reports, Inc.

May Day 2017….International Workers Day

May 1, 2017       John Hanno

    May Day 2017….International Workers Day

Many parts of the world recognize May Day, as International Workers Day. For us in Chicago, May Day represents the very beginning of immigrant workers solidarity and the fight for better working conditions. On May Day 1886, more than 200,000 U.S. workers engaged in a nationwide strike for an eight-hour work day. The Chicago protests took place over several days. On May 3rd, a strike at the McCormick Reaper plant turned violent. On May 4th, a proposed non-violent meeting turned into what was to become known as the Haymarket Riot and Massacre. This peaceful rally was in support of workers throughout the nation, striking for an eight-hour work day and for several workers who had been killed the day before. When the police attempted to break up the meeting, someone threw a bomb. The blast from the bomb and the following gunfire set off the rioting and caused the deaths of seven police officers, four civilians and scores of people were injured.

Eight anarchists were subsequently convicted of conspiracy. Seven were sentenced to death and one received a 15 year prison term. 4 of those were hung, 2 had their sentences commuted to life by the Illinois Governor and one committed suicide.

The site of the Haymarket Square riot on North Desplaines Street, was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1992 and the defendant’s burial site in Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997.

Workers congregate at the square every year to pay tribute to our brothers and sisters who fought and died for the workers rights, just working conditions and living wages some of us still enjoy today. But organized labor participation is at it’s lowest point in more than 4 decades. Workers and their living wage jobs, in red states throughout the nation, are again under siege by Republi-con controlled legislatures and governors and plutocrats like Trump, the Koch brothers and other billionaires bent on stepping up the anti-labor campaign President Regan and the Republi-con’s launched against America’s middle class in the 1970’s. Their single minded obsession with attacking union rights like collective bargaining and passing “right to work” for less laws will not “Make America Great Again.” It will take America back to the middle of the 1800’s.

Trump often criticized President Obama for sluggish GDP growth. Trump has repeatedly lied to his voters, claiming that under his leadership, the economy would see 3, 4 or even 5% GDP growth. But the U.S. economy grew at just a 0.7 percent annual rate in the first quarter of this year, which is the Trump administration’s first quarter. The experts blame anemic auto sales for the slowdown. Who does Trump and the billionaires think can afford these products and services if they continue to attack what’s left of the middle class?

Most American workers, especially union and organized labor, government workers, teachers, immigrant farm workers and minimum wage workers, in their sights and under attack, will not feel like dancing around the May Pole today.  John Hanno

 

Haymarket affair, From Wikipedia,

“Haymarket Affair”  May 4, 1886, Chicago, Illinois

Strikes, protests and demonstrations for an eight-hour work day.

Principle parties: Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions. The Chicago Police Department.

Lead figures: August Spies, Albert R. Parsons, Samuel Fielden,

Carter Harrison Sr. and John Bonfield.

Casualties and arrests:

4 dead, 70 plus injured and 100 plus arrested for the demonstrators.

7 deaths and 60 injured police.

The Haymarket affair (also known as the Haymarket massacre or Haymarket riot) was the aftermath of a bombing that took place at a labor demonstration on Tuesday May 4, 1886, at Haymarket Square in Chicago. It began as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour day and in reaction to the killing of several workers the previous day by the police. An unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police as they acted to disperse the public meeting. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians; scores of others were wounded.

In the internationally publicized legal proceedings that followed, eight anarchists were convicted of conspiracy. The evidence was that one of the defendants may have built the bomb, but none of those on trial had thrown it. Seven were sentenced to death and one to a term of 15 years in prison. The death sentences of two of the defendants were commuted by Illinois governor Richard J. Oglesby to terms of life in prison, and another committed suicide in jail rather than face the gallows. The other four were hanged on November 11, 1887. In 1893, Illinois’ new governor John Peter Altgeld pardoned the remaining defendants and criticized the trial.

The Haymarket affair is generally considered significant as the origin of international May Day observances for workers. The site of the incident was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1992, and a public sculpture was dedicated there in 2004. In addition, the Haymarket Martyr’s Monument at the defendants’ burial site in nearby Forest Park was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997.

“No single event has influenced the history of labor in Illinois, the United States, and even the world, more than the Chicago Haymarket Affair. It began with a rally on May 4, 1886, but the consequences are still being felt today. Although the rally is included in American history textbooks, very few present the event accurately or point out its significance,” according to labor studies professor William J. Adelman.

Background

Following the Civil War, particularly following the Depression of 1873-79, there was a rapid expansion of industrial production in the United States. Chicago was a major industrial center and tens of thousands of German and Bohemian immigrants were employed at about $1.50 a day. American workers worked on average slightly over 60 hours, during a six-day work week. The city became a center for many attempts to organize labor’s demands for better working conditions. Employers responded with anti-union measures, such as firing and blacklisting union members, locking out workers, recruiting strikebreakers; employing spies, thugs, and private security forces and exacerbating ethnic tensions in order to divide the workers. Mainstream newspapers supported business interests, and were opposed by the labor and immigrant press. During the economic slowdown between 1882 and 1886, socialist and anarchist organizations were active. Membership of the Knights of Labor, which rejected socialism and radicalism, but supported the 8-hour work day, grew from 70,000 in 1884 to over 700,000 by 1886. In Chicago, the anarchist movement of several thousand, mostly immigrant, workers centered about the German-language newspaper Arbeiter-Zeitung (“Workers’ Times”), edited by August Spies. Other anarchists operated a militant revolutionary force with an armed section that was equipped with guns and explosives. Its revolutionary strategy centered around the belief that successful operations against the police and the seizure of major industrial centers would result in massive public support by workers, start a revolution, destroy capitalism, and establish a socialist economy.

May Day parade and strikes

In October 1884, a convention held by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions unanimously set May 1, 1886, as the date by which the eight-hour work day would become standard. As the chosen date approached, U.S. labor unions prepared for a general strike in support of the eight-hour day.

On Saturday, May 1, thousands of workers went on strike and rallies were held throughout the United States, with the cry, “Eight-hour day with no cut in pay.” Estimates of the number of striking workers across the U.S. range from 300,000 to half a million. In New York City the number of demonstrators was estimated at 10,000 and in Detroit at 11,000. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, some 10,000 workers turned out. In Chicago, the movement’s center, an estimated 30,000-to-40,000 workers had gone on strike and there were perhaps twice as many people out on the streets participating in various demonstrations and marches, as, for example, a march by 10,000 men employed in the Chicago lumber yards. Though participants in these events added up to 80,000, it is disputed whether there was a march of that number down Michigan Avenue led by anarchist Albert Parsons, founder of the International Working People’s Association [IWPA], his wife Lucy and their children.

The first flier calling for a rally in the Haymarket on May 4. (left) and the revised flier for the rally. (right)

The words “Workingmen Arm Yourselves and Appear in Full Force!” were removed from the revised flier.

On May 3, striking workers in Chicago met near the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company plant. Union molders at the plant had been locked out since early February and the predominantly Irish-American workers at McCormick had come under attack from Pinkerton guards during an earlier strike action in 1885. This event, along with the eight-hour militancy of McCormick workers, had gained the strikers some respect and notoriety around the city. By the time of the 1886 general strike, strikebreakers entering the McCormick plant were under protection from a garrison of 400 police officers. Although half of the replacement workers defected to the general strike on May 1, McCormick workers continued to harass strikebreakers as they crossed the picket lines.

Speaking to a rally outside the plant on May 3, August Spies advised the striking workers to “hold together, to stand by their union, or they would not succeed.” Well-planned and coordinated, the general strike to this point had remained largely nonviolent. When the end-of-the-workday bell sounded, however, a group of workers surged to the gates to confront the strikebreakers. Despite calls for calm by Spies, the police fired on the crowd. Two McCormick workers were killed (although some newspaper accounts said there were six fatalities). Spies would later testify, “I was very indignant. I knew from experience of the past that this butchering of people was done for the express purpose of defeating the eight-hour movement.”

Outraged by this act of police violence, local anarchists quickly printed and distributed fliers calling for a rally the following day at Haymarket Square (also called the Haymarket), which was then a bustling commercial center near the corner of Randolph Street and Desplaines Street. Printed in German and English, the fliers claimed that the police had murdered the strikers on behalf of business interests and urged workers to seek justice. The first batch of fliers contain the words Workingmen Arm Yourselves and Appear in Full Force! When Spies saw the line, he said he would not speak at the rally unless the words were removed from the flier. All but a few hundred of the fliers were destroyed, and new fliers were printed without the offending words. More than 20,000 copies of the revised flier were distributed.

Rally at Haymarket Square

The rally began peacefully under a light rain on the evening of May 4. August Spies, Albert Parsons, and Samuel Fielden spoke to a crowd estimated variously between 600 and 3,000 while standing in an open wagon adjacent to the square on Des Plaines Street. A large number of on-duty police officers watched from nearby.

Paul Avrich, a historian specializing in the study of anarchism, quotes Spies as saying:

There seems to prevail the opinion in some quarters that this meeting has been called for the purpose of inaugurating a riot, hence these warlike preparations on the part of so-called ‘law and order.’ However, let me tell you at the beginning that this meeting has not been called for any such purpose. The object of this meeting is to explain the general situation of the eight-hour movement and to throw light upon various incidents in connection with it.

Following Spies’ speech, the crowd was addressed by Parsons, the Alabama-born editor of the radical English-language weekly The Alarm. The crowd was so calm that Mayor Carter Harrison, Sr., who had stopped by to watch, walked home early. Parsons spoke for almost an hour before standing down in favor of the last speaker of the evening, the British socialist Samuel Fielden, who delivered a brief ten-minute address. Many of the crowd had already left as the weather was deteriorating.

A New York Times article, with the dateline May 4, and headlined “Rioting and Bloodshed in the Streets of Chicago … Twelve Policemen Dead or Dying”, reported that Fielden spoke for 20 minutes, alleging that his words grew “wilder and more violent as he proceeded”. Another New York Times article, headlined “Anarchy’s Red Hand” and dated May 6, opens with: “The villainous teachings of the Anarchists bore bloody fruit in Chicago tonight and before daylight at least a dozen stalwart men will have laid down their lives as a tribute to the doctrine of Herr Johann Most.” It referred to the strikers as a “mob” and used quotation marks around the term “workingmen.”

Bombing and gunfire

At about 10:30 pm, just as Fielden was finishing his speech, police arrived en masse, marching in formation towards the speakers’ wagon, and ordered the rally to disperse. Fielden insisted that the meeting was peaceful. Police Inspector John Bonfield, proclaimed:

I command you [addressing the speaker] in the name of the law to desist and you [addressing the crowd] to disperse.

A home-made bomb with a brittle metal casing filled with dynamite and ignited by a fuse was thrown into the path of the advancing police. Its fuse briefly sputtered, then the bomb exploded, killing policeman Mathias J. Degan with flying metal fragments and mortally wounding six other officers.

Witnesses maintained that immediately after the bomb blast there was an exchange of gunshots between police and demonstrators. Accounts vary widely as to who fired first and whether any of the crowd fired at the police. Historian Paul Avrich maintains that the police fired on the fleeing demonstrators, reloaded and then fired again, killing four and wounding as many as 70 people. What is not disputed is that in less than five minutes the square was empty except for the casualties. According to the May 4 New York Times demonstrators began firing at the police, who then returned fire. In his report on the incident, Inspector Bonfield wrote that he “gave the order to cease firing, fearing that some of our men, in the darkness might fire into each other”. An anonymous police official told the Chicago Tribune, “A very large number of the police were wounded by each other’s revolvers. … It was every man for himself, and while some got two or three squares away, the rest emptied their revolvers, mainly into each other.”

In all, seven policemen and at least four workers were killed. Another policeman died two years after the incident from complications related to injuries received on that day. About 60 policemen were wounded in the incident. They were carried, along with some other wounded people, into a nearby police station. Police captain Michael Schaack later wrote that the number of wounded workers was “largely in excess of that on the side of the police”. The Chicago Herald described a scene of “wild carnage” and estimated at least fifty dead or wounded civilians lay in the streets. It is unclear how many civilians were wounded since many were afraid to seek medical attention, fearing arrest. They found aid where they could.

Aftermath and red scare

A harsh anti-union clampdown followed the Haymarket incident. There was a massive outpouring of community and business support for the police and many thousands of dollars were donated to funds for their medical care and to assist their efforts. The entire labor and immigrant community, particularly Germans and Bohemians, came under suspicion. Police raids were carried out on homes and offices of suspected anarchists. Scores of suspects, many only remotely related to the Haymarket affair, were arrested. Casting legal requirements such as search warrants aside, Chicago police squads subjected the labor activists of Chicago to an eight-week shakedown, ransacking their meeting halls and places of business. The emphasis was on the speakers at the Haymarket rally and the newspaper Arbeiter-Zeitung. A small group of anarchists were discovered to have been engaged in making bombs on the same day as the incident, including round ones like the one used in Haymarket Square.

Newspaper reports declared that anarchist agitators were to blame for the “riot”, a view adopted by an alarmed public. As time passed, press reports and illustrations of the incident became more elaborate. Coverage was national, then international. Among property owners, the press, and other elements of society, a consensus developed that suppression of anarchist agitation was necessary. While for their part, union organizations such as The Knights of Labor and craft unions were quick to disassociate themselves from the anarchist movement and to repudiate violent tactics as self-defeating. Many workers, on the other hand, believed that men of the Pinkerton agency were responsible because of the agency’s tactic of secretly infiltrating labor groups and its sometimes violent methods of strike breaking.

Legal proceedings

Investigation

The police assumed that an anarchist had thrown the bomb as part of a planned conspiracy; their problem was how to prove it. On the morning of May 5, they raided the offices of the Arbeiter-Zeitung, arresting its editor August Spies, and his brother (who was not charged). Also arrested were editorial assistant Michael Schwab and Adolph Fischer, a typesetter. A search of the premises resulted in the discovery of the “Revenge Poster” and other evidence considered incriminating by the prosecution.

On May 7 police searched the premises of Louis Lingg where they found a number of bombs and bomb-making materials. Lingg’s landlord William Seliger was also arrested but cooperated with police and identified Lingg as a bomb maker and was not charged. An associate of Spies, Balthazar Rau, suspected as the bomber, was traced to Omaha and brought back to Chicago. After interrogation, Rau offered to cooperate with police. He alleged that the defendants had experimented with dynamite bombs and accused them of having published what he said was a code word, “Ruhe” (“peace”), in the Arbeiter-Zeitung as a call to arms at Haymarket Square.

Defendants

Rudolf Schnaubelt, the police’s lead suspect as the bomb thrower, was arrested twice early on and released. By May 14, when it became apparent he had played a significant role in the event, he had fled the country. William Seliger, who had turned state’s evidence and testified for the prosecution, was not charged. On June 4, 1886, seven other suspects, however, were indicted by the grand jury and stood trial for being accessories to the murder of Degan. Of these, only two had been present when the bomb exploded. Newspaper editor August Spies and Samuel Fielden had spoken at the peaceful rally and were stepping down from the speaker’s wagon in compliance with police orders to disperse just before the bomb went off. Two others had been present at the beginning of the rally but had left and were at Zepf’s Hall, an anarchist rendezvous, at the time of the explosion. They were: Arbeiter-Zeitung typesetter Adolph Fischer and the well-known activist Albert Parsons, who had spoken for an hour at the Haymarket rally before going to Zepf’s. Parsons, who believed that the evidence against them all was weak, subsequently voluntarily turned himself in, in solidarity with the accused. A third man, Spies’s assistant editor Michael Schwab (who was the brother-in-law of Schnaubelt) was arrested since he was speaking at another rally at the time of the bombing (he was also later pardoned). Not directly tied to the Haymarket rally, but arrested because they were notorious for their militant radicalism were George Engel (who was at home playing cards on that day), and Lousi Lingg, the hot-headed bomb maker denounced by his associate, Seliger. Another defendant who had not been present that day was Oscar Neebe, an American-born citizen of German descent who was associated with the Arbeiter-Zeitung and had attempted to revive it in the aftermath of the Haymarket riot.

Of the eight defendants, five – Spies, Fischer, Engel, Lingg and Schwab – were German-born immigrants; a sixth, Neebe, was a U.S.-born citizen of German descent. Only the remaining two, Parsons and Fielden, born in the U.S. and England, respectively, were of British heritage.

Trial

The trial, Illinois vs. August Spies et al., began on June 21, 1886, and went on until August 11. The trial was conducted in an atmosphere of extreme prejudice by both public and media toward the defendants. It was presided over by Judge Joseph Gary. Judge Gary displayed open hostility to the defendants, consistently ruled for the prosecution, and failed to maintain decorum. A motion to try the defendants separately was denied. The defense counsel included Sigmund Zeisler, William Perkins Black, William Foster, and Moses Salomon. Selection of the jury was extraordinarily difficult, lasting three weeks, and nearly one thousand people called. All union members and anyone who expressed sympathy toward socialism were dismissed. In the end a jury of 12 was seated, most of whom confessed prejudice towards the defendants. Despite their professions of prejudice Judge Gary seated those who declared that despite their prejudices they would acquit if the evidence supported it, refusing to dismiss for prejudice. Eventually the peremptory challenges of the defense were exhausted. Frustrated by the hundreds of jurors who were being dismissed, a bailiff was appointed who selected jurors rather than calling them at random. The bailiff proved prejudiced himself and selected jurors who seemed likely to convict based on their social position and attitudes toward the defendants. The prosecution, led by Julius Grinnell, argued that since the defendants had not actively discouraged the person who had thrown the bomb, they were therefore equally responsible as conspirators. The jury heard the testimony of 118 people, including 54 members of the Chicago Police Department and the defendants Fielden, Schwab, Spies and Parsons. Albert Parsons’ brother claimed there was evidence linking the Pinkertons to the bomb. This reflected a widespread belief among the strikers.

Exhibit 129a from the Haymarket trial: Chemists testified that the bombs found in Lingg’s apartment, including this one, resembled the chemical signature of shrapnel from the Haymarket bomb.

Police investigators under Captain Michael Schaack had a lead fragment removed from a policeman’s wounds chemically analyzed. They reported that the lead used in the casing matched the casings of bombs found in Lingg’s home. A metal nut and fragments of the casing taken from the wound also roughly matched bombs made by Lingg. Schaack concluded, on the basis of interviews, that the anarchists had been experimenting for years with dynamite and other explosives, refining the design of their bombs before coming up with the effective one used at the Haymarket.

At the last minute, when it was discovered that instructions for manslaughter had not been included in the submitted instructions, the jury was called back, and the instructions were given.

Verdict and contemporary reactions

The jury returned guilty verdicts for all eight defendants. Before being sentenced, Neebe told the court that Schaack’s officers were among the city’s worst gangs, ransacking houses and stealing money and watches. Schaack laughed and Neebe retorted, “You need not laugh about it, Captain Schaack. You are one of them. You are an anarchist, as you understand it. You are all anarchists, in this sense of the word, I must say.” Judge Gary sentenced seven of the defendants to death by hanging and Neebe to 15 years in prison. The sentencing provoked outrage from labor and workers’ movements and their supporters, resulting in protests around the world, and elevating the defendants to the status of martyrs, especially abroad. Portrayals of the anarchists as bloodthirsty foreign fanatics in the press along with the 1889 publication of Captain Schaack’s sensational account, Anarchy and Anarchism, on the other hand, inspired widespread public fear and revulsion against the strikers and general anti-immigrant feeling, polarizing public opinion.

In an article datelined May 4, entitled “Anarchy’s Red Hand”, The New York Times had described the incident as the “bloody fruit” of “the villainous teachings of the Anarchists.” The Chicago Times described the defendants as “arch counselors of riot, pillage, incendiarism and murder”; other reporters described them as “bloody brutes”, “red ruffians”, “dynamarchists”, “bloody monsters”, “cowards”, “cutthroats”, “thieves”, “assassins”, and “fiends”. The journalist George Frederic Parsons wrote a piece for The Atlantic Monthly in which he identified the fears of middle-class Americans concerning labor radicalism, and asserted that the workers had only themselves to blame for their troubles. Edward Aveling remarked, “If these men are ultimately hanged, it will be the Chicago Tribune that has done it.” Schaack, who had led the investigation, was dismissed from the police force for allegedly having fabricated evidence in the case but was reinstated in 1892.

Appeals

The case was appealed in 1887 to the Supreme Court of Illinois, then to the United States Supreme Court where the defendants were represented by John Randolph Tucker, Roger Atkinson Pryor, General Benjamin F. Butler and William P. Black. and The petition for certiorari was denied.

Commutations and suicide

After the appeals had been exhausted, Illinois Governor Richard James Oglesby commuted Fielden’s and Schwab’s sentences to life in prison on November 10, 1887. On the eve of his scheduled execution, Lingg committed suicide in his cell with a smuggled blasting cap which he reportedly held in his mouth like a cigar (the blast blew off half his face and he survived in agony for six hours).

Executions

The next day (November 11, 1887) four defendants—Engel, Fischer, Parsons, and Spies—were taken to the gallows in white robes and hoods. They sang the Marseillaise, then the anthem of the international revolutionary movement. Family members including Lucy Parsons, who attempted to see them for the last time, were arrested and searched for bombs (none were found). According to witnesses, in the moments before the men were hanged, Spies shouted, “The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.” In their last words, Engel and Fischer called out, “Hurrah for anarchism!” Parsons then requested to speak, but he was cut off when the signal was given to open the trap door. Witnesses reported that the condemned men did not die immediately when they dropped, but strangled to death slowly, a sight which left the spectators visibly shaken.

Identity of the bomber

Notwithstanding the convictions for conspiracy, no actual bomber was ever brought to trial, “and no lawyerly explanation could ever make a conspiracy trial without the main perpetrator in the conspiracy seem completely legitimate.” Historians such as James Joll and Timothy Messer-Kruse say the evidence points to Rudolph Schnaubelt, brother-in-law of Schwab, as the likely perpetrator. Howard Zinn, in A People’s History of the United States also pointed towards Schnaubelt, suggesting he was a provocateur, posing as an anarchist, who threw the bomb so police would have a pretext to arrest leaders of Chicago’s anarchist movement. However, Paul Avrich disputes this claim as being “sheer speculation and utterly without foundation.” Avrich argues that Schnaubelt’s appearance did not match the description of the bomber and that his behavior was inconsistent with either being the culprit or a mole.

Documents

An extensive collection of documents relating to the Haymarket affair and the legal proceedings related to it, The Haymarket Affair Digital Collection, has been created by the Chicago Historical Society.

Pardon and historical characterization

The Altgeld Monument, by Borglum, was erected by the Illinois Legislature in Lincoln Park, Chicago in 1915.

Among supporters of the labor movement in the United States and abroad and others, the trial was widely believed to have been unfair, and even a serious miscarriage of justice. Prominent people such as novelist William Dean Howells; celebrated attorney Clarence Darrow; poet and playwright Oscar Wilde; and playwright George Benard Shaw strongly condemned it. On June 26, 1893, Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld, the progressive governor of Illinois, himself a German immigrant, signed pardons for Fielden, Neebe, and Schwab, calling them victims of “hysteria, packed juries, and a biased judge” and noting that the state “has never discovered who it was that threw the bomb which killed the policeman, and the evidence does not show any connection whatsoever between the defendants and the man who threw it.” Altgeld also faulted the city of Chicago for failing to hold Pinkerton guards responsible for repeated use of lethal violence against striking workers. Altgeld’s actions concerning labor were used to defeat his reelection.

Soon after the trial, anarchist Dyer Lum wrote a history of the trial critical of the prosecution. In 1888, George McLean, and in 1889, police captain Michael Shack, wrote accounts from the opposite perspective. Awaiting sentencing, each of the defendants wrote their own autobiographies (edited and published by Philip Foner in 1969), and later activist Lucy Parsons published a biography of her condemned husband Albert Parsons. Fifty years after the event, Henry Davis wrote a history, which preceded another scholarly treatment by Paul Avrich in 1984, and a “social history” of the era by Bruce C. Nelson in 1988. In 2006, labor historian James Green wrote a popular history.

Christopher Thale writes in the Encyclopedia of Chicago that lacking credible evidence regarding the bombing, “…the prosecution focused on the writings and speeches of the defendants.” He further notes that the conspiracy charge was legally unprecedented, the Judge was “partisan,” and all the jurors admitted prejudice against the defendants. Historian Carl Smith writes, “The visceral feelings of fear and anger surrounding the trial ruled out anything but the pretense of justice right from the outset.” Smith notes that scholars have long considered the trial a “notorious” “miscarriage of justice.” In a review somewhat more critical of the defendants, historian Jon Teaford concludes that “[t]he tragedy of Haymarket is the American justice system did not protect the damn fools who most needed that protection… It is the damn fools who talk too much and too wildly who are most in need of protection from the state.” In 2011, labor historian Tomothy Messer-Kruse published a history. Based on his examination of the trial transcripts and other archival material, he concludes there is abundant evidence connecting defendants to advocacy of violence and preparations for it. He argues that Chicago’s anarchists were indeed “part of an international terrorist network and did hatch a conspiracy to attack police with bombs and guns that May Day weekend”; and he calls the evidence establishing the guilt of “most of the defendants” “overwhelming.” Moreover, Messer-Kruse opines that the trial was fair “by the standards of the age” and the jury representative. According to him, “The tragic end of the story was the product not of prosecutorial eagerness to see the anarchists hang, but largely due to a combination of the incompetence of the defendant’s lawyers and their willingness to use the trial to vindicate anarchism rather than to save the necks of their clients.

During the late 20th century, scholars doing research into the Haymarket affair were surprised to learn that much of the primary source documentation relating to the incident (beside materials concerning the trial) was not in Chicago, but had been transferred to then-communist East Berlin.

Effects on the labor movement and May Day

The Haymarket affair was a setback for the American labor movement and its fight for the eight-hour day. Yet it also can be seen as strengthening its resistance, especially in Chicago, where, as historian Nathan Fine points out, trade union activities continued to show signs of growth and vitality, culminating later in 1886 with the establishment of the Labor Party of Chicago.

Fine observes:

[T]he fact is that despite police repression, newspaper incitement to hysteria, and organization of the possessing classes, which followed the throwing of the bomb on May 4, the Chicago wage earners only united their forces and stiffened their resistance. The conservative and radical central bodies – there were two each of the trade unions and two also of the Knights of Labor — the socialists and the anarchists, the single taxers and the reformers, the native born…and the foreign born Germans, Bohemians, and Scandinavians, all got together for the first time on the political field in the summer following the Haymarket affair…. [T]he Knights of Labor doubled its membership, reaching 40,000 in the fall of 1886. On Labor Day the number of Chicago workers in parade led the country.

On the first anniversary of the event, May 4, 1887, the New York Tribune published an interview with Senator Leland Stanford, in which he addressed the consensus that “the conflict between capital and labor is intensifying” and articulated the vision advocated by the Knights of Labor for an industrial system of worker-owned co-operatives, another among the strategies pursued to advance the conditions of laborers. The interview was republished as a pamphlet to include the bill Stanford introduced in the Senate to foster co-operatives.

Popular pressure continued for the establishment of the 8-hour day. At the convention of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1888, the union decided to campaign for the shorter workday again. May 1, 1890, was agreed upon as the date on which workers would strike for an eight-hour work day.

In 1889, AFL president Samuel Gompers wrote to the first congress of the Second International, which was meeting in Paris. He informed the world’s socialists of the AFL’s plans and proposed an international fight for a universal eight-hour work day. In response to Gompers’s letter, the Second International adopted a resolution calling for “a great international demonstration” on a single date so workers everywhere could demand the eight-hour work day. In light of the Americans’ plan, the International adopted May 1, 1890 as the date for this demonstration.

A secondary purpose behind the adoption of the resolution by the Second International was to honor the memory of the Haymarket martyrs and other workers who had been killed in association with the strikes on May 1, 1886. Historian Philip Foner writes “[t]here is little doubt that everyone associated with the resolution passed by the Paris Congress knew of the May 1 demonstrations and strikes for the eight-hour day in 1886 in the United States … and the events associated with the Haymarket tragedy.”

The first international May Day was a spectacular success. The front page of the New York World on May 2, 1890, was devoted to coverage of the event. Two of its headlines were “Parade of Jubilant Workingmen in All the Trade Centers of the Civilized World” and “Everywhere the Workmen Join in Demands for a Normal Day.” The Times of London listed two dozen European cities in which demonstrations had taken place, noting there had been rallies in Cuba, Peru and Chile. Commemoration of May Day became an annual event the following year.

The association of May Day with the Haymarket martyrs has remained strong in Mexico. Mary Harris “Mother” Jones was in Mexico on May 1, 1921, and wrote of the “day of ‘fiestas'” that marked “the killing of the workers in Chicago for demanding the eight-hour day”. In 1929 The New York Times referred to the May Day parade in Mexico City as “the annual demonstration glorifying the memory of those who were killed in Chicago in 1887.” The New York Times described the 1936 demonstration as a commemoration of “the death of the martyrs in Chicago.” In 1939 Oscar Neebe’s grandson attended the May Day parade in Mexico City and was shown, as his host told him, “how the world shows respect to your grandfather”.

The influence of the Haymarket affair was not limited to the celebration of May Day. Emma Goldman, the activist and political theorist, was attracted to anarchism after reading about the incident and the executions, which she later described as “the events that had inspired my spiritual birth and growth.” She considered the Haymarket martyrs to be “the most decisive influence in my existence”. Her associate, Alexander Berkman also described the Haymarket anarchists as “a potent and vital inspiration.” Others whose commitment to anarchism, or revolutionary socialism, crystallized as a result of the Haymarket affair included Voltairine de Cleyre and “Big Bill” Haywood, a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World. Goldman wrote to historian Max Nettlau that the Haymarket affair had awakened the social consciousness of “hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people”.

Suspected bombers

While admitting none of the defendants were involved in the bombing, the prosecution made the argument that Lingg had built the bomb and two prosecution witnesses (Harry Gilmer and Malvern Thompson) tried to imply the bomb thrower was helped by Spies, Fischer and Schwab. The defendants claimed they had no knowledge of the bomber at all.

Several activists, including Dyer Lum (a close associate of the defendants who wrote an account of the case in 1891), Voltairine de Cleyre and Robert Reitzel, later hinted they knew who the bomber was. Writers and other commentators have speculated about many possible suspects:

Rudolph Schnaubelt was indicted but fled the country. From this photograph, a prosecution witness identified Schnaubelt as the bomber.

  • Rudolph Schnaubelt (1863–1901) was an activist and the brother-in law of Michael Schwab. He was at the Haymarket when the bomb exploded. Schnaubelt was indicted with the other defendants but fled the city and later the country before he could be brought to trial. He was the detectives’ lead suspect, and state witness Gilmer testified he saw Schnaubelt throw the bomb, identifying him from a photograph in court. Schnaubelt later sent two letters from London disclaiming all responsibility, writing, “If I had really thrown this bomb, surely I would have nothing to be ashamed of, but in truth I never once thought of it.” He is the most generally accepted and widely known suspect and figured as the bomb thrower in The Bomb, Frank Harris’s 1908 fictionalization of the tragedy. Written from Schnaubelt’s point of view, the story opens with him confessing on his deathbed. However, Harris’s description was fictional and those who knew Schnaubelt vehemently criticized the book.
  • George Schwab was a German shoemaker who died in 1924. German anarchist Carl Nold claimed he learned Schwab was the bomber through correspondence with other activists but no proof ever emerged. Historian Paul Avrich also suspected him but noted that while Schwab was in Chicago, he had only arrived days before. This contradicted statements by others that the bomber was a well-known figure in Chicago.
  • George Meng (b. around 1840) was a German anarchist and teamster who owned a small farm outside of Chicago where he had settled in 1883 after emigrating from Bavaria. Like Parsons and Spies, he was a delegate at the Pittsburgh Congress and a member of the IWPA. Meng’s granddaughter, Adah Maurer, wrote Paul Avrich a letter in which she said that her mother, who was 15 at the time of the bombing, told her that her father was the bomber. Meng died sometime before 1907 in a saloon fire. Based on his correspondence with Maurer, Avrich concluded that there was a “strong possibility” that the little-known Meng may have been the bomber.
  • An agent provocateur was suggested by some members of the anarchist movement. Albert Parsons believed the bomber was a member of the police or the Pinkertons trying to undermine the labor movement. However, this contradicts the statements of several activists who said the bomber was one of their own. Lucy Parsons and Johann Most rejected this notion. Dyer Lum said it was “puerile” to ascribe “the Haymarket bomb to a Pinkerton.”
  • A disgruntled worker was widely suspected. When Adolph Fischer was asked if he knew who threw the bomb, he answered, “I suppose it was some excited workingman.” Oscar Neebe said it was a “crank.” Governor Altgeld speculated the bomb thrower might have been a disgruntled worker who was not associated with the defendants or the anarchist movement but had a personal grudge against the police. In his pardoning statement, Altgeld said the record of police brutality towards the workers had invited revenge adding, “Capt. Bonfield is the man who is really responsible for the deaths of the police officers.”
  • Klemana Schuetz was identified as the bomber by Franz Mayhoff, a New York anarchist and fraudster, who claimed in an affidavit that Schuetz had once admitted throwing the Haymarket bomb. August Wagener, Mayhoff’s attorney, sent a telegram from New York to defense attorney Captain William Black the day before the executions claiming knowledge of the bomber’s identity. Black tried to delay the execution with this telegram but Governor Oglesby refused. It was later learned that Schuetz was the primary witness against Mayhoff at his trial for insurance fraud, so Mayhoff’s affidavit has never been regarded as credible by historians.
  • Thomas Owen was a carpenter from Pennsylvania. Severely injured in an accident a week before the executions, Owen reportedly confessed to the bombing on his deathbed by saying, “I was at the Haymarket riot and am an anarchist and say that I threw a bomb in that riot.” He was an anarchist and apparently had been in Chicago at the time but other accounts note that long before his accident he had said he was at the Haymarket and saw the bomb thrower. Owen may have been trying to save the condemned men.
  • Reinold “Big” Krueger was killed by police either in the melee after the bombing or in a separate disturbance the next day and has been named as a suspect but there is no supporting evidence.
  • A mysterious outsider was reported by John Philip Deluse, a saloon keeper in Indianapolis who claimed he encountered a stranger in his saloon the day before the bombing. The man was carrying a satchel and on his way from New York to Chicago. According to Deluse, the stranger was interested in the labor situation in Chicago, repeatedly pointed to his satchel and said, “You will hear of some trouble there very soon.” Parsons used Deluse’s testimony to suggest the bomb thrower was sent by eastern capitalists. Nothing more was ever learned about Deluse’s claim.

Burial and monument

Lingg, Spies, Fischer, Engel, and Parsons were buried at the German Waldheim Cemetary (later merged with Forest Home Cemetery) in Forest Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Schwab and Neebe were also buried at Waldheim when they died, reuniting the “Martyrs.” In 1893, the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument by sculptor Albert Weinert was raised at Waldheim. Over a century later, it was designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior.

Throughout the 20th century, activists such as Emma Goldman chose to be buried near the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument graves.

In October 2016, a time capsule with materials relating to the Haymarket Affair was dug up in Waldheim Cemetery.

Haymarket memorials

In 1889, a commemorative nine-foot (2.7 meter) bronze statue of a Chicago policeman by sculptor Johannes Gelert was erected in the middle of Haymarket Square with private funds raised by the Union League Club of Chicago. The statue was unveiled on May 30, 1889, by Frank Degan, the son of Officer Mathias Degan. On May 4, 1927, the 41st anniversary of the Haymarket affair, a streetcar jumped its tracks and crashed into the monument. The motorman said he was “sick of seeing that policeman with his arm raised”. The city restored the statue in 1928 and moved it to Union Park. During the 1950s, construction of the Kennedy Expressway erased about half of the old, run-down market square, and in 1956, the statue was moved to a special platform built for it overlooking the freeway, near its original location.

The statue-less pedestal of the police monument on the 100th anniversary of the Haymarket affair in May 1986; the pedestal has since been removed.

The Haymarket statue was vandalized with black paint on May 4, 1968, the 82nd anniversary of the Haymarket affair, following a confrontation between police and demonstrators at a protest against the Vietnam War. On October 6, 1969, shortly before the “Days of Rage”  protests, the statue was destroyed when a bomb was placed between its legs. Weatherman took credit for the blast, which broke nearly 100 windows in the neighborhood and scattered pieces of the statue onto the Kennedy Expressway below. The statue was rebuilt and unveiled on May 4, 1970, to be blown up yet again by Weatherman on October 6, 1970. The statue was rebuilt, again, and Mayor Richard J. Daley posted a 24‑hour police guard at the statue. This guard cost $67,440 per year. In 1972, it was moved to the lobby of the Central Police Headquarters, and in 1976 to the enclosed courtyard of the Chicago police academy. For another three decades the statue’s empty, graffiti-marked pedestal stood on its platform in the run-down remains of Haymarket Square where it was known as an anarchist landmark. On June 1, 2007, the statue was rededicated at Chicago Police Headquarters with a new pedestal, unveiled by Geraldine Doceka, Officer Mathias Degan’s great-granddaughter.

In 1992, the site of the speakers’ wagon was marked by a bronze plaque set into the sidewalk, reading:

“A decade of strife between labor and industry culminated here in a confrontation that resulted in the tragic death of both workers and policemen. On May 4, 1886, spectators at a labor rally had gathered around the mouth of Crane’s Alley. A contingent of police approaching on Des Plaines Street were met by a bomb thrown from just south of the alley. The resultant trial of eight activists gained worldwide attention for the labor movement, and initiated the tradition of ‘May Day’ labor rallies in many cities.”

Designated on March 25, 1992

Richard M. Daley, Mayor

On September 14, 2004, Daley and union leaders—including the president of Chicago’s police union—unveiled a monument by Chicago artist Mary Brogger, a fifteen-foot (4.5 m) speakers’ wagon sculpture echoing the wagon on which the labor leaders stood in Haymarket Square to champion the eight-hour day. The bronze sculpture, intended to be the centerpiece of a proposed “Labor Park”, is meant to symbolize both the rally at Haymarket and free speech. The planned site was to include an international commemoration wall, sidewalk plaques, a cultural pylon, a seating area, and banners, but construction has not yet begun.

As of 2016, a feature motion picture is being produced about the Haymarket affair, the events leading up to it, and its aftermath.

 

Rank and FileCA.

The history behind Canada’s National Day of Mourning

Posted on April 28, 2017 in Day of Mourning, Injured Workers

By Dorothy Wigmore

April 28 has many names. In Canada, it’s the Day of Mourning. In the United States and the United Kingdom, it’s Workers’ Memorial Day. The International Labour Organization calls it the World Day for Safety and Health at Work. Marked around the world, there’s confusion about its origins, even in Canada.

Around 1983, the health and safety director of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Colin Lambert, and his long-time friend and fellow activist, Ray Sentes, came up with the idea of a day to recognize workers killed and injured on the job.

As a steelworker and miner in Sudbury, Ontario, Lambert was instrumental in having mandatory coroners’ inquests for all miners’ deaths in Ontario. He also lamented the contrast between the lack of recognition for miners and other workers who died because of their work and the large public events for “fallen” police officers and firefighters.

Lambert “floated the idea” with CUPE’s national health and safety committee, talking about a special day of recognition for workers killed and injured on the job, to be held on May 1 (celebrated as May Day in Europe and elsewhere). The committee endorsed the idea. At its 1984 convention, union delegates supported the proposal. Soon after, some CUPE locals started negotiating events, such as lowered flags and moments of silence.

In 1984 and 1985, CUPE representatives took the idea to the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) executive and its national health and safety committee. Local unions also sent resolutions to the CLC.

In February 1986, the CLC announced the first Day of Mourning, coinciding with the first day of its convention that year. Rather than May 1, they chose the date when the Ontario legislature passed the country’s first workers compensation law, in 1914. The convention passed a resolution supporting April 28 as a day to “mourn for the dead and fight for the living.”

In 1990, Lambert and CUPE pushed for innovative ways to recognize the day. April 28 could be a “year-round series of public events”, not just a Day of Mourning. We can attract “broad public recognition for the day by adopting a universal, unthreatening symbol of worker safety, the canary.”

“The canary’s an appropriate symbol,” Lambert said. “It shows that today workers are the canaries — they are front-line protection for all of us.” The canary also showed up in the CLC’s new poster for April 28.

Lambert and others saw the potential for a day of “preventive action for workers which will be recognized by society in general.” They called on CUPE locals to have activities in the week heading up to the 28th. They sent a package with a new poster — introducing the canary symbol — and a special issue of the health and safety newsletter. There also was a workplace inspection checklist and calls for locals to campaign for government recognition of the day, and to bargain or ask employers for a moment’s silence at 11 a.m. on April 28.

CUPE members and others responded with enthusiasm. The British Columbia CUPE health and safety committee had a “Spot the Hazard” campaign for workplace inspections. In Winnipeg, Manitoba, the Federation of Labour and CUPE produced tags with the canary symbol and “Day of Mourning, April 28”. They sold them with members of the local professional football team and the Boys and Girls Club, with proceeds to the Club. In Windsor, Ontario, more than 300 people marched to the Ministry of Labour to lay a wreath and release black balloons inscribed with “We came here to work, not to die”.

The campaign for government recognition paid off. In February 1991, the Canadian government passed a private member’s bill, naming April 28 as the “Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace.” Provincial and municipal governments also recognize the day.

These efforts and many others inspired trade unions and health and safety activists and around the world. Monuments and plaques are some of the most common responses. There were so many by 2001 that Ed Thomas of Hamilton wrote a book about them [1]. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) put some of his pictures on a web page.

The campaign for recognition of the day has been successful. Now, what about the goals behind it?

This article was first published in the Occupational Health and Safety Section Newsletter, Spring 2010, of the American Public Health Association.

[1] E. Thomas, Dead But Not Forgotten: Monuments to Workers. Ed Thomas, 2001.

Time

The Bloody Story of How May Day Became a Holiday for Workers

Lily Rothman     May 01, 2015

Celebrations on May 1 have long had two, seemingly contradictory meanings. On one hand, May Day is known for maypoles, flowers and welcoming the spring. On the other hand, it’s a day of worker solidarity and protest; though the U.S. observes its official Labor Day in September, many countries will celebrate Labor Day on Friday.

How did that happen?

Like so many historical twists, by complete accident. As TIME explained in 1929, “To old-fashioned people, May Day means flowers, grass, picnics, children, clean frocks. To up-and-doing Socialists and Communists it means speechmaking, parading, bombs, brickbats, conscientious violence. This connotation dates back to May Day, 1886, when some 200,000 U. S. workmen engineered a nationwide strike for an eight-hour day.”

The May 1, 1886, labor action wasn’t just any strike—it was part of what became known as the Haymarket affair. On May 1 of that year, Chicago (along with other cities) was the site of a major union demonstration in support of the eight-hour workday. The Chicago protests were meant to be part of several days of action. On May 3, a strike at the McCormick Reaper plant in the city turned violent; the next day, a peaceful meeting at Haymarket Square became even more so. Here’s how TIME summed it up in 1938:

A few minutes after ten o’clock on the night of May 4, 1886, a storm began to blow up in Chicago. As the first drops of rain fell, a crowd in Haymarket Square, in the packing house district, began to break up. At eight o’clock there had been 3,000 persons on hand, listening to anarchists denounce the brutality of the police and demand the eight-hour day, but by ten there were only a few hundred. The mayor, who had waited around in expectation of trouble, went home, and went to bed. The last speaker was finishing his talk when a delegation of 180 policemen marched from the station a block away to break up what remained of the meeting. They stopped a short distance from the speaker’s wagon. As a captain ordered the meeting to disperse, and the speaker cried out that it was a peaceable gathering, a bomb exploded in the police ranks. It wounded 67 policemen, of whom seven died. The police opened fire, killing several men and wounding 200, and the Haymarket Tragedy became a part of U. S. history.

In 1889, the International Socialist Conference declared that, in commemoration of the Haymarket affair, May 1 would be an international holiday for labor, now known in many places as International Workers’ Day.

In the U.S., that holiday came in for particular contempt during the anti-communist fervor of the early Cold War. In July of 1958, President Eisenhower signed a resolution named May 1 “Loyalty Day” in an attempt to avoid any hint of solidarity with the “workers of the world” on May Day. The resolution declared that it would be “a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States of America and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom.”

CNN

What is May Day, anyway?

AJ Willingham, CNN       May 2, 2016

Story highlights

  • May Day falls on May 1 every year
  • It is a holiday of summer celebration, but also marks International Worker’s Day

(CNN)To most people in the Northern Hemisphere, May Day conjures images of brightly colored twirling ribbons and promises of warm days ahead. That’s not the whole story, though: May Day is also a day of protests and riots that traces its modern roots back to a world-changing explosion in Chicago.

When is May Day?

May Day is May 1 every year. Easy to remember, right?

What is May Day?

Depending on where you are, it’s either a seasonal celebration or a day to celebrate workers’ rights, or maybe a little bit of both. Think of the latter use as a Labor Day, if you will, for the rest of the world.

How did it start?

This is a more complicated question. Originally, May Day was an ancient pagan holiday celebrating the start of summer. In Gaelic traditions, it is known as Beltaine (or the Anglicized “Beltane”). As time went on, different groups adapted the celebration to their specific cultures or beliefs. Europeans and Americans often celebrate in a more secular manner with diversions like maypole dancing and flower crowns. (That certainly lends a bit of cultural context to all the young women breezing around summer music festivals this time of year with giant daisies on their heads.)

Also of note: In May, the Southern Hemisphere is getting ready for winter, so May Day as a seasonal celebration is, for the most part, a Northern Hemisphere thing.

How did it become a day for labor rights?

May Day is also a labor holiday in many areas of the world, and that part of its history is a thornier story. May Day has shared a date with International Workers’ Day since the 1880s. At the time, labor movements around the world were fighting for fair work accommodations like eight-hour workdays and unions. The date was chosen because it aligned with the anniversary of the Haymarket affair in Chicago, where police killed four people at a peaceful protest after someone threw a bomb into the crowd.

The event had a huge impact on labor movements across the world.

So why are there sometimes riots and marches on May Day?

Because of its more recent history, International Workers’ Day/May Day is often a day of protest for labor unions around the world. The people come come out to rally, and sometimes their passionate demonstrations can turn violent. In 2014, Turkey attempted to ban labor rallies, citing security concerns. Across Europe, similar events have attracted heavy police presence.

Riots and protests occur in the United States, as well. One of the most notable is the Seattle May Day Marches, which, though intended to be peaceful, have broken out in violence in the past.

In a strange way, some of these demonstrations overlap with the more festive roots of May Day: The planned protests in Seattle include a rock concert, and the long-running May Day Parade in Minneapolis features both colorful, festive floats and revelers who wear satirical costumes related to the labor and political issues of the day.

Is this related to the “Mayday! Mayday!” distress call?

It’s actually not at all! “Mayday” the distress call comes from the French term m’aidez, which means “help me.”

Nothing wrong with a little French lesson to go along with the holiday’s history!

 

International Workers of the World

The Brief Origins of May Day

By Eric Chase – 1993.

Most people living in the United States know little about the International Workers’ Day of May Day. For many others there is an assumption that it is a holiday celebrated in state communist countries like Cuba or the former Soviet Union. Most Americans don’t realize that May Day has its origins here in this country and is as “American” as baseball and apple pie, and stemmed from the pre-Christian holiday of Beltane, a celebration of rebirth and fertility.

In the late nineteenth century, the working class was in constant struggle to gain the 8-hour work day. Working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were commonplace at many work places and inspired such books as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Jack London’s The Iron Heel. As early as the 1860’s, working people agitated to shorten the workday without a cut in pay, but it wasn’t until the late 1880’s that organized labor was able to garner enough strength to declare the 8-hour workday. This proclamation was without consent of employers, yet demanded by many of the working class. At this time, socialism was a new and attractive idea to working people, many of whom were drawn to its ideology of working class control over the production and distribution of all goods and services. Workers had seen first-hand that Capitalism benefited only their bosses, trading workers’ lives for profit. Thousands of men, women and children were dying needlessly every year in the workplace, with life expectancy as low as their early twenties in some industries, and little hope but death of rising out of their destitution. Socialism offered another option.

A variety of socialist organizations sprung up throughout the later half of the 19th century, ranging from political parties to choir groups. In fact, many socialists were elected into governmental office by their constituency. But again, many of these socialists were ham-strung by the political process which was so evidently controlled by big business and the bi-partisan political machine. Tens of thousands of socialists broke ranks from their parties, rebuffed the entire political process, which was seen as nothing more than protection for the wealthy, and created anarchist groups throughout the country. Literally thousands of working people embraced the ideals of anarchism, which sought to put an end to all hierarchical structures (including government), emphasized worker controlled industry, and valued direct action over the bureaucratic political process. It is inaccurate to say that labor unions were “taken over” by anarchists and socialists, but rather anarchists and socialist made up the labor unions.

At its national convention in Chicago, held in 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (which later became the American Federation of Labor), proclaimed that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1, 1886.” The following year, the FOTLU, backed by many Knights of Labor locals, reiterated their proclamation stating that it would be supported by strikes and demonstrations. At first, most radicals and anarchists regarded this demand as too reformist, failing to strike “at the root of the evil.” A year before the Haymarket Massacre, Samuel Fielden pointed out in the anarchist newspaper, The Alarm, that “whether a man works eight hours a day or ten hours a day, he is still a slave.”

Despite the misgivings of many of the anarchists, an estimated quarter million workers in the Chicago area became directly involved in the crusade to implement the eight hour work day, including the Trades and Labor Assembly, the Socialistic Labor Party and local Knights of Labor. As more and more of the workforce mobilized against the employers, these radicals conceded to fight for the 8-hour day, realizing that “the tide of opinion and determination of most wage-workers was set in this direction.” With the involvement of the anarchists, there seemed to be an infusion of greater issues than the 8-hour day. There grew a sense of a greater social revolution beyond the more immediate gains of shortened hours, but a drastic change in the economic structure of capitalism.

In a proclamation printed just before May 1, 1886, one publisher appealed to working people with this plea:

  • Workingmen to Arms!
  • War to the Palace, Peace to the Cottage, and Death to LUXURIOUS IDLENESS.
  • The wage system is the only cause of the World’s misery. It is supported by the rich classes, and to destroy it, they must be either made to work or DIE.
  • One pound of DYNAMITE is better than a bushel of BALLOTS!
  • MAKE YOUR DEMAND FOR EIGHT HOURS with weapons in your hands to meet the capitalistic bloodhounds, police, and militia in proper manner.

Not surprisingly the entire city was prepared for mass bloodshed, reminiscent of the railroad strike a decade earlier when police and soldiers gunned down hundreds of striking workers. On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history. In Chicago, the epicenter for the 8-hour day agitators, 40,000 went out on strike with the anarchists in the forefront of the public’s eye. With their fiery speeches and revolutionary ideology of direct action, anarchists and anarchism became respected and embraced by the working people and despised by the capitalists.

The names of many – Albert Parsons, Johann Most, August Spies and Louis Lingg – became household words in Chicago and throughout the country. Parades, bands and tens of thousands of demonstrators in the streets exemplified the workers’ strength and unity, yet didn’t become violent as the newspapers and authorities predicted.

More and more workers continued to walk off their jobs until the numbers swelled to nearly 100,000, yet peace prevailed. It was not until two days later, May 3, 1886, that violence broke out at the McCormick Reaper Works between police and strikers.

For six months, armed Pinkerton agents and the police harassed and beat locked-out steelworkers as they picketed. Most of these workers belonged to the “anarchist-dominated” Metal Workers’ Union. During a speech near the McCormick plant, some two hundred demonstrators joined the steelworkers on the picket line. Beatings with police clubs escalated into rock throwing by the strikers which the police responded to with gunfire. At least two strikers were killed and an unknown number were wounded.

Full of rage, a public meeting was called by some of the anarchists for the following day in Haymarket Square to discuss the police brutality. Due to bad weather and short notice, only about 3000 of the tens of thousands of people showed up from the day before. This affair included families with children and the mayor of Chicago himself. Later, the mayor would testify that the crowd remained calm and orderly and that speaker August Spies made “no suggestion… for immediate use of force or violence toward any person…”

As the speech wound down, two detectives rushed to the main body of police, reporting that a speaker was using inflammatory language, inciting the police to march on the speakers’ wagon. As the police began to disperse the already thinning crowd, a bomb was thrown into the police ranks. No one knows who threw the bomb, but speculations varied from blaming any one of the anarchists, to an agent provocateur working for the police.

Enraged, the police fired into the crowd. The exact number of civilians killed or wounded was never determined, but an estimated seven or eight civilians died, and up to forty were wounded. One officer died immediately and another seven died in the following weeks. Later evidence indicated that only one of the police deaths could be attributed to the bomb and that all the other police fatalities had or could have had been due to their own indiscriminate gun fire. Aside from the bomb thrower, who was never identified, it was the police, not the anarchists, who perpetrated the violence.

Eight anarchists – Albert Parsons, August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Oscar Neebe, Michael Schwab, George Engel, Adolph Fischer and Louis Lingg – were arrested and convicted of murder, though only three were even present at Haymarket and those three were in full view of all when the bombing occurred. The jury in their trial was comprised of business leaders in a gross mockery of justice similar to the Sacco-Vanzetti case thirty years later, or the trials of AIM and Black Panther members in the seventies. The entire world watched as these eight organizers were convicted, not for their actions, of which all of were innocent, but for their political and social beliefs. On November 11, 1887, after many failed appeals, Parsons, Spies, Engel and Fisher were hung to death. Louis Lingg, in his final protest of the state’s claim of authority and punishment, took his own life the night before with an explosive device in his mouth.

The remaining organizers, Fielden, Neebe and Schwab, were pardoned six years later by Governor Altgeld, who publicly lambasted the judge on a travesty of justice. Immediately after the Haymarket Massacre, big business and government conducted what some say was the very first “Red Scare” in this country. Spun by mainstream media, anarchism became synonymous with bomb throwing and socialism became un-American. The common image of an anarchist became a bearded, eastern European immigrant with a bomb in one hand and a dagger in the other.

Today we see tens of thousands of activists embracing the ideals of the Haymarket Martyrs and those who established May Day as an International Workers’ Day. Ironically, May Day is an official holiday in 66 countries and unofficially celebrated in many more, but rarely is it recognized in this country where it began.

Over one hundred years have passed since that first May Day. In the earlier part of the 20th century, the US government tried to curb the celebration and further wipe it from the public’s memory by establishing “Law and Order Day” on May 1. We can draw many parallels between the events of 1886 and today. We still have locked out steelworkers struggling for justice. We still have voices of freedom behind bars as in the cases of Mumia Abu Jamal and Leonard Peltier. We still had the ability to mobilize tens of thousands of people in the streets of a major city to proclaim “THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!” at the WTO and FTAA demonstrations.

Words stronger than any I could write are engraved on the Haymarket Monument:

THE DAY WILL COME WHEN OUR SILENCE WILL BE MORE POWERFUL THAN THE VOICES YOU ARE THROTTLING TODAY.

Truly, history has a lot to teach us about the roots of our radicalism. When we remember that people were shot so we could have the 8-hour day; if we acknowledge that homes with families in them were burned to the ground so we could have Saturday as part of the weekend; when we recall 8-year old victims of industrial accidents who marched in the streets protesting working conditions and child labor only to be beat down by the police and company thugs, we understand that our current condition cannot be taken for granted – people fought for the rights and dignities we enjoy today, and there is still a lot more to fight for. The sacrifices of so many people can not be forgotten or we’ll end up fighting for those same gains all over again. This is why we celebrate May Day.

 

Washington Post            House Republicans just voted to change overtime rules for workers

By Jena McGregor May 2, 2017

On Tuesday afternoon, the House of Representatives voted to pass a bill that Republicans have promoted since the Newt Gingrich era, one that would allow private-sector employees to exchange overtime pay for “compensatory time” off, electing to accrue extra hours off rather than extra pay in their wallets. The bill passed 229 to 197, largely along party lines.

The bill — which supporters say would add flexibility to hourly workers’ schedules while opponents worry it doesn’t do enough to protect employees — is not a new idea. It seeks to take a similar provision that has been available to government workers since 1985 and extend it to private-sector employees, making it legal for them to choose between an hour and a half of paid comp time and time-and-a-half pay when they work additional hours.

Similar bills have been introduced multiple times over the past two decades, passing the House three times before failing to pass the Senate. While its fate is unclear in the Senate this year, the White House said Tuesday it supports the bill, saying in a statement it would “help American workers balance the competing demands of family and work by giving them flexibility to earn paid time off.”

Under the proposed changes, eligible employees — if their employer decides to offer the option — would be able to voluntarily choose to receive comp time they can bank and use at a future date in lieu of immediate overtime pay in their paychecks. If they change their minds and want the pay after all, employees would have the option of “cashing out,” with the employer required to pay the overtime within 30 days.

Proponents of the bill suggest the change would improve flexibility for overtime-eligible employees — often lower-wage hourly workers who don’t have the same access to paid time off as their salaried counterparts — to take care of their families.

“Ask any parent just how precious their time is,” Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.), who introduced the bill, said during debate on the House floor Tuesday. The bill, she said, “provides flexibility for working moms and dads who need more time to spend taking care of their family responsibilities.”

Some employer groups are big supporters. “It’s our strong belief that we ought to make this option available,” said Lisa Horn, director of Congressional affairs for the Society for Human Resource Management, which represents employers, in an interview. “The bill has built-in protections to make sure employees aren’t coerced into choosing comp times.”

But opponents worry those protections aren’t strong enough. Though the bill includes language that bans employers from “directly or indirectly intimidating, threatening, or coercing or attempting to intimidate, threaten, or coerce an employee” to choose comp time over pay, many Democrats and advocates for workers say they are concerned that people will feel pressure to opt for the comp time and may not have the resources to seek legal help if they are coerced.

“Under current law, if an employee wants to work overtime, put the money in the bank where it can earn interest and use it to cover the cost of taking some time off later with the permission of the employer, he can do that today — without this bill,” said Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, on the House floor Tuesday.

While employees have the choice of whether to take comp time or extra pay, opponents warn it is their bosses who makes the schedules that offer the extra hours many low-wage workers depend on.

“Whether it’s overt coercion, which language in the bill prohibits, or just a preference, there’s going to be strong incentives to giving overtime hours to workers choosing to take comp time,” said Vicki Shabo, vice president for the nonprofit advocacy group National Partnership for Women & Families.

She adds: “When you’re thinking about low-wage workers who need these jobs, the appetite to pursue [legal] remedies is going to be quite low.”

Others suggest the limitations requiring workers to give “reasonable notice” and not “unduly disrupt” the workplace with their requests for time off give employers plenty of latitude to say no.

“The reality is that it significantly shifts the balance of power and really puts the decision into the hands of the employer instead of the employee,” said Jocelyn Frye, a senior fellow at the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress. “It doesn’t provide any level of assurance that the person will actually be able to use the leave for the purpose they need it.”

Democrats in the House sounded similar concerns Tuesday. “The choice between overtime pay and comp time is a false choice for workers,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) “We know what happens in the reality of the workplace. The vague promise of time off in the future is often never realized.”

Horn, the SHRM executive, said she doesn’t see that as a concern. Employers who are “going to go to this trouble of setting up this program — I think it’s highly unlikely they’re going to turn around and forbid the worker from using it,” she said. She also notes that the penalties in the bill for coercion are “stiff” and should help deter employers from it.

Jonathan Segal, a partner in the employment group of the law firm Duane Morris, agreed. Penalties such as double damages to employees, he said, means “there’s a material disincentive for employers to do the wrong thing,” he said.

(Workers endured long hours, low pay at Chinese factory used by Ivanka Trump’s clothing maker)

Still, opponents said GOP rhetoric has suggested comp time programs could be an alternative to family-friendly policies such as paid sick leave, which have been gaining ground at the state and local level in recent years. They argue that low-wage workers should not have to make the choice, as well as that sick or family leave needs often don’t come with “reasonable notice.”

“It sets up a false narrative,” Frye said. “The notion you somehow have to trade off your pay for flexibility is certainly not the way it works for higher paid employees.”

A spokesman for Roby, Todd Stacy, said such remarks are “frustrating” and noted that the current bill is not a mandate, as well as that it prohibits even indirect coercion and lets workers cash out their accrued time if they and their employer can’t agree on when the comp time is taken. “It’s not for every employer and it’s not for every employee,” he said. “It’s simply meant as an option, to legalize it in the private sector.”

The bill now faces the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hasn’t shared his plans on the issue, according to a report in Bloomberg. In 2013, however, he did support a version of a similar bill.

If it does ultimately become law, employers will then have to decide to offer it. Horn says that of SHRM’s 285,000 members, “I probably have just as many who would like to offer the comp time as those who would never want to pursue this option. It is a lift for employers,” she said, meaning it requires planning, expense and logistics to launch and run. “There’s the tracking of hours, and they carry the liability on their balance sheet in case there’s a cash-out. Some employers are just like ‘I would rather pay the straight option.’ ”

 

 

NPR     GDP Grew Just 0.7 Percent In First Quarter Of 2017

Laurel Wamsley  April 28, 2017

The U.S. economy grew at just a 0.7 percent annual rate in the first quarter of this year, according to the latest report on the gross domestic product from the Commerce Department. That’s below market expectations and indicates the economy grew at the slowest pace in three years.

Weak auto sales and lower home-heating bills dragged down consumer spending, offsetting a pickup in investment led by housing and oil drilling. Employment costs rose 0.8 percent in the first quarter.

This “advance” estimate showed the U.S. economy with its slowest growth since the first quarter of 2014. The GDP growth for the fourth quarter of 2016 was 2.1 percent.

The price index for gross domestic purchases, which measures the prices paid for goods and services purchased by consumers, increased 2.6 percent in the first quarter. That’s compared with an increase of 2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016.

Washington Post     Trump’s new VA office to help fire feds faster also could hurt, not protect, whistleblowers

By Joe Davidson Columnist  April 28, 2017
President Trump signs an executive order on improving accountability and whistleblower protection on April 27. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

President Trump is correct to hold federal employees accountable, even as he and his folks make every effort to squirm away from a steady flow of ethical quandaries.

His executive order on “Improving Accountability and Whistleblower Protections” “would create an office in the Department of Veterans Affairs to identify barriers to bouncing bad workers from an agency whose ethical reputation was shredded during a scandal over the coverup of long patient wait times.

The importance of this presidential action was emphasized by Trump’s visit to the VA headquarters, just across Lafayette Square from the White House. Vice President Pence, members of Congress and veterans joined VA Secretary David Shulkin as the president signed the order Thursday afternoon.

Trump praised the “many VA employees who do a fantastic job,” a reality too often lost in discussions about the agency.

“This executive order makes it clear,” he said, “that we will never, ever tolerate substandard care for our great veterans. With the creation of this office, we are sending a strong message: Those who fail our veterans will be held, for the first time, accountable.”

Trump seems to think he created all that’s good. He is not the first to hold VA employees accountable.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Shulkin said the new VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection will help officials deal with employees who “should no longer be working [at] VA, and make sure that we can do that expeditiously.” He didn’t have a cost estimate for this new layer of bureaucracy, which he said will confront “systemic barriers that prevent us from making the right decisions.” But the secretary did say it would not be “small amounts. This is going to be a substantial commitment.”

Unfortunately, the administration’s commitment to move “expeditiously” was not accompanied by a promise to balance swiftness with fairness. Civil service protections were not even an afterthought at the executive order signing ceremony. Due process was not mentioned there by Trump, Pence or Shulkin, or in the order itself.

The order charges the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection with assisting the secretary in using “all available authorities to discipline or terminate” employees who violate the public’s trust and identifying statutory obstacles that get in the secretary’s way as he seeks to do that.

This rush to fire feds faster, first at VA, but with attempts to spread it across government, comes with a serious risk. Yes, due process rights can be slow and cumbersome. They protect, however, not just employees, but more importantly, also the public from a politicized system that favors citizens of one political party over another. Reforms must respect civil service protections. They should be acknowledged by government leaders and not be ignored as they were at the signing.

Furthermore, those protections protect whistleblowers.

While expedited firing has a certain appeal, allowing faster firing also could empower vengeful managers to more easily dismiss employees who report cases of agency waste, fraud and abuse.

The notion of protecting whistleblowers with the new VA office was met with skepticism by those who actually protect them from aggression by individual managers every day.

Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project, said he appreciated Trump’s “good intentions” but that “it would be unprecedented for this office to be an effective, genuine resource for whistleblowers. As a rule, internal agency whistleblower offices always have been Trojan Horses.”

Elizabeth Hempowicz, policy counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, agreed.

She pointed to the VA’s Central Whistleblower Office, created by Congress last year to investigate whistleblower complaints and charges of retaliation against them. Because it is housed within VA, without “proper independence,” she said, “our worry is that it risks becoming an internal clearinghouse to help agency managers identify and retaliate against whistleblowers.”

Congressional Republicans, who generally speaking have advanced numerous workplace protection dilution measures, were full of praise for Trump.

“I applaud the Trump administration for taking action to hold bad actors accountable and enhance whistleblower protections throughout the VA,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

But will the administration enhance those protections or provide cover to subvert them, as whistleblower advocates fear?

Did Republi-cons Really Suffer During Obama’s 8 Years in Office?

From: Voices4Hillary, February 24, 2017

One of many, many infuriating parts of having Trump as the President is the insufferable smugness of conservatives. When they’re not telling you to “suck it up, snowflake” or trying to sell you fake news, they’re gloating: “We suffered for eight years under that tyrant Obummer. Now it’s your turn.”

One man, Scott Mednick had enough with his Republican acquaintances and penned this powerful response:

“I am surprised you would wish suffering upon me. That, of course, is your right, I suppose. I do not wish harm on anyone. Your statement seems to continue the ‘US v THEM’ mentality. The election is over. It is important to get past campaigning and campaign rhetoric and get down to what is uniting, not dividing and what is best for ALL Americans.

There will never be a President who does everything to everyone’s liking. There are things President Obama (and President Clinton) did that I do not like and conversely there are things I can point to that the Presidents Bush did that I agree with. So I am not 100% in lock step with the outgoing President but have supported him and the overall job he did.

And, if you recall, during the Presidential Campaign back in 2008 the campaign was halted because of the “historic crisis in our financial system.” Wall Street bailout negotiations intervened in the election process. The very sobering reality was that there likely could be a Depression and the world financial markets could collapse. The United States was losing 800,000 jobs a month and was poised to lose at least 10 million jobs the first year once the new President took office. We were in an economic freefall. So let us recall that ALL of America was suffering terribly at the beginning of Obama’s Presidency.

But I wanted to look back over the last 8 years and ask you a few questions. Since much of the rhetoric before Obama was elected was that he would impose Sharia Law, Take Away Your Guns, Create Death Panels, Destroy the Economy, Impose Socialism and, since you will agree that NONE of this came to pass, I was wondering: Why have you suffered so?

So let me ask: Gays and Lesbians can now marry and enjoy the benefits they had been deprived of. Has this caused your suffering?

When Obama took office, the Dow was 6,626. Now it is 19,875. Has this caused your suffering?

We had 82 straight months of private sector job growth – the longest streak in the history of the United States. Has this caused your suffering?

Especially considering where the economy was when he took over, an amazing 11.3 million new jobs were created under President Obama (far more than President Bush). Has this caused your suffering?

Obama has taken Unemployment from 10% down to 4.7%. Has this caused your suffering?

Homelessness among US Veterans has dropped by half. Has this caused your suffering?

Obama shut down the US secret overseas prisons. Has this caused your suffering?

President Obama has created a policy for the families of fallen soldiers to have their travel paid for to be there when remains are flown home. Has this caused your suffering?

We landed a rover on Mars. Has this caused your suffering?

He passed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Has this caused your suffering?

Uninsured adults has decreased to below 10%: 90% of adults are insured – an increase of 20 Million Adults. Has this caused your suffering?

People are now covered for pre-existing conditions. Has this caused your suffering?

Insurance Premiums increased an average of $4,677 from 2002-2008, an increase of 58% under Bush. The growth of these insurance premiums has gone up $4,145 – a slower rate of increase. Has this caused your suffering?

Obama added Billions of dollars to mental health care for our Veterans. Has this caused your suffering?

Consumer confidence has gone from 37.7 to 98.1 during Obama’s tenure. Has this caused your suffering?

He passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Has this caused your suffering?

His bi-annual Nuclear Summit convinced 16 countries to give up and destroy all their loose nuclear material so it could not be stolen. Has this caused your suffering?

He saved the US Auto industry. American cars sold at the beginning of his term were 10.4M and upon his exit 17.5M. Has this caused your suffering?

The deficit as a percentage of the GDP has gone from 9.8% to 3.2%. Has this caused your suffering?

The deficit itself was cut by $800 Billion Dollars. Has this caused your suffering?

Obama preserved the middle class tax cuts. Has this caused your suffering?

Obama banned solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons. Has this caused your suffering?

He signed Credit Card reform so that rates could not be raised without you being notified. Has this caused your suffering?

He outlawed Government contractors from discriminating against LGBT persons. Has this caused your suffering?

He doubled Pell Grants. Has this caused your suffering?

Abortion is down. Has this caused your suffering?

Violent crime is down. Has this caused your suffering?

He overturned the scientific ban on stem cell research. Has this caused your suffering?

He protected Net Neutrality. Has this caused your suffering?

Obamacare has extended the life of the Medicare insurance trust fund (will be solvent until 2030). Has this caused your suffering?

President Obama repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Has this caused your suffering?

He banned torture. Has this caused your suffering?

He negotiated with Syria to give up its chemical weapons and they were destroyed. Has this caused your suffering?

Solar and Wind Power are at an all time high. Has this caused your suffering?

High School Graduation rates hit 83% – an all time high. Has this caused your suffering?

Corporate profits are up by 144%. Has this caused your suffering?

He normalized relations with Cuba. Has this caused your suffering?

Reliance on foreign oil is at a 40 year low. Has this caused your suffering?

US Exports are up 28%. Has this caused your suffering?

He appointed the most diverse cabinet ever. Has this caused your suffering?

He reduced the number of troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Has this caused your suffering?

Yes, he killed Osama Bin Laden and retrieved all the documents in his possession for analysis. Perhaps THIS caused your suffering?

From an objective standpoint it would appear that the last eight years have seen some great progress and we were saved from a financial collapse. Things are not perfect. Things can always be better. We are on much better footing now than we were in 2008.

I look forward to understanding what caused you to suffer so much under Obama these last eight years.”

This article appeared by Natalie Dickinson in Occupy Democrats on February 22, 2017.

Maryland could host the nation’s largest offshore wind farm

Washington Post

Maryland could host the nation’s largest offshore wind farm

By Cara Newcomer | AP April 26, 2017

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Maryland Public Service Commission is considering two proposals for offshore turbines off the coast of Ocean City, giving Maryland the potential to host the nation’s largest offshore wind farm.

The companies — US Wind and Deepwater Wind — plan to build turbines off the coast, using wind to generate clean energy. The turbines are connected to transmission lines that travel underground, carrying the energy to substations to be stored, distributed and used.

The approval of just one farm would put Maryland on the map with the largest, but the commission could potentially approve both proposals as long as both projects would not exceed an established price and fee increase for ratepayers, according to the Maryland Public Service Commission’s Communications Director Tori Leonard.

Maryland is required to produce a certain amount of renewable energy through its renewable energy portfolio standard. If Maryland is not able to produce that amount within the state, they can purchase energy credits known as ORECs from out-of-state vendors, and vice versa. An OREC, or Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Credit, is a way of bundling and selling the clean electricity produced by wind farms.

Maryland’s current standard has a specific carve-out for offshore wind energy of up to 2.5 percent per year. Until an offshore wind project is approved and running, the 2.5 percent of renewable energy is being fulfilled by other fuels, like solar or geothermal energy.

The cost of the credits is capped, so a residential ratepayer would not pay more than $1.50 per month more, and a non-residential rate payer, like a small business owner, would not pay more than 1.5 percent more per month.

“For less than a cup of coffee (per month for homeowners), we can produce cleaner energy,” said Liz Burdock, executive director of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, calling the decision a no-brainer.

If the commission approves both projects, the estimated non-residential rate would increase per bill by 1.39 percent, with US Wind’s totaling 0.96 percent and Deepwater Wind’s totaling 0.43 percent. The estimated monthly residential rate would increase by $1.44, with US Wind’s being $0.99 per month and $0.45 per month, according to a March 21 report from Levitan and Associates, a contractor that provides documents and analysis on the offshore wind projects.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, signed into law the Offshore Wind Act of 2013. This law set the parameters for wind farms in Maryland, clarifying where they could be located, requiring the commission’s approval, and authorizing the state to provide and purchase energy credits from these wind farms.

The Democrat-controlled legislature overrode Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of the 2016 Clean Energy Jobs Act during the 2017 General Assembly session. Under the law, which the governor argued passed along too many additional costs to ratepayers, the state’s requirement for renewable-energy sourced electricity increased from 20 percent by the year 2022 to 25 percent by the year 2020.

Those who support Maryland offshore wind believe the farms will produce clean air, bring jobs to the state, and put Maryland on the map for clean energy.

Opponents are concerned about the costs, and how the visual impact of the turbines would affect tourism and the possible negative affect it could have on the community.

Delegate Robbyn Lewis, D-Baltimore, told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service she believes a wind farm could help Maryland reach its renewable energy goal. “Given the fact that the state of Maryland has made commitments to expand renewable energy, this is a perfect time to do it,” Lewis said.

Lewis said while she does not have any comment on which proposal she prefers, it would be a disappointment if the commission did not approve either project.

“I hope the Public Service Commission decides to go forward with this,” Lewis said earlier this month. “I look forward to the possibility of creating more jobs, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and having clean air.”

On Nov. 22, the Public Service Commission announced it was considering the two offshore wind farm proposals, one by US Wind Inc., a subsidiary of Toto Holding SpA, and the other by Skipjack Offshore Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Deepwater Wind Holdings, LLC.

The US Wind project occupies a Maryland leasing area, while the Deepwater Wind farm is projected to be built in a Delaware leasing area. Both projects will bring clean energy to Maryland.

Clint Plummer, vice president of development for Deepwater Wind, said he believes his company’s project would benefit Maryland in a manageable way, with a strategy to develop the project in different phases.

“We’re the most experienced developer and we’ve proposed a smaller project with an aggressive price,” Plummer said, comparing his company’s proposal to the competing US Wind project.

Deepwater Wind’s Skipjack project would consist of 15 wind turbines about 19.5 miles off the coast, Plummer said. “It will be a 120 megawatt project, which is enough to power about 35,000 houses in the state of Maryland,” Plummer said.

The Skipjack project is planned to be built 26 miles away from the Ocean City Pier, according to Plummer, minimizing visualization. It is expected to be completed by 2022, according to the company’s website.

The US Wind farm proposal includes 187 turbines, which would create up to 750 megawatts of power, enough to power 500,000 homes in Maryland, according to Paul Rich, the director of project development for US Wind.

The company expects to have the project built by 2020, Rich told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. US Wind anticipates its project would create hundreds of engineering, construction and operating jobs.

There are reportedly about 2 million households in the state, according to the U.S. Census. Maryland gets its energy from coal, hydroelectricity, natural gas, nuclear, solar and wind.

While the US Wind project is closer to shore, expected to be built 12 to 17 miles off the coast, there are reports from Europe that the view attracts tourists, according to Rich. “They’ll be seen, although minuscule. I think the upshot is that there are people who want to see them; people see them as a bright side of the future,” Rich said.

Rich said they have reached out to the Public Service Commission to discuss the potential for the US Wind project to be moved five miles further from the coast to address visual concerns. If this happened, the current layout for the farm would change. Rich confirmed this move is not definite, but is a discussion he hopes to engage in.

Lars Thaaning, the co-CEO of Vineyard Wind, a company under Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners that has managed and invested in European offshore wind farms, spoke at an April 20 Business Network for Offshore Wind Conference about the differences between building in Europe versus building in Maryland.

Thaaning said the industry in the United States is still new and developing while the industry in Europe has been established. America needs more infrastructure investment, according to Thaaning. “There will not be a long-term market (for offshore wind in America) if we do not establish a supply chain,” Thaaning said.

The Public Service Commission held two public hearings — March 25 in Berlin, Maryland, and March 30 in Annapolis — where legislators and constituents testified on the proposals.

Don Murphy, a Catonsville, Maryland, resident who said he plans to retire in Ocean City, testified against the wind farm proposals at the hearing in Berlin.

Murphy said the project proposals made him feel outraged, horrified and speechless.

“The decisions you make could have an adverse impact on Maryland’s greatest economic engine, Ocean City,” Murphy said. The sight of the wind turbines could impact tourism in Ocean City, according to Murphy.

Murphy proposed that Maryland hold off building these wind farms until the industry is more established, with the fear that they would make headway on the project and regret doing so without proper research.

“It’s said that the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese,” Murphy said. “Why rush into this venture when you can wait long enough to just (receive) the benefits?”

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan acknowledged Murphy’s concerns during his testimony. “I am concerned about our community and about, as I said, 26,000 property owners and over 8 million visitors that come to Ocean City every year,” Meehan said. Meehan reiterated Murphy’s point that the commission shouldn’t rush into a decision.

“I believe we should more forward, but we only have one chance to get this right,” Murphy said. “.We ought to make sure that we’re not asking questions later that we didn’t have the answers to in the beginning. I can assure you, once this starts, there will be questions.”

Multiple people who gave testimony in Annapolis addressed the concerns from those opposed for aesthetic reasons. One man testifying asked those in the room to raise their hands if they found turbines aesthetically beautiful, to which many people responded in favor.

James McGarry, the Maryland and D.C. policy director for Chesapeake Climate Action Network, urged the Public Service Commission to take action and be the leader for offshore wind. “Maryland is one of the most vulnerable (states) in the country from climate change with sea level rises,” McGarry said.

What Trump has done for, and to, the environment in his first 100 days

Yahoo News

What Trump has done for, and to, the environment in his first 100 days

Michael Walsh April 26, 2017

Donald Trump’s election victory, after a campaign characterized by railing against environmental regulations and dismissing the work of climate scientists, sent shivers through the environmental and scientific communities. During his first 100 days in office, the brash and unpredictable president has been following through on his campaign promises to bolster the oil, coal and natural gas industries and reverse the eco-friendly policies of his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.

Nearly every step President Trump has taken to enact his vision for the country has sparked a swift backlash. Shortly after Trump’s win, scientists took steps to back up environmental data that was stored on government servers, fearing it might be scrubbed under a Trump administration.

After Trump took office on Jan. 20, scientists at various federal agencies — including the National Park Service (NPS), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) — launched a batch of “rogue” Twitter accounts in defiance.

The scientific community and its allies organized a March for Science scheduled for Earth Day, April 22, inspired by the enormously successful Women’s March on Washington. They are pushing back against what they see as Trump’s attempts to suppress federally funded research on the link between human activities and climate change, part of a larger trend of political attacks on scientific consensus.

Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, pointed out that almost all of the steps Trump has taken regarding the environment so far have been announcements of plans rather than concrete actions. Still, Brune says he is deeply troubled by the direction Trump is taking the country in.

“As a father of young children, I’m angry at what he’s been doing with the EPA and our commitment to the environment generally. At almost every opportunity this administration has increased the risk to the quality of our air and water and our climate. That’s just wrong,” Brune told Yahoo News. “Protecting the environment creates jobs, it saves money and improves the quality of every American’s life. Trump is undermining the progress that we’ve made, not just in the last administration but under Republican and Democratic administrations for the last 40 years.”

Below are the major actions taken by the administration on environmental issues during Trump’s first 100 days in office:

America First Energy Plan excludes renewables

The White House unveiled Trump’s America First Energy Plan on Inauguration Day. It does not mention renewable sources of energy, such as wind or solar.

Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines advanced

On Jan. 24, Trump signed two executive actions advancing the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Earlier that day, during a meeting with CEOs for three automobile manufacturers, Trump said, “ I am to a large extent an environmentalist. I believe in it, but it’s out of control.”

The Dakota Access pipeline is a 1,172-mile underground crude-oil pipeline that will stretch from northwest North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois. A number of Native American tribal nations are protesting the pipeline, which will pass within a half-mile of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The protesters argue that it could pollute the tribe’s only water source, Lake Oahe, and damage sacred and cultural sites.

The Keystone XL pipeline would be an expansion of the existing TransCanada infrastructure that transports oil from tar sands in the energy-rich province of Alberta to refineries in the United States. The Obama administration had blocked a proposed 1,179-mile pipeline from Alberta to Nebraska.

Environmentalists have raised concerns about both pipelines’ necessity and their potential impact on the surrounding areas.

On March 24, the under secretary of state for political affairs granted a permit authorizing TransCanada to construct and maintain the Keystone XL pipeline.

EPA hiring and grants reportedly frozen

In the first week of the administration, officials reportedly directed the EPA to freeze its grants and contracts and to remove a page dedicated to climate change from its website.

New regulations require repealing others

Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 30 stipulating that two federal regulations must be identified for repeal each time a new one is established.

ExxonMobil CEO becomes secretary of state

Trump chose Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil, as secretary of state. Environmentalists were outraged that Trump nominated a lifelong oilman to represent the U.S. to the international community. There has also been widespread concern over Tillerson’s close ties to Russia.

Tillerson was confirmed on Feb. 1 by a 56 to 43 vote. It was one of the closest confirmation votes in at least 50 years.

Stream Protection Rule revoked

Shortly before Obama left office, the U.S. Department of the Interior established the Stream Protection Rule, which forbade coal companies to dispose of mining waste and debris in rivers and other waterways near mines.

On Feb. 16, Trump signed a joint resolution by Congress rescinding the rule. Republicans argue that the regulation was redundant and made it extremely difficult for coal companies to operate. This was one of several ways Trump followed through on his campaign promises to be a champion for the coal industry.

Longtime adversary of EPA becomes its leader

On Feb. 17, the U.S. Senate voted 52 to 46 to confirm Scott Pruitt, who denies the scientific consensus on climate change, as EPA chief. Critics said this was a classic instance of the fox guarding the hen house; Pruitt, in his previous position as Oklahoma attorney general, sued the EPA more than a dozen times and played a major role in undoing various environmental regulations that he considered government overreach.

More than 770 former EPA officials had signed a letter urging every member of the Senate to oppose Pruitt.

A few days after his confirmation, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), a national watchdog group, published thousands of pages of emails showing how closely Pruitt worked with the fossil fuel industry in challenging EPA regulations.

Environmentalists expect Pruitt to pursue his pro-oil and gas policies as head of the EPA.

Waters of the United States placed under review

Trump signed an executive order on Feb. 28 directing environmental regulators to review the controversial Obama-era Waters of the United States Rule, which expanded the number of waterways protected under federal law. The EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finalized the rule in 2015.

“The EPA’s so-called Waters of the United States rule is one of the worst examples of federal regulation, and it has truly run amok, and is one of the rules most strongly opposed by farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers all across our land,” Trump said at the signing. “It’s prohibiting them from being allowed to do what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s been a disaster.”

Republicans, farmers and energy corporations argue that the rule places unnecessary burdens on businesses and subjects them to pointless fees.

Lead ammunition approved for federal land and water

A day before Trump’s inauguration, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued Director’s Order 219 banning lead ammunition or fishing tackle from federal land and water in an attempt to shield birds, fish and other wildlife from lead poisoning. The ban was unpopular with the National Rifle Association and groups representing hunters and fishermen, including the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which expressed “utter dismay” at the Obama-era directive’s “unacceptable federal overreach.”

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke revoked the ban on March 2 — his first day as part of Trump’s Cabinet.

EPA withdraws information request from energy companies

EPA announced on March 2 that it was withdrawing a 2016 request for information from the oil and gas industry intended to help the agency determine the best ways to reduce emissions of substances such as methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

EPA chief says carbon dioxide is not primary cause of global warming

During an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” administrator Pruitt rejected the overwhelming consensus of climate experts and said the scientific evidence linking carbon dioxide emissions with global warming is still inconclusive.

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” Pruitt said. “But we don’t know that yet. … We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

The American Meteorological Society (AMS) and many other leading scientific organizations have issued statements saying the main cause of the rapid climate change of the past half-century has been the release of atmospheric greenhouse gases as a result of human activity.

“The most important of these over the long term is CO2, whose concentration in the atmosphere is rising principally as a result of fossil-fuel combustion and deforestation,” the AMS statement reads. “While large amounts of CO2 enter and leave the atmosphere through natural processes, these human activities are increasing the total amount in the air and the oceans.”

Later that month, in response to requests from the Sierra Club, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General referred Pruitt’s CNBC interview to Francesca Grifo, the EPA’s scientific integrity officer, to review his statement and determine whether he violated any agency policies.

Trump proposes gutting the EPA budget

The White House’s first budget proposal for 2018, released on March 13, slashes funding for the EPA by 31 percent. Trump said he intended to cut climate change programs and efforts to protect water and air from pollution, which he says are harming coal miners, oil company employees and other workers in the energy sector.

The budget also called for a 17 percent cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal government’s leading climate science agency.

Emissions standards for vehicles reconsidered

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Pruitt announced March 15 that the Obama administration’s standards for emissions from cars and light duty-trucks manufactured between 2022 and 2025 would be reconsidered.

“Today’s decision by the EPA is a win for the American economy,” Chao said in a statement. “The Department of Transportation will re-open the Mid-Term evaluation process and work with the EPA to complete the review in a transparent, data-driven manner.”

The Midterm Evaluation process was established in 2012 to set standards for vehicle models from 2017 until 2025.

EPA continues to fund drinking water upgrades for Flint

In a win for the environment, EPA announced March 17 that it would provide a $100 million grant to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to upgrade the water-supply infrastructure in Flint, Mich., where high levels of lead caused a public-heath emergency last year. The money is provided by the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016, which Obama signed into law.

“The people of Flint and all Americans deserve a more responsive federal government,” Pruitt said in a statement. “EPA will especially focus on helping Michigan improve Flint’s water infrastructure as part of our larger goal of improving America’s water infrastructure.”

Executive order targets climate regulations

Trump’s most concerted attack on Obama’s climate legacy came in the form of his Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth executive order on March 28. It essentially started the process of dismantling Obama’s signature climate legislation: the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which placed limits on greenhouse gas emissions from coal-burning power plants.

“The action I’m taking today will eliminate federal overreach, restore economic freedom and allow our companies and our workers to thrive, compete and succeed on a level playing field for the first time in a long time,” Trump said. “It’s been a long time. I’m not just talking about eight years. I’m talking about a lot longer than eight years.”

It also directs all agencies to review their regulations and guidance documents to determine and end any that could potentially “burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources.”

EPA chief rejects pesticides ban

On March 29, Pruitt signed an order rejecting a decade-old petition to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that’s been in use since 1965. He argued that the insecticide is essential for U.S. agriculture.

“We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” Pruitt said in a statement. “By reversing the previous Administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making — rather than predetermined results.”

Under the Obama administration, the EPA had begun the process of banning chlorpyrifos in response to a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America, which said the step was necessary to protect children’s health.

Recent scientific research links chlorpyrifos exposure with several health risks, including brain damage in children. The neurotoxic chemical is sprayed on crops that are commonly consumed by children, such as apples, strawberries and oranges.

“EPA turned a blind-eye to extensive scientific evidence and peer reviews documenting serious harm to children and their developing brains, including increased risk of learning disabilities, reductions in IQ, developmental delay, autism and ADHD,” Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a senior scientist at NRDC, said in a statement. “Today’s decision means children across the country will continue to be exposed to unsafe pesticide residues in their food and drinking water.”

Sheryl Kunickis, the director of the Office of Pest Management Policy at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, applauded the decision not to ban this “important pest management tool” that ensures an “abundant and affordable food supply.”

The EPA had already banned chlorpyrifos in household settings in 2000, but it is still used in agriculture.

Trump donates part of salary to National Parks

The White House announced April 3 that Trump will donate his first-quarter salary of $78,333 to the U.S. National Park Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior dedicated to maintaining parks and monuments. It was a step toward fulfilling his campaign promise of donating his presidential salary to charity.

But environmentalists largely dismissed the donation as a publicity stunt, pointing out that he had proposed cutting the Department of the Interior’s budget by $1.5 billion.

Pruitt calls for leaving the Paris Agreement

During an April 13 appearance on “Fox & Friends,” Pruitt said the U.S. should withdraw from the Paris Agreement to limit global warming.

“It’s something we need to exit, in my opinion. It’s a bad deal for America. It was an America second, third, forth, kind of approach,” Pruitt said.

EPA unveils Back-to-Basics agenda

During a meeting with coal miners at Harvey Mine in Sycamore, Pa., on April 13, Pruitt announced the EPA’s “back-to-basics” agenda of handing power to the states to create “sensible regulations” that allow economic activity to flourish.

“What better way to launch EPA’s Back-to-Basics agenda than visiting the hard-working coal miners who help power America,” Pruitt said. “The coal industry was nearly devastated by years of regulatory overreach, but with new direction from President Trump, we are helping to turn things around for these miners and for many other hard-working Americans.”

EPA to review ELG Rule

The EPA announced April 13 that is intends to reconsider the ELG rule (effluent limitations guidelines) for steam electric power under the Clean Water Act. The rule, which was finalized by the Obama administration in 2015, places the first federal limits on toxic metals from the wastewater of steam electric power plants.

“This action is another example of EPA implementing President Trump’s vision of being good stewards of our natural resources, while not developing regulations that hurt our economy and kill jobs,” Pruitt said in a statement.

According to Pruitt, some of the country’s largest job producers have objected to the rule, saying it includes economically or technologically unfeasible requirements.

Former Georgia governor becomes secretary of agriculture

The U.S. Senate confirmed former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue as head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture on April 24 with a strong bipartisan vote: 87 to 11.

Along with overseeing farming and food programs, the Department of Agriculture is responsible for the country’s forestry and is the parent agency of the United States Forest Service.

Perdue found success in the agriculture business before entering politics. To avoid potential conflicts of interest, he stepped down from several businesses before he was confirmed as agriculture secretary.

Brune released a statement denouncing what he called Perdue’s history of “crony capitalism, indebtedness to big agribusiness and denial of climate science.”

“We will be closely watching Secretary Perdue’s actions on land conservation, forest management, and funding for forest fire fighting,” Brune said. “We stand ready to resist attacks on our food, our forests, and our families.”

Trump advisers to discuss future of Paris Agreement

On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to “cancel the Paris Climate Agreement” within his first 100 days in the Oval Office, but he’s said little on the subject since his victory.

The New York Times reports that Trump’s advisers disagree on whether the U.S. should stay in the climate accord. Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, reportedly advocate staying in the Paris Agreement, over the opposition of senior strategist Stephen K. Bannon, whose influence within the White House has waned in recent weeks.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer says Trump plans to make his final decision concerning the Paris Agreement before a meeting with the Group of Seven at the end of May. The group consists of the world’s seven major advanced economies: the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

Brune told Yahoo News that pulling out of the Paris Agreement would be a blow to the global effort to fight climate change and an even more significant blow to American leadership.

“China is going all in on clean energy, as is South Korea, India and other rising world economics,” Brune said. “If we forgo the leadership opportunity in the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. economy, much less the global economy, our competitive position will suffer as will the air and water quality of all Americans. It would be a boneheaded move by a president who isn’t fit for the job.”