Today's Fair Shots - Tuesday, April 18th 2017

1-Some Government Regulations Falling by Wayside Involve Life and Death

2-Falkenberg: Disenfranchising Voters Is Worse Than United Dragging Passenger Off Plane

3-'Religious Freedom' Argument Used to Justify Underfunding Pensions at Catholic Hospital

1. When the Trump administration gets rid of regulations, the technicalities may fall beyond most folks' expertise. When the Trump administration gets rid of regulations, it may be happening behind closed doors. When the Trump administration gets rid of regulations, it may be the difference between working poor and entering the middle class for some Americans.

   But worst of all, when the Trump administration gets rid of regulations, it may be a matter of life and death.

  In the case of silicosis, an occupational disease, that is no doubt the case, the Huffington Post reports:

  If Tom Ward had to die from his work, he'd rather fall off a scaffold than endure the slow death his father did from the debilitating lung disease silicosis.

  "I would choose to go much quicker," he said, "rather than to have my family watch me suffer."

  Ward fears that other workers will face the same suffocating illness as his father, thanks to the regulatory rollback underway by the Trump administration.

  Ward's father spent several years working as a sandblaster in Michigan. It was most likely on that job that he breathed a lethal amount of crystalline silica, a carcinogenic dust that comes from sand and granite. Excessive silica has been ruining workers' lungs for as long as rock and concrete have been cut. Frances Perkins, U.S. labor secretary under Franklin D. Roosevelt, spoke publicly of the dangers of silica back in the late 1930s.

  After numerous efforts under other presidents failed, the Obama administration finally tightened the regulations covering silica last year, further restricting the amount of dust that employers can legally expose workers to. The tougher standards were 45 years in the making, the subject of in-depth scientific research and intense lobbying by business groups and safety experts. When the rules were finalized in March 2016, occupational health experts hailed them as a life-saving milestone.

  But now the enforcement of the rules has been delayed -- and the rules themselves could be in jeopardy.

  Last week, the Trump administration announced that it was pushing back the implementation of the new silica regulations. For now, the delay is just three months  -- from late June to late September, since "additional guidance is necessary due to the unique nature of the requirements," as the Labor Department put it. A spokeswoman said the agency wouldn't comment beyond that...

  OSHA estimated that the reforms would have a net benefit of $7.7 billion each year, largely due to savings on health care and lost productivity. The Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, calls the silica rule a "case study" in how seemingly expensive safety regulations can have economic benefits over the long term.

  Ward thought the debate over the rule's financial costs had finally been put to rest. For years, he heard dollars and cents being weighed against lives lost or saved. Now that he's hearing it again, he's worried about the bricklayers who will come up after him.

  "The rule really was to prevent future illnesses," said Ward. "It may be too late for me and my generation. This is about the future generation of craft workers."

  Read more:

2.  Lisa Falkenberg of the Houston Chronicle, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, posted a jewel over the weekend, blasting Texas for its consistent violation of minority voting rights.

  "What Happened on United Is Bad; What's Happening in Texas Is Worse" is not necessarily a partisan piece. Much of the violating took place when Democrats were in charge. The remarkable thing about the column is that Falkenberg segues into her main point after discussing the United Airlines fiasco in which a ticketed passenger was dragged off an overbooked plane because a VIP needed a seat. Here is a demonstration of righteous anger:

  If you think we are shamelessly piggy-backing off a viral news story to get your attention, you're right.

  Intentionally depriving people of any color of their right to vote, to have a say in the government that represents them, is every bit as ugly - and infinitely more profound.

  And it's not just one extreme instance, as it was with Dao. It's a pattern.

  Last week's ruling came only a month after a separate federal panel of judges in San Antonio decided that Texas congressional districts were twisted, carved up and stretched beyond recognition in 2011 with racially motivated precision. The judges found the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature's gerrymandering had violated the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.

  'Backwoods hayseed bigots'

  One judge who dissented, Jerry E. Smith, argued that lawmakers were motivated only by partisanship, not by race. He criticized the Department of Justice attorneys handling the case for appearing to view Texas officials and staff "as a bunch of backwoods hayseed bigots who bemoan the abolition of the poll tax and pine for the days of literacy tests and lynchings."

  Clearly, there's some hyperbole there. And I don't know if the uppity federal lawyers really held negative stereotypes.

  But how far beyond our racist past can Texas be if we're still electing people who approve racist policies?

  Read more: 

3. A number of "religious freedom" bills are making their way through the Texas Legislature. 

  We put that phrase in quotation marks because not all the bills are really about the First Amendment balance between "free exercise" of religion, on the one hand, and prohibition of the "establishment" of religion, on the other.

  Historically, an assertion of religious rights has been used to justify racial discrimination. The argument is now arising in the context of gay marriage, advancing a bill allowing county clerks to avoid personal participation in issuing constitutionally required same-sex marriage licenses.

  The Catholic Labor Network reports on yet another use of the "religious freedom" argument to justify under-funding of employee pensions in Catholic hospitals. The case (Dignity Health v. Rollins) is pending as an ERISA case in the U.S. Supreme Court:

  If all Catholic hospitals had properly funded their retirement plans anyway - just because it's good corporate governance and the right thing to do for your employees - there'd be nothing to see here. Unfortunately, some succumbed to the temptation to balance today's budgets by reducing pension contributions or assuming unrealistic returns. Now Dignity Healthcare (formerly Catholic Healthcare West) has more than $1 billion in unfunded pension liabilities and employees have sued, demanding to be made whole. Dignity and two smaller religious hospital groups are in the Supreme Court arguing that religious freedom renders them untouchable.

  Religious hospitals are hardly the only institutions to exhibit this weakness. Public employee retirement programs are also excluded from ERISA, and many state and local governments made similar irresponsible moves. And our efforts as Catholics to protect the boundaries of religious freedom are valid and important. But for heaven's sake, this is poor evangelization. When Catholic employers invoke religious freedom to deny their employees the right to organize, or to bargain, or to receive promised retirement benefits, certainly no one in America is saying "see how they love one another."

  Read more: