Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
January 6, 2008

He Just Came To Work There
Just as a preacher was blessing the completion of a 227 million dollar restoration job on the Utah state capitol, a coworker discovered the body of John David Welsh, a plumber employed by Jacobsen Construction. Welsh had died sometime during the day in a crawl space in a Capitol sub-basement. It took more than four hours to extricate his body from the confined space as politicians above celebrated the grand reopening of the building with food, beverage, and live music.

It’s possible the work for the state of Utah was legally exempt from OSHA standards. Certainly confined space rules were not followed. All kinds of hazards can lurk in crawl spaces perhaps not accessed for years, even decades. At any rate, workers should never be alone in such situations. Whether job related problems with gasses or cave-ins, or something like a heart attack or stroke, if there’s other workers around there’s a chance for prompt life-saving emergency response. Alone usually means an on the job fatality. There’s way too many of those in confined spaces.

Bad News For Bears
Just before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was to issue a ruling making polar bears a threatened species, the Minerals Management Service announced it was taking bids on oil and natural gas concessions on the seabed of the Chukchi Sea, the part of the Arctic Ocean off the northwest coast of Alaska. Drilling in this area is seen as an imminent threat to one of the two varieties of Alaskan polar bears.

“The polar bear's existence is increasingly threatened by the impact of climate change-induced loss of sea ice,” Margaret Williams of the World Wildlife Fund said in a statement. “The chances for the continued survival of this icon of the Arctic will be greatly diminished if its remaining critical habitat is turned into a vast oil and gas field.”

In April 2007, Native activist group REDOIL (Resisting Environmental Destruction of Indigenous Lands) and several conservation groups filed suit against MMS for its approval of Shell Offshore Inc.'s proposed oil and gas exploration in another part of the Arctic Ocean, the Beaufort Sea. In August, a stay on all exploration activity in the Beaufort Sea was granted to the plaintiffs until the final arguments were heard.

Of course, loss of habitat for polar bears and walruses is not the only threat coming from rapidly thawing pack ice in the region. It also contributes to rising sea levels that will ultimately submerge many islands and coastal population centers.

About That Eighty Years
When the UAW negotiated the VEBA fund with the Big Three UAW president Ron Gettelfinger assured everyone it would be solvent for “eighty years.” That would be more than enough time for today’s retirees and spouses. But many analysts are questioning that prediction.

They point to two major problems–

* Automakers are paying an estimated 52 billion to shift 88 billion in retiree health-care liabilities to the union-run trust -- leaving about 36 billion unfunded.

* The plan assumes health-care inflation falls to 5 percent by 2013 and stays at that level, even though it has averaged almost double that rate in recent decades.

One VEBA expert said, “It's not even close to being realistic, it's preposterous. ... Unless they make drastic changes to the way they treat health care, I'd be surprised if the money lasts 20 years.” That’s disturbing to the many retirees in their fifties.

CheneyCare a Better Bet
“If he were anyone else he’d probably be dead by now,” was the lead-in to new print ads sponsored by the California Nurses Association. They were referring to the extraordinary care of his heart troubles the Vice-President has received because of his unrestricted healthcare plan, paid for by tax-payers. CNA thinks all of us should get such treatment and they have dubbed the single-payer plan in HR676 as “CheneyCare.” You can sign an online petition in support of CheneyCare by clicking

This WIR is on the short side because I need to prepare for some early morning healthcare procedures of my own. We expect to be back to our usual verbosity next time.

That’s all for this week.


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