All Right, Mr. Romney. Let's Talk About Whose Policies Are Killers.

[Content Note: Injury; death.]

Mitt Romney is a master of mendacious hyperbole. One of his incessant refrains is that President Barack Obama's policies are "job killers." In response to Obama's proposed tax plan, which would repeal the Bush tax cut only for those making more than $250,000 annually, Romney called the plan "another kick in the gut to the middle class in America" and said it "will kill jobs."

There is no factual basis for Romney's contention that the plan to raise taxes on the wealthy will increase unemployment and hurt the middle class. Romney is a liar.

But I didn't sit down to write that water is wet. I sat down to observe that Romney's hyperbole about kicking US workers in the gut and "killing" jobs elides the vile reality that the policies he supports actually do direct physical harm to US workers and actually kill them.

To wit: The first part of a series at NPR about the erosion of worker protections for miners and the surge in cases of black lung.
The Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 was supposed to sharply cut exposure to coal mine dust. The act set a standard for coal dust exposure (2 milligrams per cubic meter of air), which was as little as 1/4 of the concentrations miners breathed at the time.

The act's passage followed a 23-day unauthorized and rowdy strike in which 40,000 West Virginia coal miners demanded government efforts to prevent the disease and to compensate victims.

By the end of the year, tough dust exposure limits were in place. Miners were offered free diagnostic chest X-rays every five years, and federal compensation became available.

...Since 1970, NIOSH epidemiologists documented test results for 43 percent of the nation's coal miners. In 1995, the tests began to indicate more and more black long, rapid disease progression and the unexpected occurrence among relatively young miners.

...The average workweek for coal miners grew 11 hours in the last 30 years, adding about 600 hours of exposure each year.

"By the time I was 40 years old, I mined more coal than most miners [had] seen in a lifetime," says [47-year-old miner Mark McCowan, who was diagnosed with black lung seven years ago].

Production pressure grew with greater demand for coal and higher prices. By 2000, coal production had jumped fivefold from the 1970s. In 2010, it was still triple what it was when the new coal dust limits took effect.

"You can't be exposed to the kind of tonnage that I was and not get black lung disease," McCowan says.

...Federal records obtained by CPI and NPR under the Freedom of Information Act show thousands of coal miners were exposed to excessive levels of silica in each of the last 25 years. Since 1987, coal mining companies and government inspectors turned in more than 113,000 valid mine dust samples. Roughly 52 percent of those samples exceeded federal standards. In 1998 alone, about 65 percent of the valid silica samples violated the standard.

Silica exposure prompts a call for something that might seem unexpected from the National Mining Association (NMA): more regulation. The industry group wants a crackdown focused specifically on silica in the Appalachian region where black lung is resurgent.

"These people are being exposed [to] three to four times the silica exposures for periods over 20 years. [They have] a chest full of silica and nothing's been done about it," says Bob Glenn, a black lung consultant for NMA.
The incidence of black lung has doubled in the last decade and, in some areas, quadrupled since the 1980s. Analyses of federal data have revealed that "the mining industry and federal regulators have known for more than two decades that coal miners were breathing excessive amounts of the coal mine dust that causes black lung," and additionally that "the system for controlling coal mine dust is plagued by weak regulations and inaccurate reporting that sometimes includes fraud."

But what's a little fraud, ineffective regulation, and epidemic black lung when corporate profits are at stake? Surely we wouldn't want to enact and enforce meaningful regulations and start fining companies that refuse to abide them and kill their employees, because that might KILL JOBS.

Government intervention, corporate regulation, federal oversight, unions: These are the things that KILL JOBS, so goes the Republican refrain. Even if that were true, they are also the things that SAVE LIVES.

Which is to say nothing about alternative energy technology that could get people out of coal mines and into jobs that won't kill them.

Republicans argue that private enterprise should create safer jobs, that it isn't the government's role to invest in alternative energy technologies. But their support of deregulation, union-busting, and the subversion of worker protections makes the exploitation of workers for maximum profit so easy that there's no incentive for private enterprise to invest in new technologies that will be (at least in the short-term) less profitable. The Invisible Hand doesn't give a fuck about black lung, or the people who are dying from it. The market solves very little for the people on whose backs it stands.

Further, the conservative ideology of bootstraps doesn't have a fuck of a lot to offer to people who would rather not continue to work a job that is likely to cut their lives in half. The "work harder" mantra is well and truly exposed for the reprehensibly smug platitude that it is when directed at a man who can barely breathe still working 60-hour weeks.

Mitt Romney and his party have nothing to offer people who need. We are a country in need.

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