Congress: Selling Us Out, Piece by Piece

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Obama Administration

It’s safe to say not a day goes by without some part of Congress selling out to moneyed interests, and today was no exception. Today the House Committee on the Judiciary began fast-tracking a bill that obstructs promised compensation to asbestos victims. The Committee broke a promise to hold a public asbestos victims’ hearing and instead sent the bill to a full committee markup and vote without bothering even with a subcommittee vote.

The bill is H.R.982, called the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act of 2013. It is supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and based partly on “model” legislation written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for state legislators. The bill would require asbestos victim compensation trust funds to make public the personal information of those making claims on the trust. It lays no burden of “transparency” on companies that exposed workers and others to asbestos, however.

Asbestos victims’ advocate Judy Van Ness, who lost her husband to asbestos-caused disease, said of the bill,

“The FACT Act forces the asbestos trust funds who administer claims to reveal on a public website personally identifiable information about us and our families including the last four digits of our social security number, private work history and personal information of children exposed at an early age. This information could be used to deny employment, credit and health, life and disability insurance. It could also make us more vulnerable to identity thieves, con men and other types of predators.”

Some background — Because of his flameproofing properties, use of asbestos exploded in the 20th century, in ships, building materials, and machine and auto parts. Internal documents revealed during litigation showed that asbestos industry officials knew that breathing asbestos particles causes severe lung disease by the 1930s. The connection between asbestos and the deadly mesothelioma cancer was well documented in medical journals by the early 1960s. Yet the industry continued to recklessly expose workers and consumers to asbestos while aggressively lobbying against government safety regulations.

Not until the late 1970s did the Consumer Product Safety Commission ban asbestos use in wallboard patching compounds and gas fireplaces. And not until 1989 did the EPA attempt to ban most other asbestos products, a ban partly overturned by a federal appeals court in 1991.

Today there are stringent regulations regarding handling and disposal of asbestos, but all those years of recklessness have taken a toll. It is estimated that 10,000 U.S. workers die each year from asbestos exposure.

As asbestos manufacturers faced lawsuits from sick and dying workers, many went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy to protect their assets. Some of these manufacturers were required to set up asbestos personal injury trusts, which were responsible for compensating present and future claimants. The FACT Act of 2013 would require these trusts to disclose much personal information about the claimants, a requirement that seems to have little purpose except to dissuade people from filing claims. (According to the General Accounting Office, personal information about individual claimants may be obtained today with the permission of the claimants or in response to a legitimate subpoena, but otherwise the privacy of claimants is respected.)

FACT would also create delays in addressing claims, which creates great hardship for the victims. Most mesothelioma patients die within six to eighteen months of the diagnosis.

Industry associations and “tort reform” organizations have spread stories for years about greedy litigants looking for “jackpot” jury awards and alleged asbestos victims gouging money out of every company in sight without even being sick. The fact is that the trusts are set up with all kinds of safeguards against fraud.

The Asbestos Cancer Victims’ Rights Campaign has an online petition to stop the FACT Act. The larger point, though, is that this is just one more example of the way Congress, especially the House, has stopped working for the People.

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. c u n d gulag  •  May 21, 2013 @2:17 pm

    Oh, they still work for people.
    Just not “THOSE” people – meaning, “We the people.”

    They work for the people who sign the front of the checks, not the back.

  2. uncledad  •  May 21, 2013 @2:28 pm

    I’ve had a few older co-workers of mine die from asbestosis, it’s a nasty death, they basically suffocate but it takes months. I’m sure the sponsor of this bill never had a job that exposed him to asbestos. I’d be willing to bet he’s gotten plenty of money from heavy industry, this fund is costing them billions so what better way to shrink it then to intimidate the claimants. Here’s a picture of the Fat Fuck that sponsored the bill. Remember this asshole, what a piece of shit.

  3. Stephen Stralka  •  May 21, 2013 @2:35 pm

    Sure they’re working for the people. Right now, for instance, they’re trying to protect us from abortionists.

    Fortunately, neither of these bills has any chance of being passed by both houses and signed by the president. Which does make me wonder why they’re bothering. It’s like they just want to put themselves on record as being total dicks.

  4. uncledad  •  May 21, 2013 @3:05 pm

    “Which does make me wonder why they’re bothering”

    Because they got paid.

  5. uncledad  •  May 21, 2013 @3:19 pm

    OT but finally a Good News story!

  6. joanr16  •  May 21, 2013 @3:39 pm

    From uncledad’s link:

    Mr Venner was a member of a paramilitary group opposing Algeria becoming independent from France

    And I’ll bet he thought of Algerians living in France as his social equals. [snark]

    It’s just a shame the old creep had to blow his brains out in front of small children.

  7. Buckyblue  •  May 21, 2013 @8:04 pm

    Even for those that hit the jackpot and maybe didn’t deserve it, the company that paid the claim had it coming in some manner. The field is so tipped in favor of the wealthy and corporations that I applaud if they are ever screwed.

  8. uncledad  •  May 21, 2013 @8:29 pm

    “Even for those that hit the jackpot and maybe didn’t deserve it, the company that paid the claim had it coming in some manner”

    No doubt the system for paying claims is corrupted, what would you expect from corporate trial lawyers and a fat corporate slush fund? It”s going to happen. But I’m with maha this bill is not meant to fix anything, It is just another roadblock.

  9. Buckyblue  •  May 21, 2013 @8:44 pm

    Here in WI private conservative groups fought to get the signatures to Recall Walker made public in a searchable, online database. They won, even tho those were public record and you could have found out with a little leg work. Those names are now being used to beat people over the head, including denying employment. Had a parent confront me with it last year, saying as a teacher I shouldn’t have signed it. Lets just say that I didn’t respond very pleasantly. Insisted on my constitutional rights, and told them that I would have told them if they had asked me. But these online databases are just used for intimidation. I’m pretty secure in my job but if I was looking, and another recall came around, I might think twice about signing it.

  10. Doug  •  May 22, 2013 @7:54 am

    Last month I drove 3000 miles with a friend to attend a Conference on the blog topic, Congress selling us out. The Conference to Restore the Republic was hosted by Rootstrikers – a group founded by Lawrence Lessig – see his Ted talk here – http://www.ted.com/talks/lawrence_lessig_we_the_people_and_the_republic_we_must_reclaim.html

    Also in attendance – Cenk Ungar whoo has a group WolfPAC wolf-PAC.com who is building support for an Article V Convention to pass a Constitutional Amandment by the states to reform Congress – without the participation of Congress.

    Buddy Romer was there – he ran for POTUS as a republican last year but the GOP froze him out of the debates even though he was doing better in the polls than some of the others. He refused to accept PAC money and would not take donations over $100 – so they would not give him a podium. His group is
    TheReformProject.org

    There’s an interesting legislative proposal – this may be the ultimate key. Information is online at represent.us. They are planning some spectacular protests & demonstrations to generate public support thru media exposure.

    There’s great information on unPac.org. I left somebody out…. it will come to me later… The problem of corruption in Congress is known – left right and center and there ARE solutions but nobody knows…

    Stepping off soap box…

  11. c u n d gulag  •  May 22, 2013 @10:36 am

    Doug,
    Keep us apprised.
    Also, any chance you can provide some links to these organizations?
    THAT’S the change we need – from the bottom – up!



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