- The Washington Times - Monday, February 13, 2006

The asbestos mess

The editorial endorsement of Senate Bill 852, the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Act (FAIR), states, “The victims [of asbestos] and their families deserve to be made whole” (“The asbestos debate,” Editorial, Friday). The editorial makes no observation concerning the fairness of this bill to employers.

Actually, the cash machine the Senate is building is not designed to make anyone “whole.” The payments to be made, up to $1.1 million, are just starter money. To get more, the bill clears the way for and gives incentive to the plaintiffs’ bar to pursue every asbestos claim in, at least, a second forum as a claim for workers’ compensation.

This bill, by design, is a wholesale transfer of the asbestos corruption in courts into the states’ workers’ compensation practice. Here’s how:

Today, if Mary is exposed to asbestos products at work, she will sue in court the companies that made or supplied the asbestos products. She cannot sue her employer in court. She can file a claim for workers’ compensation for asbestos injury, but until now, typically, her lawyers have not because the dollars paid to her in workers’ comp have to be paid back from the money she wins in court.

The asbestos bill expressly eliminates the obligation to repay the dollars awarded in workers’ comp on asbestos claims.

However, an employee can’t file an asbestos claim for workers’ comp unless he’s injured, right? We used to think that about court, too.

An employee can’t sue his employer or former employer in workers’ comp for asbestos unless he is exposed to asbestos at work, right? Asbestos fiber is in air we all breathe. It won’t be hard to find or make up. If your operations are in a building constructed before 1973, this bill paints a bull’s-eye on you.

How about a company that is stripped of its insurance by this bill and compelled to pay $16.5 million a year in asbestos tax? Is that company still liable for asbestos claims in workers’ comp with no right to subrogation? Yes.

Can anything be done? Trial lawyers and labor organizations were credentialed as “major stakeholders” and participated in the meetings in which this bill was written. I would contact one of them. Look what those guys were able to deal to themselves in this bill. They definitely know their way around the Senate.

For asbestos lawyers, the bill does not just make workers’ comp a more attractive playground. If a lawyer or his contract paralegal helps a person fill out the form for money under this federal entitlement program, the lawyer can take up to $55,000.

“Labor organizations” will get hired as federal asbestos marshals to help your employees figure out whether they have a compensable injury under the bill and other nice things like “obtaining the documentation necessary to support a claim.”

In recognition of the interventions and vigilance of unions for worker health and safe job practices over the past 50 years in places such as Libby, Mont., where vermiculite mining and processing operations exposed workers and residents to naturally occurring asbestos, no fewer than four on the trust fund board of directors will be persons recommended by “recognized national labor federations.”

Need further evidence of the influence of stakeholders? You know that provision that abrogates an employer’s right to subrogation?

It’s supposed to protect the asbestos trust fund awards from the whole world, including insurance carriers and governmental entities. It doesn’t prohibit labor organizations from reducing union obligations relating to disability, insurance or pension, based on a trust fund award, or a union’s claim for reimbursement from that award.

Also, when employers renew their workers’ compensation insurance policies, it probably would be smart to take the longest term available. Guess which way those premiums are headed?

MICHAEL MARTIN

Mount Lebanon, Pa.

Working together to win

In response to Nat Hentoff’s Jan. 30 Op-Ed column, “The imperial president,” in which he quotes James Madison’s admonition in Federalist No. 47 that “the three great departments of power should be separate and distinct”: I suggest that we examine the facts. Has President Bush requested Congress to disband, as has happened in England’s past?

Has the president really stated that he can do anything in the fight against terrorism, or is this merely a figment of liberal imagination? Finally, has he used his veto pen, thereby refusing “his Assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good”?

I believe the answer to all these questions is a resounding “no.” Indeed, the charge being levied against Mr. Bush could as well be directed at Congress, which consistently finds ways to do anything other than what it is constitutionally mandated to do: pass laws necessary for the public good. All the minority does is try to find something — anything — with which to charge and harass the president.

Mr. Hentoff states that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. have shown “excessive deference” to executive government powers. I hope they continue to do so. The president needs some allies in the fight against terrorism. Everyone in Washington needs to work with the president to win this war against terrorism. If we lose, there may not be a Constitution to appeal to any longer.

DAVID BEAUDIN

Odenton, Md.

Polar bears rally for climate control

“Polar bear eyed for list” (Nation, Thursday) reveals yet another attempt by Kyoto Protocol-supporting organizations to gain control over the U.S. economy by creating a crisis. Are polar bears being exploited for political power?

What rights do the bears have for this protection, and what powers do humans have to control the geological formation of the Earth?

Educated people, even those who claim a crisis to gain power, know that the geology of the Earth is always dynamic. We live on a thin crust of soil that covers a molten center upon which the surface plates shift continuously.

Today’s Arctic shorelines and ice did not exist 50 million years ago. What we call the Arctic was then a verdant swamp covered with dense plant growth (as noted in a May 2005 issue of National Geographic magazine). This growth was submerged under the tectonic movement of the Earth’s plates and became the oil we get from Alaska.

Neither man nor animal has a right to a steady-state environment with the beautiful shorelines, vistas, habitats and species that we see today, and there is nothing humans can do about it except tinker on the margins, such as with pollution abatement. The article “Earth’s Fidgeting Climate,” written in 2000 and posted on the NASA Web site, includes a 500-million-year graph of Earth’s temperatures. Over that period, the most often occurring (mode) Earth temperature was 72 degrees Fahrenheit, about 18 degrees warmer than today. Just four times over those 500 million years has Earth cooled to where it is today, and then only briefly.

Each cooling period was followed by a reheating of the Earth from its lower temperature of 52 degrees back to its mode temperature of 72 degrees. The NASA Earth temperature graph indicates that if the past behavior holds, the Earth is in its “natural” cycle back toward 72 degrees — and we have 18 degrees to go over the next 20 million years, whether or not humans exist. (Humans did not exist during the three previous Earth warming cycles from 52 to 72 degrees).

Cute bears make a lovable story and permit those who wish to gain control over our economy by instituting Kyoto controls an opportunity to gain the publicity they need by claiming polar bears need to be protected.

However, at a macro level, given the short duration and unusual presence of humans on Earth, and given our precarious perch on this molten globe spinning in the vacuum of space, all living things should be placed on the endangered species list … and in the face of the next hurricane, we should stand in its path and scream for our rights to have the shoreline remain exactly as it is.

JOSEPH B. FAMME

Arlington


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