Laura Schultz, a former plutonium worker at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant who was stricken with cervical and kidney cancer told The New York Times she was “stunned” by the decision of a federal advisory panel to deny her and thousands of her former co-workers compensation for illnesses they say resulted from years of radiation exposure. Their union, United Steelworkers of America, had urged the Department of Health and Human Services to allow more than 3,000 of them to shortcut elaborate federal red tape and apply directly for $150,000 in compensation if they suffer from any of the 22 kinds of cancers linked to radiation. Another long-term employee and spokesperson for the petitioners, said, “Our workers should not have to fight for their lives and fight with the government at the same time.” Jennifer Thompson, the spokesperson, said it takes an average of 742 days to process a successful claim and 67 workers have died waiting for their benefits to arrive. Charlie Wolf, a former plant engineer, said he waited more than four years before his claim was approved. He suffers from brain and bone marrow cancer.
According to The Times, Rocky Flats between 1952 and 1989 produced more than 60,000 nuclear weapons parts before it was shut after federal agents raided it as part of an investigation into alleged environmental crimes there. Rocky Flats was designated a Superfund hazardous waste site by EPA, and some measure of the extent of its contamination may be guessed from the fact it took 13 years to clean up.
The situation of the Rocky Flats survivors is, of course, deplorable, and any government with a shred of pity and humanity would set up a system to compensate the former employees promptly. But their suffering is one more expression of the contempt the Bush Administration has for ordinary working men and women. Just as they did not get proper protection when they were committed to battle, veterans wounded in Iraq often receive deplorable medical care when they are returned home. They are considered expendable. The government has also fought tooth-and-claw against the claims of more than a hundred thousand veterans suffering from Gulf War Syndrome. Reports pour in about OSHA not protecting the workers it was set up to protect; about the Labor Department not prosecuting employers who cheat their employees and fire workers for trying to organize unions to better themselves.
Low- and middle-income Americans are finding it harder and harder to make a buck and hold onto a buck. More and more families can’t afford to send their kids to college. Interest rates on credit cards and payday loans today approach vigorish levels that would have gladdened the heart of a Mafia don. And under the Bush Administration, non-business bankruptcies hit an all-time record of 2 million in 2005. Writing in Business Week magazine, Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution noted millions of Americans continue to live in inner city neighborhoods afflicted by “failing schools, unsafe streets, run-down housing, and few local jobs.” One hears of the Bush Administration struggling to find jobs for unemployed Iraqs but who recalls President Bush expressing concern for inner city neighborhoods where 72% of black male high school dropouts are unemployed? Where are the make-work and training programs for them and for the rural poor, white, black, and Hispanic? And what happened to all the summer jobs this year? Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston writes the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University “projects this summer will have the lowest teen employment rate in the past 60 years.”
In his proposed $2.9-trillion budget for fiscal 2008, President Bush calls for $80 billion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and for seniors to pay more for doctor’s visits and prescription drugs. The Administration is devoting considerable time to its plans for a major attack on Iran but where is its plan to provide health care security for 45-million uncovered Americans? According to the AFL-CIO, “On the jobs front, Bush cuts more than $1 billion in job training and employment programs…(and) eliminates current job training for unemployed adults and at-risk youths…” The Bush Administration is even cutting back on “food stamps and other social programs,” according to an article in the June 25 issue of “The Nation” magazine. “The number of children receiving lunch during the summer has steadily gone down in recent years dropping to 2.8 million in 2005 from a high of 3.1 million in 2000, even though the number of needy children has gone up by 1.3 million during those years, as poverty levels have risen,” writes law professor Herman Schwartz, of American University. By some estimates, one out of every eight Americans lives in poverty, a figure approaching 40 million people.
When will Americans wake up? When will they realize this administration doesn’t care about them, whether they are teens looking for summer work, elderly in need of prescription drugs, veterans, nuclear plant workers, soldiers on the battlefield, laid off workers in need of job retraining, young people to poor to attend college, or kids who need a hot lunch? What Bush does care about is operating an aggressive war machine that sucks up the hard-earned tax dollars of the American people to pay for gaining control of the oil wealth of the Middle East for his oil company friends, who are enjoying no-bid Federal contracts in Iraq that mock the free enterprise system and the highest gas prices in history, also at the expense of American motorists who need to drive to work. That’s the high price we are paying for electing two former oil company executives president and vice president---the worst, most corrupt government in American history.
(Reach Sherwood Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org)