Living in a New Gilded Age

Robert Reich

Robert Reich Former U.S. Secretary of Labor, Professor at Berkeley

The Trump Justice Department has approved a $69 billion merger between CVS, the nation’s largest drugstore chain, and insurance giant Aetna. It’s the largest health insurance deal in history.

Executives say the combination will make their companies more efficient, allowing them to gain economies of scale and squeeze waste out of the system.

Rubbish. This is what big companies always say when they merge.

The real purpose is to give Aetna and CVS more bargaining power over their consumers and employees, as well as pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers (which have also been consolidating).

The result: Higher prices. Americans already spend far more on healthcare and medications per person than do citizens in any other developed country – and our health is among the worst.

America used to have antitrust laws that permanently stopped corporations from monopolizing markets, and often broke up the biggest culprits. 

But now, especially with Trump as president and lobbyists and CEOs running much of the government, giant corporations like Aetna and CVS are busily weakening antitrust enforcement and taking over the economy.

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Harder Times for Poultry Workers

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

A 59-year-old employee at Allen Harim poultry plant in Harbeson, Delaware was killed last week from a serious head trauma after being struck in the head with a piece of equipment on an electric hoist when he and another employee were attempting to change the battery on a pallet jack.

This was not Allen Harim’s first workplace safety and health problem.

In 2015, OSHA issued a $35,000 citation to the company, warning the poultry processor that “The combination of musculoskeletal disorder hazards, lack of proper medical treatment for musculoskeletal disorders and underreporting of injuries at this plant must be addressed.”  The OSHA citation also included a violation for not allowing workers to use the bathrooms. OSHA also sent a Hazard Alert Letter to Allen Harim, warning of deficiencies in the facility’s medical management program.

And workplace safety is not Allen Harim’s only problem.  The Washington, D.C., nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project issued a report yesterday, “Water Pollution from Slaughterhouses” noting that Allen Harim is facing a $241,000 fine for dozens of wastewater-related violations found at its Harbeson plant between 2012 and 2016 – which the company has appealed. The report studied poultry processing companies who dumped illegal levels of nitrogen, fecal bacteria or other pollutants into the waterways across the country.

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Trump administration waives 28 environmental and health protections to build border wall in Texas

E.A. Crunden

E.A. Crunden Reporter, Think Progress

Effective Wednesday, the Trump administration will suspend nearly 30 laws, most of which focus on environmental protections, in order to proceed with construction on border wall gates and infrastructure in South Texas, despite outcry from environmental groups in the state.

In an announcement Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it would waive 28 laws in order to accelerate construction in Cameron County, Texas on President Donald Trump’s long-touted wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The area includes spots adjacent to wildlife refuges, like the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge. The waiver allows the administration to suspend laws protecting clean air and water, in addition to public lands and endangered wildlife.

Among those laws waived are the Endangered Species Act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

“Border security is critical to the nation’s national security. Recognizing the critical importance of border security, Congress has mandated DHS to achieve and maintain operational control of the international land border,” the waiver reads.

Green groups slammed the announcement and expressed concern over its long-term implications for both people and the environment.

“Waiving environmental laws forgoes the opportunity to fully examine the impacts, mitigation strategies and alternatives,” said Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas, in an email to ThinkProgress. “This is an irresponsible move which puts wildlife and Texas parks at risk.”

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Woman Relies on Medicaid After Becoming Paralyzed