Unconstitutional travel ban

I have been reading about the travel restrictions to Cuba and everything I’ve read makes me believe that even if the ban was constitutional when Cuba was supported by the Soviet Union, it isn’t now. Cuba is surely not a combatant with the U.S. now, does not present a clear and present danger, and large U.S. companies now sell millions of dollars of food and drugs to Cuba.

So how in the world can the restrictions hold up constitutionally? In particular, how can they hold up in view of freedom of movement decisions written by the Supreme Court and equal protection under the law? If U.S. corporations can sell millions, why can’t a U.S. citizen buy a $10 piece of art?

Bob HamiltonVia e-mail

End torture

It is time that the U.S. government takes a stand against torture. There was a time when the “rules of war” allowed victorious soldiers to enslave, rape, loot, pillage, and plunder. I assume that our government is against these war crimes. But for some reason, torture has become a gray area. If the government won’t tell the world that it will not allow torture, then we, the people, should. Torture has always been and will always be wrong.

Chuck MannGreensboro NC

Thanks to immigrants

Let us give thanks to Hispanic immigrants. Because they work hard. Because they maintain their families, back home and also here. Because they pay taxes and they contribute to social programs, but almost never benefit from them. Let us thank them for their immense capacity to adapt to a hostile environment. They contribute to our nation’s freedom and spirit of tolerance.

Juan CatalinaVia e-mail

Lights out!

Once upon a time in California, there was an energy crisis. Traffic lights were turned off, consumers were asked not to use their appliances during the day, the electric grid system operator was operating at emergency level, and the Democratic governor was blamed for it all and subsequently removed from office. The new actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, said everything would be better now that he was in charge.

Now we seem to have lots of electricity to burn. All the stores look like they’re open, even after hours. The lights are all on all night, but nobody’s home. Some crisis!

Joseph Hancock Los Angeles CA

From Norway’s snowy woods

Here is a short poem, written in reaction to the return of the “Son of the Bush” monster:

The Revolutionary Optimist’s Dream
Just as the ice broke
he caught himself
it could not last

Tor Einar BekkenNorway, via e-mail

Job safety not a priority

Our family was devastated when my brother Gary was killed on the job at a concrete plant on Aug. 15, 2001. Gary had been employed there only three months as a cement truck driver. He fell 25 feet to his death, from a cement tower, while shoveling gravel off the hopper to clean it. The company claimed Gary just wandered up there on his own at the end of his driving shift rather than being assigned this unpleasant task because he was the “new man.”

Our grief was compounded when this implausible story was accepted by OSHA. After admitting no wrongdoing, the company paid a $6,000 fine for repeat violations for not posting danger signs at a confined space and not implementing measures to prevent unauthorized entry. We learned this company had multiple serious violations issued only months before my brother was killed. These were informally settled with reduced fines, through a process called “abatement,” only a few weeks before his death. This process, combined with inadequate workers’ compensation laws, makes it impossible to hold negligent employers criminally and civilly liable.

In the past 20 years, 170,000 workplace fatalities occurred but only about 1,700 were considered by OSHA to be due to the “willful” violation of safety laws. Without a “willful” designation it is difficult for prosecutors to make a case that an employer was criminally liable and civil suits pursued by families are not likely to succeed. The percentage of cases being downgraded from “willful” to less serious violations has been rising steadily.

In 2001, the year my brother was killed, 60 percent of all cases were downgraded. Of the mere 1,700 “willful” cases out of 170,000 fatalities in the past 20 years, only 196 were referred to prosecutors. In these 20 years there were only 81 convictions and only 16 carried jail sentences. It is a misdemeanor to kill a worker by willfully violating safety laws. The maximum sentence is six months in jail.

My brother’s death was not an isolated case of bad luck. Almost 6,000 Americans were killed in workplace accidents in 2002 — about twice as many people as were killed on 9/11. Another 50,000 die each year from occupational diseases caused by asbestos, pesticides, solvents and chemicals. OSHA lacks the resources to protect the 100 million workers under its jurisdiction. OSHA’S current budget of $475 million amounts to about $4 per worker. The number of hours spent per OSHA inspection has decreased between 1999 and 2003, the number of cases “downgraded” to less serious violations is rising and the penalties for serious violations remain low. The average penalty for a serious violation in 2003 was around $900.

Work for justice in honor of Gary Puleio. Thank you for your coverage of Workers Memorial Day 2004 (“Pray for the dead, fight like hell for the living,” 5/08/04).

Donna Puleio Spadaro, M.D. Via e-mail