Big Brass Blog is a group blog founded in February of 2005 by Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend and Melissa McEwan of Shakesville (formerly Shakespeare's Sister). The mission of this collaborative effort is to stand as the premiere forum where strong, enduring voices of Progressivism provide what liberal politics has been missing: the unapologetic, unrelenting voice of liberalism in the darkness visited upon our world by Right-wing extremists, their ruinous policies, and their hypocritical beliefs.
On Tuesday, there was a vote on S. 3816, the Creating American Jobs and Ending Offshoring Act, introduced by Dick Durbin, D-IL. The bill provided for a 2-year moratorium on the offshoring of jobs by American corporations, and offered generous tax incentives to companies bringing back or creating jobs domestically.
Not one GOP Senator voted for it. Not ONE.
That's because the repugs are all in favor of offshoring. It's all about corporations cutting costs for more obscene profits, and the ability to pollute and poison with impunity. They don't give a rat's ass about Americans. After all, there are plenty of consumers overseas, not to mention cheap labor!
The goppers still cling tenaciously to their raggedy, tired theory of trickle-down handouts. Apparently they decided it was the most plausible-sounding cover for their perpetual Enrich-the-Rich schemes. So they continue to claim, louder than ever, that if we just shower the investor class with tax breaks and entitlements large and small, somehow the largesse will trickle down to the masses, and corporations will then magically begin to "create American jobs".
Ooops! Once again, reality rears its head! That's been GOP SOP since Ronnie Reagan darkened the White House doors, and it hasn't worked once. Not one time. Not ever. Zippo. Nada.
What should be patently obvious to anyone smarter than a toddler is that the overprivileged recipients of the public largesse ransacked the place, grabbed everything that wasn't nailed down, and sprinted to the third world - where the profits are easy and opportunities for multi-level exploitation are practically limitless.
Here's what years of Republican plans, pledges, schemes, and contracts have done for America. Read it and weep, then go educate the next 5 wingnuts you see.
From the Coto Report: 19 Facts About the Deindustrialization of America...
#1 The United States has lost approximately 42,400 factories since 2001. About 75 percent of those factories employed over 500 people when they were still in operation.
#2 Dell Inc., one of America’s largest manufacturers of computers, has announced plans to dramatically expand its operations in China with an investment of over $100 billion over the next decade.
#3 Dell has announced that it will be closing its last large U.S. manufacturing facility in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in November. Approximately 900 jobs will be lost.
#4 In 2008, 1.2 billion cellphones were sold worldwide. So how many of them were manufactured inside the United States? Zero.
#5 According to a new study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, if the U.S. trade deficit with China continues to increase at its current rate, the U.S. economy will lose over half a million jobs this year alone.
#6 As of the end of July, the U.S. trade deficit with China had risen 18 percent compared to the same time period a year ago.
#7 The United States has lost a total of about 5.5 million manufacturing jobs since October 2000.
#8 According to Tax Notes, between 1999 and 2008 employment at the foreign affiliates of U.S. parent companies increased an astounding 30 percent to 10.1 million. During that exact same time period, U.S. employment at American multinational corporations declined 8 percent to 21.1 million.
Coal baron Don Blankenship is pushing back against calls for his resignation, following the deadly explosion at his company’s Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, WV, the worst US coal disaster in 40 years. In an extended interview with the Charleston Daily Mail, the Massey Energy chairman and CEO challenged the idea that anyone should be held accountable for the mine explosion, which killed 29 miners:
I don’t think anybody’s head has to roll. I think that’s misplaced emphasis right now. The guys that are running these coal mines, they’re heartbroken, and they’re distressed and despondent, and the last thing they need is anybody pointing fingers at them right now. We don’t need anybody to be more impacted than they already have been.
Gone was the partisan, anti-regulatory, science-denying, unrepentant right-wing capitalist Don Blankenship. The Blankenship in the Daily Mail interview was conciliatory and cautious, though flashes of his high self-regard and combative spirit appeared. [snip]
Update Today, President Barack Obama discussed the initial findings of an investigation by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Mine Safety and Health Administration chief Joe Main, and MSHA Administrator for Coal Mine Safety and Health Kevin Stricklin:
We just concluded a meeting, where they briefed me on their investigation. I want to emphasize that this investigation is ongoing, and there’s still a lot that we don’t know. But we do know that this tragedy was triggered by a failure at the Upper Big Branch mine -- a failure first and foremost of management, but also a failure of oversight and a failure of laws so riddled with loopholes that they allow unsafe conditions to continue.
Yesterday, the AP reported that Marlene Griffith, a widow of William Griffith, one of the 29 men killed in last week’s explosion at a coal mine in West Virginia, is suing Massey Energy, the owner of the mine. Griffith filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Raleigh County Circuit Court, arguing that Massey’s handling of work conditions at the mine plus its history of safety violations amounted to aggravated conduct that rises above the level of ordinary negligence. Marlene and here husband were to celebrate their 33rd wedding anniversary weeks after the deadly blast on April 5.
Indeed, as the Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson has reported, the mine where William Griffith worked had been cited for over 3,000 safety violations. Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, who has mocked safety regulators as being “as silly as global warming,” had gummed up the safety regulations process by filing endless appeals instead of paying fines and fixing safety problems.
Responding to the lawsuit, Nathan Coffey, the Public Affairs Coordinator of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), took to Twitter yesterday to mock Marlene Griffith. Coffey posted a link to the AP story about Marlene Griffith, sarcastically commenting that “Everyone wants free money!”
No. Families don't want their loved ones to die at work because of repeated and gross negligence by greedy corporations:
442 citations, orders issued for safety violations in Ky., 2 other states since blast
Inspectors have cited hundreds of safety violations at Massey Energy coal mines in Kentucky since an April 5 explosion at one of the company's mines in West Virginia killed 29 employees, federal records show.
The 279 citations and orders in Kentucky, more than 80 of them alleging significant and substantial violations, were among a total of 442 issued to Massey underground mines in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia from April 5 through Thursday.
Of those 442, more than half — 222 — were issued to one Massey property in Kentucky, Freedom Energy Mining Co. in Pike County, according to a Herald-Leader analysis of data from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
"That's off the charts. That is an extremely troubled mine," said Tony Oppegard, a Lexington attorney who formerly worked at MSHA and Kentucky's mine-safety agency.
Oppegard said his review of records shows the Freedom Energy mine has received 404 federal citations or orders this year — nearly as many as the 458 in all of last year at the West Virginia mine that blew up.
Most of the citations the last two weeks at Freedom Energy, including some for allowing potentially dangerous build-ups of coal dust, resulted from an inspection that began the same day as the blast at Massey's Upper Big Branch mine.
Vic Harville, Little Rock, Arkansas -- Stephens Media Group
There are many good reasons to not listen to alternate reality wing-nutty media personalities, especially the overpaid, twit-brained, clueless idiots spouting misinformed crap. In this case: Rush Limbaugh. Too. You betcha.
Last Friday, Rush Limbaugh asked why a coal miner union didn’t protect the 29 miners who were killed when Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, WV, exploded under unsafe conditions:
Was there no union responsibility for improving mine safety? Where was the union here? Where was the union? The union is generally holding these companies up demanding all kinds of safety. Why were these miners continuing to work in what apparently was an unsafe atmosphere?
There’s a simple reason the union didn’t protect the miners: the Upper Big Branch Mine, like nearly all of the mines under Massey CEO Don Blankenship’s control, is non-union.
In fact, the United Mine Workers of America (UMW) “tried three times to organize the Upper Big Branch mine, but even with getting nearly 70 percent of workers to sign cards saying they wanted to vote for a union, Blankenship personally met with workers to threaten them with closing down the mine and losing their jobs if they voted for a union.”
Blankenship rose in Massey’s ranks by breaking its union mines in the 1980s. Blankenship said then that busting unions is “invaluable” to profits, as non-union companies can “sell coal cheaper and drive union coal out of business.”
April 13: Keith Olbermann points out that Worst Person in the World, Rush Limbaugh, tried to blame the miners' union for the West Virginia mine explosion, completely oblivious to the fact that the mining company kept the union out.
In the wake of last week's disaster at Massey Energy Company's Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, it's become increasingly clear that CEO Don Blankenship has gamed the loophole-laden mine safety enforcement system. Despite a supposedly tougher federal law that passed in 2006 after the Sago, West Virginia, mine explosion killed a dozen miners, Massey and other companies have been able to use the law as a shield to avoid tougher enforcement measures by appealing safety citations - and overwhelming the weak Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) with a backlog of appeals.
Even though Massey has faced proposed fines nearing $2 million since 2005 and been cited over 1,300 times, it's paid only a fraction - one-sixth - of the proposed fines. All told, according to the United Mine Workers of America, nearly 50 people have been killed at Massey mines in the last ten years. In March alone, it was cited over 50 times for violations, many directly related to ventilation violations that allowed the build-up of explosive methane gas that played a major role in the killing of the 29 miners. As The Washington Post observed in an editorial, "'It's a profession that's not without risks and danger, and the workers and their families know that,' Mr. Obama said of the coal industry Friday. 'But their government and their employers know that they owe it to these families to do everything possible to ensure their safety when they go to work each day.' A good place to start would be to ensure that the regulations on the books are vigorously enforced."
Anyone who must bear the grief of not having their loved one come home from work alive can understand the sadness and the sorrow of others, and why employers should be held accountable for not taking the necessary precautions to protect the workers. Yes, accidents can and do happen, but they can happen a lot less when proper protections are put into place. Deliberate negligence is another matter entirely.
"In seven of the last 10 years, the mine has recorded a non-fatal injury rate worse than the national average for similar operations, according to MSHA statistics."
Serious safety concerns prompted federal investigators to temporarily halt work in portions of the Upper Big Branch mine more than 60 times since the start of 2009, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported after reviewing U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration records.
Safety was such a crisis at the Upper Big Branch mine that MSHA sent Massey a letter on Dec. 6, 2007 warning that its serious violations over the previous two years were so far above average that the mine could be designated as a pattern violator and subjected to stricter federal oversight, the New York Times reported. The letter noted that in 2006 and 2007 MSHA had found nearly twice the national average of serious violations at the mine. Within three months, the mine reduced the number by a third, escaping the extra scrutiny. Still, the total remained above the national average.
The citations and fines do not seem to faze Massey CEO Don Blankenship. He told a radio station:
"Violations are unfortunately a normal part of the mining process."
"We don't pay much attention to the violation count."
Despite the deaths, all of the violations and the fines, the Massey Energy web site defends the company safety record, contending that 2009 was the 17th year out of 20 that the company scored above the industry average for safety -- this assertion although the number of safety violations in 2009 doubled from the previous year, totaled 458 and included 50 citations for breaches Massey, the nation's fourth largest coal company, knew existed but failed to correct. [snip]
Republicans and Tea Partiers are running around like Chicken Little screaming that government is too big. Thirty workers killed in explosions in four days is what happens when government is too small, when right-wing strategists like Grover Norquist have gotten their way and shrunk regulatory agencies to a size where they can be drowned in a bathtub.
Like the Wall Street CEOs who recklessly speculated with America's economy for their personal profit, industrial CEOs have carelessly gambled with worker's lives for personal gain. The "free market" doesn't control that immoral behavior. Government must do it. And when it does, it must have the power to impose fines or workplace shut downs that will damage the bottom lines of CEOs who care about nothing else. And it must have the power to criminally charge and potentially imprison CEOs, treating them the same as drunk drivers who risk other peoples' lives.
By now, at this stage in their evolution, one would think that human beings would know better and could be expected to act in a more responsible manner. But many still don't, evidently because some still have not yet really evolved into modern humans. If people could be trusted to do the correct things, there wouldn't be such a need to create laws, rules and regulations. People who run corporations are not excempt. Although a video is not available at MSNBC, this commentary from a strong and solid voice speaking out for the middle class workers of America is worth noting.
It’s going to take a miracle for rescuers to get to the four trapped West Virginia miners and get them out alive. That mining company had thousands of safety violations over the years. This has me convinced that we need an investigation into criminal negligence. I’ve got a commentary next here on MSNBC. [snip]
And I have to tell it like it is tonight, folks. This is all about the man, the man in the front office who took home over $19 million in income in 2008. This is about the man having his foot right on the neck of the middle class, having his foot right on the neck of those mine workers.
In an economically depressed area of West Virginia where there is no economic development, this is what they do. And in the midst of all of that, without regulation, they’re allowed to abuse workers. You see, because if they don’t go down in that hole they lose their job. And all these right wingers in this country who are attacking the middle class and attacking labor in this country, you need to go to these funerals because there’s going to be 25 of them and maybe more. We don’t know what’s going to happen to the other four. It doesn’t look real good at this hour.
But here’s the point. Unions not only —this is just— I can’t believe we’re having this discussion in this country as if we have to vilify collective bargaining, where a family can be protected from dangers in the workplace and there won’t be the man on the neck of that worker, the neck of that family and those kids who are now missing a loved one.
Criminal negligence, homicide, you name it. The Congress has to get into this once and for all. President Obama, you need to get involved in this.
This is what the Employee Free Choice Act is all about. Where there’s not going to be intimidation, where there’s not going to be retribution against employees who just think about organizing in the workplace because they’d like to go down into a workplace where they’re not going to lose their lives. Where it will just increase the safety in their area. Is that asking too much? Is it all for the dollar bill in America? This is morally wrong. There is absolutely no difference between what these guys did in the front office at this Massey Energy Company than what these guys did down the street on Wall Street to folks who were ripped off. This is a matter of life and death. That’s what this is.
And you know what we’re going to do right now as Americans? We’re all going to sit at the dinner tables tonight and we’re going to ask ourselves, what are we going to do about it? And so when I see these rallies out there with Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann and they claim to be for the working folk of America, show me.
Have the guts to stand up for these families that are now in tragic loss. Show me, you Republicans, show me you care. Show Americans that you have a heart and you have a soul and that you don’t despise American workers who just want a fair shake in the workplace. I’m really biting my tongue right now.
Sometimes I wish I was on HBO, but this is where I belong, and I started this show a year ago to fight for the middle class and now we have some dead people on our hands. And now we have Republicans who are saying that, well, the Employee Free Choice Act is not the right thing to do. We have the United States Chamber of Commerce throwing lobbyists and millions of dollars against those families who would like to have a chance to get some protection in the workplace.
Do you believe that this company was genuinely addressing the safety violations? No. I could go on for hours, but this is where we stand in America. It’s an ideological divide. Some people care about the working folk of America. And some people flat-out don’t give a damn. I don’t think Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, I don’t think they give a damn.
I couldn’t support a Republican right now if you cremated me with them. I couldn’t warm up to a Republican if you cremated me with them right now.
They are against the middle class in this country.
Yeh, this one's for the workers who toil night and day
By hand and by brain to earn your pay
Who for centuries long past for no more than your bread
Have bled for your countries and counted your dead
In the factories and mills, in the shipyards and mines
We've often been told to keep up with the times
For our skills are not needed, they've streamlined the job
And with slide-rule and stopwatch our pride they have robbed
We're the first ones to starve, we're the first ones to die
The first ones in line for that pie-in-the-sky
And we're always the last when the cream is shared out
For the worker is working when the fat cat's about
And when the sky darkens and the prospect is war
Who's given a gun and then pushed to the fore
And expected to die for the land of our birth
Though we've never owned one lousy handful of earth?
All of these things the worker has done
From tilling the fields to carrying the gun
We've been yoked to the plow since time first began
And always expected to carry the can
Massey Energy has paid less than $200,000 of the penalties assessed at the Upper Big Branch South Mine in Montcoal and is challenging some of the penalties. Its CEO, Don Blankenship, told CNN that his company's facilities are "typically in better shape than others in the area or in the country."
"We would take great exception to the fact that someone would claim Massey's mines aren't generally safer than competitor coal mines," he said.
He said the company was "uncomfortable" with the number of violations reported, but said tighter enforcement has driven up the numbers of violations across the industry since the Sago Mine disaster that killed 12 men in 2006 in Tallmansville, West Virginia.
"Certainly violations are a bad indicator, but they're not a sole source for judging safety performance," Blankenship said.
Massey Energy and its CEO center of political controversy
The disaster at the Upper Big Branch mine has focused attention on the business and safety practices of the owner, Massey Energy, a powerful and politically connected company in Appalachia known for producing big profits, as well as big piles of safety and environmental violations and big damage awards for grieving widows.
"There are mines in this country who have operated safely for 20 years," said J. Davitt McAteer, head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration in the Clinton administration. "There are mines who take precautions ahead of time. There are mines who spend the money and manpower to do it."
April 6: Jeff Biggers, author of "Reckoning at Eagle Creek," talks with Rachel Maddow about the dangers inherent to the mining industry and how much safer it can be made through regulation, enforcement and labor unions protecting miners.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, whose district includes the mine about 30 miles south of Charleston, told the AP on Wednesday that he'd been hearing for at least two months from Upper Big Branch workers concerned about methane levels at the mine. Methane, a colorless, odorless gas common in underground mines, is suspected as the cause of the blast.
"I have talked to individuals who have been in coal mines or have loved ones who have been working in coal mines who will not be identified by name but will say that something is fishy here," Rahall said. "That there are corners being cut."
Extracting coal remains a dangerous proposition. Could more labor unions help?
While above-ground equipment operators enjoy safer working conditions, underground or deep miners—like those killed in Monday's explosion—still face a daily litany of dangers, and many of them insist unions still have a role to play in keeping them safe. "A union mine is a safer place, period," says Chuck Nelson, a volunteer community organizer with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in Huntington, W.Va., and a former unionized deep miner. "Union miners have representation; they have a voice. They can report problems, file grievances, and look out for their union brothers."
Activists and area miners say Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has a stern reputation for union busting: firing union workers in some cases, and shutting down entire mines that were unionized in others, a charge the company has denied. In 2007, the National Labor Relations Board determined that the company's refusal to hire union miners was illegal.
April 7: Jeff Goodell, author of, Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future, talks with Rachel Maddow about the hazards of coal mining and the industry's disregard for the safety of miners.
For workers in non-union mines like Upper Big Branch, Sago, Aracoma and Crandall Canyon, to name just a few where miners have died in the past decade, workers are afraid to speak up on safety issues. That's for a very good reason. Anyone who talks too much about them not only gets fired, they also can be blackballed by the whole industry. Many of the statistics the industry uses are worthless. Miners are pressured to work injured, or to not report injuries, to keep that "XX days without a lot time accident" sign ticking along. You do not want to be the guy who causes that sign to change. There is a grin-and-bear-it culture. Miners have no one to turn to and see no options in their lives. If they lose their jobs, they are ostracized by their communities.
Without the big move to non-union operations that has been plaguing the coal industry for more than two decades, there's a good possibility that 25 dead and four missing miners in West Virginia tonight would be sitting down to dinner with their families instead of being mourned by them.
Those miners should have come home from work alive. Somebody needs to be held accountable.
The Upper Big Branch mine, where the West Virginia mine explosion occurred Monday, had about 500 violations issued against it last year.
This isn’t the first time that West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine has had safety issues.
An explosion Monday that left at least 25 miners dead (four are still unaccounted for) is the worst US mining disaster since 1984, when 27 died in a fire at a Utah mine.
Already, the West Virginia mine explosion is focusing attention on the safety record of Massey Energy, which owns Upper Big Branch and has been scrutinized for its safety record before.
“They are notorious,” says Michael Shnayerson, author of “Coal River,” a book that is critical of the West Virginia mining industry. “Routinely, they roll up more violations than anybody else by far.”
Some of those violations have been at the Upper Big Branch mine, which has been frequently cited for dangerous conditions. According to records from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the mine had about 500 violations issued against it last year (many of which are being contested). Nearly 200 of the violations were deemed “significant and substantial,” and about 50 were tagged as "unwarrantable failure" to comply – among the most serious citations that can be issued.
Over $2.2 million in fines have been assessed against Massey’s Upper Big Branch-South Mine since 1995, with $791,327 paid. Massey is contesting $1,128,833 in fines. Massey’s delinquent fines total $246,320. [MSHA]
Massey is contesting $251,613 in fines for citations for Upper Big Branch-South Mine’s ventilation plan. [MSHA]
Compare those fines to coal mine owner Don Blankenship's compensation package of $19.7 million in 2008. He could pay those assessments out of the change in his sock drawer. He fights them and runs a delinquent account instead.
The company that runs the West Virginia mine where an explosion killed at least 25 workers frequently sidesteps hefty fines by aggressively contesting safety violations, including recent problems with the ventilation system that clears away combustible methane gas.
Bombarding federal regulators with appeals is an increasingly common industry tactic since the 2006 Sago mine disaster that killed 12 led to stiffer fines and new enforcement to punish the worst offenders, according to an Associated Press review of records from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
While the new rules aimed to make the nation's mines safer, companies responded with challenges that have backlogged MSHA with claims that go unpaid and unresolved for years. Agency officials say the maneuvers block their ability to punish repeat violators, and worker advocates fear more tragedies.
"It's gamesmanship by the industry," said Celeste Monforton, who spent six years as a special assistant to MSHA's assistant director and is now an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University. [snip]
Massey Energy Co., which owns the Upper Big Branch mine, the site of Monday's explosion, is still contesting more than a third of all its violations there since 2007. In the past year, federal inspectors have proposed more than $1 million in fines for violations at the mine in Montcoal, W.Va. Only 16 percent have been paid.
Among the violations that have been appealed are the company's two largest fines on record, assessed in January for problems with the mine's ventilation systems. [snip]
In an interview Tuesday with AP, Massey CEO Don Blankenship downplayed the link between the ventilation system and the accident.
"I don't know that MSHA thought there was a problem," he said.
MSHA believes some mine operators are contesting violations to block the agency from declaring them repeat offenders.
Any delay in fixing serious violations "puts miners at risk, is at odds with the purpose of the Mine Act and mission of MSHA, and is unacceptable," Joseph Main, assistant secretary of labor for MSHA said in testimony submitted to the congressional panel that oversees the industry.
Mining officials disagree.
Of course they disagree. Miners are just collateral damage when greed needs to pocket the profits.
The explosion occurred about 3 p.m. at the Upper Big Branch mine, 30 miles south of Charleston, in Raleigh County.
The mine, which employs about 200, is owned by the Massey Energy Company, based in Virginia, and operated by a subsidiary, the Performance Coal Company.
“All we know now is, this is an awful disaster,” Representative Nick J. Rahall II said as he arrived at the mine, which is in his district. “This is the second major disaster at a Massey site in recent years, and something needs to be done.”
In a statement, Massey said rescue teams and state and federal officials were responding. “Our top priority is the safety of our miners and the well-being of their families,” the company’s chairman, Don Blankenship, said in a statement. [snip]
Federal records indicate that the Upper Big Branch mine has recorded an injury rate worse than the national average for similar operations for at least six of the past 10 years. The records also show that the mine had 458 violations in 2009, with a total of $897,325 in safety penalties assessed against it last year. It has paid $168,393 in safety penalties.
Mine Has a History of Releasing Vast Amounts of Combustible Methane Gas, Mine Owner Says
Mine safety officials say the seven miners killed inside a West Virginia coal mine were leaving the site in a vehicle when an explosion occurred.
Kevin Stricklin, an administrator with the Mine Safety and Health Administration, says two other men on the vehicle were hurt. Stricklin says there are 19 others unaccounted for, including two crews of nine workers and a fireboss who had been working alone.
The explosion destroyed all communication lines inside the mine. [snip]
No one has said what might have caused the explosion, but federal records say the Eagle coal seam releases up to 2 million cubic feet of methane gas into the mine every 24 hours. That is a large amount, said Dennis O'Dell, health and safety director for the United Mine Workers labor union.
Methane is one of the great dangers of coal mining. The colorless, odorless gas is often sold to American consumers to heat homes and cook meals. In mines, giant fans are used to keep methane concentrations below certain levels. In 2006, 12 miners died in a methane explosion at the Sago Mine in West Virginia. If concentrations are kept between 5 percent and 15 percent, the gas can explode with a spark roughly similar to the static charge created by walking across a carpet in winter. [snip]
The bulk of the coal is removed with machine called a longwall miner that uses a cutting head to move back and forth across the working face somewhat like a 1,000-foot-long deli slicer. Hydraulic roof supports shield the miners and equipment as the machines cut deeper into the mountain, with the roof in the mined-out areas caving in by design after workers move on, according to Massey's Web site. [snip]
Massey ranks among the nation's top five coal producers and is among the industry's most profitable. It has a spotty safety record.
The federal mine safety administration fined Massey a then-record $1.5 million for 25 violations that inspectors concluded contributed to the deaths of two miners trapped in a fire in January 2006. The company later settled a lawsuit naming it, several subsidiaries and Chief Executive Don Blankenship as defendants. Aracoma Coal Co. later paid $2.5 million in fines after the company pleaded guilty to 10 criminal charges in the fire.
It's not unusual for bituminous coal to be saturated with methane, also known as natural gas. In the west, oil and gas companies take advantage of this fact to produce natural gas by drilling into coal beds. In underground mines, this methane is no longer a benefit. In these mines the damp face of the coal may literally bubble and hiss with escaping gas. So long as the percentage of methane stays below around 5%, danger is not too severe. For that reason, mines carry out regular inspections and monitor the level of gas. Walls are built inside the mine to route air through different areas to see that the working areas of the mine never come close to the danger zone. Once it reaches the critical percentage, methane laden air becomes explosive. [snip]
The cause of this explosion is likely the build up of methane, though a dust explosion is also possible. Right now mine rescue teams are working to save those who might still be trapped in the mine. [snip]
However as we hope and pray for the recovery of those now under the earth, it's hard not to think about the character of those who sent them there. The CEO of Massey Energy is Don Blankenship. The same Don Blankenship who invented a scandal and funded it to the tune of $3 million to run one one state supreme court judge out of office for the crime of siding with workers. The same Blankenship who was photographed cavorting along the French Riveria with another justice while his company had a $77 million case before the court. The same Don Blankenship who regularly condemns the whole idea of environmental protection, saying that global warming does not exist and that asking people to conserve is tantamount to communism. The same Blankenship and the same Massey that last year was convicted of massive and systematic age discrimination. The same Blankenship and the same Massey who were ordered to pay $30 million in environmental damages after running up fines that actually topped $2.5 billion.
Most critically this is the same Blankenship and the same Massey who lost miners as recently as 2006 due to lack of safety equipment. At the end of that case, the widows of the dead men refused to accept the settlement, stating that it was clear that the company executives had placed profit ahead of safety.
We can't know yet the exact causes for this disaster, and we can only hope that the death toll rises no higher. But considering their past transgressions, it's hard not to be suspicious of the men whose decisions sent those now missing into danger.
Whatever happens, let's not forget that without constant attention and championing of the cause of safety, it's all too easy for any company to forget that these are men and women in their charge, not just corporate assets.
New claims for jobless aid fell less than expected last week, and the number of Americans continuing to receive unemployment benefits rose — further signs that any economic recovery will be hindered by a weak job market and flat incomes.
Most economists think the recession is over, but they say the jobless rate will keep rising until at least next summer as the economy struggles to mount a sustained recovery. That means household incomes will remain depressed and consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of the economy, will continue to lag.
"Firms are still not hiring, and that reflects deep pessimism about the sustainability of the economic recovery once government stimulus programs wear off," said Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets. "The lack of job creation remains a big headwind for cash-starved and credit-constrained consumers."
New unemployment data show why it will take years for the labor market to recover from one of its fastest and deepest declines since World War II, even if an economic recovery is around the corner.
The Department of Labor report released Friday showed job cuts in August were lower than they've been in recent months. But a deeper look at the data shows why it will take millions of new jobs to dig American workers out of this recession's deep pit.
To the extent that housing led the economy into recession it’s hard to see how we get out of it without a recovery in housing. When that recovery comes, it will be from one of the deepest slumps in decades. [snip]
Even when we start to see healthy percent gains in housing construction, the industry has a long way to go to get back to where it was even before the mid-decade building boom. After peaking in January 2007, roughly one in five construction jobs has been lost to the housing bust. The ongoing pullback in commercial building continues to weigh on the construction job market. And the housing slump has sidelined millions more workers in related fields — like real estate sales and mortgage lending. Unless that trend can be reversed, it’s hard to see how the housing industry can lead the economy back out of the recession it created.
According to analysts, both long- and short-term forecasts showed signs of recovery between the third and fourth beer, but the fifth alcoholic beverage was the point at which the employment rate began to close in on 100 percent. [snip]
Joblessness was not the only domestic problem that began to appear eminently solvable after the rapid downing of five beers. Also substantially improved were projections for the housing crisis, the affordability of health care, getting hot wings later, and being able to drive home just fine.
Reuters Headline: Crisis spurs people to work for free - good or bad?
(Text begins): "With U.S. unemployment at a 20-year high, some Americans are working for free while looking for a job, but experts are split over whether it is a sign of dedication or desperation.
"Unpaid job seekers can keep their resumes fresh by boosting their experience and learning new skills, experts say, but others warn businesses may take advantage of the jobless and that it is illegal for commercial companies not to pay workers."
Shit Fire And Save Matches! In the good old days, slaves at least got food, clothing, and shelter.
U.S. President Barack Obama pledged on Friday to reverse labor policies from his Republican predecessor George W. Bush that unions have long contended favored employers over workers.
Obama, who won significant backing from trade unions in his Democratic presidential campaign, said there could not be a strong middle class, the focus of his economic recovery plan, without a strong labor movement.
He signed three executive orders to bolster unions in the workplace and strengthen workers' rights.
"I believe we have to reverse many of the policies toward organized labor that we have seen over the past eight years, policies with which I have sharply disagreed," Obama told a gathering at the White House.
"Labor is not part of the problem, it is part of the solution," he said to loud applause from an audience that included representatives of labor unions and business groups. [...]
He announced the creation of a task force under Vice President Joe Biden to look at ways of raising middle-class living standards, a signature campaign promise.
Biden said his group would travel around the United States to canvass the views of ordinary Americans, holding meetings in different towns and cities each month.
GIVING LABOR MUSCLE
Obama's first executive order will prevent taxpayer funds being used to reimburse federal contractors who spend money "trying to influence the formation of unions."
A second will require federal contractors to inform employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. A third will ensure that qualified workers keep their jobs even when a federal contract changes hands.
The Teamsters, one of the most influential U.S. unions, called Obama's action a "new day for workers."
"We finally have a White House that is dedicated to working with us to rebuild our middle class. Hope for the American Dream is being restored," said Teamster President Jim Hoffa.
The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, welcomed "the dedication of this administration to reverse the anti-labor and anti-worker policies that have been in place the last eight years."
Obama launches task force on middle class
The new group headed Vice President Joe Biden will include several Cabinet members. The president also signs orders aimed at bolstering labor unions.
On a day when the nation's gross domestic product suffered its worst slide in three decades, President Obama ordered the creation of a task force on the middle class and signed executive orders aimed at strengthening labor unions.
"This isn't just an economic concept," Obama said of the 3.8% decline in the GDP in the last quarter of 2008. "This is a continuing disaster for America's families."
"The recession is deepening, and the urgency of our economic crisis is growing," Obama said in an address in the East Room of the White House, part of a series of addresses on the economy this week. "Every day it seems there is another round of layoffs, and another round of families' lives turned upside down."
In signing orders aimed at protecting access to federal contracts for companies with labor unions and informing workers of their rights to organize, the president said, "I also believe that we have to reverse some of the policies" toward organized labor.
"I don't see organized labor as part of the problem," Obama said. "To me, it's part of the solution." [...]
The president, in creating a "White House Task Force on Middle Class Working Families" with several Cabinet members included, has assigned Vice President Joe Biden to lead it. [...]
One of the executive orders prevents federal contract dollars from going to companies that try to prevent the formation of unions. Another requires workers to be advised of their rights to organize. [...]
In a White House that promotes its every step on the Internet, the administration has started a new website -- www.AStrongMiddleClass.gov -- that will keep track of the task force's work.
The administration has assigned it these goals: "Expanding education and lifelong training opportunities, improving work and family balance, restoring labor standards, including workplace safety, helping to protect middle-class and working-family incomes, protecting retirement security."
Members will include the secretaries of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Commerce, as well as the directors of the National Economic Council, the Office of Management and Budget and the Domestic Policy Council and the chair of the Council of Economic Advisors.
A day after handing labor unions a major victory by signing an equal-pay law, President Obama today issued a series of executive orders that he said should "level the playing field" for labor against management.
The orders, which union officials say will undo Bush administration policies that favored employers, will:
* Require federal contractors to offer jobs to current workers when contracts change.
* Reverse a Bush order requiring federal contractors to post notices that workers can limit financial support of unions.
* Prevent federal contractors from being reimbursed for expenses meant to influence workers deciding whether to form a union. [...]
"Today's actions show that the Obama White House is the working families' White House," AFL-CIO president John Sweeney said in a statement.
"It couldn't come at a better time. It's flabbergasting, in the midst of a painful recession, to see Exxon Mobil's $45.2 billion record profit, million dollar Wall Street bonuses, and more corporate jets for the bailout recipients as they rail against workers' rights," Sweeney added.
Biden sends a message to labor leaders: I'm no Cheney
Jimmy Hoffa Jr. was there. So was the AFL-CIO's John Sweeney, and Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers.
"Welcome back to the White House," said Vice President Joe Biden to a crowd of labor leaders and officials of nonprofit organizations.
The crowd laughed, a measure of sweet vindication after eight years in the wilderness during George W. Bush's tenure.
The rhetoric must have sounded sweet too. [...]
Oh yeah, and he had a parting shot for former Vice President Dick Cheney. Without mentioning the energy task force that Cheney famously convened in private, Biden promised he would meet "openly ... with transparency" in gathering ideas from the middle class task force, whose first meeting is Feb. 27 in Philadelphia.
Dec. 12: Air America Radio’s Thom Hartmann joins MSNBC’s David Shuster to explore the political ramifications of perceptions that the GOP position on the auto bailout is about punishing American labor.
It really doesn't matter how much of a cost savings the networks think they are going to have due to the Writer's strike and the increased reliance on reality shows, that will dry up soon. While America may be a superficial nation in more regards than are seemly, reality television is only attractive to those who like to see others suffer and fail. That glow will pall soon. Perhaps if networks would let new shows air more than once or twice, they wouldn't have to produce so many pilots. Some shows are so bad that the don't need more than one or two airings before being canceled, but shows like Firefly were canceled even though they had a loyal following.
I worked at Universal for several years and the one thing that was made clear to me, even more that years of television watching, is that the majority of shows are made for the lowest common denominator. That doesn't require much talent from anyone involved. Heroes was a brilliant show last year, but when they dumbed it down at the beginning of the season it lost viewers. I watched the first year of Desperate Housewives but three episodes into the second season, I was done. Brilliant writing, not notations from executives trying to homogenize everything to increase viewership, is the key. This explains my love of the third season of Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica and other "arc" shows.
The Writer's strike is having an effect because the writers are valuable. Actors, directors and studio heads can, and have, been replaced and the shows have continued successfully. Usually when you replace the head writers or creators, the show goes down hill and gets canceled. Bionic Woman is the current example.
I miss The Daily Show and the Colbert Report, they need to come back so we have truth in news again. I know they are supposed to be comedy shows but they are the only ones who bother to comment on the important stuff that is glossed over by the news organizations in their efforts to be the Bush administration's mouthpieces.
The holidays will be over soon and then the networks are probably going to notice a big drop in viewership as people rediscover talking with friends, playing with their kids and pets or surf the internet for entertainment and intellectual stimulation. Paying the writers a decent wage and continuing to pay them every time the shows are aired, no matter what medium, is the smart thing to do. Trying to keep all the money for themselves will leave the studios all dressed up and no where to go. Not even to the awards ceremonies.
A full transcript or link thereto of the conference call in which I just participated with Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern will be available on Monday, but I wanted to provide a brief follow-on from my post of December 14, 2007, "Friday Teleconference Questions for SEIU President Andy Stern," to give readers here a sense of my take on what Mr. Stern had to say.
The call began in earnest with Mr. Stern giving a few opening remarks principally addressing a central concern of his, which is the income inequality in the United States and the relationship between closing the widening income gap and the effectiveness and pervasiveness of unionism in the country. He is, of course, correct that income inequality is a serious problem: after the disparity between the wealthiest and poorest Americans peaked in the year 2000, the income share of the top one percent of Americans again hit a high in 2006, matching its 1929 level. Going even further with the point, while median income in the United States has risen a paltry 17 percent since 1980, income of the top 0.1 percent (that's one-tenth of a percent) has quadrupled; and to continue hammering on the matter, according to Harper's Index, the percentage of people living at or below half of the federal poverty level has jumped 32 percent since 2000.
Point taken: income inequality is large and growing in the United States. Andy Stern believes that unions are part of the solution, but he also holds that the federal government must support workers, and politicians must be more responsive to their concernsprojected, at least to some extent, through union representationand less accountable to corporations and their executive interests which benefit so greatly from this ever-increasing income disparity.
To that extent, the last question I asked Mr. Stern was whether or not he would support my idea of a President-appointed Labor Czar to oversee labor issues in the United States. It is one thing to promote new lawsand I argued that we have quite a substrate, old as it is, of pro-labor law in this countrybut it is quite another to bring under the authoritative portfolio of one federal official the mass of wide-ranging, unequally enforced regulatory infrastructure that turns those labor laws into real action at the level of workers and their workplaces. Mr. Stern, if I may be so bold as to state this, agreed: he suggested a position from the Office of the Vice President, an idea I think has merit, given that OVP has acquired under Vice President Dick Cheney substantial power that is largely robust to Congress and even the President.
Returning to the earlier part of the conference call, Mr. Stern fairly thoroughly (given the time frame in which we were operating) responded to my question concerning the erosion of union power in the United States. It is his contention, to quote him, "Let workers make their own choice." In other words, removing barriers to unionization efforts is the best way to ensure that workers will make the choice that it is in their own best interest. To the extent that unions have lost the esteem of American workers, Mr. Stern made the pithy comment, "The best way to change your image is to change reality."
I had a chance to plug Part Two of my series, "The Economics of Wreckage," wherein I graphically demonstrated (indeed, I virtually flogged) the point that the erosion of real wages in this country is not something that has suddenly occurred under the Bush Administration; it is, instead, a decades-long phenomenon that I did my best to show was the result of sustained neo-Keynesian policy: as long as the average price level rises at a rate faster than that of workers' wages and salaries, those people have to work harderthat is, continually increase their productivityin order to maintain their standard of living. My graphs clearly, unarguably show that this is exactly what has been going on for years and years: average wages have unquestionably lagged overall price increases, and that's why productivity has been going up while wages, themselves, have never actually made any inflation-adjusted headway.
I'm not sure I fully understood that Mr. Stern had addressed this point in his opening remarks and in responses to questions before mine. He is surprisingly mindful of the do-nothing Congress of the present era, describing policy as "hopeless, clueless, and planless," but he is also knowledgeable of the long-term problem that this economy does not reward the common workers nearly as much as it does the executives of corporations and the generally wealthy. He believes that part of the answer, although not a panacea, is essential change in tax policy as well as legislative action that strengthens the hand of unions in bargaining for better wages and benefits.
Mr. Stern seems to be of two minds insofar as the current Congress is concerned. He charitably notes, perhaps reasonably, that the Democrats' "skills are a little rusty," which goes to some length in explaining why they have been so unable to wrest control of the legislative agenda from the minority Republicans, especially in the U.S. Senate. On the other hand, he distinguishes between the many Democrats on the Hill who show little initiative and those like Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) who are far more forward-leaning not just in their rhetoric, but also in their legislative agenda.
I should at this juncture suspend further attempts to sort through my notes on the conference call and allow the transcript, which will be published Monday, to speak for itself. In summary, it was more interesting than I had expected: the SEIU president's answers were framed to stay on-point, but he was extemporaneously able to field a variety of questions dealing with everything from immigration to education. Whether or not he is, as SEIU promotional literature asserts, a new kind of labor leader remains to be seen in the years ahead. For my own part, I would be delighted just to see an old kind of labor leader make a comeback.
Then again, I'm sort of a romantic when it comes to the occasional knock-down, drag-out fight between strike-breaking corporate thugs and union guys on a picket line.
The Dark Wraith looks back fondly on a by-gone era.
I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their intellects. A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)