Tag Archives: Karoli

Cinco de Tweety And The Blog Posts That It Caused

Captured tweets via Gawker

Roger Ebert:

This is the result of one single Twitter of mine, and those who were eager to misunderstand it. Tweets are limited to 140 characters, and here is what I tweeted:

@ebertchicago Kids who wear American Flag t-shirts on 5 May should have to share a lunchroom table with those who wear a hammer and sickle on 4 July.

Now what do you suppose I meant by that? It was tweeted at the height of the discussion over five white California kids who wore matching t-shirts to school on Cinco de Mayo, and were sent home by their school. This inspired predictable outrage in the usual circles.

Tweeted from lonestarag05: Its the USA not Mexico. They are allowed to be proud of their country. I wonder sometimes why you even stay here.

Many others informed me that Americans have the right to be proud of our flag, and wear it on T-shirts. Of course they do. That isn’t the question. It’s not what my Tweet said. What I suggested, in its 108 letters, is that we could all use a little empathy. I wish I had worded it better.

Let’s begin with a fact few Americans know: Celebrating Cinco de Mayo is an American custom. The first such celebration was held in California in 1863, and they have continued without interruption. In Mexico itself it is not observed, except in the state of Puebla–the site of Mexico’s underdog victory over the French on May 5, 1862.

Cinco de Mayo’s purpose is to celebrate Mexican-American culture in the United States. We are a nation of immigrants, and have many such observances, for example St. Patrick’s Day parades, which began in Boston in 1737 and not in Ireland until 1931. Or Pulaski Day, officially established in Illinois in 1977, and not observed in Poland. The first Chinese New Year’s parade was held in San Francisco in the 1860s, and such parades began only later in China. In Chicago this August we will have the 81st annual Bud Billiken Parade, one of the largest parades in America, celebrating the African-American heritage.

I invite you to perform four easy thought experiments:

1. You and four friends are in Boston and attend the St. Patrick’s Day parade wearing matching Union Jack t-shirts, which of course you have every right to do.

2. You and your pals are in Chicago on Pulaski Day, and wear a t-shirt with a photograph of Joseph Stalin, which is your right.

3. In San Francisco’s Chinatown for the parade, your crowd wears t-shirts saying “My granddad was at the Rape of Nanking and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”

4. In Chicago for the Bud Billiken Parade, you and your crowd, back in shape after three hospitalizations, turn up with matching t-shirts sporting the Confederate flag.

The question is obviously not whether Americans, or anyone else, has the right to wear our flag on their t-shirts. But empathetic people realize much depends on context. If, on Cinco de Mayo, you turn up at your school with a large Mexican-American student population wearing such shirts, are you (1) joining in the spirit of the holiday, or (2) looking for trouble?

I suggest you intend to insult your fellow students. Not because they do not respect THEIR flag, but because you do not respect their heritage. That there are five of you in matching shirts demonstrates you want to be deliberately provocative.

Therefore, you and your buddies should try wearing the hammer and sickle on the Fourth of July. You could try it at a NASCAR race, for example.

Ravi Somaiya at  Gawker:

Five kids were sent home from a California high school on Wednesday for what seems like a fairly open-and-shut case of trying to start trouble. Of course, to the nutbag right, this was not the case at all and the whole thing was anti-American. Last week Ebert sent this message in response to the story:

@ebertchicago Kids who wear American Flag t-shirts on 5 May should have to share a lunchroom table with those who wear a hammer and sickle on 4 July.

According to an Ebert blog post today, it was met with predictable outrage from people with predictable Twitter handles:

@lonestarag05: Its the USA not Mexico. They are allowed to be proud of their country. I wonder sometimes why you even stay here.

Ebert has defended the Tweet very eloquently here. He points out, using humor, reason, logic and fact that the kids had done something analogous to wearing a Union Jack on St. Patrick’s day in Boston, or a Confederate flag to the Bud Biliken parade in Chicago — they were disrespecting the heritage of a community busy celebrating that heritage. Like, for example, “wearing the hammer and sickle on the Fourth of July.” He adds in the blog post that those who defended the kids might try that “at a NASCAR race, for example.”

Of course humor, reason, logic and fact are utterly alien to the Tea Party and their enraged acolytes. And they know no sense of proportion. Ebert, as this excellent Esquire profile outlines, has suffered through repeated bouts of cancer, and operations to remove that cancer, that have left him without a lower jaw. The picture above is the one that Esquire ran with that profile.

Knowing what we know about the Tea Party it shouldn’t have been surprising when Ebert tweeted this last night. But it was sad.

Tea Party Turns on Roger Ebert, Mocks His Cancer (Updated)

Scott Wampler at The Examiner:

Meet Caleb Howe, a self-proclaimed Tea Party member and dude who claims to write for RedState.com.  Because it’s called RedState.com, it’s precisely the sorta website that someone like a Comedy Examiner avoids.  And, it’s precisely because of the sort of Tweets that Howe made above that I’d avoid such a site.  I mean, let’s make sure that we’re all on the same page here:  Roger Ebert thinks that a handful of kids who were clearly just trying to stir up trouble were out of line…and someone (actually, more than just Howe, but let’s use him as our go-to dude on this one) mocks Roger Ebert’s cancer?  Tweets that he wants to provide Ebert with a “mercy killing”?

Are you effing kidding me?

Chris Jones at Esquire:

But for me — as a friend, but also as a human being — Roger’s rebuke didn’t go far enough. I’ve still spent a lot of time thinking how good it would feel to punch Caleb Howe hard in the mouth. I can’t help it, even though I know in my heart that Howe wants all of this, wants to bask in anything that resembles the thin light of attention. His posts on RedState.com might normally earn five or seven comments; Roger’s eloquent blog entries can win more than a thousand. That must be incredibly frustrating for Howe, who clearly has designs on his joining our ranks of right-wing wrestling heels and saw, through the bottom of his vodka glass, his path to glory: He decided, like those California school kids, to make an unnecessary, calculated attempt to provoke. And it worked, the way it works for Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, whenever they say something inflammatory and terrible. He made me angry, and now he knows it. Good for him. I hope he’s happy.

Because if he’s happy, then I know that will make his fall that much harder in the end. Saying the things he said — under the guise of patriotism, or freedom, or whatever illogic he chooses to use — has to eat at a man. I have to believe that; the alternative is too awful to stomach. I have to believe that after Howe sobered up, he must have thought, if only for a moment, What have I done? He must have felt whatever passes for regret in him, the prickles of sweat growing on his forehead. He must have felt as though he had butted out a cigarette on his own soul. And because he can’t apologize for it — can’t dream of seeming weak in the eyes of his fellow scholars and judges — those pinhole burns will stay there forever. Yes, Caleb Howe is more famous than he was last week, but he’s famous for being a person who doesn’t know whether he should introduce himself to strangers at parties, just in case, and he’s famous for his allegiance to the very thing that Roger has already stomped again and again: Caleb Howe, for whatever unfathomable reason, has sided with cancer.

Caleb Howe at Mediaite:

I love Twitter. I use it all the time. When I say use, hear it the way an addict would say it. I use Twitter. I’m pretty good at it too. Not in the sense of having lots of followers, or being really popular, or anyone knowing who I am. Rather in the sense of knowing how to get certain things out of it that I want. Usually that’s traffic to a blog post. I admit that. But the most satisfying thing of all is a retweet. If you’re really good, or really famous, it’s easy to get a lot of retweets. If you aren’t either of those, it’s still easy. Be bad.

I do this sometimes. Late at night, typically. Angrily for the most part. Drunkenly on occasion. Twitter is real life and in real time, after all. Isn’t that what we all love and hate about it?

Knowing all this, I hatched a plan that’s been going swimmingly all week. You see, Roger Ebert is on Twitter too. And he can be exceedingly … unkind. He compared Arizona’s immigration law to the Holocaust. Twice. He routinely mocks “TeePees,” his adorably dismissive shorthand for tea party protesters. And most recently, in an exceedingly ill-advised and poorly-received tweet, he suggested that “Kids who wear American Flag t-shirts on 5 May should have to share a lunchroom table with those who wear a hammer and sickle on 4 July.”

Let us not today go into the ins and outs of the students sent home after refusing to cover their American flags on Cinco de Mayo. Suffice it to say that from my perspective this was an unconscionable outrage, and therefore Ebert’s escalation of the rhetoric to the level of hammer and sickle doubly so. It was an insight into him. Twitter, as we addicts believe, is real life. And in real time. And so … the plan.

It was amazingly easy to do. First, I warned Media Matters what was about to happen. Second, I began attacking Ebert with increasingly awful tweets mocking his cancer. Third, I waited.

When the hits started rolling in, I infuriatingly taunted the naysayers with non-sequiturs and your momma jokes. That’s when they started getting real. Saying awful things. Well you see, it’s ok with me. I had earned it.

And therein lay my plan. I’d wait a few days, gather the most insulting tweets, and publish. The fact that they felt free to “go there” with me proves they implicitly accept my premise. For they were using my logic, you see. Ebert had “earned” it, so I was free to open fire. Now I had earned it, so they were free to open fire. Media Matters was a no-brainer. I’d invited them in advance. But imagine my delight when bomb-throwing gossip site Gawker linked to my twitter feed. I fairly twisted my mustache and rubbed my palms greedily. Everything was proceeding as I had foreseen it; better, even.

This morning, I started in on the final phase: gathering the evidence. I started with Ebert. I spent hours poring over months of his twitter feed. I found he had a distinctive “dirty old man” streak. Screenshot. I saw how fond he was of mocking Creationism, intelligent design, Noah’s Ark, and Christianity in general. Screenshot. I found countless dismissive tweets about the ignorance of TeePees. The countless veiled accusations of racism. The endless tweeting and retweeting of anything critical of Sarah Palin. Screenshot, screenshot, screenshot. I found a totally right-on movie review of the movie Kick-Ass that mirrored my own thoughts perfectly. Screens … wait. What?

It is here. I’ve read Ebert before of course. He’s as good as his reputation. But this was more than a movie review. The objection was on a moral ground that I share. It was my objection to the movie too. Hmm.

Back to the Twitter I go. A little more uneasy, now. Ahhh, another TeePee reference. My righteousness has been restored. A-digging I continue. Screenshot. Screenshot. Appreciative chuckle. Dammit!

I started seeing quotable quotes. Witticisms I appreciated. Depth.

Ebert tends to appreciate the same sorts of lyrical turns of phrase on Twitter that I appreciate. I saw when he was being savaged about his position on whether video games can be art, he let the savagery wash over him. He even got a few quick quips out of it. I kept thinking “I should like this guy.” And then, TeePees, Michael Moore, and Markos. I couldn’t like him, even though I actually started wanting to. But his tweeting is so hot and cold. It’s like there are two of him. The one that everybody appreciates, and then the rabid lefty tweeter. I couldn’t figure it out.

And then I figured it out. That’s exactly how I am. Half of my tweets are normal, off-topic, funny (if I do say so) or conversational. And half must set afire the blood of any left-wing tweeter. I’m just like Ebert, minus the fame, fortune, education, writing talent, and painful disease. It’s like he was … human.

And that’s when it suddenly dawned on me. Twitter isn’t real life. It’s 140 characters. It’s a window, not a door, and certainly not the whole house. We all know this, of course. But we act in a manner that indicates we do not.

People like me, or anonymous Twitterer @shoq, and many others who do what we consider to be battle on Twitter “know” we are right. We know we are right because those we oppose are so very wrong. It’s all quite easy. You’re a TeePee. Yeah well you’re a moonbat! Tit for tat. Jab for jab. Round and round we go. The race to the most cutting insult never ceases. Do a search on twitter, some time, for “sub-human,” and/or “filth.” Try “despicable”. I bet it comes up a lot more than “beautiful.” Try “scum.” I bet it comes up more than “person.” Try “hate.” I think you get the picture.

You know what? It’s a polarized country we live in. Often rabidly so. I play that game. Most of you reading this, you play it too. We play for ratings, for clicks, for retweets. We play to satisfy bloodlust, vengeance, self-righteous fury. We play because we have contempt. And contempt is the one thing you will see on display more often than any other emotion in political tweeting. Because that’s not a person, it’s a TeePee. Not a man, a target.

Roger Ebert cannot be measured by his Twitter feed. Not even by his collective writings. Because he is human, and what’s more a human in pain. As am I. As are we all.

Tbogg:

So now CNN should totally hire Caleb Howe because, like Erick Erickson, he’s grown up a whole lot since last week.

The end.

Dan Riehl:

Caleb’s big mistake was apologizing. Did Ebert apologize to the many tragic victims of the Holocaust whose deaths he all but mocked and abused? No, of course not. Will he suddenly develop compassion for the victims of kidnappings and other crimes in Arizona? The people who feel trapped in their homes because of the Federal government’s refusal to act? Don’t hold your breath. As a political actor, he’s no more interested in their day-to-day lives, than we should be about his.

That’s because he’s a scumbag, a card carrying member of the disgusting Left, now using his position and even his illness as a platform to undermine the very country that gave him everything he has. And they never apologize for any of their ugly, or even anti-American filth.

Did Caleb lose it and go a little too far? Yeah, probably. I doubt I’d have gone on to that degree. However, these are especially tense and troubling political times for America with much at stake. It happens and, given the Internet/technological influences on communication, it happens even more. And I imagine it’s going to get worse, before it gets better. I went off on someone on our side yesterday because of a misunderstanding. Eh, you move on.

Karoli at Crooks And Liars:

He’s still wrong about Twitter. Real people do inhabit the place, just like the real people who inhabit comments on the posts here at Crooks and Liars. Real people, with real lives, real health problems, real concerns and real interests. They’re even real voters. They come to social networks looking for a connection and a conversation. It’s not all of life, but it is a part of daily life in this connected world of ours, and if Howe is really sorry, he’ll get a clue about that.

Howe’s declaration that Twitter isn’t real life reveals more about why he did what he did than anything else. When nothing is real, when it’s all a game, when cancer is a word and not a disfiguring disease, all bets are off. This is how those words made it through his filters, because no one was real to him. Not one person.

Caleb Howe is a fascinating look at how conservatives think. No one is real; it’s all a game. Roll the 20-sided die for your contempt score, move to the next battle. This ability to disconnect from humanity is what should disqualify them from any leadership role whatsoever.

Adrian Chen at Gawker:

Let us return for a moment to our original question: How drunk was Howe when he pounded that stuff out on his keyboard and hit the enter button! Probably really drunk, judging by what he tweeted directly from launching on his rant: “Wife just revealed twe (sic) have fifth of vodka in freezer. That means I’m about to say things about Roger Ebert that Media Matters won’t like.” In fact Howe has a long history of sitting in front of his computer drinking vodka and tweeting about it:

How Drunk Was the Tea Bagger Blogger Who Mocked Rogert Ebert's Cancer?

So, we’re going to say he was really drunk. Probably partial black-out? Maybe he had a vague memory of typing the next morning. Next question: How drunk was he when he wrote this essay? To be so deluded that this exercise in self-aggrandizement with a one-sentence apology at the end might make him seem like less of a creepy drunk pounding away on the Internet after a shot or twelve, spilling the worst parts of himself out into the world. (See also: His gleeful celebration of Congressman John Murtha’s death.) Also up for debate, the drunkness level of the Mediaite person that put this on their website. (Awesome get! A guy who makes fun of cancer survivors!) The first political essay for and by drunk assholes. Caleb Howe is like the Tucker Max of politics. (Without the writing talent.)

Update: Caleb Howe complained we did not get his comment on this article, so I interviewed him via Twitter:
How Drunk Was the Tea Bagger Blogger Who Mocked Rogert Ebert's Cancer?
How Drunk Was the Tea Bagger Blogger Who Mocked Rogert Ebert's Cancer?
How Drunk Was the Tea Bagger Blogger Who Mocked Rogert Ebert's Cancer?
How Drunk Was the Tea Bagger Blogger Who Mocked Rogert Ebert's Cancer?
How Drunk Was the Tea Bagger Blogger Who Mocked Rogert Ebert's Cancer?
How Drunk Was the Tea Bagger Blogger Who Mocked Rogert Ebert's Cancer?

EARLIER: Marilyn Manson T-Shirt, This Was Not

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under New Media

He’s Mr. Burns Without The Smithers And The Old Jokes (And The Yellow Skin)

Bernard Condon at Forbes, from a couple years ago:

Over the two years through 2001 Massey was cited by West Virginia officials for violating regulations 501 times. Its three biggest rivals, mining twice as much coal in the state as Massey, were cited a collective 175 times. Blankenship says Massey is unfairly targeted by regulators. “We don’t pay much attention to the violation count,” he says.

Maybe he should start. Those violations can grow teeth. Regulators, citing a pattern of violations, have been slapping Massey with “show cause” orders: They will suspend, even permanently revoke, permits to mine or process or store coal, if the company doesn’t show it has mended its ways. If a permit is revoked, it could prove a “death sentence,” in the words of one Massey lawyer, because that would make it difficult for other permits to be issued or old ones renewed. A company spokesperson says that that is an “unlikely” scenario because it would be “suicide” for the state.

Compounding these headaches: a bit of good luck that Blankenship managed to turn into a major problem. In the winter of 2000-01 electricity demand rose and the spot price for Central Appalachian coal jumped from $24 a ton to $48 a ton. Mining companies began digging furiously, hiring more workers and pushing up wages. Blankenship refused to match the increases. Miners quit in droves. The timing was awful. Blankenship had planned to increase Massey coal production for the coming year from 44 million tons to 56 million tons and so needed to add staff. He had to turn to people with little experience. By the end of 2001 half of his 5,000-person staff were new hires.

The company’s cost of sales, which includes miner’s wages, jumped 11% in 2001 for each ton of coal sold. And, despite the surge in coal prices, Massey’s operating margin fell a third, to 13%, that year. Blankenship says his decision to let the old workers go will be vindicated as savings from lower wages pile up.

Massey is trying to show a friendlier face. It recently held a picnic in the state capital, Charleston, for workers and their families, and is donating more money to towns to buy patrol cars and Christmas decorations or to build football fields. The company’s board formed a committee in 2001 to monitor environmental compliance. And it has told Blankenship to hold his tongue, too.

Good luck. Asked in a recent radio interview about charges that he allows trucks to be overloaded with coal, he retorted, “Everyone does it.” Arch Coal, its biggest rival, says it has long stopped the practice. And Blankenship has kept up his drumbeat against regulators, recently calling the state Department of Environmental Protection “an arm of the union.”

David Roberts in Grist, from 2006:

The venerable print magazine Old Trout was recently relaunched with a splashy issue on “The Thirteen Scariest Americans.” I was asked to write up the scariest American from an environmental point of view.

The choice was not difficult. The scariest polluter in the U.S. is Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy. The guy is evil, and I don’t use that word lightly.

The issue is out now. (Look for it on a newsstand near you!) The folks at Old Trout have given me permission to publish an expanded version of the piece after a suitable period of exclusivity. So watch for that at the beginning of December. [UPDATE: Here’s the full piece, “Don Blankenship is an evil bastard.”]

Karoli at Crooks and Liars:

Here’s something else about Don Blankenship and Massey Energy Company: Blankenship spent over $1 million dollars along with other US Chamber buddies like Verizon to sponsor last year’s Labor Day Tea Party, also known as the “Friends of America Rally.” Here’s Massey’s pitch. Note how he makes it sound like he isn’t one of the corporate enemies of America.

The Friends of America Rally featured such notables as Sean Hannity, Ted Nugent, and Hank Williams, Jr., and was graced by Blankenship himself going off on a diatribe that seemed strange at the time, but has come to be commonplace these days. It concerned President Obama, Democrats, and any one who doesn’t salute God, coal, and apple pie. Oh, and we’re also going to ‘steal their jobs,’ if Hannity is to be believed.

Blankenship and Massey Energy spend millions to defend unsafe workplaces

Even while coal dust settles on nearby schoolchildren, there are lessons to learn from this disaster about Massey Energy in general, and Don Blankenship in particular.

It seems that Performance Coal’s safety record is spotty, at best. From the Mississippi Business Journal:

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.

Massey and Blankenship also settled a lawsuit brought by the Manville Trust in 2007 with regard to workplace safety and environmental compliance.

The Manville Trust filed the case in July 2007 against company Chairman, CEO, and President Don Blankenship and certain other current and former officers and directors. The plaintiff sought several corporate governance reforms, specifically regarding environmental compliance and worker safety. Citing several incidents involving Massey Energy, including a major federal water pollution lawsuit, penalties for two coal miners’ tragic deaths and other safety and environmental compliance problems, the lawsuit claimed that a “conscious failure” by the defendants to ensure compliance with federal and state regulations and other legal obligations posed a “substantial threat of monetary liability for violations.”

Keep unions out, let teabaggers in

Don Blankenship inhabits a strange and bizarre world. In his world:

  • It’s fine for elementary school-age children to inhale coal dust while playing at school because Massey Coal “already pays millions of dollars in taxes each year”.
  • Blankenship truly believes that government regulation means “we all better learn to speak Chinese.”
  • He has absolutely no problem paying $3 million to elect state Supreme Court justice Brent Benjamin just ahead of a scheduled hearing of his appeal to overturn a large damage award for driving competitor Harman Mining Corporation into bankruptcy.
  • Blankenship will spend millions to keep the Massey Energy’s workforce non-union, is perfectly happy to discriminate against union workers even if it means being sued and losing, and might hate unions as much as he hates ‘greeniacs’.

    This is the same mine where the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently ruled that Spartan Mining illegally discriminated against 82 UMWA members by refusing to hire them because of their union membership status.

    “This settlement highlights yet again the treacherous and backhanded manner Massey treated the miners who had worked at the Cannelton mine for decades,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “While it was discriminating against these experienced miners because of their age or union status, the company was at the same time publicly crying about the lack of experienced miners in the coalfields.

    “But it wasn’t that Massey couldn’t find experienced miners,” Roberts said. “They were there all along and wanted to work. It was that the company would rather break the law than allow its employees to have a strong voice at work and the tremendous benefits of a union contract.

Penny-wise, pound-foolish. An investment in experienced workers trained in state-of-the art safety measures combined with OSHA compliance and mine safety measures might have saved at least 25, and possibly 29 lives.

Devilstower at Daily Kos:

In an article yesterday, Laura pointed out some memos from Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship that surfaced as part of a law suit back in 2006. The first of these is extremely sharp and to the point.

To: All Deep Mine Superintendents
From: Don Blankenship
Date: October 19, 2005
Subject: RUNNING COAL
If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers, or anyone else to do anything other than run coal (i.e. – build overcasts, do construction jobs, or whatever) you need to ignore them and run coal. This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that the coal pays the bills.

A week later, Blankenship was back with another memo.

To: All Deep Mine Superintendents
From: Don Blankenship
Date: October 25, 2005
Subject: MEMBERSHIP
By now you should know that safety and S-1 is our first responsibility. Productivity and P-2 is second. It has been the culture of our Company for a long time.

Last week I sent each of you a memo on running coal. Some of your may have interpreted that memo to imply that safety and S-1 are secondary. I would question the membership of anyone who thought that I consider safety to be a secondary responsibility.

The point is that each of you is responsible for coal producing sections, and our goal is to keep them running coal. If you have construction jobs at your mine that need to be done to keep it safe or productive, make every effort to do those jobs without taking members and equipment from the coal producing sections that pay the bills.

In the second memo, what Blankenship says boils down to “anyone who says I don’t put safety first will be looking for another job” (“members” is his quaint way of saying “employee”). To understand why Blankenship, a week after issuing the first memo, would feel the need to issue the second, you need a little insight into how an underground mine works.

In this simplified image, coal is represented by the dark area and the mined out areas are in white. In this type of mine, coal is removed in a series of “cuts” and “cross cuts” leaving behind “pillars” (the large dark squares) that serve to hold up the roof. (The Crandall Canyon Accident at operator Bob Murray’s mine in Utah occurred when miners were instructed to “pull pillars” removing the necessary support for the roof.)

To provide fresh air into the mine, enormous fans are placed so that they drive air along the “mains” leading to the “face” (the place where the coal is being mined), which in this case is at the top of the picture. In this image, blue arrows show the air coming into the mine. As the air passes across the working face, it becomes polluted with dust, methane, ozone from electrical gear, burning oil, etc. This exhausted air is vented from the mine. In the case of an emergency miners exit in the opposite direction that the air moves. They walk into the breeze. That way, they’re always walking toward fresh air and any fire deeper in the mine (which can leave toxic fumes as well as remove breathable oxygen) is unlikely to foul their atmosphere. To help the miners find their way out, the main with inbound air is prominently marked with reflective signs.

But looking at the simple map here you might wonder why the air circulates up to the face at all. Why doesn’t it slip around through other passages and never reach the face? Well, some of it does, but the majority of air is directed to the face using barriers that are built to drive the air to the desired areas. Some of these barriers may be temporary structures made of heavy plastic sheets stretched over wood frames.  Older areas of the mine may be blocked off with more substantial walls of concrete block with metal fire doors meant to constrain any explosion or fire. These areas have restricted access, and besides inspectors measuring the amount of methane in these areas few workers are allowed to pass through.

There are also places where one main may cross another, such as a place where the main carrying air into the mine passes over a belt carrying coal out. In such locations one tunnel may move up and the other down for a short distance. That way they can cross without blocking cross traffic and with a minimal mingling of air. These are called “overcasts.”

When methane begins to build up in areas of the mine these different kinds of structures – seals, stoppings, and overcasts – are also used to direct air into the high methane area, diluting the gas and limiting the chance for explosion.

Why then is Blankenship’s initial memo so damning? Because with few exceptions, the only “construction jobs” to be done in the mine are buildings seals, stoppings, and overcasts. And seals, stoppings, and overcasts are the only way of keeping the miners supplied with good air and keeping the mine safe from high levels of gas.

What Blankenship is saying in the first memo is “stop worrying about providing good air, just get the coal out of the ground.” Of course, this was in 2005.

In 2006 miners at another Massey mine died when the mine turned out to have faulty fire extinquishers and water lines that didn’t work. The two widows from that fire were awarded a record settlement, but turned it down saying “Massey executives much farther up the line expected the Alma Mine to emphasize production over the safety of the coal miners inside.”

But hey, 2006. Maybe Blankenship wrote new memos since then. Maybe he wrote new memos since the mine at Montcoal was cited multiple times for ventilation issues. Maybe he wrote a new memo since it was cited for failing to put up those reflecting signs to lead miners out of danger.

Maybe we’ll get those memos soon.

Chris Stirewalt at The Washington Examiner:

The day that at least 25 miners were killed in a West Virginia coal mine blast, the U.S. secretary of Labor said that they would not have “died in vain.”

What Secretary Hilda Solis apparently meant was that this tragedy would be put to good use – exploited in an effort to crack down on Don Blankenship, a non-union coal operator who espouses conservative political views and spends big money to beat Democrats in elections.

Make no mistake, the reports of repeated ventilation problems at the Upper Big Branch coal mine are troubling.

Upper Big Branch is an unusually large operation in one of the most dangerous regions to mine coal – high methane levels and fairly tight working areas make deep mining in Central Appalachia tough. If the coal were not the most desirable in the world, no one would mine there at all. It burns hot and clean and is high demand by steelmakers, and with the demise of the U.S. steel industry, that means India and China.

Having good ventilation is the first safety rule of Central App. We don’t know what caused the explosion – an electric arc, a spark from metal on metal, etc. – but the real question will be how methane levels got so high.

The coverage of the disaster hasn’t focused on the handful of actual warning signs but instead on the volume of complaints from federal regulators. TV newscasters and reporters repeat over and over again that the mine had received “thousands” of citations or paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. Diane Sawyer has been the most over the top, but the theme of most of the reporting has been that this is the Toyota Prius of coal mines – a runaway safety problem overlooked by federal investigators. It all forgets that all mines are being constantly written up and fined. It’s a hovering regulatory presence that works more like a health code inspection at restaurants than consumer product safety. Small problems get written up and corrected. Any big problems or an accumulation of un-remedied small ones get you shut down.

Believe me when I say that the Obama administration would hardly have punished a mine regulator who wanted to shut down a Massey mine. The company is the biggest producer in Central Appalachia. Like most of the industry it runs non-union, but the region where Massey mines is the last stand of the United Mine Workers of America – there’s no way to convince coal miners in Wyoming to pay dues and join up, but bitter hatreds left over from mine wars make Appalachia more fertile ground for union organization.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

Now, we don’t know a lot about this accident. But the general portrait of Blankenship is a figure utterly contemptuous of anything that stands in the way of profits. The risks of a business strategy that places low wages above experienced workers and disdains regulation are fairly clear. The Forbes profile emphasizes the risks to Blankenship’s stock value, but of course the costs imposed upon workers and the environment are even greater.

Stirewalt, by contrast, takes it as self-evidently true that the Upper Big Branch Mine was sufficiently well-regulated:

all mines are being constantly written up and fined. It’s a hovering regulatory presence that works more like a health code inspection at restaurants than consumer product safety. Small problems get written up and corrected. Any big problems or an accumulation of un-remedied small ones get you shut down.Believe me when I say that the Obama administration would hardly have punished a mine regulator who wanted to shut down a Massey mine.This is a revealing passage. Stirewalt knows that regulation is onerous and the Obama administration fiercely opposed to business. In the fact of a massive event that would seem to obviate his assumptions, he simply reasserts them, as if an article of faith.

And more Chait:

Actually, an accumulation of even significant problems does not get you shut down. The company can just fight the citations. Here’s an excellent, thorough report from the Associated Press:

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.As more facts come out, Blankenship is going to be a very difficult figure for conservatives to defend.

Doug Disney:

This man is a caricature, a veritable Snidely Whiplash of dirty energy and profit margins over people and our shared environment. He is also the High Lord of the Flat Earth society a.k.a. the Climate Change science denial crowd. He uses his position in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to actively work against any changes necessary to mitigate carbon pollution and save humanity from the worst effects of anthropogenic climate change. After all what does he care, he’s very wealthy now, and he’ll be dead before the worst of the impending shit-storm occurs. As my older brother often opines, “Why should I care about what happens to my great-grandchildren? I won’t know them.”

As you may know there are distinct levels of Climate Change denial. The most prominent in the media are the people who acknowledge that it is occurring, but do so only because it’s totally irrational to completely dismiss the overwhelming amount of evidence that it is indeed occurring. They are the, ‘Yes it’s happening, but it is a natural phenomenon’ group. Then there are the people who say, ‘Yes humans are causing it, but there is nothing we can do about it lest we destroy the economy and lots of people will starve and die.’ As a corollary to that belief, there are the people who say, ‘Okay we can do something about it, but that will hurt the bottom line of important industries like coal and oil, and send us back to the stone age.’

Dirty Don doesn’t fit into any of these groups, he is firmly in the ‘Climate Change is a massive hoax and grand conspiracy‘ crowd. He believes the conspiracy is being perpetrated by a shadowy cabal of greedy scientists out to make a buck off the government, and those damn dirty librul elitist hippies who want to teach your kids to worship nature and to hate (not necessarily in this order) America, free-market capitalism, Mom, apple pie, the flag, the troops, and especially our Lord and savior Jesus Christ who taught us that coal will save your soul…

UPDATE: Mark Kleiman

1 Comment

Filed under Economics, Energy