Shocked and Persuaded


Separating Fact From Fiction

The True Cost of Coal!

Clean Energy, Clean Coal, Foreign Oil, Middle East Instability, blah blah blah blah blah.

The 2 graphs presented here derived from the US Mine Health & Safety Administration show the true cost of coal. Since data was first recorded back in the 1930s we have lost at least (ie Average Annual Derivation) 420,960 men due to coal mine fatalities and 25,633, 151 have been injured. As to the severity of the latter I wasn’t able to get my hands on how many resulted in men that were Functionally Dead. With more and more union busting and people like Don Blankenship the owner of Massey Energy the company that oversaw the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia making no bones about his distaste and most likely hatred of unions fatalities will rise in my opinion. Yes mechanization and strip-mining has resulted in a decline in fatalities but there has been – in recent years – an increase in large and broadly fatal “accidents”. The Upper Big Branch was a non-union mine thanks to Mr. Blankenship’s machinations. I am not promoting across-the-board unionization but I am worried that erosion of unions where their presence is required may prove economically costly to miners and in the worst case scenario Upper Big Branch Reduxes throughout Appalachia. There may be clean ways to burn coal but it’s extraction is dirty on so many levels not least of which is the fact that it robs communities of their fathers, brothers, uncles, little league coaches, and more importantly their collective spirit. West Virginians and coal mining communities writ large consist of proud, determined, stubborn, and resourceful people. However, the Paradox of Plenty (ie, The Resource Curse) caught them off-guard with the speculative and nefarious vultures swooping in to promise riches that have yet to be delivered. We need to stop stigmatizing these communities and start infusing them with capital aimed at a more diversified economic portfolio. I have been to these communities and they are desperate to decouple themselves from Carbonaceous Robber Barons like Don Blankenship.

Enjoy the data I think the figures speak for themselves.

Average Annual Deaths and Injuries:


Average Cumulative Deaths and Injuries:


The Conflict Within

“Even as Islamist terrorism grabs the headlines, more familiar varieties cling stubbornly to existence. It would be a brave man willing to bet where the next attack will come from.”

This is a quote from an article titled “The Airline Bombers: Bang to Rights” in the September 12th-18th 2009 edition of The Economist ( However, given a recent and very disturbing story emanating from from a town called Big Creek in Clay County, KY this quote could easily be superimposed on the current moral and political divide in this country (; Bill Sparkman a Boy Scout leader and substitute teacher was found dead, naked, and gagged in the Daniel Boone National Forest, with a rope hung around his head and looped over a tree. The coroners believe that Mr. Sparkman was dead prior to being hung as his feet were in contact with the ground. One of the more disturbing aspects of this story is that Mr. Sparkman a part-time census field worker was found with the word “FED” written across his chest with red ink. Folks at New America Media noted that a blogger named “Hill Jill” an appalachian resident was defending her region on the Daily Kos:

“This does not strike me as a “native” crime. A native might shoot you, I won’t argue there-but they would not do the whole elaborate staged crime scene.”

This is something I would whole-heartedly agree with and having worked in Northeastern Kentucky and much of Western West Virginia I know that there are plenty of folks in this region that are pissed that they are immediately conflated with the folks in Deliverance. Yet, there is a problem here and unfortunately The Times has not deemed it worthy of sending someone to the region relying instead on AP reports. Yet, apparently the Roman Polanski story is worthy of round-the-clock editorials and in-depth coverage. Why is this so scary? Well because we need to know how many people are in this country and census workers in no way reflect the Big Brother image promulgated in this country since Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”. I must wonder why the coward that killed Mr. Sparkman didn’t revolt against the Bush administration’s constant probing of our phones, emails, and if they had their way our bedrooms? Why did the coward who killed Mr. Sparkman not revolt when the 2000 election was literally stolen from the people of this country by Antonin Scalia et al.? Why did the coward who killed Mr. Sparkman not revolt when his or her taxes were used to bail out a bunch of criminals on Wall Street?

I think the reason he or she didn’t revolt is because this country has transformed from the United States of America into nothing more than a bunch of “tribes with flags”, which ironically was coined by Tahsin Bashir to describe the 22 Arab states of the Middle East and Africa ( I think if we were to lift up all the rocks surrounding the crime scene in Big Creek we would be mightily disturbed by what we find. But here in this country the truth more often than not doesn’t set you free, rather it gets you jailed, fired, or relegated to the marginal fringe. It is a shame because what happened in Clay County, KY last week is a symptom of a great sickness that appears to be spreading. It will be easier to address this issue now rather then later. This will require us to engage in thoughtful inter-state dialogue with the politicians and lobbyists locked out, because all they seem to want to stoke rather than quash divisiveness.

The lack of attention this story has received in favor of more titillating and irrelevant events is a shame but in no way surprising. Accountability is something we need to demand of our politicians and current-event purveyors alike.

Job Creation, Energy, and Appalachia’s Long-Term Health

There is a bipartisan notion perpetuated by industry and many politicians – specifically those so utterly disconnected from their home states/districts true needs – that natural resource exploitation and large agricultural infrastructure is the key to job creation. Just a little hint before moving further if you hear this rhetoric spewing from a politician’s mouth inquire as to their primary donors. Anyway this is one of the biggest if not the biggest lies being sold the American public today and the data buttresses my argument quite robustly. Here it is in black and white when production increases whether it be in the coalmines of West Virginia or cornfields of Iowa what happens is a massive shift towards mechanization, with larger and larger combines or draglines, or Komatsu front-loaders.
The latter able to move tons of earth or overburden allowing relatively uninhibited access to the coal seam, which by the way are increasingly smaller and smaller requiring less laborious methods or more dangerous exploration of deeper seams. This is evidenced in the exponential growth in surface mining throughout the US a method that requires markedly less labor then its underground alternative. Thus, if you look at the debate in simple output:input ratio terms, with # employed as the input, you will see an inverse relationship developing quite rapidly in recent times, which is to say that large multi-nationals like Massey Energy were extracting 5,087,150.3 short tons per thousand works in 1985 and managed to nearly triple this ratio (~290.2%) to 14,762,463.5 short tons per thousand works. Keep in mind the fact that total coal extraction in the US has only increased by 129.6% since 1985.


How you ask would one go about counteracting this 160% profit disparity? Well you can start by purchasing larger and large equipment, vast swaths of land, breaking the systemic will of the UMW of America, and insuring that crimes against labor like the recent tragedies in Utah and West Virginia go virtually unpunished. If you own the hearts and minds of people like the governor of West Virginia, Senators Byrd and Rockefeller and McConnell, and the supreme courts of many coal producing states you don’t need carrots and frankly you don’t really have much need for sticks either.
If you buy that the above ratio is a valid measure of workplace efficiency and by association a primary driver behind the decline in jobs related to natural resource exploitation and agricultural production then let’s apply it to the farm sector specifically corn to see if it still holds up. The answer is as you could probably guess by my tone is that it does indeed and is slightly more robust in this instance. It turns out that if you look at data associated with corn production in the US at five year intervals since 1910 you will see that that the total number of farms and workers are currently 66.1 and 78.2% of what they were at the turn of the century, while production and output:input have increased by 347.6 and 1,595.4%, respectively.


This suggests that one of two things is occurring, either we are getting better at how we manage our agricultural lands vis à vis chemical fertilizers, pesticides, etc and crop-rotation or our current farmers are on steroids, which I am not ruling out but would hope is not the case.
This is a marked increase in “efficiency” by any standard begging the question: Why not get more from less? The answer is of course that there is no surficially viable reason, but more to the point portending that more coal mining brings more jobs when you know the exact opposite to be true is quite the bait and switch wouldn’t you say?
It is true that neither underground nor surface mining is great but it is underground mining, while extremely dangerous and liable to create vast stability problems down the road, that has traditionally been the engine employing much of Appalachia. This method imbued a greater sense of community and unification that was/is anathema to the coal companies and their strike breakers so vividly depicted in “Harlan County KY”. Much of the debate around “clean coal”, which if you ask anyone from Appalachia is a complete whitewashing, centers around jobs as does the research and production of biofuels and it is true that if done right these industries do create jobs. The fact is that since 1949 when much of the high grade anthracite-type coal was still available surface-mining accounted for 25.3% of all mined coal in the US whereas today it accounts for nearly 70% or 794,263,579 short tons. Furthermore, anthracite coal extraction has declined from 8.9 to 0.14% of all coal extracted in the US during the same period, with a parallel decline in jobs from a high 1,737,000 miners in 1985 to 776,000 in 2007.
So, what we have are two lies being pushed down the throats of Appalachia and America writ large: 1) exploitation of our mountains and arable lands is a perpetual large-scale benefit to the job market and 2) that clean coal and biofuels will benefit the environment, Appalachia, and industry. According to Judy Bond of Coal River Mountain Watch “Even if you could get rose petals to come out of the smokestacks, coal is filthy and will never be clean as long as mountains and communities are blasted and streams and communities are poisoned…The entire cycle of coal must be examined. We in Appalachia are blasted by over 3 1/2 million pounds of explosives daily and are similar to a “banana republic”. The coal industry is allowed to simply kill us slowly with toxic waste.” So, in plain English folks the only ones benefitting are John D. Rockefeller, WV Supreme Court Justice Brent D. Benjamin, and the pious head of Massey Energy Corporation Don L. Blankenship.