Friday, December 16, 2005

The Ugly Legacy Of Coal

Mary Hufford took this photograph of mountain top removal. This and others are at the Library of Congress site Tending the Commons: Folklife and Landscape in Southern West Virginia. Posted by Picasa

When a thing is funny, search it carefully for a hidden truth.

---George Bernard Shaw

Searching for words, hunting for phrases, when will it end?
Esteeming knowledge and gathering information only maddens the spirit.
Just entrust yourself to your own nature, empty and illuminating---
Beyond this, I have nothing to teach.


Dying cricket,
His song so full
of life.


One of the first questions people ask when they move to a mining area of the Appalachians---or even just drive through mountains of West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio---is "What's happening over there?" They're referring to a startling bare spot on the horizon, out in the middle of nowhere, no towns around, maybe a big crane thing sticking up. What you're seeing is called strip mining or mountain top removal, and the little part of the machine inadvertently visible from the highway might be something like The Big Muskie, which was the largest mobile land machine in the world . It would take a stack of books to describe the history of coal mining and its effect on the lives of the people here---and certainly other regions of the Earth too---but did you know that history continues? Mining goes on here, providing jobs and taking them away, with mountain folks wrestling the same issues they've had to deal with for 200 years.

A great warrior and inspiration to me is Elisa Young, who lives among the coal-powered electric plants around Racine, down on the Ohio River. That's just a couple dozen miles and around a few riverbends from Cheshire, the town American Electric Power BOUGHT rather than clean up their stacks to remove the toxicity that brought poison to the lives of people who used to live there---and toxic rain to the Adirondacks. She's down there going to public meetings and hearings day and night, and reports on her work (all sparetime, as she has a regular job) at a Sierra Club website our local group maintains.

Earlier this week she posted an editorial I'd like you to read. It appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday, and was written by Erik Reece, who teaches writing at the University of Kentucky, and wrote a piece called "Death of a Mountain" in the April Harpers Magazine~~~

Coal companies' damage easy to see

By Erik Reece

Bill Caylor (President of the Kentucky Coal Association), in his latest apology for the damage that large coal corporations are inflicting on Eastern Kentucky, claims that while pessimistic editorialists never change, the coal industry has. Certainly no one is getting gunned down in the streets of Matewan anymore. But how much has the industry changed?

Ask Larry Gibson, who, because he refuses to sell his mountaintop homeplace, has seen his cabin set on fire, his two dogs shot and his solar panels sabotaged.

Ask Judy Bonds and Bo Webb of Coal River Mountain Watch, who received death threats last month because they dare to criticize the industry.

Ask Patsy Carter, who, after her daughter was killed by an overloaded coal truck, began speaking out. Since then, she has had 22 flat tires. At night, she can hear nails hit her mailbox as coal trucks speed by.

I have met a whole lot of decent people in the coal industry. But despite corporations' legal right to operate as "persons" under the law, a corporation is not a person. And as the 2000 Martin County disaster showed, corporations often operate without the moral compass that we hope will guide individuals.

How else can one explain why, over the last four years, 65,000 coal trucks have left Massey Energy's treatment plant in Sylvester, W.Va., and, according to an internal document, every single one was illegally, dangerously overloaded.

To look at the eastern coalfields on an aerial map and to see the black scars left by mountaintop removal is like looking at the X-ray of someone suffering from lung cancer. Caylor asserts, correctly, that only "7 percent of all of Appalachia" has been mountaintopped. But what if 7 percent of someone's lung was cancerous, and a doctor said there was no need to treat it?

"But won't it spread?" asks the patient.

"Of course it will," the doctor replies.

"But shouldn't we stop it?"

"Nope. Keep smoking. It's good for the cigarette industry and good for our economy."

I don't evoke this sad analogy lightly. Strip mining is destroying life in the streams of Appalachia and, as an Eastern Kentucky University study of Letcher County found, that polluted water is causing cancer and many other serious health problems throughout the region.

Without serious state or federal intervention, mountaintop mining will continue to spread havoc across Eastern Kentucky.

Caylor asserts that coal mining supports 14,000 jobs in Eastern Kentucky. But according to the Kentucky Coal Association's own Web site, only 5,237 of those jobs are on surface mines. That's about 100 jobs for each Appalachian county in Kentucky. Is destroying entire watersheds -- their trees, their water, their soil, their people -- worth 100 jobs?

"It's the lack of jobs that creates poverty," Caylor writes. It sure is, and it is the increased mechanization of the coal industry over the last few decades that is directly responsible for the lack of jobs in Eastern Kentucky.

It is no coincidence that the counties that have seen the most strip mining remain the poorest.

Caylor is right about one thing, though. We should retire the phrase "act of God" when talking about the damage caused by mountaintop mining. The floods and mudslides that, over the past five years, have killed 14 people who lived under strip mines in southern West Virginia were clearly acts of man. The only act of God was the creation of the Appalachian mountains -- the most biologically diverse ecosystem in North America.

Genesis 2:15 says that the creator put human beings on the Earth "to work it and take care of it." But we have been very poor stewards of the creation, and there may be hell to pay.

But because Caylor says that opponents of strip mining never have a "vision for the future," I want to offer one in the form of the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative.

Paul Rothman and Patrick Angel from the Office of Surface Mining have been encouraging coal companies to reclaim strip jobs with the kinds of trees that the bulldozers unearthed.

There is so much abandoned mine land in Eastern Kentucky right now that a tree reforestation program, funded by the state's severance tax, could reduce the region's unemployment rate to zero. Erosion and flooding would decrease, carbon sequestration would increase and Eastern Kentucky would finally have a wood-products industry that might bring an end to the ugly legacy of coal.

© 2005 Lexington Herald-Leader and wire service sources

Erik's Harpers essay, with photos, is preserved here

Elisa added the following in her post~~~

"Thought I would forward this and say the violence is not exaggerated.

"Larry called me one night about a month ago when he dropped a friend of ours off after they'd been out to speak against on MTR (mountain top removal), and her husband was waiting for her - with a pistol. He called to ask me to find out what kind of trouble they were having.

"Halloween they tried to burn Maria's footbridge to her home in the hollow while I was on the phone with her and she had to leave to run and put the fire out. If she loses her bridge it's a one mile walk back into the hollow and a half mile down the hill, and they are carrying in all of their drinking water since MTR started. The estimate to install city water is over $30,000. They don't have that kind of money and the coal company refuses to take responsibility."

People who live in the mountains around here tend to be fiercely independent, trying to sustain their lives without receiving charity from anywhere. You can't depend on government benefits because the next election may wipe them all out. So they garden a little bit, gather herbs and roots, barter, make crafts and moonshine, and grab jobs when one comes around. It's a rough life, but they think living in the mountains is worth it. Mountain top removal? I heard one guy say, "Hey, the top is the best part!"

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Who Are You Supporting In The Iraqi Election Tomorrow?

Posted by Picasa The picture is from a Fox News PhotoEssay entitled Iraq Vote.

Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.

---Lao Tzu

To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common---this is my symphony.

---William Henry Channing

Our reason has driven all away. Alone at last, we end up by ruling over a desert.

---Albert Camus

I understand President Bush is blaming faulty intelligence for the White House Christmas card this year. It greets his supporters with "Best wishes for a holiday season of hope and happiness." The CIA hadn't told him the War on Christmas has escalated to the incendiary point shots would be fired over his use of "holiday." John Breneman says Rove quickly reworded the inscription to read, "Merry Birth Anniversary of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior who died on the cross for our sins so that we may ascend to the Kingdom of Heaven." The President has planned an address to cadets at West Point later today to wish everyone a "Merry Christmas, especially all our friends in the Muslim world," and of course to credit the CIA with doing a heck of a job.

So they're voting in Iraq. Congress is poised to contribute another $50 billion dollars for the war over there, as the Pentagon is requesting $100 billion beyond that right away. With that kind of cash on the ---er--- barrelhead, it occurs to me you probably are watching the Iraqi election pretty closely. After all, the freely elected democracy in Iraq is the real reason we're over there. Or is it the latest reason?

I would never accuse anyone of Bush's stature to be a flip-flopper, but is there a logical consistency to all this? Didn't he say the other day that even if he'd known the intelligence was faulty (and whatever happened to the Downing Street Memo?) we'd have staged Shock and Awe? I think he did. Saddam was a bad man and had to go. And yesterday he said, "Given Saddam's history and the lessons of September the 11th, my decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision." Everyone knows Saddam and 9/11 are linked.

Since September 2nd, and Katrina, Bush has been on the campaign trail (paid for by whose tax-cut dollars?) to recover the polls. And it's working like a charm. James Ridgeway has chronicled the whole trip with a timeline that Rove must have planned out on his computer.,ridgeway,71059,2.html Step by step Bush has escalated his rhetoric until we're right back where we started. The only thing he hasn't repeated is Saddam was buying yellowcake in Niger. Hello Patrick Fitzgerald, are you still out there?

So what will the election in Iraq accomplish for the Bush team? William Rivers Pitt has organized the factions and issues for us, and set forth the possibilities. Here's the whole essay~~~

Meet the New Boss
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t Perspective

Wednesday 14 December 2005

There is an election taking place in Iraq on Friday. According to those who still maintain some kind of hope that the wretched situation over there can be salvaged at the ballot box, this election will be a turning point. "If the result is seen to be fair and the government elected for the next four years is accepted as broadly representative of the interests of most Iraqis," writes Liz Sly in the Chicago Tribune, "there is a real chance that the insurgent violence and the sectarian rivalries that are pushing the country close to civil war will abate."

This vote, the third since the occupation began, is meant to elect a 275-person parliamentary body called the Council of Representatives. All 18 Iraqi provinces will be participating in the election. The Sunnis, who mostly boycotted the elections last January, are expected to participate in far larger numbers this time around. Leading Sunni clerics have issued a fatwa which decrees that Sunni participation in this election is a religious duty.

This election will be no panacea, despite what the hopefuls think. Every electoral model has the Shia and Kurds assuming dominant positions in the Iraqi government. Even if every Sunni in Iraq goes to the polls, they make up only 20% of the overall population. Electoral formulas meant to enhance Sunni power within an Iraqi government will still leave them deeply in the minority.

A collection of leading Sunni parties called the Iraqi Consensus Front has been pushing a straightforward slogan: "Our goal is to get the invaders out and rebuild the country." If their minority status prevents the Sunnis from achieving their first goal according to their wishes, they may well return to violence to achieve their second goal. A leaflet was broadly distributed in the Azamiyah neighborhood of Baghdad last Monday. Sunni Arabs may have a chance to advance their cause politically in the upcoming elections, read the leaflet, but "the fighting will continue with the infidels and their followers."

The campaigning itself, which ended on Tuesday, has been a half-baked farce all too reminiscent of America's watered-down and money-driven electioneering. Thanks to the assassinations and attempted assassinations of several candidates, and thanks to the ever-present threat of violence, almost all campaigning has been done via television. Because television time is prohibitively expensive, only the campaigns with significant financial resources will ever become known to the Iraqi people. Hundreds of viable candidates, a number of them secular, don't stand a chance next to well-funded religious campaigns whose cash comes from unknown and potentially dangerous outside sources.

Juan Cole, professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History at the University of Michigan, does not see how this election can possibly be seen as credible. "As with the Jan. 30 elections," writes Cole, "the Dec. 15 elections are not being held in accordance with international standards of fairness, and cannot be. Proper elections would require that security be provided to voters and candidates. But there is no security. In many parts of the center-north, voters will have no guarantee of coming home alive. The only way the vote will happen at all is that the US military has forbidden all vehicular traffic, so everyone has to walk for the next few days. This tactic prevents car bombings from disrupting the elections, but it is a desperate measure and not a sign of an election that could be certified as free and fair."

In one sense, however, one can appreciate how difficult it must be to mount an effective political campaign in Iraq. Beyond the real possibility of getting shot, a candidate must face a divided populace that does not, according to a recent ABC News/Time poll taken in Iraq, seem to know what it wants. Make sense of these numbers: 90% believe Iraq needs democracy, but 91% believe Iraq needs a single strong leader; 48% want the mullahs to rule, but only 13% want an Islamic state; 48% think religious leaders should rule, while 49% think military leaders should rule.

The most gifted and adept American politician would struggle to develop a coherent message in this situation. Half the populace wants religious leadership, half the populace wants military leadership, and simultaneously the vast majority believes either of these is amenable to democracy. The only issue the Iraqi people have a clear consensus on is the occupation itself; by large majorities, they want the Americans out.

Imagine, for a moment, that the Iraqi elections on Friday come off without a hitch. No one is killed, maimed or intimidated into voting for a particular candidate by having a gun barrel put to his head. There are no hanging chads, no mayhem or madness. What will the Iraqi and American people get out of the incredible blood and treasure we have poured into this conflict?

We will get an Iraqi government dominated by known and notorious terrorists. We will get an Iraqi government dominated by Iran.

The Shia will walk away from Friday with the lion's share of control over the Iraqi government. The two most powerful Shia political parties, the ones that will come out of this with the big wins, are the Dawa Party and the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is known by the initials SCIRI. Both were founded and funded by Iran in the 1980s. Both have a history of spectacular violence against the United States and other nations. "These guys are murderers," says former CIA agent Bob Baer, who dealt with Dawa during the 1980s. "They were the core element that blew up our embassy in Beirut in 1983."

Paul Mulshine, writing last week for the New Jersey Star-Ledger, encapsulates this amazing turn of events. "What would you call someone who wants to hand over control of Iraq to a group of terrorists that first made its reputation by blowing up a couple of American embassies?" wrote Mulshine. "I'd call him President Bush. The group is called the Dawa party. In the early 1980s, Dawa terrorists bombed our embassies in Kuwait and in Lebanon. They were universally recognized as vicious America-hating, Iranian-supported terrorists. Now they're part of the coalition that is expected to win control of the new Iraqi parliament in Thursday's elections."

"The other coalition partners aren't much better," continued Mulshine. "The sanest group on the Shi'a side is the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. A 1984 Washington Post story portrayed the group, known by its initials SCIRI, as 'a kind of parent organization for four operational terrorist groups.' SCIRI was founded in Iran a couple of years earlier by the Ayatollah Khomeini with the goal of taking control of Iraq. Now, they're about to do so, courtesy of George W. Bush."

A walk through history serves to remind those afflicted with short attention spans of who exactly is about to take control of Iraq.

A story from US News and World Report dated December 26, 1983, titled "The New Face of Mideast Terrorism" describes the bombing of the American embassy in Kuwait: "The terrorist who detonated the truckload of explosives at the US Embassy in Kuwait was identified as a 25-year-old Iraqi belonging to an outlawed Moslem unit, the Iranian Dawa Group."

A story from the Associated Press dated February 11, 1984, titled "Trial of Bomb Blast Defendants Opens" describes the trial of 21 people charged with bombing American and French embassies: "Of the other defendants, 17 are Iraqis; two, Lebanese, three, Kuwaitis and two are stateless. Most of them said they belonged to Al-Dawa (Islamic Call) Party, an Iraqi movement of Shiite Moslem fanatics who are pro-Iranian."

A story from the Associated Press dated December 27, 1986, titled "Five Groups Claim Responsibility, Iraq Accuses Iran" describes the attempted hijacking of an Iraqi jetliner that resulted in the deaths of over 60 people: "The hijackers acted in cooperation with the Dawa party of pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiites."


A sharp indictment of SCIRI and its ties to Iran and terrorism can be found, of all places, within the pages of the report put forth by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. This commission, put together to investigate the events of and leading up to September 11, heard expert testimony from Mark Gasiorowski, professor of Political Science and Director of International Studies at Louisiana State University.

In his testimony, Gasiorowski stated, "From the early 1980s until about 1996, Iran was directly involved in a wide variety of terrorist activities. It provided extensive support to Islamist terrorist groups such as Hezbollah (in Lebanon), Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Afghan Northern Alliance and its precursors." Gasiorowski goes on to state that Iran continues to support several terrorist groups, and includes SCIRI among them. "They are most strongly committed to Hezbollah and SCIRI," said Gasiorowski, "with which they have worked closely for over 20 years."

Excellent. It seems the best path to electoral victory in Iraq, besides kissing babies and avoiding assassins, involves a long history of terrorism and extreme violence against the United States. Former CIA agent Bob Baer stated in Mulshine's article, "So now we have a Shia terrorist state. Was this worth $6 billion a month?"

Almost certainly, we will hear apologists for both the Bush administration and the invasion downplay the incredible terrorist histories of the groups about to take over the Iraqi government. "Sure they were terrorists," we will hear, "but they're OK now." In other words, they are terrorists, but they are our terrorists.

Saddam Hussein was our terrorist in Iraq for years, so long as he directed his terrorism primarily at Iran. Osama bin Laden was our terrorist in Afghanistan for years, so long as he directed his terrorism at the Soviet Union. Anyone seeing a pattern developing here?

Just how interested is Iran in Friday's elections? The New York Times reported on Wednesday that, "Less than two days before nationwide elections, the Iraqi border police seized a tanker on Tuesday that had just crossed from Iran filled with thousands of forged ballots, an official at the Interior Ministry said. The Iranian truck driver told the police under interrogation that at least three other trucks filled with ballots had crossed from Iran at different spots along the border." American democracy at its finest, it seems.

It is amazing to consider that Americans, who have almost completely lost faith in the vote as an effective means of political participation at home, are somehow expected to believe that this vote will solve Iraq's incredible problems. One wonders how long it will be before the Vanishing Voter Project opens an office in Baghdad. In Iraq, of course, vanishing voters carry an entirely different meaning.

Don't get your hopes up come Friday. The worst possible outcome will involve horrific bloodshed and unrest. The best possible outcome will place two notoriously deadly terrorist organizations in charge of Iraq. Was this trip really necessary?

William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.

© : t r u t h o u t 2005