Capitalists and Other Psychopaths
Stolen from the NY Times:
THERE is an ongoing debate in this country about the rich: who they are, what their social role may be, whether they are good or bad. Well, consider the following. A recent study found that 10 percent of people who work on Wall Street are “clinical psychopaths,” exhibiting a lack of interest in and empathy for others and an “unparalleled capacity for lying, fabrication, and manipulation.” (The proportion at large is 1 percent.) Another study concluded that the rich are more likely to lie, cheat and break the law.
The only thing that puzzles me about these claims is that anyone would find them surprising. Wall Street is capitalism in its purest form, and capitalism is predicated on bad behavior. This should hardly be news. The English writer Bernard Mandeville asserted as much nearly three centuries ago in a satirical-poem-cum-philosophical-treatise called “The Fable of the Bees.”
“Private Vices, Publick Benefits” read the book’s subtitle. A Machiavelli of the economic realm — a man who showed us as we are, not as we like to think we are — Mandeville argued that commercial society creates prosperity by harnessing our natural impulses: fraud, luxury and pride. By “pride” Mandeville meant vanity; by “luxury” he meant the desire for sensuous indulgence. These create demand, as every ad man knows. On the supply side, as we’d say, was fraud: “All Trades and Places knew some Cheat, / No Calling was without Deceit.”
In other words, Enron, BP, Goldman, Philip Morris, G.E., Merck, etc., etc. Accounting fraud, tax evasion, toxic dumping, product safety violations, bid rigging, overbilling, perjury. The Walmart bribery scandal, the News Corp. hacking scandal — just open up the business section on an average day. Shafting your workers, hurting your customers, destroying the land. Leaving the public to pick up the tab. These aren’t anomalies; this is how the system works: you get away with what you can and try to weasel out when you get caught.
I always found the notion of a business school amusing. What kinds of courses do they offer? Robbing Widows and Orphans? Grinding the Faces of the Poor? Having It Both Ways? Feeding at the Public Trough? There was a documentary several years ago called “The Corporation” that accepted the premise that corporations are persons and then asked what kind of people they are. The answer was, precisely, psychopaths: indifferent to others, incapable of guilt, exclusively devoted to their own interests.
There are ethical corporations, yes, and ethical businesspeople, but ethics in capitalism is purely optional, purely extrinsic. To expect morality in the market is to commit a category error. Capitalist values are antithetical to Christian ones. (How the loudest Christians in our public life can also be the most bellicose proponents of an unbridled free market is a matter for their own consciences.) Capitalist values are also antithetical to democratic ones. Like Christian ethics, the principles of republican government require us to consider the interests of others. Capitalism, which entails the single-minded pursuit of profit, would have us believe that it’s every man for himself.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about “job creators,” a phrase begotten by Frank Luntz, the right-wing propaganda guru, on the ghost of Ayn Rand. The rich deserve our gratitude as well as everything they have, in other words, and all the rest is envy.
First of all, if entrepreneurs are job creators, workers are wealth creators. Entrepreneurs use wealth to create jobs for workers. Workers use labor to create wealth for entrepreneurs — the excess productivity, over and above wages and other compensation, that goes to corporate profits. It’s neither party’s goal to benefit the other, but that’s what happens nonetheless.
Also, entrepreneurs and the rich are different and only partly overlapping categories. Most of the rich are not entrepreneurs; they are executives of established corporations, institutional managers of other kinds, the wealthiest doctors and lawyers, the most successful entertainers and athletes, people who simply inherited their money or, yes, people who work on Wall Street.
MOST important, neither entrepreneurs nor the rich have a monopoly on brains, sweat or risk. There are scientists — and artists and scholars — who are just as smart as any entrepreneur, only they are interested in different rewards. A single mother holding down a job and putting herself through community college works just as hard as any hedge fund manager. A person who takes out a mortgage — or a student loan, or who conceives a child — on the strength of a job she knows she could lose at any moment (thanks, perhaps, to one of those job creators) assumes as much risk as someone who starts a business.
Enormous matters of policy depend on these perceptions: what we’re going to tax, and how much; what we’re going to spend, and on whom. But while “job creators” may be a new term, the adulation it expresses — and the contempt that it so clearly signals — are not. “Poor Americans are urged to hate themselves,” Kurt Vonnegut wrote in “Slaughterhouse-Five.” And so, “they mock themselves and glorify their betters.” Our most destructive lie, he added, “is that it is very easy for any American to make money.” The lie goes on. The poor are lazy, stupid and evil. The rich are brilliant, courageous and good. They shower their beneficence upon the rest of us.
Mandeville believed the individual pursuit of self-interest could redound to public benefit, but unlike Adam Smith, he didn’t think it did so on its own. Smith’s “hand” was “invisible” — the automatic operation of the market. Mandeville’s involved “the dextrous Management of a skilful Politician” — in modern terms, legislation, regulation and taxation. Or as he versified it, “Vice is beneficial found, / When it’s by Justice lopt, and bound.”
By WILLIAM DERESIEWICZ
An essayist, critic and the author of “A Jane Austen Education.”
The New Rules: Why America Needs to Demonize China
Stolen from World Politics Review:
THOMAS P.M. BARNETT
17 JAN 2011
President Barack Obama came into office promising a new sort of bilateral relationship with China. It was not meant to be. Washington hasn't changed any of its long list of demands regarding China, and Beijing, true to historical form, has gone out of its way to flex its muscles as a rising power. With the recent series of revelations concerning Chinese military developments, the inside-the-Beltway hyping of the Chinese threat has reached fever pitch, matching the average American's growing fears of China's economic strength.
Of course, the world's established No. 1 power always greets the challenge from a rising No. 2 with fear and trepidation. But in the case of the U.S. and China, there are other reasons why so much of Washington is eager to demonize Beijing. Here's my top 10 list:
1. Unable to curb our spendthrift ways, we demand China do it for us. America has an insatiable appetite for illegal drugs, but instead of rationally dealing with the problem of domestic demand, we push it off onto poorer nations to our south via military aid that does nothing but turn their countries into war zones. Our fight with China over its currency's value is similarly framed: Americans cannot stop spending beyond their means, so we demand China raise its currency to reduce our trade imbalance with the entire world. China has 700 million interior rural poor still awaiting economic uplift, but they're no match for our 535 legislators unable to police themselves.
How can Washington sell this nonsense to the American people? Easy. When polled recently, almost half of Americans wrongly identified China as the world's greatest economic power.
2. China would love to balance trade with America, but America prefers maintaining China in its role as a convenient enemy. I spent December in Beijing speaking with Chinese policy experts, all of whom opined that China would gladly balance its trade with the United States -- if only Washington would allow it. Our government restricts sales of high technology to China, so China buys it in bulk from the European Union. Our government won't sell arms to China. As a result, Russia cleans up. Our government also blocks Chinese investment into "sensitive" industries, so Beijing invests elsewhere. Washington hamstrings our bilateral trade to such a degree because it remains convinced that China is our most-likely opponent in any future great-power war. So today's trade is perceived as aid to tomorrow's enemy.
But have no fear: America sells loads of weapons to all of China's neighbors, so we earn back some of those lost sales.
3. Nixon went to China four decades ago, and the Chinese are still Chinese! America had a culture war in the Sixties that amounted to a "long, strange trip." By contrast, China's Cultural Revolution left 30 million dead. After being set on a peaceful path of rapid development under Deng Xiaoping in the early 1980s, the gun-shy Chinese people have most decidedly focused on expanding their economic liberties versus their political rights, continuing to submit to one-party rule. Will this social compact last forever? History says no, but it also says that most such explosively growing countries, especially in Asia, remain de facto single-party states for roughly half a century before a truly competitive multiparty dynamic emerges. That suggests we should expect Chinese democracy to arrive sometime in the 2030s, not tomorrow.
But that's not fast enough for Washington, which puts up with authoritarian allies when it cares to -- and demonizes them when it must.
4. We told Beijing there was only "one China" in 1972, and have sold arms to Taiwan ever since. Think back to the U.S. Civil War. Imagine if Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy's dead-enders had slipped away to Cuba in 1865 to set up their alternative, nose-thumbing version of America on that island. Then fast-forward to, say, 1908, and imagine how much the United States would have tolerated some distant imperial power like England telling us what we could or could not do vis-à-vis this "loser" sitting just off our shore. Imagine where Teddy "San Juan Hill" Roosevelt would have told the Brits they could shove their "Cuban Relations Act of 1879." Well, that's basically what U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was told last week in Beijing when he proposed expanded military-to-military ties with the PLA.
Oddly enough, when you sell arms to somebody's "breakaway" region, they take it personally.
5. Our nuclear nuttiness knows no bounds. Nuclear weapons have a perfect record of preventing great-power war for 65 years and counting. But now Obama wants them all gone. The rest of the world wonders, Who would benefit most from this? The obvious answer is, The world's sole conventional military superpower with a lengthy record of toppling regimes that it does not like. So guess what? Nukes are here to stay. China subscribes to such realism, and therefore does not follow America's orders on Iran and North Korea.
Naturally, Washington sees only suspicious obstructionism in this stance.
6. The U.S. Navy and Air Force need China to survive. Prior to Sept. 11, military "transformers" inside the Pentagon had their sights set firmly on "rising" China. Then the Long War against violent extremists came along and ruined the high-tech party, pointedly favoring the manpower-intensive Army and Marines. Now, as America tires of nation-building and counterinsurgency, the Revolution in Military Affairs aficionados are back at it, freaking out over every Chinese military development with a triumphant, "I told you so!" The Pentagon's new AirSea Battle Concept -- otherwise known as the Navy-Air Force Full Employment Act -- seeks to right the bureaucratic wrongs triggered by all those ground casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan by putting the platform-heavy "big war" crowd back on top inside the E-Ring. Five-star Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, coiner of the phrase "military-industrial complex," must be rolling in his grave.
7. The neocon fantasy of primacy is alive and well and living in Washington. Per last week's column, it's not enough for America to outspend the world on defense. We've also got to dominate China militarily -- right on its doorstep. Gates last week said that spending anything less than his $553 billion proposed 2012 defense budget would be "potentially calamitous." This week, he vowed to match any Chinese military developments. So what's an alternative? The Long War-strapped U.S. military could use some help in its many overseas responsibilities from the free-riding Chinese. And taking up such an expanded global security role would allow the Chinese to address growing vulnerabilities that result from their dependence on foreign sources of energy, minerals and food. But why should either country's military-industrial complex address real-world challenges together when they can spend so much more money mindlessly scheming against one another?
8. The Pentagon's Big War crowd still dreams of nuclear-free great-power war. Check out the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment's publication, "AirSea Battle: A Point-of-Departure Operational Concept," because it's a real departure from reality. A guiding assumption of the CSBA's war-scenario analysis is that, despite the high likelihood that a Sino-U.S. conventional conflict over Taiwan "would devolve into a prolonged war" in which China would suffer humiliating defeat across the board, mutual nuclear deterrence would be preserved throughout the con¬flict. And what if China took the desperate step of a nuclear launch? According to the CSBA, "the character of the conflict would change so drastically as to render discussion of major conventional warfare irrelevant."
As strategic miscalculations go, that's a doozy.
In direct response, China's military is allegedly reconsidering its longstanding pledge not to pre-emptively strike with nuclear weapons, although China officially denied those reports. For its part, the U.S. Air Force is already developing plans to fire conventional intercontinental ballistic missiles around the world in a program dubbed Prompt Global Strike, with weapons in space soon to follow. And you thought MAD was bad.
9. We live in an age of fear-based politics. You know the drill: Every Chinese military development, no matter how far off in the future its induction, is now routinely touted in the mainstream media as "imminently deployed." If the Chinese military test-flies its new stealth fighter on the eve of Gate's recent visit, then it's proof positive that the PLA now calls all the shots in Beijing. Faith-based politics now begets fantasy-based intelligence analysis. Who cares what's actually operational? Let's just watch an animator's rendering of what's conceivable and run with that.
We should know better. After all, that's what Ronald Reagan's Star Wars snow job with the Russkies amounted to!
10. We prefer the myth of a monolithic, inscrutable China to actual reality. David Shambaugh's Washington Quarterly article (.pdf) describing the plethora of foreign-policy schools now battling each other inside Beijing is on the money: I met representatives from all of those factions last month, and they are one contradictory lot. They run the gamut from advocates of Chinese primacy, as boneheaded as their American counterparts, to some of the nicest Kantian airheads you'd ever care to meet. And trust me, this internal struggle is far from over. The sad thing is that Washington has already made its choice.
We have seen the enemy, and he is us. That's what happens when you use a mirror to look at the world.
Thomas P.M. Barnett is chief analyst at Wikistrat and a contributing editor for Esquire magazine. His latest book is "Great Powers: America and the World After Bush" (2009). His weekly WPR column, The New Rules, appears every Monday. Reach him and his blog at thomaspmbarnett.com.
Notes on the US military from a Marine
By "A. Scout-Sniper"
Best Defense national service columnist
The military is ultimately a reflection of our culture or what we would like to believe about our culture. We would like to believe that our military is an all-volunteer force filled with young and old people who represent the diversity (class, sex, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, non-religion, talent, skills or politics) of our country. We would like to believe compulsory national service has failed to win wars in the past, that a draft is the penultimate form of a dictatorship and that today's military is better than any in our history. But is it really voluntary? Is compulsory national service as threatening as some libertarians would view it? Is the all-volunteer military the "best" our country has ever produced?
As an OIF vet and Jarhead, and above all someone trying to find a healthy balance as a civilian once more, I've watched the military from within and without and the truest observation I can make is that we fight with a conscripted force in all but name.
For those who cannot listen to an argument without attacking someone's personality or politics, here is my background up front. I am a white male. I'm a middle class kid who grew up working on my grandfather's potato farm in Southern Idaho and lived in suburbia while attending badly run and academically useless public schools K-12. I'm a Generation Y, ivy-league educated, FDR liberal, environmentalist, atheist vegan. I graduated with a BA in English and History in 2002 from a private college I busted my ass to get into on an academic scholarship. I enlisted as a private in United States Marine Corps after 9/11 but I wanted to be a jarhead before that for these reasons: 1) I could not afford graduate school without the GI Bill; 2) I wanted to repay the government and country that gave my grandfather free farmland and an education after his war in Korea; and 3) I wanted to be there for my friends. I was a grunt and a scout sniper. I served four voluntary tours in Iraq. On the last two tours, I burned into my inactive reserve time and took someone else's place so they wouldn't have to go. I'm currently using the New Deal-GI Bill to pursue my graduate studies and I am a small business owner. But guess what? I'm average. This was just a job and a means to an end just like most the guys I served with. Despite the physical injuries I sustained and the PTSD I will live with forever, the lies I was told by military and civilians alike, I do not regret being there for my Marines and my Iraqis.
I do regret, until now, not responding to the snap judgments made about compulsory national service and the assumptions about an all-volunteer military. Most of the comments or observations made about free choice and diversity of an all-volunteer military are inconsistent with what I experienced. Please suspend your judgment and see things in my world for a few minutes.
1. Elitism and Snobbery
I am distressed by the elitist feelings military personnel have about themselves and the elitism showered by us, civilians, on them. This is a starting point that fits into the observations that follow. In some sense, we have transformed the military from just a regular part of government service into a special interest group that believes in its own entitlement. My view is pretty much my grandfather's view: the four year Marine Sergeant or the 24 year Army General are both citizen soldiers working for the country and are no better than their local USPS Delivery man, the Fish and Wildlife Ranger at Yosemite, a librarian, a Senator, the EPA clerk or the President.
This has to be one of the very unhealthy and unintended effects of the 1974 policy that made our current military. Typically we use the high-society term "professional" to describe our military. Its overuse, by those inside and outside, sounds suspicious as if Americans in other periods were unskilled simpletons with mediocre public schooling and industrial skills who made average soldiers at best. This sets up a dangerous perception that the military is "better" than the government and, in turn, the society it serves. Part of this I-Am-Special mentality comes from the idea that we are all volunteers and thus better humans because we willingly and knowingly gave up our lives in both blood and time and joined a very small club. We don't honor our local EMTs, AmeriCorps students, Policemen, City Water Sewage personnel, teachers, and VA doctors, for instance, who give up just as much and sometimes more.
While I would like to believe that everyone volunteers 100% for only one pure reason, this is another extremist view of life. Not everyone who serves has the financial and intellectual luxuries of a Pat Tillman. That is a semi-mythical belief all of us as civilians and military tell ourselves to avoid thinking about those we consciously and unconsciously target as recruits and then send half way around the globe while we shirk or exonerate ourselves of any responsibility. USMC, we often say to sleep easy at night: U Signed the Mother-Fucking Contract.
2. Impoverished Young People
Many Marines I served with, I'm talking Sergeants and down, enlisted to escape poverty and get a college education. Most young people do not know how relatively low military pay is, especially enlisted versus officer, but it's there, every hour for four or twenty years. It also comes with signing bonuses, the GI Bill, health care, or promises of a VA house or business loan after enlistment. Prior to signing up, most of my friends asked themselves how they could pay for college growing up in the poorest class. What if you are not a great student or a superb athlete? You probably won't get that education through McDonald's and you definitely won't get it from the school or your minimum wages of your dual working parents. As we all know, it is almost impossible to get a job now without a good-looking diploma from a decently named school. And how do you get healthcare without a decent paying job? This is just part of our society and our idea of success. Occasionally, a degreeless Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, with their own hidden set of leg's up, shows up but these outliers are exceptions to the rule.
I spent 30 days, after my first tour, as an assistant recruiter in Salt Lake City, UT and this only reinforced what I heard from my friends in boot camp, SOI, and in OIF 1. My recruiting NCOs and I only canvassed the poorest areas and crappiest high schools in our AO. We never visited universities or colleges, let alone middle or upper class neighborhoods. When I was ordered to cold-call various high school kids, the names on the list fit a profile: lower class, conservative families and 60% Latino immigrant or first generation Americans. All the stations in SLC are nowhere near middle or upper class areas and I suspect that this is the same in every major city. We told kids what they wanted to hear: buy your own car, never pay rent, live in base housing, no utility bills, and combat pay. It's the kind of golden ticket almost no one we recruited could refuse.
3. Other Kinds of Escapism
I can't speak for every Marine, but I can speak about the platoons and companies I lived in. More than three quarters of the men I served with didn't have any choices if they stuck around their hometowns. I am trying to make you remember what life was like at 17 or 18 and you didn't think there was a way out of the situation you were born into. Here is what I saw and was told: Some young men fled gang life in poor areas like Chicago, Redlands, Compton, San Bernardino, Watts or Portland (crimes they committed or crimes to be committed on them); some wanted US citizenship after having arrived from Latin America, Europe, or Africa; some fled religious and sexual persecution (yes there are gay marines and some are from Texas); some got off the isolated encampments known as Reservations; I had Marines escaping child abuse; some guys hated the farm life; and the mediocre athletes knew they didn't have the NFL talent now required to play at even the lowest junior university. So this word "choice," that people who never served or never served at the bottom use, smells like bullshit.
My point isn't to argue that these are bad reasons for joining up and it would also be a gross generalization to say these hardships only occur in poor areas. I am telling you the decision making process is already distorted long before the recruit walks into a station. The Marines I know didn't have the luxury of thinking hard about other choices like Pat Tillman. In retrospect, most said they had no other choices.
4. Meeting Quotas/Volunteers Can Be Shit-Birds Too
Even during the shittiest period of Iraq, shittiest to the American viewpoint, the Corps and the Army still met its voluntary quotas even after several months of slipping. How did they do this? Clearly, the recruiters worked hard but we also know that certain branches just dropped the standards and hustled with better and bigger deals. The Army bonus went from 8k to 10k, scholarships from 50k to 70k, no GED = no problem, and commercials aimed at parents showed up. The Marines, having no cash to toss at first termers, changed some standards but also raised re-enlistment bonuses in a way my senior NCOs never saw in their lifetime. To preserve an all-volunteer military, the spending went up and the standards went down, not drastically but just enough, to keep quotas up.
Once again, based on my experience, we started to receive the fruits of lowered standards during my third workup in summer 2005. At the time, the 2 tour Iraq vets and the really old Master Sergeants were singing the same tune. I heard similar concerns from other jarheads at 5th Marines, 7th Marines, and my friends serving as instructors at SOI and MCRD-San Diego. We had kids totally unqualified to be in the Corps, let alone a line battalion, but the pressure came from above.
By then I was the platoon sergeant at E-5 and this is what I saw in the Service Record Books of the hundred or so new-joins to my unit: lower ASVAB scores or ASVAB waivers on a test that is already too easy and measures no real sense of competence; physically weaker recruits on waivers with injuries MEPS should have disqualified them for; drug records that included documented mental disorders and criminal charges for drug dealing and small scale possession; a higher percentage of English as a 2nd language speakers which didn't bother me until trying to communicate via radio or with Iraqi translators; waivers for psychological problems such as severe ADHD/Bipolarism/Child Abuse/Sexual Abuse. One of my relatives, for instance, enlisted in the December 2005, got in trouble and pulled 45 days in San Bernardino County jail for a weapon's possession charge, C Class Misdemeanor. The recruiter tore up the contract but then resigned him six months later on a simple waiver.
Beggars couldn't be choosers and we grabbed who we could and suffered the results on deployment in 2006. Marines get in fights, make trouble and get STDs but in 2006 I saw a higher level of indiscipline amongst the new-joins than I had in the previous two tours. A few were fantastic gunfighters but at least half seemed un-ready for the Fleet. Withholding judgment, I asked other grunts in my unit if they had the same problems in their platoons and there was an overwhelming consensus that the gatekeepers at the recruiting stations had dropped ball.
Using my authority and tact, I brought the hammer down on these Marines as well as their NCOs. While I might have wanted to take a few Marines out back, lance-corporals and boot lieutenants included, in 2005 the Marine Corps came down blisteringly hard on what it called "Hazing." Everyone in the Corps has a kind of understanding about where the line has to be drawn with physical intimidation and it already existed prior to this mandate. It was a large part of making me a tougher jarhead as a new join. At the time and in retrospect, this policy change was wedded to the shortage of bodies for Iraq. Overnight, the Corps became a place where you had to be careful what you said and how you acted even if you didn't plan on making a career out of it. It made my job, as a platoon sergeant and chief scout to 34 Marines, insanely difficult. My job description was simple: train those Marines to the highest standard of combat sniping I had experienced and make the training as close to the real thing as possible. Pain (physical, psychological and academic) was an important tool to my training program. Our train the way you fight mentality turned into train the way that will not get you in trouble or lose Marines for the roster.
Let me give you a few examples of changes made that risked our combat effectiveness. My Battalion Commander forbade me to run marines in gas masks or to simulate stress under fire by dumping flour or water on them while playing Egyptian pop music while doing immediate action drills with smoke bombs and fire crackers. Typically, I made every Marine run everywhere with a battle buddy around my camp. I demanded the same sub-lot of ammunition for our sniper rifles so we could have consistent data on those guns. This is a .25-cent request. At every training shoot, I was given a different sub-lot of ammo and often machine gun ammo. To you these are simple things. To me this is life or death and is intimately connected with the concept of an all-volunteer military. I was ordered to mellow out the training because we could not get replacements for Marines I washed out.
Worst of all, because of our back-to-back-to-back deployments drumming any Marine out became impossible. Most of the platoons in my Battalion were filled with voluntary shitbirds that none of the combat vets would take to combat. Even some of my best combat vets from the Cemetery in An Najaf, began having severe PTSD symptoms and behavioral problems during the workup. This included alcohol abuse, spouse abuse, depression, wrist banging, mental fogginess, and a condition that couldn't be cured through any motivation. I tried, through the Medical Officer, the Chaplin, and my chain-of-command to get them out of the unit and back to Regiment and therapy but these attempts were denied every time. We needed the bodies. Eventually, I conceded that it would be better for some of these Marines to never go in country at all because of the risk they posed to the unit. At that point, yes, I would have loved a draft. It would have let me pick stronger candidates for our mission and bench those Marines not fit for combat.
5. Fears of a Draft
A-Draftees Make Bad Fighting Men
Many libertarians and military personnel have argued that draftees are weaker compared to volunteers. Our ancestor's military repeatedly wrecks that concept. There are plenty of draftees who had their heart in the game. I have ten relatives who were all drafted in WW2 and they learned to be damn solid "professionals" while defeating two toxic empires. "They came as liberators, not conquers. Only a tiny percentage of them wanted to be there, but only a small percentage of these men failed to do their duty" (Citizen Soldiers, Ambrose 14). What about draftees in later wars? I have my grandfather in Korea working as P-51 mechanic that kept birds flying and in turned saved many a young grunt's life. Want some stellar examples from Vietnam? Check out PFC Ronald Leroy Coker, MOH, who was drafted in 1968. What about another draftee, Spec 5 Dwight H. Johnson, MOH 1968? Oddly enough, the military still had standards for draftees and could remove recruits who were not fit for duty.
Another component of this fallacy is that draftees don't have enough time to become "professional" modern day fighters? Really? Under time constraints of a six month work up and as Chief Scout, I made shake n' bake scouts out of fifteen new joins who could shoot long range, clear houses, call for fire, direct CAS, observe and gather info, practice first aid, and brief a one star general on a sniping mission. Many NCOs have done this in the last ten years. And what about all the welfare baggage a long-term professional soldier brings over the single, two-year draftee? How can you avoid the costs of emotional and financial baggage such as a spouse, kids, base housing, base roads, base facilities, and family dental and health care?
B-Draftees Bring Liberal Politics into a Non-Political Military
First off, wake up: we already have a politicized military and it is one-sided. In data collected by Adrian R. Lewis, "Republicans outnumbered Democrats by 8 to 1" in uniform and Tom has done a bit of fact finding in this department in Making the Corps. I can confirm this mainly through my own experience. I can only think of one or two men and women, way above my pay grade, who had any liberal leanings and they joined up before the 1980. I hid my politics out of a fear of retribution and because I thought the military was not supposed to be political. It is not conservativism that bothered me but the contempt for anything that would interrupt how the military should work and be used within that belief system. During boot camp, I was taught to hold civilians as nasty, sub-human liberals, which only distanced Marines from their own society. I had several First Sergeants and Officers question my motives about being in the Corps year after year once the origin of my degree was located. When my Marines asked me who I was voting for in 2004 I told them I wasn't voting because I didn't think it was okay to be engaged in politics whatsoever while in uniform. I said there was no pressure to vote or not vote and to make their own decision. A platoon commander overheard this, and instantly struck down my position and told them to re-elect the president or face the consequences of a lost war. It seemed unprofessional to me then and now.
This is a pretty new development in our history and one that should trouble anyone who is trying to fight a war. Typically we want an apolitical military with lots of talented people because they can use those talents in the fight and because we don't want military coups. The first component is what keeps the balance. Talented people come from all walks of political life and whether we like it or not, a lot of the talent we need in this kind of war (historians, linguists, cultural anthropologists, union leaders, Islamic scholars, grass roots organizers, student teachers and agriculture specialists to name a few) are generally not all conservatives but that shouldn't matter. Why not have feminists, soccer moms, gay dads, retired generals, Islamic privates, psychologists, businessmen, and so forth talking about issues in the military in forums like this unlike the current situation: a small group of "professionals" or ex-military who are typically right of center and generally white men.
The loss of political variety within our military has helped create the holy cow of defense spending. We seem to write blank checks for corporations that making things for the military and blank checks for the military itself while we hack apart the entitlement programs from WW2 such as the VA, DOT, Social Security, Education, and Medicare. No one wants to be seen not "supporting the troops," that elitist problem surfacing again, by voting against something wasteful or voting against something they don't have the military education to comprehend.
C-Drafts Create Protests
This is an uncomfortable fact that we must admit: a government that wants an indefinite, badly managed war placed on a credit card without the complete consent of its citizens could only do it with an all-volunteer military. The biggest closet fear some might have and one I have heard several times, is that a draft would end the current war on terror. This fear probably carries over from the lost war in Vietnam. As we know, President Nixon promised to end the war but the draft was not entirely abolished until the war was nearly at its end in 1973. This fear of an anti-war movement has now solidified into an untouchable program but it brilliantly decreased the number of people who would protest, let alone be interested in, the actions of their own military. Aside from Cindy Sheehan, there aren't many anti-war volunteers out there marching or enduring hunger strikes and that's because they have no skin in the game either. Regardless of our political leanings or beliefs about the war, this should trouble us. It means that people who oppose the war know their efforts are useless, that only their kids are the ones fighting and dying or for the indifferent populace, they think people in the military "did it to themselves" and this is disingenuous.
My response to this fear this a call out: If we are fighting a just war with clearly stated objectives and fighting this with a firm moral compass, then we have nothing to fear with re-instating a draft because nearly everyone will support the effort and those who cannot fight or will not fight can sit in jail with Thoreau, go into exile, or help build our country here.
Perception vs. Reality
I envy the black and white world of libertarianism but it's not reality. When you start digging behind the free-market or all-volunteer argument you find conscription-like inconsistencies. This is not a self-made government conspiracy but a natural growth of political policies, cultural narcissism and a culture of anti-government and anti-service since our departure from Vietnam. We have many inconsistencies to draw on. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter ordered every 18-year-old male to register with the Selective Service in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Despite the end of the Cold War, this system still exists and we require young people to register by law. This ignored fact collides with libertarian view that recruiting stations, monthly quota numbers, TV commercials, sales pitches, contract deals and standards are randomly placed and haphazardly created. Libertarians argue that recruits are free radicals with strong critical thinking skills, no emotional or financial duress, and an endless supply of time and opportunities. In this view, the fact that 37,000 non-Americans of Latino descent served in Iraq is just a random coincidence. In this view, public education teaches American kids to think critically so they make an informed decision before signing a contract with the government.
We have gone from one extreme to the next. The burden of fighting and sharing a war has shrunk to the point where 1% of our citizens and their families endure the permanent life-changing consequences of warfare. A similar kind of extremism and elitism exists in the rest of our government with various parties lining up on the sides. In both cases, regardless of your political persuasion, it just looks like years of short-term self-interest have produced two broken systems. If our military is supposed to be a reflection of our culture, then what I've described should not be surprising but it should be disturbing. How can we continue to fight a war and not be asked or forced to sacrifice anything save a couple hundred dollars here and there in taxes, adding a bumper sticker we let fade to our rear window and two holidays? How can we burden such a small percentage of our people and have them return to a health care system we neglect and now want to privatize?
We have not heard enough about why compulsory service is one of the best ways to open up these divides:
We need to find a balance that allows people to pick up a government-sponsored set of skills that can be used after service for a better society and economy. "They had learned to work together in the armed services...They built the Interstate Highway system, the St. Lawrence Seaway, the suburbs...they had learned the army virtues of a solid organization and teamwork, and the value of initiative, inventiveness, and responsibility" (Citizen Soldiers, Ambrose 472).
Bring balance into all sections of our government, both civil and military, and our lives. For the war effort, bring in other kinds of talent (welding, languages, soil specialists, sociologists, biologists, historians, businessmen, Islamic scholars).
It's easier to storm a with machine gun nest or pilot a drone than it is to make Awakening deals with tribal sheikhs, run and collect biometric data, conduct census patrols, train police, monitor elections, build armies and protect and run water purification plants. Our recruiting standards should reflect that need.
One of the great side effects of national service would be easing the trauma of homecoming and PTSD for vets. It would help veterans lay down their arms and learn to trust if they didn't come home to neighborhoods and schools filled with people who cannot identify with them and have no clue what they fought for. This would save us save money at the VA and put less stress on an already overloaded system. Perhaps, as has happened with my own physical injuries, civilian doctors and health practitioners through government incentives would give vets free treatment.
Without a different structure, the future offers much of the same. The soft interventionist attempts -- ROTC programs, sending military personnel to non-military colleges, speeches, bonuses, bad movies, bad books and yellow ribbons -- haven't changed the imbalances found within or outside the military. The same applies to our government. Here is a sneak preview of things to come:
As the inability of anyone in our government to explain succinctly what our purpose at war is, then expect more Americans to turn eyes away from the conflict and be less inclined to encourage their children to enlist unless their economic situation is dire. Other kinds of talent will not serve. In consequence of these reactions, the military would cut standards and raise bonuses, which would contribute to higher amounts of spending and weaker recruits flushed into the system. Remember to add their dependents and the welfare net that has to be built to support them.
Expect more aimless, inarticulate plans from our governmental leaders about the way forward. This inability to present a cogent plan and stick with it will make us put the burden on certain intellectual-generals when we need tough minded civilian leadership with a robust civilian effort.
Use volunteers, active/reserve/inactive reserve, over and over and over again until they are physically broken or mentally destroyed. Eat the decades long cost of caring for them at the VA or, much worse, if they become homeless or criminals. A service person with too much PTSD will more than likely have a break down in the field with any number of all negative consequences happening: civilian shootings and maltreatment, drug addiction-from prescription PTSD meds or recreational drugs, loss of situational awareness and general disciplinary problems.
Supplement the lack of military with mercenaries/contractors/bloated support services like KBR and eat that cost too. At some point, they will ask for care from the VA and we have to calculate that cost. Then consider the alienation most indigenous people rightly feel about freewheeling hired guns or imported workers from Malaysia, India, or Mongolia working at the DFAC. Consider the alienation of military personnel who earn just above minimum wage standing at a Snatch VCP while the mercenary drives by at $500.00 a day. Perception is reality: this distrust can only spill over into a general distrust of all Americans as it has for Iraqis, Afghanis and our world allies.
The uneducated decisions made and various untruths told after 9/11 by leaders we picked, have brought us to this impasse. Like it or not, regardless of who you voted for or what party you belong to, we cannot go back. We have a moral obligation to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. We have irrevocably changed their lives by haphazardly invading their sovereign lands, toppling their governments, and upending their socio-economic lives. We have to show them our values are not imperialism, coercion, exploitation, torture, and abandonment. We will accept the consequences of our actions, correct our mistakes, commit more of our blood and treasure, and help them build the kind of countries they want over the next 90 years. If not, we face repeat consequences of terrorist attacks from the countries we abandon, justified suspicion of our motives by the rest of the world, and more half-cocked interventionist measures. At the same time, our consumption of imported fossil fuels literally kills us and this is wedded to our own undeniable self-made economic disparity and environmental disasters. As my senior drill instructor said the morning of graduation, "Ladies and Gents, it's time to sac up and eat the shit sandwich."
We are going to have to make hard decisions that will not look anything like the irresponsible, childish partisan bickering of proceeding three decades. We are going to have to do what Americans do best in crises: SACRIFICE AND COMPROMISE. A natural solution, the invisible hand, a technological solution or a repeat of the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike or the Boston Tea Party are not things we can wait for.
As a young person who served in a war you made, I don't want your handshake, your pity, your daughter's phone number, or your faded bumper sticker. I did my frigging job so now do yours. Baby Boomers and Generation X: I want your leadership. Rather than cower behind a set of fragmented ideals you don't even live up to, I am asking you to exercise your adulthood and feel some pain. As we say in the grunts: lead from the front. An open and vigorous discussion of compulsory national service, for all classes, and what sacrifices you will make need to be part of the way forward.
Shell Oil Trashes Africa
Corporate Mass Murderers
Stolen from the NY Times:
April 22, 2010
2 Mines Show How Safety Practices Vary Widely
By DAN BARRY, IAN URBINA and CLIFFORD KRAUSS
Earlier this year, in the subterranean workplace of a southern West Virginia coal mine, methane kept building up because of a lack of fresh air. Odorless, explosive, this natural gas must be dispersed from where miners work, and yet it became such a familiar presence at the mine called Upper Big Branch that entire sections had to be evacuated four times this year alone.
Many of the miners suspected they knew a major source of the gas buildup: a coal shaft, unused for years, that passed down through several old mines before reaching theirs. According to a longtime foreman at the mine, who provided previously undisclosed details of its operation, the shaft was never properly sealed to prevent the methane above from being sucked into Upper Big Branch.
Instead, the foreman said, rags and garbage were used to create a poor man’s sealant, which he said allowed methane to permeate the mine, displacing much-needed oxygen.
“Every single day, the levels were double or triple what they were supposed to be,” said the foreman, whose account of the shaft was corroborated in part by records collected by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. The foreman, who is now working with federal prosecutors and elected officials investigating the mine, asked not to be identified because speaking out is not acceptable in the culture of his company, Massey Energy. Excerpts from an audio recording of the foreman’s remarks are at nytimes.com.
It is not clear whether the coal shaft played a role in the explosion of the Upper Big Branch mine two weeks ago, a disaster that killed 29 miners, rattled West Virginia and, once again, raised questions about Massey’s safety practices. But with federal investigators saying they suspect that a buildup of methane and coal dust led to the explosion, the handling of the shaft seems a particularly egregious example of the mining practices that have set Massey apart from the rest of the coal industry.
Coal mining carries inherent risks. But the numerous and very public violations and fatalities at Massey-owned mines over the years may leave the impression that all mines are run this way — that all mines leave coal shafts open and fail to exhaust methane properly. They do not. A comparison between Massey’s safety practices and those of other operators in the coal industry shows sharp differences, helping to explain why Massey mines led the list of those warned by federal regulators that they could face greater scrutiny because of their many violations.
For example, less than 200 miles to the west, in a corner of Kentucky called Hazard, a unit of the TECO Coal Corporation operates a mine with the all-business name of E3-1. Like Upper Big Branch, it is nonunion. It has fewer employees, produces three-quarters the amount of bituminous coal, uses an arguably riskier method of mining — and, its operators say, emits 25 percent more methane a day.
Yet E3-1 has not had an underground fatality since it opened in July 2004; nor does it have anywhere near the number of violations accumulated by Upper Big Branch.
TECO is not immune to violations and accidental deaths; for example, an inadequately supported roof collapsed in 2006, killing a worker in a TECO-owned mine across the road from E3-1. But the operators at E3-1 say they build on experience, and strive toward vigilant safety practices, including routinely trying to double the required amount of fresh air that is directed into the mine’s chambers.
“This mine is gassy; it liberates methane,” said Robert J. Zik, the company’s vice president for operations. “So if we don’t do it right, you’re going to have a problem.”
“The mine has to be ventilated,” Mr. Zik added. “Otherwise, it will destroy the company. I don’t think TECO Coal could have an accident like Massey’s and survive.”
TECO executives and miners, who spoke openly and on the record during a reporter’s tour of the E3-1 mine last week, say that their training, procedures and equipment generally exceed what is required by Kentucky and federal regulators. The company says it rewards safety, provides an 800 number for anonymous complaints and fosters an open-door management style.
The differences in safety practices between TECO and Massey are often stark. Where TECO workers rigorously inspect the mine for safety problems before every shift, Upper Big Branch has had dozens of violations related to pre-shift examinations, some for failing to conduct them at all, others for not documenting that they had been done. All TECO miners get weeks of safety training, but in September an inspector ordered dozens of Massey miners out of Upper Big Branch because they lacked proper training.
Several years ago, TECO fired a mine foreman for failing to rehang a ventilation curtain that had fallen to the mine floor and contributed to a fire. At Upper Big Branch, inspectors more than once found curtains improperly hung or lying on the mine floor, a practice workers said was routine and encouraged because the plastic sheets get in the way of equipment.
And the attention to safety — or the lack of it — has had measurable results: Compared with the industry average, TECO’s workers spent much less time away from work because of injury last year; Upper Big Branch workers spent significantly more.
TECO’s mine has had far fewer safety violations over the last five years than Massey’s, and the company has been less inclined than Massey to fight with regulators. Massey has contested 69 percent of the proposed $1.9 million in civil penalties proposed by the mine safety agency since the beginning of 2005, federal records show.
Massey executives, especially its chairman and chief executive, Don L. Blankenship, have also said they maintain a vigilant commitment to safety, though they declined to comment in detail for this article.
“Massey’s board of directors has instructed counsel and mine experts to conduct a full evaluation of events, and it would be premature to comment on specific violations before they have had time to finish,” said a statement issued Thursday by a company spokeswoman, Karen Hanretty. “It’s important to note, however, that all M.S.H.A. violations must be abated. Most citations are corrected the same day, often immediately. For those that require more time, a deadline is given by M.S.H.A. to correct the situation.”
Nonetheless, the 52 deaths over the past 10 years at their mines — including a fatal 2006 fire in a mine with safety practices so poor they were later deemed criminal — tend to undermine the Massey assertions.
Now, in the wake of a catastrophe that has all of West Virginia in mourning, the trail of federal violations issued to Upper Big Branch, many of them in the weeks leading up to the explosion, seems infused with foreboding.
“The methane and dust control plan is not being followed.”
“The lifeline in the primary escape way” is not being maintained.
“In case of an emergency the men on this section would not have fresh air in the primary escapeway.”
“Management engaged in aggravated conduct constituting more than ordinary negligence, in that production was deemed more important than conducting parameter checks.”
Grown Men, Crying
Like so many other workers across the country, the day-shift miners at Upper Big Branch had an early-morning commute. Every workday, a dozen or so piled into a covered vehicle called a mantrip and caught a half-hour doze as the car followed a track three to four miles into the side of a central Appalachian mountain.
The car would come to a stop in a world where the ceiling was less than seven feet high, the floor puddled with water, and the air cool, breezy and faintly musty. As loud fans helped to move the air, the mining machine would grind back and forth about 1,000 feet across the wall, slicing coal to be carried away by conveyor belt.
Down there, fresh air could not be taken for granted.
Well before this month’s fatal explosion at Upper Big Branch, the country’s worst mine disaster in 40 years, the lack of proper ventilation had been a continuing concern among its miners. The fear of methane building while oxygen dropped preyed on their minds.
“I have had guys come to me and cry,” said the veteran foreman. “Grown men cried — because they are scared.”
But workers in the mine said they did not dare question the company’s safety practices, even when asked to perform a dubious task.
“It was all about production,” said Andrew Tyler, 22, an electrician who two years ago worked as a subcontractor on the wiring for the coal conveyer belt and other equipment at Upper Big Branch. “If you worked for them, you didn’t ask questions about whether some step like running a cable around the breaker was a smart idea. You just did it.”
The foreman said that everyone agreed that an obvious culprit for some of the compromised air was what they called the “glory hole,” an old mining term for the chimneylike storage shaft deep within the mountain, a few hundred feet long and about 20 feet wide, that connected Upper Big Branch to a few mines above.
In years past, coal from these upper mines was dumped down the shaft to Upper Big Branch, then taken out by conveyor belt. But after the shaft stopped being used, the foreman said, a proper seal between floors was never installed.
“They just dumped trash in there,” he said. “Any kind of trash they could get, buckets, you name it.”
The foreman said that methane was being sucked down through the shaft into the active mine, to the point that methane readings in the area often measured at twice the allowable level.
About two months ago, he said, a young, fit contractor climbed a ladder on the outside of the coal shaft to retrieve a monitor. A few steps up, though, the man passed out — apparently from the high methane levels — and had to be dragged to safety. The incident was kept quiet, the foreman said, and never reported to state and federal regulators.
At least 44 times in the last two years, regulators cited the mine for major methane violations. Just three months ago, an inspector found that ventilation air was flowing the wrong way, thwarting any potential escape in an emergency. The inspector wrote that Terry Moore, the supervisor in charge, had been aware of the condition for three weeks.
“Mr. Moore engaged in aggravated conduct constituting more than ordinary negligence in that he was aware of the condition,” the inspector said.
The foreman said that miners had fresh-air concerns beyond those created by the leaky, unused shaft. There were also the air-lock steel doors that swung open, saloon-style, dozens of times a day, as miners in mantrips crossed over the primary tunnel providing fresh air. Every time the doors opened, he said, they compromised the flow of clean air that helps to flush out the methane.
Ideally, the doors should not be in the way of the air flow. The foreman said that worried miners had pressed the coal company to cut through rock to create a dedicated air pathway, but were met with a dismissive rejection, along the lines of: We dig coal, not rock.
Inspectors have cited the company at least a dozen times over the past two years for failing to maintain or properly operate doors intended to direct air flow inside the mine. In November, an inspector found two large holes in the set of doors cited by the foreman, and noted that a large amount of air was escaping.
According to two other miners who had worked for several years at Upper Big Branch and asked not to be identified in order to keep their jobs, the pressure to run coal was so intense at times that any claim of a commitment to safety seemed like part of some absurdist play. Entrance guards would alert the miners when an inspector was on the way down. Equipment that measured coal dust was manipulated by placing it in areas with cleaner air before inspectors checked it. Curtains that directed clean air were moved around to favorably skew readings.
Daniel Woods, a federal mining inspector from Man, W.Va., on disability leave, said that Massey mines were some of the most difficult to handle. Inspections that should have taken a day took three, he said, because the first day would be spent arguing with Massey operators over paperwork and permission to enter certain sections. The company was far more likely than others to complain about inspectors it thought were too aggressive, and eventually the mine safety agency would send different inspectors, he said.
And then there were the lifelines: the steel cables that hang from the ceiling and run the length of the tunnels, intended to guide miners in darkness and smoke out of dangerous situations and into safety.
The company knew the importance of lifelines because it had been cited more than two dozen times since January 2009 for not properly maintaining them. Last summer, for example, an inspector ordered workers out of the mine after discovering several hazards, including an incorrect escape route map, a part of that route underwater — and a long stretch of lifeline missing.
According to the foreman, a few months ago the company built a wall to try and address some of the mine’s ventilation problems. That wall was still in place at the time of the explosion.
The only problem, he said: The new wall cut off a lifeline.
A Criminal Fire
Four years ago, in another southern West Virginia coal mine owned by a Massey subsidiary, a preventable fire broke out two miles below the surface. A faulty conveyor belt that should have been better maintained ignited some coal spillage that should not have been allowed to accumulate, federal investigators found in a report compiled after the incident.
One of the miners hurriedly tried to connect a fire hose to a nearby water valve, but this was futile; the threads of the coupling and the outlet were not compatible. The miner then tried to open the valve — just to get water on the fire — but the line was dry. And things only got worse.
The miner belonged to a crew working in Massey’s Aracoma Alma mine. In a memorandum issued three months before this fire and widely disseminated in 2006, Mr. Blankenship, the company’s chief executive, ordered subordinates to run coal and ignore everything else. A week later he sent a follow-up memo saying that, of course, safety comes first — and that he would “question the membership” of any employee who thought he meant anything other than that.
Now, on the evening of Jan. 19, 2006, just hours after Aracoma officials received yet another handwritten note from Mr. Blankenship — “Stay on coal,” it said in part — a fire had broken out, again, on a misaligned conveyor belt, there was no water, and smoke was thickening.
“You could hear stuff falling and cracking and popping,” a miner named Jonah Rose later said, according to a state report by J. Davitt McAteer, a prominent mine-safety consultant who is now leading a state investigation into the Upper Big Branch explosion. “It sounded like thunder coming through there.”
After a delay of nearly half an hour, the crew of a dozen miners was ordered to evacuate. They rode a mantrip down the primary escape path — only to run into thick, impassable smoke. Holes in a ventilation wall had been created weeks earlier to accommodate electrical equipment, it turned out, effectively compromising the escape tunnel’s fresh air.
The men stumbled out of the vehicle, hollering to stick together, fumbling to don their portable breathing devices, at least one of them vomiting before his air supply halted the sensation of suffocating. Then, as best as they could in the blinding pitch of smoke, the miners felt their way along the coal wall, trying and not always succeeding to form a human chain of life support.
Somebody yelled a muffled something about a door, and the miners followed the voice. On the other side of the door, they could breathe, and see, and count: 10 now, instead of 12. Two roof-bolt operators, Ellery Hatfield and Don Israel Bragg, were missing.
Three miners went back into the smoke, repeatedly removing their masks to shout for the men they called Elvis and Riz. “You could hear them hollering at the top of their lungs, hollering for them,” another miner recalled. But there was no answer.
Two days later, rescuers — whose many obstacles included the inaccurate mine maps provided by the company — found the bodies. Mr. Bragg was 33; Mr. Hatfield was 46.
As in the past, as in the future, state and federal inspection reports provided disturbing context. The Aracoma mine had received more than two-dozen violations in the months just before the fire, including several that cited problems with its ventilation system and three that raised alarms about the build-up of combustible coal dust and spillage.
In addition, Aracoma miners later told investigators that they had put out two other fires caused by faulty conveyor belts in the two weeks before the fatal fire. Neither of these fires was reported to state or federal officials.
In the fall of 2008, the widows of Mr. Bragg and Mr. Hatfield settled their lawsuit against various Massey entities and Mr. Blankenship in midtrial, for an undisclosed amount.
Then, in April 2009, the Aracoma Coal Company, a Massey subsidiary, pleaded guilty to several counts of willfully violating mandatory safety standards, and agreed to pay $4.2 million in criminal fines and civil penalties. The Department of Justice described it as the largest financial settlement in the coal industry’s history.
After the fire, court files indicate, Aracoma installed state-of-the-art fire suppression systems, provided training and technologies for emergency mine evacuation, and adopted other safety measures that in hindsight seem obvious.
But ventilation problems similar to those found at Aracoma were also part of a citation issued on Jan. 7 of this year to Upper Big Branch.
“What we’re afraid of is that the same types of ugly conditions at Aracoma may resurface again at Upper Big Branch,” said Bruce Stanley, the lawyer for the two Aracoma widows. “And that perhaps the lessons of Aracoma might not have been learned.”
A Different Kind of Mine
A morning shift of miners disappeared last week into an Appalachian foothill. Wearing blue jumpsuits with orange reflective tape and hardhats with lights, they crouched into small cable cars and descended some 750 feet into the E3-1 mine, the subterranean maze in Hazard that is their place of work.
They breathed air that was cool, fresh and breezy, thanks to a fan system stronger than federal regulations require. They carried portable emergency-breathing devices with which they had all trained four times a year under smoky conditions, well beyond the federal requirement of once a year. (The Massey foreman said such training does not happen that often.)
Theirs is a room-and-pillar mine, in which natural pillars are left during the coal removal to support the roof, some of which are later removed. According to company officials, most mines that use this method create 40-square-foot pillars every 90 feet, while the pillars here measure 70 square feet. (Some mining experts consider this method riskier than the longwall mining approach at Upper Big Branch.)
Typical of the safety measures in evidence are the identification tags on the power breakers. They include explanatory pictures, and not just names or numbers, to reduce the risk of one of the many power lines being plugged into the wrong receptacle, which could lead to electrocution. Massey has no such system, according to the foreman.
In particular, TECO says it emphasizes that the mine be examined before every shift — a federal requirement that has drawn several Massey violations and one that Mr. McAteer, the mine-safety consultant, has repeatedly said is of the utmost importance.
Between the three shifts, foremen at E3-1 test methane levels, check the heavy plastic curtains that help to control air flow, and inspect for cracks in the roof.
“It’s common sense, not high tech,” said Dave Blankenship, TECO’s director of safety and environmental affairs. (He is not related to Massey’s chairman.)
These safety practices did not develop in a vacuum. Five years ago, about a year after the mine opened, one of the heavy plastic curtains that help to control air flow fell down, and a foreman failed to hang it back up. Methane collected, ignited, and created a brief flash fire that caused no injuries but earned two significant violations from federal inspectors.
The foreman was fired, and a machine operator was suspended for three days. “It sent a signal,” Mr. Blankenship said.
The company’s safety record is very good, but not perfect. Five months ago, above ground, an independent contractor was killed and another was seriously injured when a boom fell on them while they worked on building an air shaft for E3-1. Federal inspectors ruled that Perry Coal Company, the TECO subsidiary, had not secured the boom in place; the company is contesting the citation.
The company is also contesting a $70,000 fine for another incident from last year, in which a worker injured his sacrum, or tailbone, while working on machinery that inspectors also say was not properly secured.
Over all, though, the operation at E3-1 rates well. It has no fatalities, no evacuations for ventilation problems since 2004, and, for the last five years, an injury rate well below the national average in mines.
The shift ended. Miners climbed into the cable cars that would safely take them back up to late-afternoon daylight, where the dogwood and Eastern red bud trees colored the landscape, and where the mining supervisor gave them license to talk to a visiting reporter, on or off the record.
All 10 miners approached by the reporter agreed to talk. All 10 agreed that the supervisors of the E3-1 mine emphasized safety and encouraged cooperation with the state and federal inspectors who are frequently on site.
Gary Caudill, 56 years old and with 30 years in the mines, said that E3-1 was the gassiest mine he had ever been in. But, he said: “I’ve worked for a lot of mines, and this is the safest. If they come in and a curtain is not up, the man responsible would be fired.”
Before calling it a day, 35 of these miners gathered in a paneled room of wooden benches and metal lockers for their weekly safety meeting, where the words “Safety on Call” loom above the door. Some sat, most stood, and all listened in silence as their mine safety inspector, Rocky Moore, began the session by bringing up the Upper Big Branch disaster.
Mr. Moore repeated what the men already knew, that 29 men had lost their lives in an explosion whose cause remained under investigation. Still, he said, the men before him must remain alert about methane.
He emphasized the importance of the plastic curtains that help to direct air flow. He read aloud a series of best practices for preventing underground explosions: clean up loose coal; check seals; maintain sufficient ventilation; and, again, test frequently for methane.
He asked if anyone had any questions. There were none.
“Just be sure you all be careful,” Mr. Moore said in closing. “And see Mama when you get off work.”
His words carried these weary miners out into the fresh afternoon, where the white and purple-pink blooms of spring adorned the hillside.
Andrew W. Lehren, Janet Roberts, Michael Cooper and Dan Heyman contributed reporting.
Catholicism and Ireland
When I was a child, Ireland was a Catholic theocracy. If a bishop came walking down the street, people would move to make a path for him. If a bishop attended a national sporting event, the team would kneel to kiss his ring. If someone made a mistake, instead of saying, "Nobody's perfect," we said, "Ah sure, it could happen to a bishop."
The expression was more accurate than we knew. This month, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a pastoral letter of apology -- of sorts -- to Ireland to atone for decades of sexual abuse of minors by priests whom those children were supposed to trust. To many people in my homeland, the pope's letter is an insult not only to our intelligence, but to our faith and to our country. To understand why, one must realize that we Irish endured a brutal brand of Catholicism that revolved around the humiliation of children.
I experienced this personally. When I was a young girl, my mother -- an abusive, less-than-perfect parent -- encouraged me to shoplift. After being caught once too often, I spent 18 months in An Grianán Training Centre, an institution in Dublin for girls with behavioral problems, at the recommendation of a social worker. An Grianán was one of the now-infamous church-sponsored "Magdalene laundries," which housed pregnant teenagers and uncooperative young women. We worked in the basement, washing priests' clothes in sinks with cold water and bars of soap. We studied math and typing. We had limited contact with our families. We earned no wages. One of the nuns, at least, was kind to me and gave me my first guitar.
An Grianán was a product of the Irish government's relationship with the Vatican -- the church had a "special position" codified in our constitution until 1972. As recently as 2007, 98 percent of Irish schools were run by the Catholic Church. But schools for troubled youth have been rife with barbaric corporal punishments, psychological abuse and sexual abuse. In October 2005, a report sponsored by the Irish government identified more than 100 allegations of sexual abuse by priests in Ferns, a small town 70 miles south of Dublin, between 1962 and 2002. Accused priests weren't investigated by police; they were deemed to be suffering a "moral" problem. In 2009, a similar report implicated Dublin archbishops in hiding sexual abuse scandals between 1975 and 2004.
Why was such criminal behavior tolerated? The "very prominent role which the Church has played in Irish life is the very reason why abuses by a minority of its members were allowed to go unchecked," the 2009 report said.
Despite the church's long entanglement with the Irish government, Pope Benedict's so-called apology takes no responsibility for the transgressions of Irish priests. His letter states that "the Church in Ireland must first acknowledge before the Lord and before others the serious sins committed against defenceless children." What about the Vatican's complicity in those sins?
Benedict's apology gives the impression that he heard about abuse only recently, and it presents him as a fellow victim: "I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them." But Benedict's infamous 2001 letter to bishops around the world ordered them to keep sexual abuse allegations secret under threat of excommunication -- updating a noxious church policy, expressed in a 1962 document, that both priests accused of sex crimes and their victims "observe the strictest secret" and be "restrained by a perpetual silence."
Benedict, then known as Joseph Ratzinger, was a mere cardinal when he wrote that letter. Now that he sits in Saint Peter's chair, are we to believe that his position has changed? And are we to take comfort in last week's revelations that, in 1996, he declined to defrock a priest who may have molested as many as 200 deaf boys in Wisconsin?
Benedict's apology states that his concern is "above all, to bring healing to the victims." Yet he denies them the one thing that might bring them healing -- a full confession from the Vatican that it has covered up abuse and is now trying to cover up the cover up. Astonishingly, he invites Catholics "to offer up your fasting, your prayer, your reading of Scripture and your works of mercy in order to obtain the grace of healing and renewal for the Church in Ireland." Even more astonishing, he suggests that Ireland's victims can find healing by getting closer to the church -- the same church that has demanded oaths of silence from molested children, as occurred in 1975 in the case of Father Brendan Smyth, an Irish priest later jailed for repeated sexual offenses. After we stopped laughing, many of us in Ireland recognized the idea that we needed the church to get closer to Jesus as blasphemy.
To Irish Catholics, Benedict's implication -- Irish sexual abuse is an Irish problem -- is both arrogant and blasphemous. The Vatican is acting as though it doesn't believe in a God who watches. The very people who say they are the keepers of the Holy Spirit are stamping all over everything the Holy Spirit truly is. Benedict criminally misrepresents the God we adore. We all know in our bones that the Holy Spirit is truth. That's how we can tell that Christ is not with these people who so frequently invoke Him.
Irish Catholics are in a dysfunctional relationship with an abusive organization. The pope must take responsibility for the actions of his subordinates. If Catholic priests are abusing children, it is Rome, not Dublin, that must answer for it with a full confession and a criminal investigation. Until it does, all good Catholics -- even little old ladies who go to church every Sunday, not just protest singers like me whom the Vatican can easily ignore -- should avoid Mass. In Ireland, it is time we separated our God from our religion, and our faith from its alleged leaders.
Almost 18 years ago, I tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II on an episode of "Saturday Night Live." Many people did not understand the protest -- the next week, the show's guest host, actor Joe Pesci, commented that, had he been there, "I would have gave her such a smack." I knew my action would cause trouble, but I wanted to force a conversation where there was a need for one; that is part of being an artist. All I regretted was that people assumed I didn't believe in God. That's not the case at all. I'm Catholic by birth and culture and would be the first at the church door if the Vatican offered sincere reconciliation.
As Ireland withstands Rome's offensive apology while an Irish bishop resigns, I ask Americans to understand why an Irish Catholic woman who survived child abuse would want to rip up the pope's picture. And whether Irish Catholics, because we daren't say "we deserve better," should be treated as though we deserve less.
Sinead O'Connor, a musician and mother of four, lives in Dublin.