Massey's Montcoal Disaster: Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.

Pray for the 25 miners killed at near Montcoal WV and their families and friends. Pray for the four miners (or more) still missing.

Not many folks outside the region had heard of Montcoal, until yesterday, when Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine blew up at 3:27 p.m.--the worst mining disaster in the US for 25 years, worse than Sago, if you can quantify horror. Performance Coal, a subsidiary of Massey, operates this underground mine beneath a vast expanse of Massey's mountaintop removal surface mines that I have written about before.

My friends at Coal River Mountain Watch in Whitesville, three miles north, note on their website (via
filmaker Adams Wood's website for On Coal River) that the Upper Big Branch explosion is also:
the worst mine disaster to strike the Coal River Valley
In looking at the coverage, what galls me is the printing of quotes--unexamined and at face value--about Massey's "mourning" for the miners. Take a look at this screen shot (emphasis added) from the website bragging about the company's safety on the same home page that links to their statements about the Upper Big Branch mine.

Some though have been examining Massey's safety record at the mine, although, as Paul Blumenthal notes at the Sunlight foundation,

The Upper Big Branch Mine that suffered the most serious mining disaster since 1984 on Monday has received the most serious citations from the Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in 2009 of all Massey Energy-owned mines in West Virginia. Data collected from MSHA shows that over the course of the last year, the Upper Big Branch Mine received 48 "unwarrantable failure orders," far exceeding Massey Energy's number two recipient of serious citations in West Virginia.

Ken Ward filed story that this afternoon officials said that
Rescuers at the site of the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in more than two decades likely won't be able to resume the search for four missing miners until at least Wednesday evening.

In another story he looked at the inadequacy of reforms after the Sago disaster and asked Davitt McAteer, who ran MSHA during the Clinton administration how this could happen.

"It tells me one of two things...One, the law isn't being enforced or, two, the law didn't go far enough."


Shout out to the Naughty: Fred Phelps May Be Coming to Town

Photo of a March 2009 University of Chicago counterprotest by Chris Salata (email , website) used by permission.

Westboro Baptist Church's Reverend Fred Phelps, rose to infamy for protesting at the 1998 funeral of Matthew Shephard. Now he's making his list and checking it twice and Blacksburg is one of his desired destinations. Again. (He planned to visit after the April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech, until dj Mike Gallagher offered two hours of free air time for him to stay away--similar deal to that he had made to keep Phelps away from the five slain Amish school girls.)

Expect Phelps on April 9, according to a letter he sent town officials Monday, March 22. This disbarred attorney, known for his God Hates Fags website (accept my apologies for using the term and understand why I'm not linking) has disrupted funerals and memorial services not only of gays, but of soldiers who have died in Iraq and miners who have died in explosions, and, yes, even Mr. Rogers.

Preying this time on the murder of Tech student Morgan Harrington, he'd like to have demonstrations at three locations: the Blacksburg Jewish Community Center, Blacksburg High School and near the Tech campus. And he wants police protections, although he promises that his protests will be peaceful and respectful of the law, according to the Roanoke Times.

Well I agree with the students who think it's time use his visit to help raise money for a cause he despises. Remember, that actually drove him away, when he threatened to come to Roanoke, after the shoot out by a homophobe in a gay bar. As I wrote in January 2006 ("Rev. Phelps preys on Sago deaths")
We all remember Phelps here in Roanoke, where he threatened to show up in 2000 for the funeral of a gay man murdered at the Backstreet Cafe. Mary Bishop’s September 27 Roanoke Times story reported organizers as saying:

For every five minutes Phelps protests, the new Hate Free Roanoke Task Force is asking people to pledge a dollar amount toward the victims’ medical expenses and for counseling of others in the club that night. Kathryn Marlow, 22, had heard of a similar counteraction at a Ku Klux Klan rally years ago and helped hatch the plan.

The task force will post a pledge box near Phelps at the funeral in Vinton and at any other events where Phelps protests. A poster thanking Phelps for picketing will say, “Fred, you’ve already helped us raise” — followed by a blank space where the amount will be updated every five minutes.

Or for those who prefer levity, how about a God Hates Figs protest?

(photo from Avi Schwab via Flickr)

similar to the one at the University of Chicago, which included the brothers of Alpha Delta Phi, as pictured by Salata at the top of the page? According to Nathalie Gorman's account the frat members:
lined their porch in bathrobes, awaiting the arrival of the protesters. When they appeared, the brothers stripped off their robes and began dancing to Diana Ross & The Supremes’ “I’m Coming Out,” Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” and the Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men.” The “Tiny Dancer” lyrics “Jesus freaks/out in the streets” elicited a loud cheer from the crowd on the other side of the street.
Of course, that protest, although fun, didn't faze the Phelps clan according to Gorman. She quotes Fred's daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper, the family's spokesperson as saying,
It is so awesome when you juxtapose this little group of servants of God with this restless mob of humanity...These people think that they have the power, this arrogant nation, to change God. The little girly boys up there with their clothes half off gyrating around—they might as well flip off their god.