Welcome to Buster's Blog

Irregular commentary on whatever's on my mind -- politics, sports, current events, and life in general. After twenty years of writing business and community newsletters, fifteen years of fantasy baseball newsletters, and two years of email "columns", this is, I suppose, the inevitable result: the awful conceit that someone might actually care to read what I have to say. Posts may be added often, rarely, or never again. As always, my mood and motivation are unpredictable.

Buster Gammons

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Harlan County USA Revisited

Last night, I watched a great old documentary, Harlan County USA.  I'd seen it a couple times before, but it's always worth another viewing.  The film explores a protracted strike by coal miners in 1973-1974, and its impact on the miners and their families in Harlan County, deep in southeastern Kentucky.  People there were poor and uneducated, and for generations coal mining was the only game in town -- the only thing they'd ever known.  For decades, they also knew plenty about going out on strike -- blood-spilling, life-threatening, existential job actions -- to obtain even the smallest concessions from their employers.

In this 1973-1974 case, the striking miners eventually won the labor contract they sought, but once again not without financial hardship and violence.  The strike lasted over a year.  At one point, the state police set up mounted machine guns pointed at the picket lines.  Management thugs constantly intimidated picketing workers with gunfire.  One Harlan County miner was shot dead, and many others were injured.

Coal has been in decline for decades.  Burning coal for power is unhealthy, filthy, and a major contributor to CO2 emissions and global warming.  Since the time of Harlan County USA, appropriate EPA regulations have steadily cut coal consumption, and will continue to do so.  (Didn't begin with Obama and won't end with him.)  At the same time cheaper, cleaner fuels like natural gas, nuclear, solar, and wind have emerged to fill the power bill with no real impact on consumer cost.  (OK, you're right -- fracking sucks, and nat gas is a CO2-producing petrochemical, just not quite as bad as coal.)

It was inevitable.  Time marches on and change happens.  Hillary's inartful words were sound-bitten out of context, but she's right -- coal is the past.  Production continues to fall, many mines have closed, more will follow, and the UMW is pretty much a paper tiger.  But in Harlan County, many things are unchanged -- they're still poor, still uneducated, and they still believe coal mining is their birthright and their meal ticket.

Then along comes the Big Charlatan, lying his ass off and promising to bring back all the coal mining jobs and Make America Greatly Polluted Again.  

Harlan County -- Bloody Harlan, Union Harlan, Democratic Harlan. The black-lung fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers of today's residents had to fight for everything they got.  They risked it all for what was right, to stand up to the Trump-style anti-labor oligarchs of that day. And their sacrifices have been largely forgotten by their descendants.

Donald Trump is a liar.  He won't magically bring the coal industry back to life.  He can't, and he shouldn't.  The greater good will prevail.  But he found an eagerly susceptible audience in Harlan County, where 85% of voters went for him.  He sold 'em the old okey-doke.

Back in the day in Harlan County, Grandpa was cheated, beaten and shot by people like Trump.  Today, grandson votes for Trump.  Feel the breeze?  Grandpa is spinning in his grave.  


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