One of the great threats to liberty is what James Madison, in Federalist #10, called the "faction": "a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community." Madison then went on to describe how to cure "the mischiefs of faction."
Unfortunately the necessary conditions - a properly sized republican system, with a variety of parties and interests - for this cure are not present in West Virginia, Kentucky, and other areas of southern Appalachia. They are totally dominated by one faction (important note: one cannot simply blame the Republicans or the Democrats, for the problem is deeper than that): the leaders of coal industry, and their enablers. Despite massive deposits of coal (as well as natural gas), the region remains the most consistently impoverished place in the United States. In a nation of wealth, riches, and liberty, places like Mingo County in West Virginia and Claiborne County in Tennessee struggle with unemployment, prescription drug abuse, and environmental degradation - all of which are the running symptoms of a decades-long factionalism inherent in coal's domination (see: Night Comes to the Cumberlands by Caudill, Power and Powerlessness by Gaventa, and They'll Cut Off Your Project by Perry). The television show Justified isn't filmed in the real Harlan. If it were, perhaps more Americans would see the ugly price of energy.
A few years ago, one of the largest coal companies in the region was Massey Energy. This company, which was bought by Alpha Natural Resources for $7.1 billion dollars in 2011, was at one time quite probably the largest, most aggressive, and most notorious coal company in central Appalachia. It was responsible for spilling 300 million gallons of coal sludge in Martin County, Kentucky - which makes Exxon Valdez look like chump change. It fought constant, bitter lawsuits from different angles: mistreated and injured coal mining employees who were suing the company over disability benefits, smaller coal operators who sued for reasons of fraud in business dealings, and environmental lawyers who sued on behalf of West Virginia residents faced with the prospect of having to live with the disastrous health effects of mountaintop removal mining - in addition to losing countless miles of streams and woodlands as Massey's mountaintop removal mining shattered large tracts of America's most diverse and rich ecosystem: the Appalachian Mountains. What lawsuits it won it sometimes won for the ridiculous but true reason that judges with financial ties to the coal industry refused to recuse themselves (in one case, a judge, Brent Benjamin, was essentially handpicked by Massey to defeat an incumbent they didn't like). All the while, CEO Don Blankenship took on the traditionally Democratic political structure of West Virginia by spending huge sums in campaigning for judicial and legislative candidates who would support him. Massey was a company that stood to contribute negatively to everyone and everything in the region: the miners who worked for it, fellow coal companies, residents of the hollows and valleys of coal country, and the centuries-old mountains about to be blown to smithereens, with what remained dumped onto equally old streams. In short, Massey Energy was like Auburn football: even among a pack of cheaters, they're really terrible.
Although it must be said that Blankenship looks bitching in this outfit:
In April of 2010, 29 Massey miners were killed by an explosion at a mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia. In a press release, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration found the company completely responsible for the disaster. "The results of the investigation lead to the conclusion that PCC/Massey promoted and enforced a workplace culture that valued production over safety, and broke the law as they endangered the lives of their miners. By issuing the largest fine in MSHA's history, I hope to send a strong message that the safety of miners must come first."
Why this post here? Well, in the process of my studies, I have found that a very interesting figure was involved with Massey Energy. In fact, this figure was on the company's Board of Directors from 2000 to 2009. He was even chair of the board's Safety, Environmental and Public Policy Committee, which, I suspect, would be the board's most controversial and important position. One would think that such a position could also be used to greatly influence and change, for the better, the company's abysmal safety and environmental records as well as its tendency to use public policy for what Madison called "mischief."
Unfortunately the very interesting figure in question was not such a man who would be bold enough to do the right thing. The man's name is E. Gordon Gee. Yes, that man. "I'm just hopeful that the coach doesn't dismiss me."
You see, my friends, everything was all right in Columbus because E. Gordon Gee - the great E. Gordon Gee - asked the coach questions you probably wouldn't dare ask him.
Meanwhile, all is well in Appalachia, because, as Gee said before Upper Big Branch but after Aracoma Alma, Massey has one of the best safety records in the country and planted over two million trees - "an important symbol."
Gordon Gee is a fascinating man. He has the ability to look and seem honest and caring, but there is nothing behind his public face to overcome the weight of his inaction.
As the NCAA has punished Penn State, I demand punishment for Ohio State. Gordon Gee is connected to both Ohio State and the coal industry of Appalachia. Thus I hereby declare The Ohio State University guilty of the following crimes: merciless and cruel treatment of coal miners, unprecedented environmental degradation, and complete apathy towards negative health impact in the region. Coal has long been cheap because so many of its prices are externalized - by stripping the mountains, by treating the miners poorly, and so on. It is now time to internalize these costs. The Ohio State University and the coal industry are one and the same. They must pay.
I demand that The Ohio State University have 29 football scholarships removed every year until they no longer have any scholarships at which point they will be forced to give out scholarships to impoverished people in Appalachia as found and accounted for by the federal government. I demand that they be banned from all post-season activities. I demand that they be forced to play all home games at a still-active strip mine in McDowell County, West Virginia. Finally, I demand that suitable changes be made to Columbus, Ohio. The trees must be cut and their roots removed. The buildings must be demolished, the rubble carried away. After such work is complete, the land should be dynamited, the overburden dumped in the waterways of central Ohio, and any mineral deposits underneath be extracted. If there are no minerals, the city shall be left as a giant hole in the ground.
The scandal must be punished.