Rosa Coal Mine in Alabama

The city of Birmingham was built seemingly overnight on the iron and steel industry.  It was a boom town for employment.  Part of the reason for this rapid growth early on was the presence of iron ore, coal, and limestone all within close proximity.  These are essential in the making of steel.  Birmingham was called the “The Pittsburgh of the South.” 

Steel production is no longer the prominent industry in Birmingham but steel is still made.  Three of the major steel producers have strong presences in Birmingham and there are talks of major expansion in the next several years of their facilities.   One of the reasons behind these plans is the reinvestment of the Rosa Coal Mine Project by MCoal Corp. based in Vancouver, British Columbia,  Canada. 

There has been increased interest again in coal as an alternate energy source since the invasion of Iraq seven years ago.   And so companies like MCoal have been looking at coal deposits that have not been fully tapped such as the coal that is in the Rosa Mine.   This particular coal field had been stripped mined in the late 1960’s and 1970’s but the main coal fields have not been.   Resulting in a coal field that is ideally suited according to MCoal for augur type mining.  They believe Rosa Coal Mine will be able to produce 1 million tons of coal  per year within the next 5 to 7 years for a total of 5 million tons of coal to be  recovered. 

 This all sounds wonderful at a time when Alabama, along with the rest of country, is facing its most critical economic crisis in over 80 years.  The project is expected to provide about 25 local jobs for the next 3-5 years. However there is a damper on all this expansion talk.  What is the impact of augur mining on the people who live in and around Rosa Coal Mine, including the city of Birmingham?  

The mine is located within 100 feet of the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River, a primary source of water for the city of Birmingham.  Augur mining results in toxic water sludge that will be dumped into the river and enter into the aquifers underground. 

Locust Fork at Black Warrior River

Locust Fork at Black Warrior River

A study done by West Virginia University on the effects of coal mining on the health of the community found there was a 70 percent increase in kidney disease, a 64 percent increase for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) such as emphysema, and a 30 percent increase in hypertension.  The study compensated for the likelihood of increased chronic illnesses because of lack of health care and increased tobacco smoking in these communities. The study noted that COPD increased by 1 percent for every 1,462 tons of coal mined.    The study concludes “The human cost of the Appalachian coal economy outweighs its economic benefit.” 

At what price do we state the monetary gains are worth the loss of human life?  What is an acceptable loss?   A three percent increase in COPD and kidney disease?  A ten percent increase?  A 70 percent increase?  If my math is correct and I won’t vouch that it is … but with the statistics given above,   1 million tons of coal divided by 1,462 tons would yield a 683 percent increase in COPD and that is just over the course of one year’s projection.   Of course such mathematics can’t possibly be accurate to reality but even if these statistics were only 10 percent right,  this is still an increase of 68 percent. Is 5 million tons of coal worth the risk of increasing COPD in a given population–for the creation of only 25 local jobs? 

We already have a broken health care system in this nation.   Costs are out of reach for most people and that is for people who have health insurance.   Insurance companies know these statistics and base their costs on regional projections.  Guaranteed health insurance costs will rise in the northwest  corner of Alabama because of this renewed mining effort. 

This connection seems to be lost on MCoal.  Or perhaps they were aware of it since the permit announcements that require public hearings did not get public notice in the press until it was time for the hearings to take place.   The first permit was filed May 5 2009 with the newspapers  picking up the story on July 1.  The public comment period ends on August 1 2009.   There is a petition that can be signed today located at  this site

There has got to be a better way than destroying human life to make a buck.

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Published in: on July 31, 2009 at 11:45 am  Comments (1)  
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Imagine No Religion billboard

bildeIn a land where billboards abound proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” and “Jesus: Is HE in you?”; this billboard placed near Pell City in Alabama is raising quite a stir.

The organization Alabama Freethought Association who paid for the billboard  was turned down by Lamar Advertising stating that its sentiments were offensive.   Is it any more offensive than the other billboards that dot the highways of Alabama proclaiming Hell to non-believers or showing larger than life aborted fetuses?   

The right to free speech is a quirky right.  It means that dissenting minority opinions have the right to be expressed.  It does not mean that everyone must agree with the message being presented.  It’s quirky because speech when given free reign is bound to offend even when it is given as an invitation to debate. 

No believer of any faith should be so fearful of a billboard that suggests to imagine no religion or fire and brimstone.  To fear a message that one does not agree with says more about the person’s depth of faith than it does about the message.   A faith that is only sustained by the contingent of only one voice being heard is not faith but a manipulative evil. 

Unitarian Universalists stress the importance of reason in the faith development of the free church.  The ability to think, to ponder, to question, to wonder about the mysteries of life is an important aspect of our humanity.   To determine the answers are much harder to come by as there seems to be such a diversity of possibilities in the universe that are unprovable at this time.  

What would the world look like if there was indeed no religion?  Given that most of our human history has been fought in the name of a religion, would we be a more peaceful people?  Given that most of our moral and value development has been based in religion would we be a colder, more callous people?  Probably not to both of these questions. 

But the ability to ask questions is the soil from which religions sprouted.  The ability to dissent from the majority is what has enabled humanity to move forward in its development as a species.   The Imagine No Religion billboard is along this line of thought.   Those who oppose it and want its removal would do better to explore the thought in light of their faith. The answers they find may deepen their convictions than their fear of weakening it.   Blessings,

Living Wage Campaign

It might seem counter-intuitive to even begin talking about the need for a living wage for Americans in the face of our current economic crisis.   But if we are going to fix our economy, then what better time than to do so by ensuring that all Americans are paid incomes that enable them to be above the poverty line.  

With the cost of food, fuel, and health care rising at alarming rates and efforts to fix these concerns being derailed by the industries that control them, the alternative to ensure that this nation continues to live out its most valiant of creeds of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all is to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2010.   

Consider this fact, the last time the federal minimum wage was able to meet the basic costs of Americans with food, shelter, and health care was in 1968.   The year that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated was the last year that a job could actually help a person get out of poverty rather than keep her in it. The minimum wage in 1968 had the purchasing power of just under $10 of today’s purchasing power.  

In the forty one years that passed, the gap between the the poor and the wealthy has grown beyond a gap into an unfathomable chasm.  Consider that one man in this country has more wealth than the combined wealth of 45% of America.   That man is Bill Gates.   Nothing wrong in the success of this one man, but the contrast illustrates that America is no longer the land of flowing milk and honey.   Our American Dream has become in the 21st century a psychotic nightmare. 

Maybe we wouldn’t need to consider this option if America would adopt a single payer system of health care.  But that option has been scrubbed off the table by Democrats caving in to the lobbyists of the Health Care Industry.   And by fears that having a single payer system would be a step towards socialism when we already have used socialized solutions with great success in the last 80 years, i.e. social security, medicare/medicaid, veterans benefits and now government take overs of practically whole industries like banking and auto industries.   The fears are unfounded, socialism does not equate with communism.  And Socialist Democracies do not equate with reduced freedoms.   Several of our greatest allies are socialist democracies; Britain, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries to name a few with higher living standards than the US. 

So here are some additional facts as to why it is important to raise the floor of our economy in order to support the cathedral ceiling.   As of January 2009, most of the 27 states that had a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage had lower unemployment rates.  I don’t know if that has held true as the recession deepened these past 6 months–I will investigate.   Five states have no established minimum wage including Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana–states with the highest rates of poverty anywhere in the country.  Correlation?  I don’t know.

However, the Fiscal Policy Institute reports that states with the higher minimum wage resulted in the fastest job growth across all sectors, including retail which has a disproportionate number of minimum wage earners.  The fear that it would result in job loss is unfounded.

The third phase of the minimum wage act passed three years ago will go into affect July 24, raising the federal minimum wage to $7.25.  However the buying power of this rate still falls short of the buying power of the  $5.15 minimum wage set in 1997 by twenty cents.  It is better but it still is not a living wage it merely is a dog nipping at its own tail. 

“A job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it,” said Holly Sklar, senior policy adviser for Let Justice Roll and co-author of A Just Minimum Wage: Good for Workers, Business and Our Future. “The minimum wage sets the wage floor, and we cannot build a strong economy on downwardly mobile wages and rising poverty, inequality and insecurity.  As President Roosevelt understood, we have to raise the floor to lift the economy.”

Amen.  Blessings,

Why We Can’t Wait

On the Monday that I flew out to Salt Lake City, Utah for the 48th General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalists,  I found my plane delayed in Birmingham several times, leaving over 5 hours after the scheduled time.  Needless to say I was a bit aggravated and impatient.  I finally made it to Dallas-Forth Worth for my connection flight that was now two hours after I arrived there.  As I got on board the plane and found my seat, my row companion looked up at me and asked, “Are you one of my colleagues?” 

Serendipitously, I was sitting next to Rev. Dr. Daniel Kanter of the First Unitarian Church of Dallas.  It turned out that he had missed his earlier flight.  Okay, so maybe there is a god, I thought to myself wondering what this meeting would bring.  We had a wonderful conversation that only two UUministers could have and we turned to serious matters.   Daniel asked me why were gay activists so impatient with Obama.  Didn’t we understand that Obama has to play politics in order for the right moment to repeal DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act)  and DADT (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) ? I gave some answers that I thought were pertinent.  He then said, “Why don’t you blog about this conversation?”

Here is my further reflection on why we can’t wait for civil rights.   First a recap of the answer I gave on the plane.  Yes, I think gay activists are savvy enough to know political maneuvering when we see it.   But the DOMA brief that was written by Obama staff  did more than just defend the current law, it attacked our dignity and  integrity.  The brief  compared same sex marriage to court rulings banning pedophilia coupling and incestual coupling.   Consensual same sex coupling is clearly not in the same category as the manipulative pedophilia relationship nor does it result in the potential  biological damages in offspring as incestual relationships.  President Bush’s brief on DOMA did not even broach these relationships in its argument to uphold DOMA. 

DADT does not need to have congress to repeal it.  When President Harry S Truman integrated the armed services he did so with an executive order.  President Obama could do the same.  He chooses not to.   The arguments against allowing sexual minorities into the military no longer carries any weight with Canada, Britain, France, and Israel all having openly gay military serving in their forces.    These militaries are considered to be among the greatest armed forces in the world.   They have not been compromised with gay personnel and nor will our armed services if sexual minorities are allowed to serve openly with honor and dignity. 

These were the reasons I gave but it does not answer the question as to why we cannot wait.  The answer came to me as I was listening to the talk given by Rev. Kim Crawford Harvie, minister of the Arlington Street Church in Boston, during our honoring of those ministers who were celebrating 25 years of ministry.   She included remembrances of  her services to people living with HIV/AIDS. 

This year is the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, the riots that occurred when police raided a gay bar in the Greenwich Village region of New York City.   Police were known to raid the gay bars from time to time, haul people into jail.  Occasionally a well known figure would be arrested and have his career destroyed.  On the night of the riots, however, the patrons, many of them drag queens, said enough is enough and fought back.  They were joined by others.   The riots continued for several days.    The beginnings of a re-energized gay civil rights campaign began.  This was 1969. 

There was progress towards rights in the ten years that followed and then in 1979 gay men began to get ill with mysterious diseases.  It did not capture the attention of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)  until mid 1981.   There was no funding to study this new outbreak.  There was little need to be concerned because after all these were gay men.  It was called gay cancer and in some hospitals;  medical staff called it WOGS (Wrath of God Syndrome). 

There was a sense in America that some how these people deserved this disease.  It was a death sentence.  Once diagnosed with PCP or KS or Toxo, a person had weeks, rarely months to live.  The immune system so compromised to allow these rare illnesses to ravage the body there was little hope of living.   Hundreds became thousands of young gay men dying. 

We were dispensable.  We had no rights.  We could be evicted from our homes on suspect of being gay.  We could be fired on appearances alone.    Nursing staff, doctors could refuse to serve a person with HIV/AIDS.  We were denied visiting rights of our partners as they lay dying in the hospital.  When our partners died, family members who wrote them off years before would swoop in and simply take the body of our loved ones. They would evict us from our homes if the house was in our partner’s name.  And they would legally contest the wills as blood relatives and win.  

We had to fight for research monies to find life extending medications.     So many of us lost health insurance because of an AIDS diagnosis.  We had to fight for monies to provide housing for those living with HIV/AIDS. We were denied Social Security Disability because AIDS was not seen as a qualifying disability–thereby a person with AIDS lost all means for an income and medical assistance.   We organized and succeeded to have drugs developed that extended life, not only by months but by years, restoring many to be able to lead productive lives again.  It was a hard fight.   But it is a fight we still have to contend with. 

Governor Jodi Rell of Connecticut decided to cut to zero what she considered to be non-essential services for the budget that begins today.  All AIDS funding was cut which will resort in people with HIV/AIDS to once again face medical crisis as they find services no longer available to them.  For contrast park and recreational services were deemed essential services.

Alabama rejected Federal Ryan White funds which amounted to a total of $10 million in medical treatment for people with HIV/AIDS and rejected an additional $700K in funding for support services.    These two examples are being repeated across the nation. 

Why can’t we wait?  We are tired of being expendable under the law.  We are tired of being deemed second class citizens that do not have partnership medical benefits, or employment rights, or housing rights, or marriage rights, or survivorship benefits.  Our lives can be trampled on by survivors who refused to acknowledge our existence while alive but want every piece of us when we are dead.  This demeans our integrity and sense of worth. 

To continue to live with the lies that the far right is spreading regarding the hate crimes bill and the employment non-discrimination Act (ENDA) is degrading and immoral. 

We have paid for our rights as full citizens with our lives.   We have paid dearly.   For us to have supported a President who campaigned hard and long on a promise of equality winning our votes, to now tell us to have patience after the thousands of lives that have been lost to HIV/AIDS is unconscionable. Telling us to have patience after the thousands of deaths as a result of  homophobic violence in our schools, in our communities, in our families that continue to this very day is cruel. Now is not the time for patience.  Now is the time for fulfilling promises made that helped place this president and his party into office.

Published in: on July 1, 2009 at 7:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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