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CSotD: Goodbye, Norma Rae

This is who I feel sorry for.

Joel Pett works in Kentucky and so has a front-row seat to the result of the betrayal of the coal miners.

In the margin of the Lexington Herald-Leader page where this cartoon appears is a headline for another story: “Paychecks bounce, leaving Kentucky coal miners at bankrupt Blackjewel in a bind”

In which we read

Melissa Cole, a Letcher County woman whose husband worked at a Blackjewel mine near Cumberland, in Harlan County, said she deposited about $1,800 where she banks in Hazard and paid some bills.

On Wednesday, she found the bank had subtracted the money, leaving her overdrawn by $1,088.

I feel sorry for them and I’m furious with them, but it’s like someone getting into an auto accident with fatalities, or coming out of a marriage they never should have gotten into.

It’s no time to ask they how they could have been so foolish in the first place.

Why were you driving so fast?

Why would you marry someone like that?

Why was it, when Hillary Clinton warned you that coal jobs were over and promised to set up training centers to help you find your next job, did you vote instead for that lying con man who promised to bring the jobs back?

Those questions won’t change what has happened.

And they are simply cruel.

Decent people don’t ask such rude questions.

Coal country, by the way, is one of the centers of the opiod epidemic, and between genuine pain from working the mines and overall despair over not working at all, it’s little surprise.

It’s okay to be angry over the situation, and Pett is pretty clear, with the MAGA hats and campaign posters and references to emphysema and the “sale” of workers, that he’s unhappy with what got us here.

And yet here we are.

 

We all cheered for Norma Rae back in 1979, and we had boycotted J.P. Stevens for at least a decade before that.

I knew a young woman who worked for a ribbon factory until they moved down to the owner-friendly Carolinas, and I used to go over to the projects so she could cut my hair in her kitchen while her toddler played on the floor.

She may have been poor, but she wasn’t dumb enough to move all the way to the Carolinas to be exploited even more than she had been in New York.

And the mills in the real Norma Rae’s hometown have all closed down, so that was futile.

We’re currently contemplating tariffs on the clothes that used to be made here in the USA, so now they’ll be as expensive as if they were union-made, only local consumers don’t have union paychecks.

 

Meanwhile, over on the funny pages

Signe Wilkinson resists the prevailing crepe-hanging festival by pointing out that we still have a lot of graphically-talented wiseasses amongst us.

I don’t normally like Boomer-bashing, but she’s right that all the weeping and wailing over the death of Mad magazine ignores the fact that it has had its influence and, while the original publication may be gone, it unleashed a flock of little Alfred and Alfreda Neumans upon the world.

It bothers me that the decision by the NYTimes to stop running cartoons in its international edition, and the decision by that chain in New Brunswick to switch cartoonists, has touched off so much “death of the editorial cartoon” thumbsucker bloviation.

The Gray Lady’s lack of interest in cartoons is legendary. Their decision was foolish and chickenshit, but it wasn’t surprising.

And, with all due respect to a cartoonist whose work I much admire, the idea that Michael de Adder was fired over that Trump cartoon simply doesn’t hold water.

Even as his replacement turned down the job, he noted that, as BNI had said, he was offered the job before that cartoon was drawn.

I lost one job because the publisher liked me but his wife did not, and another because my boss liked me but his boss did not, and it sucks and it’s hard and I hate when it comes down to something like that, but, well, shit happens.

It’s not always worth writing about, and it’s even less often a sign of any sort of apocalypse.

And here’s the thing: Everybody in newspapers walks on eggs these days, therefore never send to ask for whom the empty cardboard box was brought. It was brought for thee.

I’ve had friends lose their jobs in the newsroom, but I’ve also had friends lose their jobs in the backshop, and in the pressroom, and in the mailroom, and in circulation, and in advertising.

And my current job is in the budget for another year, but budgets get cut.

Let me be clear: I’m very sorry for my friends in editorial cartooning who get laid off.

But, first of all, it’s a big club and they’re not the only members, and, second, if commentators make a fetish of their plight, they simply spread the concept that cartoonists are the most disposable people on staff.

I don’t think that’s true, and I’m quite sure it doesn’t help.

 

Speaking of influencing

What gets said on social media — about cartoonist jobs or anything else — does, indeed, have influence, but today’s Lockhorns cracked me up because I read it scarce moments after reading this story about an ice cream vendor who is sick of self-proclaimed “social media influencers” hitting him up for free samples.

For those who don’t follow self-important twits, “influencers” go around to hotels, restaurants, cruise lines and all sorts of manufacturers offering to say nice things about them in exchange for freebies.

This is vomitous to anyone in the real media, where we are not supposed to take anything for free, and certainly not allowed to promise positive coverage, and where “breaking the rules” is letting someone at a meeting you’re covering buy you a beer, or attending the press screening of a film without paying the price of a ticket.

I prefer my reporters ethical and my whores honest.

 

Community Comments

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#1 Sean Martin
July/7/2019
@ 8:27 am

Sometimes, Mike, you have to ask the hard, cruel questions. Otherwise, no one’s ever going to learn from their situation and try to make the change to improve it. Some people just refuse to see the 10-foot-high writing on the wall until you read it to them with a bullhorn — and even then, they’ll sing LA LA LA I CANT HEAR YOU because they know it means accepting something about themselves they really, really do not want to accept.

It’s not just the coal workers. It’s the manufacturing workers and the farmers and the hundreds of thousands of small businesses that blithely danced to the Con Man’s flute… and this is what your nation as a whole got as a result.

So, sorry, but I think this far into this disaster, it’s time for the really tough questions. And if they cant answer, then it’s time to ask them why.

#2 David Spitko
July/7/2019
@ 9:14 am

To see if I could get more information about the bankruptcy, I googled the situation and read this. https://www.gillettenewsrecord.com/news/local/article_383adcc7-6b36-5358-9e77-489a121801e4.html

I just could not believe it. I swear to God this is true. In the article, one of the miners is quoted that the bankruptcy and closing was due to Obama. Mines closing left and right because of marketplace forces … yea ,,, it is Obama’s fault. And because the newspaper does not want to get shut down, in the entire article there is no reference to Trump’s ludicrous and unsupportable promises to bring back the mines.

But, this is Kentucky. Land of Mitch McConnell.

FWIW, as an attorney, I am somewhat puzzled with this filing for Chapter 11 reorganization and then the immediate lockout/shutdown – whatever you want to call it. That is what happens with a Chapter 9 filing. Before a company files for Chapter 11 reorganization, ahead of time, the company secures post-filing financing that kicks in immediately after the filing to keep the business operating. Under bankruptcy rules, that creditor gets super priority. In this case, I suspect immediately after the filing, the creditor backed out. Either some high paid lawyers failed to get all the contracts signed OR the creditor discovered material inaccuracies in the application for the credit at the last minute; i.e. Trump-like lies.

#3 Kathleen Elizabeth Donnelly
July/7/2019
@ 9:20 am

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mike, for writing ‘walks on eggs’.

#4 David Spitko
July/7/2019
@ 9:25 am

Sorry – I misspoke. The filing to liquidate a business is a Chapter 7 filing.

#5 Paul Berge
July/7/2019
@ 10:05 am

Andrew Yang has been pointing out one possible reason (beyond GOP-fueled misogyny) Hillary Clinton’s promise of retraining didn’t appeal to coal miners: it doesn’t help.

I can see it in my back yard as FoxConn constantly changes its plans for their brand new Gen10 plant or Gen6 plant or distribution hub or whatever it’s going to be next Tuesday. What good is spending 18 months or so retraining for some job that will already be obsolete by the time you get your photocopied diploma?

#6 Brad Walker
July/7/2019
@ 10:41 am

Paul, that’s a good case for why we need a New Deal (Green or otherwise). Only a government program is big enough to fix this.

I deserve this money.
You should have saved more.
They are lazy moochers.

#7 Mike Peterson
July/7/2019
@ 12:13 pm

We had retraining when the mines closed and I think it worked out pretty well except that people had to move, which is hard when you’re in a place your family has lived for more generations than you can name.

But that’s a choice. I had old classmates driving 60 miles each way for maintenance jobs because they wanted to live “at home,” and their existing mechanical skills were sufficient without retraining.

Of course, the other piece of the puzzle would be excellent voch-tech schools for the children of the miners, but you can’t squeeze property taxes out of unemployed parents and I’d be willing to bet the state government doesn’t want to fund “socialism.”*

*I just peeked. 45th in the nation for high school graduates. Louisville does very well nationally, but Louisville is not in Hazard County.

#8 gezorkin
July/7/2019
@ 6:19 pm

“Decent people don’t ask such rude questions.”

Would it be rude to ask why they will vote for him again?

#9 Hank Gillette
July/7/2019
@ 6:28 pm

Why would you want to graduate high school, when you could get a good-paying job in the mines a couple of years before you would have graduated from high school only to have the same job waiting for you?

One thing we as a nation have never seemed to master is how to deal with the people affected by jobs simply going away. The transition in farming at least, was gradual enough that the children of farmers could see the writing on the wall and prepare for a different vocation.

Some coach makers were able to transition from making horse-drawn coaches to motor-propelled coaches. But, what did the buggy whip makers do? I suspect that making buggy whips was never a huge business to begin with, but what do you do when your talents are suddenly obsolete, and like most people, you do not want to change your life?

#10 Mike Peterson
July/8/2019
@ 3:23 am

We’ve got fewer farmers, Hank, but they’re more productive and their kids are astonishingly well-trained, but, then again, farm kids have always been advanced in the number of tasks they could accomplish well. It’s one reason for the “right to repair” laws that are proposed — because the heavy equipment people are trying to keep them from being able to repair tractors, reapers,etc.

At the place I got my maple syrup this spring, the young farmer (who works with his dad) has a forestry degree and makes additional $$ doing tree work in the off-season. His wife has both a bachelors and a masters in farming. They raise beef cattle in addition to making syrup and his tree work. It’s more a vocation than a career.

Voc-Tech is also much more powerful in farming communities, largely because so many people there grew up with FFA and assume that preparing kids for careers is part of education. But it’s hard to compete with factory farms and the same centralization of the industry that has killed a lot of skilled careers.

A lot of the adults in the mines when I was growing up had “grade school” educations — which is why we even have eighth-grade graduation. It was the basic end for a lot of kids until after WWII when high school diplomas surplanted it as the basic requirement. Not many of my contemporaries dropped out and went into the mines, though it wasn’t impossible if you waited until about 10th grade.

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