Op-Ed

Miners losing optimism, access to X-ray readers

Larry Webster
Larry Webster

A psychologist who lived in the mountains defined what he called the East Kentucky Syndrome, which is essentially a form of fatalism, a sense that things will get worse in the future, so raise hell now.

His example was the coal miner who opened his bucket and ate his pie before his sandwich, because the roof may fall. That was when coal miners were pessimists.

A brief sojourn here into definition: An optimist is someone who would always vote for President Donald Trump. A pessimist is someone who never would vote for Trump. A cynic is someone who did vote for Trump.

Coal miners have cycled through pessimism and were for a while Trumpish optimists, buying up safety lamps and hard-toed shoes and ready to return to work. But the only thing that has happened so far is that there are fewer coal miners under Trump than under President Barack Obama, and all Trump’s energy people are oilers and gassers, which is costing us about 50 cents a gallon.

Are they now in post-optimism or neo-cynicism?

Here in Kentucky, coal miners became Republicans in droves, reportedly causing the corpse of labor organizer John L. Lewis to puke. Their new best pals for life are the corporate executives who control their destiny from Mar-a-Lago, or however you spell it.

Now Kentucky coal miners have been rewarded by the new Republican majority in the General Assembly with a reform that was probably thought up at a board room in Philadelphia, but which means it will be nigh impossible for a miner to get compensated for black lung.

It used to be that a person highly trained in reading X-rays could diagnose the disease and support a coal miner’s claim that he should get something for giving up his breath to Alliance.

No more.

Now it takes a pulmonologist, that is to say, a rare specialist unaffordable to an unemployed coal miner so short of breath that if a pack of dogs got after him he could not get away.

That reform was urged by the coal industry after 35 or so West Virginia miners killed in an explosion had their lungs examined in autopsy, and examiners were horrified by the extent of their disease. Also, coal company pet doctors had read as clear x-rays of many of them who had progressive massive fibrosis, something once rare in miners but now common, even though it had been thought that Gov. Paul Patton had cured black lung. Maybe he only cured it in Kentucky.

The coal companies need new pet doctors; their old ones were caught lying.

The new rule making evidence unavailable to miners may bring relief to the workers-compensation judges appointed by our dashing governor. These judges sometimes have to award disability to coal miners, but do so at the risk of not being reappointed for being too liberal.

Of course, this is now true of judges of all sorts, who are now running on promises not to enforce the people’s rights — the Scalia model. The late Justice Antonin Scalia was said to be a renowned scholar, but personally believed that there is an actual devil.

That takes intellect.

Reach Larry Webster, a Pikeville attorney, at websterlawrencer@bellsouth.net.

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