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Blaming Bush For The Sago Mine Tragedy

The reflexive desire on the left to find some way of blaming President Bush for every God forsaken accident or tragedy on the planet reached a new low this week.  Scott Shields leapt to the task on Tuesday morning (the fate of the miners wasn't determined until more than 12 hours later and the cause of the accident remains unknown) by saying that Bush "didn't do anything to prevent it [the accident]. In fact, if anything, the actions of his administration made the situation worse." Shields went on to quote approvingly from a New York Times article critical of Bush administration policy before concluding, "Bush's indefensible fealty to corporate power undercuts the health and safety of workers at every level of the economy."

Surprisingly, Kevin Drum picked up a similar theme yesterday with a post saying, "What's the story behind the story of the tragedy at the Sago Mine? At least part of it is predictable: after George Bush took office in 2001 the Mine Safety and Health Administration was stocked with coal mining executives who were distinctly less interested in mine safety than they should have been."

Drum's post was quickly highlighted by Andrew Sullivan who postulated a potential "budding connection" between Jack Abramoff and Sago: "What happens when coal executives spend lots of money on Republican politicians? A looser regulatory and safety regime?"

Let me stipulate right now that I'm no more of an expert on the subject than anyone else, including Scott, Kevin, and Andrew.  What's more, it is clear that the Sago mine had been cited for a number of violations and looks to have been much more dangerous than average.

However. The claim that the Bush administration's fealty to coal executives has resulted in a deterioration in miner saftey is a provable proposition, no? There are only three options: under the Bush administration there have either been more mining injuries and deaths, less mining injuries and deaths, or roughly the same number of mining injuries and deaths than in previous years.  Logic dictates that if what Scott, Kevin and Andrew suggest is true, we should see an increase in mining injuries and deaths since the Bush administration took office. Except according to these figures from the Mining Saftey & Health Administration, it hasn't happened:



David Dye, Acting Assistant Labor Secretary for Mine Safety and Health, put the numbers in an even broader context in testimony before Congress last April:

In 1977, when the Mine Safety and Health Act was passed, 272 miners died on the job. A decade ago, 100 miners lost their lives extracting the raw materials that fuel our economy, contribute to our national security, and provide the underpinning of the American dream.

Today, I am proud to be here to tell you that for the fourth straight year, the United States mining industry set its best safety record since statistics were first compiled in 1910, in both fatal and non-fatal injury incidents. Since calendar year 2000, the annual number of fatal injuries has decreased by 30 – from 85 to 55 in 2004, a 35 percent reduction. A few short years ago, those numbers would have been laughed at as impossible goals.

Clearly, mining safety has continued to improve throughout the years thanks to technology and regardless of the party affiliation of the occupant of the Oval Office. If the Bush administration has in fact undermined (no pun intended) the safety of miners in America over the last five years, it's not showing up in the numbers. And in this case, for those interested in facts and not ax-grinding partisanship, the number of injuries and fatalities is the bottom line measure. 

Yet this is the first time we've seen an effort to try and blame a President for contributing to deaths related to a tragic mining accident. It certainly didn't happen under Clinton, nor for that matter do I recall it happening with the Quecreek mining accident in 2002 - perhaps because there was a happy ending to that story. It just goes to show how distorted and dishonest the level of discourse has become in the country recently because of the left's insatiable hatred for President Bush.

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