A bad night at the Upper Big Branch mine -- to folks
like Don Blankenship, just a cost of doing business?
"They're moving up in the food chain. This will cause some sleepless nights for people high up in the corporate ladder."
-- Kentucky miners' lawyer Tony Oppegard, quoted by the NYT's Sabrina Tavernise in "Mine Supreintendent Charged in 2010 Disaster"
First off, let me say that I'm not so sure about those "sleepless nights" for the mining bigwigs. But I'm guessing that this development will at least get their attention, and get them thinking about deeper questions than "Who did we pay off, or not pay off enough?"
So no, I don't think we've advanced into a New Era of Accountability. But the charging of a third mine supervisor (the NYT had to correct its report that he was "indicted" to indicate that he was merely "charged") in the wake of the 2010 disaster at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia does raise the possibly alarming -- to the economic elites -- specter of facing paying a price for making your business economic pillage, plunder, and rape. And in this case not just economic.
Howie and I have written a fair amount about the West Virginia disaster
(see, most recently, Howie's December 11 post "India Commits A Big No-No -- Holds Elites Responsible For Something; West Virginia, On The Other Hand...") and the shocking irresponsibility of the mine owner, Massey Energy, and its head cheese, Don Blankenship. So let me make clear that by "paying a price," I don't mean the kinds of fines that predatory corporate execs of Donny's ilk have come to accept as a cost of doing business.
Actually, in the U.S. mining industry, fines don't even appear to be thought of as a cost of doing business, since the companies seem to regard payment of fines as optional. Massey Energy certainly doesn't seem to have taken them seriously. What I guess Don Blankenship and his kind consider a cost of doing business would be little mishaps like the one at Upper Big Branch. You know, a few miners maimed or killed here, a dozen there, a couple of dozen way over there -- hey, it's not as if there's any shortage of would-be miners.
I would say that something like justice has been done when erstwhile Don Blankenship and his top lieutenants begin conducting business meetings from their lockups on Death Row. (For the record, Massey Energy was sold last year to Alpha Natural Resources. I'm going to trust the prosecutors to get liabilities sorted out in time for the start of the trials and executions.)
Oh yes, here's the gist of the story.
Mine Superintendent Charged in 2010 Disaster#
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
Federal prosecutors filed charges Wednesday against Gary May, a superintendent of the West Virginia coal mine where an explosion left 29 dead in 2010, continuing an emotional case that has been closely watched by the mining industry and the families of the dead miners.
Mr. May is the third mine supervisor to be charged in the disaster, the worst mining accident in the United States in 40 years. Last year charges were brought against two others -- the mine's security chief and a foreman who had not been at the mine on the day of the explosion.
But Mr. May, one of the mine's two superintendents, is the most senior, and industry observers say the charges against him are an indication that prosecutors are getting closer to the executives who ran the company, Massey Energy, which has since been bought by Alpha Natural Resources.
"They're moving up in the food chain," said Tony Oppegard, a Kentucky lawyer who defends miners. "This will cause some sleepless nights for people high up in the corporate ladder."
The way the charges were filed -- directly to the court by prosecutors from the United States attorney's office, instead of by a grand jury indictment -- indicates that Mr. May is cooperating with prosecutors, a strategy that observers say could eventually lead prosecutors to top executives, including Don L. Blankenship, the former head of Massey, who state investigations concluded had enforced a culture of cutting corners and ignoring risks for the sake of profit.
The charges, filed in federal court in West Virginia, include conspiracy to defraud the United States by impeding a federal agency, a felony that is punishable by up to five years in prison.
The charging document paints a picture of deception with Mr. May at its center, directing workers to falsify record books and speaking to them in code as a way of warning that inspectors were coming.
According to a person close to the investigation, those phrases included "bringing in a load of blocks," and "it's raining outside" or "there's a hailstorm outside." Another warning phrase was "I had a hamburger (or cheeseburger) for dinner last night," the person said.
The conspiracy charges against Mr. May were an unusual strategy, lawyers said. Few violations qualify as federal felonies under existing law, and law enforcement has been hampered by weak misdemeanor penalties. A conspiracy charge allows prosecutors to be more flexible in their strategy, and if it is successful, could give them a tool to reach senior mine officials who have traditionally been insulated from criminal charges because they are rarely involved in actual coal mining.
Mr. May began working at the Upper Big Branch mine, as it was known, in February 2008 as a foreman, according to the charging document. He was promoted to superintendent in 2009 and held that position through April 5, 2010, when the explosion happened.
In a statement e-mailed to reporters, Alpha said that Mr. May became an employee of an Alpha subsidiary after that company acquired Massey Energy last year. It said he had been placed on administrative leave.
At the heart of the charges is an accusation that Mr. May knowingly misled federal inspectors from the Mine Safety and Health Administration when they made regular checks to ensure that the mine was safe, signaling to workers on site, sometimes using code phrases, that inspectors were about to arrive. That allowed them to conceal violations for which they would have otherwise been penalized.
Charges also include making changes in the ventilation system in the mine just before federal inspectors arrived to make it appear that the parts of the mine being examined by inspectors had better air than they actually did.
There's a long way to go before this is over, but Assad and the Syrian leadership will eventually either die like Gaddafi or in a prison in The Hague. The Guardian:
The United Nations has drawn up a list of the most senior officials in the Syrian regime, including, it is claimed, President Bashar al-Assad himself, who it says should be investigated for ordering "crimes against humanity" and other gross human rights violations.
The sealed report prepared by the UN-appointed independent international commission of inquiry on Syria has been handed over to the UN high commissioner for human rights.
While it accuses both parties to the conflict of torture and extra-judicial executions, it says that the opposition's rights violations are in no way "comparable in scale and organisation" to the abuses being carried out by the Assad regime, which have led to thousands of deaths.
Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio will reveal the findings of his office's investigation into the authenticity of President Obama's birth certificate on March 1st, he announced Tuesday.Oh my goodness! Will we at long last, and for only the 374th time, know the truth? What, oh what, could Sheriff Joe and his crack team of volunteer wingnut investigators have found? Did they find out Barack Obama was never born? Did they find out that his birth certificate was, in fact, printed on beef jerky? Did they found out that dumbass racists all across the country will pay you fistfuls of money for as many trips to Hawaii as you want, so long as you use the right buzzwords and promise to "report your findings" afterwards?
Admittedly, if mega-genius Donald Trump could not find any hidden scandal about Obama's birth, I find it hard to believe Sheriff Joe has had any more success. Donald Trump, after all, can flush away as much money as he wants, and he loves flushing money away. In theory Sheriff Joe had to work only off "donations," since even in Arizona using your sheriff budget for Hawaii goose chases is still considered bad form.
Well, I know I'm dying to hear Arpaio's big announcement. Should we liveblog it, perhaps? Maybe we should start liveblogging it now, just to make sure it gets the right amount of attention? Do you think he'll use his special Sheriff Joe drug-fighting tank in his announcement? Will Steven Seagal be there? (Arpaio has already briefed Rick Santorum on what he found, or didn't find, but Rick Santorum's not telling. That's a shame.)
Oh wait, this part's good. From the man himself:
"[O]n March 1st I will have a press conference and reveal what we found out during that investigation. And I don't have press conferences just to have my name on television."I swear, is there any conservative official in Arizona who isn't a national laughingstock at this point?
there will be some ?serious cases? arising from the Great Crash someday, maybe this year.After November 6. Promise.
The Affordable Care Act, President Obama signature health care reform law, continues to slowly but steadily become less popular as time goes on. A new Quinnipiac University poll found that 52 percent of voters think Congress should repeal the law, while[...]
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Would someone with personal experience please comment on this business of settling "inquiries" for cash instead of proceeding with investigation and trial? I've read that this is a federal invention and the states have quickly copied. But it's lazy and ultimately lawless, cash for making wrong doing go away. Beaming state AGs announcing "settlements" that should have been prosecuted. It's disgusting, but more than disgusting, it's immoral and debauched. Grubbing for pennies on the dollar, if the pennies are even ever paid, when crimes have been committed. Report has it Exxon-Mobil hasn't paid a dime of the fines levied for the Valdez spill. Zero, nada, nothing. On a grand scale, crime pays hugely well.
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I have a friend, a strong environmentalist and all-around lefty of the kind your average conservative talk show host would just love to punch in the face, who has a Lorax tattooed on his shoulder. He got it 10 or 15 years ago, and his ink of Dr. Seuss' exasperated little dude who tries in vain to protect the Truffula trees never fails to win admiration from any and all who see it.
But now Hollywood has come along, and using its impeccable logic?Kids love Dr. Seuss; kids love movies; ergo, kids will love Dr. Seuss movies!?has finally gotten around to making a full-length version of The Lorax. There's a mixed record on Dr. Seuss movies (Horton Hears a Who, not bad; The Cat In the Hat, a soul-sucking crime against nature), but particularly with The Lorax, a rather bleak morality tale with only a couple of characters, they'd have to cram in a whole bunch of humans and events that Dr. Seuss never dreamed of to get it to 90 action-packed minutes. And did they ever; Grist's David Roberts, upon seeing the trailer, called it a "rainbow-barf monstrosity."
But the fact that they've made a movie out of the enviro-rhyming book has made conservatives predictably outraged. Lou Dobbs, always ready to explore new frontiers in bloviating jackassery, sees a conspiracy linking Hollywood, Occupy Wall Street, and the Obama White House, pushing not just the environmental extremism of The Lorax, but also the socialist redistributionism of the children's classic The Borrowers (in its form as a new film called The Secret World of Arrietty) because the tiny little beings steal things like sugar cubes from humans, whom Dobbs believes represent the 1 percent. Seriously.
But as David Haglund says, of course The Lorax is propaganda?that's just how Dr. Seuss intended it, and you couldn't make a Lorax movie that wasn't. Should that bother us? Eh. Lots of what Hollywood does is propaganda of one form or another, and the fact that the town is full of liberals doesn't mean all the propaganda runs in one direction. Half of what the movie industry puts out makes clear that most problems can be solved with the enthusiastic use of firearms. The NRA doesn't seem displeased about that, and I don't hear Lou Dobbs complaining. The upcoming film Battleship (yes, based on the board game, but with aliens) will, I'm fairly sure, portray the U.S. Navy in a heroic light. For every Platoon there are 10 Top Guns. Courtroom dramas send the message that the legal system ultimately produces justice. The propaganda is everywhere.
Anyhow, if you want to get your rainbow barf on, here's the trailer for The Lorax:
Click here to view this media
As if Franklin Graham's comments on MSNBC Tuesday weren't bad enough, CNN decided to bring him on to "explain" and give him a second bite at the Obama-hating apple. This time he was careful to wrap his statement that the President wasn't really a Christian in the mantle of the anti-abortion wedge.
Here is what he said on MSNBC, among other things:
"Islam sees him as a son of Islam... I can't say categorically that [Obama is not Muslim] because Islam has gotten a free pass under Obama."
Wednesday, Kyra Phillips gave him a chance to clarify his answer. First he said he could not vote for Obama because he supported abortion. Okay. Whatever. But then he went on with it.
PHILLIPS: OK, so Franklin, let me ask you this, Franklin then. As long as the president supports a woman's right to have an abortion, will you continue to believe that he is not a Christian?
GRAHAM: No, I've never said, Kyra, I never one time said I don't believe that he is a Christian. Only God knows a man's heart. Only God knows your heart or my heart.
And all of these other candidates, their claim to faith you have to accept what they say. And you have to also look at how a person lives their life. But as it comes to the president, this issue is a big stumbling block for me.
It's going to be a big stumbling block for many Evangelical Christians. That is the way it is. He's the one who made the issue by supporting abortion and so he has to live with that.
Later, he expanded:
GRAHAM: Kyra, I don't question the president's faith. If you had that banner up on your show, I questioned the president's faith. I'm not questioning whether he's a Christian or not. I disagree with his position on abortion.
This is a big issue and I believe it goes against God's word. It goes against God's standards. So this is a problem for me and a lot of Evangelicals. Again, he's a nice guy. I like him as a person, but he's absolutely 100 percent dead wrong on this issue.
He will have to stand before God one day and give an account to God on this issue. I'm not going to have to answer it because I believe that life is safe. I believe its sacred and every life should be protected from the womb to the grave.
Subtle, but effective. What Graham said, in effect, was that anyone claiming to be Christian who does not oppose abortion is not really a Christian. And as the interview went on, he made that position abundantly clear, despite admitting later in the interview that his mother would probably kick him in the shins for being political instead of sticking to preaching. Well, consider this post a verbal kick in the shins from a mother who thinks you're being ridiculous, dogmatic, and sticking your nose into people's business where it does not belong.
Here's a fact: Abortion is a legal procedure which the Supreme Court has said women may seek and receive without being treated like a criminal. Here's another fact: The President of the United States took an oath which he swore on the Bible to uphold and protect the Constitution. Since abortion is has been ruled to be legal by the arbiters and interpreters of the Constitution (the Supreme Court), the President is duty-bound to honor that, regardless of his personal beliefs. Period. And that is what he'll be accountable for, here and hereafter.
I'd like to give a special thanks a hell of a lot to CNN for giving Franklin that platform to walk back his nonsense Muslim comments while taking the opportunity to amplify our time-machine trip back a few decades to those times where abortions were done with coat hangers and the Pope had locked up the Pill. Because you know, those were the good old days. Right?
Oh, and Franklin? I'm pretty sure you're right about your phone not ringing. I doubt there's much you could have to say to the President after these past two days.
Just what we expect from the SEC: pick a little, talk a little.[...]
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