Coal Mine Disaster: Legal Corruption and Legal Murder

When a junkie, with a biologically driven craving for a fix, robs a 7-11 to get money for drugs, and shoots the cashier in the process, Republicans line up to condemn the criminal and call for a swift, harsh execution to prevent further crimes and to send a message to other junkies.

But what if the junkie wears an expensive suit? What if he has a craving not for drugs but just for more money from his business? What if he doesn’t have any biological addictions, but only a greed driven desire to maximize his personal profits at any cost? What if that businessman has been fined millions of dollars, including almost a million just in 2009, for violating safety regulations that are supposed to protect his workers? What if that businessman threatens to fire workers who try to implement safety measures?

What do Republicans, Teabaggers and the corporate press say when 29 of that businessman’s employees are killed in a coal mine explosion, caused by a methane build-up that might have been prevented by complying with safety regulations? Do they say that the businessman, like the junkie, is a murderer for causing deaths in his pursuit of money? Do they call for his swift and harsh execution to prevent a repeat of his crimes and to deter other businessmen from intentionally violating safety regulations?

Of course not. The corporate media is talking about the tragic coal mine “accident.” That’s a lot like saying that the junkie’s gun accidentally went off during the 7-11 robbery. Except that the junkie had an uncontrollable biological urge. And the junkie had not spent years thumbing his nose at the safety regulations and at the state and federal government agencies that tried to impose those regulations.

On July 23, 2009, the LA Progressive ran my essay, “The Republican Empathy for Corruption,” discussing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling about a corporation trying to buy seats on the West Virginia Supreme Court. In that case, four Republican “justices” said that they thought it should be alright for corporations to buy the elections of judicial candidates. But the five other justices disagreed and ruled that judges should not be bought by corporations.

The corporation that lost that decision was the A.T. Massey Coal Company. The same company whose contempt for safety regulations caused 29 miners to die this week. Massey is the most profitable (or maybe second most profitable) coal company in the United States. Massey brags that it will be shipping millions of tons of its coal, annually, to India – not to “Indians” or to “Indiana” but to the nation of India. So our workers are dying in unsafe mines so that Massey Coal can help India’s industries take away more American factory jobs.

And while West Virginia miners are dying so that Massey Coal can make more profits by helping India’s industries take more American jobs, the L.A. City Council has decided that it wants to help Massey keep its profit level up. Mayor Villaraigosa asked the City Council to approve a tiny rate increase to allow the DWP to modernize and to reduce its dependence on coal for producing our electricity. But the City Council refused.

The DWP uses lots of coal. So much that it doesn’t comply with federal requirements for clean energy. So the feds are threatening to fine the DWP (and us the ratepayers). The mayor wants to change that. He wants to get us off dirty, unrenewable coal, and into modern renewable kinds of energy. But the City Council disagrees. The corporations that own the high-rise office towers downtown and in Century City and in other parts of L.A. want the cheapest electricity they can have, right now, and damn the future. So they “donate” to the City Council and then tell the City Councilmen to force the DWP to keep buying cheap coal.

But that “cheap” coal doesn’t include the cost of federal pollution fines. It doesn’t include the cost of childhood asthma from coal plant dirty air. It doesn’t include the cost of the lives of the 29 miners killed because the bosses at Massey Coal refused to comply with safety regulations.

The price of that “cheap” coal does include the competition from India’s industries. As those industries come all the way to North America to buy their coal, they bid the price up. That’s good old supply-and-demand. When they buy coal to run their factories, to take our jobs, we get to pay more for the coal the DWP buys to generate our electricity. We pay more, breath more pollutants and get to watch exciting news stories about trying to rescue dead miners.

The people who get out of this being happy are Massey Coal, the workers in India who now have jobs that Americans used to have, the real estate developers who get lower electric bills, and the City Councilmen who keep getting large “contributions” from the corporations.

You might worry that Massey Coal might be at risk from lawsuits by some of the 29 miners’ families who lost members in the mine explosion. But fear not.

Remember that Supreme Court decision last year, that said corporations couldn’t buy judicial elections? It was replaced, six months later, by a Supreme Court decision in which five Republican “justices” said that it was alright for corporations to buy elections at every political level, by making “contributions,” of any size, to politicians. So now, Massey Coal only has to buy the loyalty of the West Virginia Attorney General and maybe a local prosecutor or two, and it will be free of any risk of prosecution for murdering 29 workers by forcing them to work in illegal, unsafe mines.

If any of the families of injured workers sues Massey Coal, the Supreme Court says that Massey Coal can simply “contribute” as much as is necessary to any judge hearing the case, to make sure that legal rulings favor Massey Coal. It isn’t clear from the Supreme Court’s decision what level of government may be exempt from corporate “contributions”. Maybe Massey Coal can start the next test case by “contributing” money to jurors selected to sit on a case brought by the family of a murdered miner.

But beyond the bribery of the City Council to keep the DWP buying ever more expensive coal, does any of this east coast criminality affect us here in California?

Think back to old silent films, with Harold Lloyd and the Keystone Cops. Chase scenes in those films always involved the streetcars that ran everywhere in Southern California. Remember that it was once possible to ride a Red Car from the Inland Empire to the beach, for only a dime, and then home again after a day of sun, surf and sand.
But the Red Cars disappeared after car companies bribed local politicians to let them dismantle the streetcar system. The electric, non-polluting streetcars were replaced with congested freeways and poisoned air. And huge profits for the car and oil companies.

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that bribery of “contributions” to politicians is legal, new money is flowing to our City Council. First the real estate developers bought a decision against renewable energy. Then, less than a week later, some City Councilmen announced that they wanted to end the DWP’s independence.

The DWP provides power to L.A. at MUCH cheaper rates that So.Cal. Edison and P.G.&E. charge to their customers in tony towns like Santa Monica. Just think how much more profit P.G.& E. or So.Cal. Edison would make if they could charge all the homeowners in L.A. the rates they charge in Santa Monica! So the contributions flow and the City Council announces that it wants to “re-examine” DWP’s independence.

tom_hall_2.jpgAlready Councilmen are talking about breaking up parts of the DWP. Do you think any of our Councilmen is going to say “no” to a “contribution” from the private electric companies, right after they said “yes” to “contributions” from the big real estate developers?

Shades of the Red Car debacle? This is the direct result of Republican take-over of the U.S. Supreme Court and the ruling that bribery of politicians is legal. The murder of miners in West Virginia is already being followed by an attempt to turn our DWP over to private enterprise (think Enron) and force each of us to breath more poisoned air while paying rates that are nothing but corporate welfare.

Tom Hall

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Comments

  1. Marshall says

    This is not a perfect world and never will become such a place. There are several jobs which come with a good possibility of not reaching retirement age, police, fireman, window washers, military members, and those who drive on highways. Coalminers are also in this group. Any error in judgement by an employee in these areas of work may suffer severe harm. Most errors are done on our high ways, if fact, the occupation of driver seems to be more likely to kill us than that of solider. Think well of those who serve in such jobs by their own free will.

    • clara says

      These jobs are indeed dangerous, but the companies are bound by law to do all they can to lessen the exposure to harm. What Mr. Halls’ article was trying to bring out is that Massey Coal had already been fined and refused to comply with existing regulation. This is negligence, criminal negligence.

      • Marshall says

        So in this case you have already found them guilty and we will gather the facts latter, remember officer Friday on TV, I just want all the facts first, then make up my mind on guilt.

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