Getting Away With Murder

Of course, murder is an ugly word for which our Galtian Overlords have many euphemisms, but come on… 29 in one pop?  Good thing for Don Blankenship he wasn’t some darky gang-banger, few of whom are let off with warnings after the first one.  I believe he got a severance package, rather than Death Row.  Funny how that works.  (From the NYT…)

In the first comprehensive state report on the 2010 coal mine disaster in West Virginia, an independent team of investigators put the blame squarely on the owner of the mine, Massey Energy, concluding that it had “made life difficult” for miners who tried to address safety and built “a culture in which wrongdoing became acceptable.”

For avowed teabagger Don Blankenship, rules are for the little people; says so in the Constitution.

The report, released Thursday by an independent team appointed by the former West Virginia governor, Joe Manchin III, and led by the former federal mine safety chief Davitt McAteer, echoed preliminary findings by federal officials that the blast could have been prevented if Massey had observed minimal safety standards.

Safety, schmafety.

But it was more pointed in naming Massey as the culprit, using blunt language to describe what it said was a pattern of negligence that ultimately led to the deaths of 29 miners on April 5, 2010, in the worst American mining disaster in 40 years.

“The story of Upper Big Branch is a cautionary tale of hubris,” the report concluded. “A company that was a towering presence in the Appalachian coalfields operated its mines in a profoundly reckless manner, and 29 coal miners paid with their lives for the corporate risk-taking.”

These do-gooder hippies clearly need to go see “Atlas Shrugged,” pronto.

In a statement on Thursday, Massey Energy’s general counsel, Shane Harvey, disputed some of the report’s findings. Seventeen company executives refused to be interviewed, a choice Mr. McAteer called “most unfortunate.”

Their reticence is understandable, given the size of the graveyard and all.

Workers at the mine knew that conditions were bad, and the report opens with a passage about one miner’s fears the day before he died in the disaster.

“Man, they got us up there mining, and we ain’t got no air,” the miner, Gary Wayne Quarles, told a friend, who talked to investigators. “I’m just scared to death to go to work because I’m just scared to death something bad is going to happen.”

Air costs money, you know, do you think it’s for just anybody?

The report goes on to say that a “perfect storm” was brewing inside the mine, of poor ventilation, equipment whose safety mechanisms were not functioning and combustible coal dust, “behaving like a line of gunpowder carrying the blast forward in multiple directions.”

Investigators flatly rejected the conclusion offered by Massey officials  —  that the explosion occurred because a giant burst of methane bubbled from the ground, an event that would have been impossible to predict or control.

This would be the first time in a decade that nobody fell for the Condi Defense, even in the face of the usual overwhelming contrary evidence.  Is this a hopeful sign that it will one day be greeted by the derisive laughter it deserves?  I doubt it.

The evidence contradicting that theory included the bodies of the miners found near the main explosion: only two had methane in their lungs

This sort of pesky discovery is one reason non-wealthy mass murderers usually go to a lot of work to get rid of the bodies. The Galtians seem not to have time for this.  Does CSI run at the same time as Sean Hannity or something?

…The report stated that explosive coal dust, which had been allowed to accumulate, carried the blast through the mine, killing miners who were far from the original explosion.

Mr. Harvey, the Massey executive, disputed that.

“We disagree with Davitt’s conclusion that this was an explosion fueled by coal dust,” he said. “Again, we believe that the explosion was caused by a massive inundation of methane-rich natural gas.”

God cut a fart on those parasites; says so in the Bible, which is the only book we read.

Several miners should have been reducing the amount of coal dust several times a day, the report said. Instead there was one, Nathaniel Jeter, who was often diverted to construction projects. What is more, the machine that was designed to dilute coal dust, a track duster, was often clogged, and miners were reduced to carrying rock dust, the diluting substance, into the mine by hand.

When Mr. Jeter complained to senior management that the machine was broken, the response, he said, spoke volumes about the attitude towards safety: “’Track duster? I didn’t know we had a track duster.’”

Note the Trumpian tone, with a little redneck sheriff thrown in for local color.

Another area of negligence, the report noted, was the mine’s jury-rigged ventilation system, which received 64 citations during 2009. Joe Mackowiak, a ventilation supervisor for the Mining, Safety and Health Administration who was quoted in the report, said management used a “band-aid approach,” making minor adjustments in order to pass inspections. Miners sometimes had to make repairs, while neck-deep in water.

Here it would be obvious to ask, “Why, with all these documented violations, would this monstrous deathtrap be allowed to continue operating?”  The report, and the NYT dip into this amoral cesspit of corruption and malfeasance, albeit gingerly….

The lack of air in the nearly three miles of tunnels, combined with coal dust and fumes, tormented the miners, the report said. One miner, Dean Jones, would come home so exhausted, that “I’d look over at the dinner table and he would be asleep,” the report quoted his wife as saying.

Now, that does happen to all of us sometimes, but usually not on a school night.

“It literally felt like you were melting,” said Michael Ellison, a roof bolter who called in sick the day of the accident. Shortly into the shift, he said, “all of us looked like we had been standing out in a rainstorm, just soaking wet.”

The good Christian American Blankenship didn’t just believe in Hell, he sent people there each day, so he could buy, among other things American Flag shirts and Republican politicians, not necessarily in that order.

Miners who tried to remedy the situation were punished. When Mr. Jones shut down his section for lack of air, a company boss, Chris Blanchard, “called the dispatcher and told him to tell Dean if he didn’t get the section running in so many minutes he’d be fired,” the report said. Mr. Jones complied.

Like I said, air ain’t free.  It’s like freedom.  Too bad the same people always get stuck with the bill.

As the largest coal producer in Appalachia at the time, Massey used its leverage “to attempt to control West Virginia’s political system,” and through it, oversight agencies. Inspectors, whose job it was to protect miner safety, were cast as “enemies,” the report said, with the company challenging their very legitimacy.

Attempt?  Hell, they got away with killing 29 people, for Pete’s sake.

Politicians were afraid of the company, the report said, because then-CEO, Don Blankenship, “was willing to spend vast amounts of money to influence elections,” the report said.

He had a lot left over from clipping coupons on safety, so why not?

It also faulted regulators for stopping short of applying the strictest censure of Massey, though it noted that individual regulators, like Mr. Mackowiak, made every effort to stop dangerous practices. Massey’s allegations that the ventilation problems were MHSA’s fault were baseless, the report said.

Strictest?  I’d hate (or perhaps love?) to see the most lenient.  Hookers? A Ferrari?  Yeah, he probably had too many of both already…..

Department of Labor solicitor, Patricia Smith, said the agency is using “new tools” to go after violators.

Henceforth, all unopened letters will be EXTRA sternly worded.

Massey is in the process of being acquired by another company, Alpha Natural Resources, which has said it plans on retraining Massey employees after taking over in June.

What’s left of them, anyway.

It has also hired Chris Adkins, a Massey’s chief operating officer, whose role in the disaster was strongly criticized in the report. In a briefing with reporters in Beckley, W. Va., Mr. McAteer called the choice, “very discouraging.”

Yet utterly unsurprising, given that as usual, the victims much suffer for the greater glory of the perpetrators, Jesus, and Ronald Reagan.  Forever and ever, Amen.

Criminal charges have been filed against the mine’s security chief, Hughie Elbert Stover, for lying to investigators and ordering the destruction of documents.

I guess ol’ Hughie will have a radio show soon, and if convicted, maybe even a Fox contract.

10 Comments

  1. michlib says:

    I guess as long as you attire yourself in chintzy tea-bagger approved ” flagware” all is forgiven. The last refuge of scoundrels …

  2. cocktailhag says:

    I hope he wasn’t wearing it because he looked so fetching in it….

  3. nswfm says:

    “Air costs money, you know, do you think it’s for just anybody?”

    No, only the truly entitled like the ones who pay off the elected officials, the lobbiests, the banksters and the elected officials and the judges. Did I leave anyone out? Oh, yeah, maybe the guys at the IMF, the World Bank, etc.

    • cocktailhag says:

      My comment was based on a true story. Louisiana-Pacific, maker of mushroom-sprouting fake wood siding, has a mill up in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, and they sponsored the ballet company I worked for at the time to do a performance in that lovely town. An LP guy up there told me he had started out scraping out vats, the worst job, where the fumes are so toxic you have to wear an oxygen mask to do it. He found out later why he always got so dizzy in there; under management orders, the control room turned down the oxygen to the scrapers to save money. If they tipped over, they turned it back up.

      • nancy says:

        Sweet Jesus. I’m so glad you wrote this post. These overlooked segments of our exploited working class always get two-dimensionalized and given the quick once-over by the small part of the media which might be paying attention—but only if it’s a slow news day.

        There’s a Frontline documentary series from several years ago called Country Boys , that shows how tough it is for a group of young people to make their way through, and maybe out of life in Appalachia (eastern Kentucky, which is just the same as West Virginia, only with strip mines instead of coal mines). Well worth your time, I think.

        Why I harp about mixing “hillbillies” in with “rednecks”. Not the same inheritance at all. Them rednecks are all defiantly proud.

        • cocktailhag says:

          I don’t think our corporate overlords make much of a distinction; they’re just the people where there’s free resources and a non-union population. (Funny how the two go together so often….)
          I was appalled at what glancing, ho-hum play this report got; tough luck (for them) those 29 (!) miners weren’t blonde girls.

          • nancy says:

            You’re so right. Sigh. It’s tough to not have any media “sparkle”. Just the drudge, drudge, boring drudge, of putting white bread on the table.

          • cocktailhag says:

            And no tickets to Aruba for Spring Break, either. As I recall, the WSJ called these guys “lucky duckies” because they were too poor to pay much federal income tax; the goal was to tax them, not for the money, but to piss them off and thereby bring them to their side about taxes.
            Although all were eligible, I don’t think any of them saved money on their “death taxes.”

  4. nancy says:

    By white bread, I meant “Wonder Bread”. Rednecks are all waiting for corn-pone, grits and the Confederate flag to fly again. They vote with Dixie pride, while in West Virginia, the hill folk/miner community very well might not vote at all. The alienation factor never weakens there. Downtrodden is part of their cultural fabric, forever.

    Your post is a reminder of the issues that liberals always used to be focused on; and now we’re all so….what…dismayed, distracted and beleaguered?

  5. nancy says:

    Must have broken the link, I gather:

    Here it is.