Friday, April 9, 2010

Who's Minding the Mines

Coal and MoneyThe tragic West Virginia mining accident (It's hard to call a thing an accident that could have easily been prevented.) that took the lives of 25 coal miners, landing two in the hospital, and stranding four* deep within the earth (those four with a slim chance of survival, even if a rescue team can reach them once the methane gas has been pumped out) is emblematic of our economy as a whole--a microcosm of what's wrong with our country, when the virtues of capitalism are taken to an absurd extreme.

Here are the findings on the mine disaster that were submitted to congress:

"Parts or all of the mine where at least 25 workers died were ordered closed 61 times in the past 15 months, according to information from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

"The information was provided in a summary to several congressional lawmakers after the accident at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. The summary has not been made public but was provided to NBC News.

"Despite what experts said is an alarming number of so-called withdrawal orders, a total of more than 100 since 2000, federal regulators never took stepped-up action to cite the mine for a "pattern of violations" even though the mine met the criteria."

As with the financial sector, oversight of the delinquent mine, the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia--owned by Massey Energy Company--suffered as a result of regulators too cozy relationship with mine owners, and a governmental structure that favored the interest of mine owners over that of mine workers who risked their lives daily for a paycheck that put millions of dollars in the pockets of owners; and not to forget bankers, who turned to the government and taxpayers to bail them out when their financial woes threatened to bring down their greed-built empires; and, again, thanks to taxpayers who shouldered the risk, these bankers were able, over time, to hand out to themselves billions of dollars in bonuses.

Because taxpayers assumed some of the toxic assets of banks, but not all (a huge shift of risk), certain banks were allowed to remain solvent. Here, too, regulators failed, more eager to protect the interest of bankers, than the public, while the likes of Alan Greenspan (Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board of Governors, 1987-2006) enabled bankers to borrow federal reserve dollars at such low rates, that they tripped over themselves to loan and invest it--most of the time not too wisely.

But who cares, if the money is so cheap and you're "too big to fail."

With the nation's economy on life support, and many Americans having suffered an economic mortal wound--foreclosures on their homes, bankruptcy, maxed out on their credit cards, and credit scores lower than perhaps at anytime in their lives--it seems that it will take a miracle to resurrect the corpus delicti, if it comes to that.

In the same way as owners of this non-union mine, bankers used every trick at their disposal, especially large donations to politicians, for one, to dissuade legislation and ensuing regulations that would have compelled greater responsibility on behalf of bankers and miners, and would have provided targeted oversight from regulators with power to actually do something about abuse--something other than warnings and fines.

In the same way, bankers put profits above people, almost always a sure recipe for disaster: For those who work in mines, injury, and a possible loss of life, and for John and Jane Citizen, an economy on crutches, and a loss of wages as a limping economy sheds jobs faster than it creates them.

In the same way as the owners of this mine, bankers are unrepentant. Even now, both bankers and this reckless mining company are resisting reforms that would have assured the lives of these luckless mine workers, and the continued health of our economy.

These persistent economic conditions--regulators too chummy with those they should be regulating, a governmental structure that favors corporations over the working stiff, incessant bowing, and toadying, to those who create capital, and employ people, and a government that facilitates, and enables abuses, further strengthening the hand of corporations so that they may unconscionably elevate profits above the welfare of people, and do it with impunity--are the Holy Grail of capitalism.

I'm not opposed to capitalism, but I rather doubt if we have truly seen it in actual practice in this country. What we have is some chimerical version of it, a voracious beast made of many parts, not all of which may be easily identified, or easily niched.

Consider for example, derivatives: "Securities that derive their value from other financial instruments that are used by the insurance company to hedge its bets on which direction the market is moving."

What in the hell does that have to do with the creation of capital? Wealth? Tangible assets? Goods and resources?

Capitalism is to "free market" what greed is to unrestricted.

*I have learned, since writing this piece, that the four missing miners were found, but found dead. This brings the total of mine workers dead to 29. We'd have to go back to the year, 1970, to find a disaster of similar magnitude. I have also learned that has offered to pay for the burial of the mine workers. This should bring comfort to the families--and I'm certain that Massey will receive all the attention that's coming to it, for this most beneficent of acts.


Blinders Off said...

With all the safety violations in this year alone that mine should not have been operating. Justice for this unnecessary tragedy would be to prosecute everyone who neglected to their jobs to protect the workers.

Black Diaspora said...

@Blinders Off: "Justice for this unnecessary tragedy would be to prosecute everyone who neglected to their jobs to protect the workers."

That would be justice. But I suspect we'll get the usual cast of characters (a congressional hearing) with the usual response (Mine operators insisting that they followed the law; that the deaths were an unfortunate tragedy, but that they were doing what all coal mining companies are doing.

Ernesto said...

Let's see, Michael Vick did jail time for killing dogs. No one will do any jail time for this. Coal miners' lives are worth less than dogs in our twisted society.

Black Diaspora said...

"Coal miners' lives are worth less than dogs in our twisted society."

I think we could fix this in a hot second by requiring mining execs to spend twenty hours a week below ground in the holes they call mines.

What's that new television series? "Undercover Boss."

However, in the case of mining execs, they get to go underground daily, but not "undercover."

Ernesto said...

The Tea Party goons are shown to be not only a fraud of a populist movement by this, but downright dangerous as well. They want "government out of our lives". Well, that means more death through corporate negligence and putting life second to profit.

Black Diaspora said...

@Ernesto: "They want 'government out of our lives'. Well, that means more death through corporate negligence and putting life second to profit."

An excellent observation. Too many politicians and corporate heads are in it for the money.

As a result, they won't let a few deaths stand in the way of all that money that can be had.

And now we have the Republican leadership kissing up to the Wall Street Boys, promising no substantive reform of the financial sector in exchange for big cash donations.

It appears that those Tea Partiers prefer their tea weak. Fiscal conservatism with teeth would demand a complete overhaul of congress, and a stepping on the toes of kindred spirits--Republicans.

This and other revelations about Tea Partiers make them nothing more than charlatans.

They don't want government out of their lives so much as the ability to dictate what that government can do on behalf of others.

Speaking of hypocrisy! Many in the group are recipients of Medicare and Social Security, but they're opposed to health-care reform, and the government's involvement in providing health coverage for all.

GrannyStandingforTruth said...

I think it's sad that Corporations put profit over people's lives and treat humans as if they are nothing more than a disposable diaper.

GrannyStandingforTruth said...

BTW, Black Diapora have you heard from IseeIsee lately? I haven't seen her posting anything in a while. I pray that all is well with her.

Black Diaspora said...

@Granny: "they are nothing more than a disposable diaper."

Granny, that's funny. You always bring a smile to my face, or a chuckle, or cause me to laugh out loud.

Capitalism at it worst, and sometimes at its best, consider people, its workforce, as though they're nothing more than "disposable diapers."

No, Granny. IseeIsee hasn't posted here in sometime, and I haven't seen her fonts over at Field, either.

Like you, I pray she's well. I'll pray for her.