In zoology, a predator is any organism that preys on and devours other organisms to continue its own existence. It is exactly the same in the animal kingdom and has nothing to do with anything other than pure survival. However, among humans and big business, a predator is better defined according to its Latin definition which means “plunderer,” or one that takes things from other people not unlike a pirate. Republicans are predators, and as such they give their undying support to corporate predators that prey on the population and, in their drive for greater profits, often destroy other human beings’ lives. The only protection Americans have against corporate predators are regulations that Republicans promise to eviscerate under the guise of “jobs bills” when they take control of the Congress in January.
Although environmental regulations protect Americans from predators in the fossil fuel industry, death from toxic air and water is a slow process unlike workplace accidents borne of regulatory violations. Despite the past six years worth of deadly workplace accidents, and there are many, Republicans still claim there are too many regulations and intend on eliminating them when they control Congress. Their raison d’être is protecting corporate predators regardless the cost in human lives, so it is left to the justice system to step in to punish the killers and protect the people.
Last week a predator in the fossil fuel industry responsible for the death of 29 workers in 2010 was finally indicted for conspiring to violate federal mine safety regulations and health standards. The former CEO of Massey Energy coal mine, Don Blankenship, faces charges in federal court for concealing safety violations between 2008 and 2010 when the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine killed 29 coal miners. Blankenship also impeded federal mine safety investigations directly following the blast to cover his culpability in what many in West Virginia have labeled “mass murder.”
Blankenship only faces 31 years in prison if he is convicted, and it is a travesty there is such a light penalty for killing 29 human beings. The federal grand jury that handed down the four-count indictment concluded that Blankenship deliberately conspired to violate mandatory federal mine safety standards that led to the disaster, conspired to impede federal regulators investigating violations before the deadly explosion, made false statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and suppressed his company’s regulatory violations from federal investigators after the deaths.
According to the 43-page indictment, Blankenship “knew that his Upper Big Branch mine (UBB) was committing hundreds of safety-law violations every year and that he had the ability to prevent most of the violations that UBB was committing. Yet he fostered and participated in an understanding that perpetuated UBB’s practice of routine safety violations, in order to produce more coal, avoid the costs of following safety laws, and make more money.” One charge is a misdemeanor and three are felonies, but none are for willful manslaughter which is an apropos charge.
Immediately after the explosion, environmental and labor activists called for Blankenship to face the same “criminal charges as any mass murderer,” but a Republican anti-regulatory organization rushed to his immediate defense. Throughout the lengthy three year investigation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce actively defended Blankenship with the same fervor as they oppose, and reward Republicans for eliminating, workplace safety regulations; all in the name of profits.
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) released its final determination in late 2011 and cited Massey Energy’s flagrant safety violations as the sole reason 29 miners perished in the worst mining disaster since 1970. MSHA investigators concluded that the root cause of the blast was Massey’s “systematic, intentional and aggressive efforts” to conceal life-threatening problems at the mine. MSHA said managers maintained two sets of pre-shift inspection books; one for themselves, and a sanitized version for federal workplace safety regulators. The MSHA handed down 369 citations against Massey and assessed $10.8 million in federal penalties as a result of the deadly and preventable explosion. A different corporation, Alpha Natural Resources, acquired Massey Energy in 2011 and was stuck settling all corporate criminal liabilities. Since Blankenship was not remotely associated with the new corporation or management, he walked away unscathed; until last week when the federal grand jury indicted him.
The attorney representing the widows of the miners Blankenship’s criminal regulatory violations killed, Bruce Stanley, said “It’s an important day for many, many families in the Central Appalachian coal fields. For the first time in my memory, the CEO of a major coal producer is being held criminally accountable for the atrocious conduct that occurred on his watch.” Now that Republicans have control of Congress, they will begin a ferocious attack on workplace safety regulations as “jobs bills” to ensure that the next time Americans die due to deliberate workplace safety violations, no corporation or individual will be held accountable or face federal penalties.
Republicans have lied through their teeth for the past six years, and longer, that regulations, both workplace and environmental, are one of the primary reasons businesses cannot create jobs; but like everything Republicans claim, it is a fallacy. During the Clinton Administration, one of the greatest job-creators on record, environmental and workplace regulations were strengthened to protect the people from corporate predators. Over the course of the President’s tenure in office, and the best job-creation streak since 1939, workplace safety and environmental regulations have held firm. Regulations do not impact hiring, but they protect Americans from predators in business and it is the only reason Republicans intend on going on a deregulation frenzy.
Over the course of the past three years, Republicans claim they have passed upwards of 40 jobs bills, but if they were not tax cuts for corporations and big business, they were bills eliminating all manner of workplace and environmental regulations. Now that there is no Democratic-controlled Senate to hold back the impending deregulatory assault on Americans, only President Obama stands between Republican and corporate predators and the prey they intend to devour, plunder, and kill. In a perfect America, human beings, including Republicans, corporations, and big business would adhere to the mantra of “do no harm,” especially to Americans, and regulations would be unnecessary. But America is not perfect and the people need government regulations to protect their health, safety, and lives that predatory Republicans, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, corporations, and men like Don Blankenship find contemptible.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.