Thursday, April 15, 2010


The recent multi-fatality debacle in the Massey Energy mine further illustrates the perils of remote ownership of front-line American business operations by huge multi-national corporations. Massey Energy is the troubled coal division spun-off from Fluor Corporation. As in similar corporate setups, Massey takes the financial hits for its present and former shoddy practices, while Fluor remains healthy and reaps the profits.

Too big to hide, the deaths of twenty-five miners in one of Massey’s West Virginia mines actually made the mainstream news. Consider also that in a recent (April 12, 2010) article, "Massey Energy in SEC Statement: Trust Us, We’re Fine" writer Michael Whitney discloses some of the sinister buffoonery of Massey has been leaked to the public.

Don Blankenship, Massey CEO speaks best for himself at a recent Labor Day rally, further exposing fatuous corporate thinking. Listen and learn. His true colors are now revealed not as Red, White and Blue in his Labor Day getup. Garb him with Yellow for cowardice to investigate the true causes of the preventable deaths of his workers. Green for the cabbage in his offshore Obama-government-guaranteed-confidential bank accounts which colors his thinking at every turn.

In Corporate America, whenever there is loss of life in an industrial accident, media damage control is more important than getting to the root of the problem for the affected company. Under-funded operations, substandard equipment, lack of preventative maintenance and upkeep are all symptoms of deficiencies in the American corporate structure itself, but not the cause.

Simply put: the commoditization and securitization of every aspect of business has created an overarching drive for the appearance of daily profits to support stock prices and keep those income streams flowing. Money is now everything. Maintenance delayed = more black ink on this month's balance sheet.

Business managers must now be more concerned with Brand image and their monthly P/L than the intrinsic quality of their products/services or (least important of all) the safety and well-being of their hired staff. Like most CEO’s, Don Blankenship publicly pooh-poohs governmental regulations designed to protect the health and safety of the miners he claims to care about. Laws deemed too expensive to obey by Massey (coupled with little enforcement from State and Federal mining officials) has helped Blankenship chart Massey’s course to profits at the expense of human lives. 

Like many multi-national corporations, Massey picks and chooses which regulations to adhere to, based on cost and convenience at the time. If and when the Company gets caught in a violation, they’ll cross that bridge when they come to it. 

"It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission." 

They'll eventually find a scapegoat (such as Don Blankenship - or one of his faceless administrative assistants) to blame and then revert to the same practices once the named miscreant is lodged in the Federal Minimum Security Country Club and White Collar Detention Facility. "Without admitting any wrongdoing..." the Company (or its insurers) will eventually pay a token fine. The greatest per capita percentage of which will go to lawyers for the bereaved. And a similar sum (perhaps not fully disclosed to the shareholders?) to Massey's lawyers.

But, that is many years and many strategic courtroom delays in the future.

Blankenship had already challenged two-thirds of the fines levied against Massey prior to the most recent disaster. Shareholders are now expected to believe that such fines are a normal part of doing business.

Only for those whose business it is to regularly break the law. 

But, as with many multi-nationals, breaking the law is now an integral part of Massey’s business plan. Any downtime due to spilling the blood of its workers has been more than offset by money saved in delaying safety-related upgrades and repairs which would have saved the lives of these faithful employees.

In its latest statement, Massey places the blame for the disaster squarely upon the shoulders of Federal mining oversight. Massey states:

“There has been criticism regarding the backlog of violations that have been appealed. There have been violations at Upper Big Branch that the Company does not agree with and a number of those violations have been appealed. The percentage of violations appealed at UBB and Massey is similar to that for the industry as a whole.”

Thus the Company suggests that the backlogs in governmental reviews of Massey’s appeal of violations has prevented the Company from fixing any alleged violations which [they will not admit] led to the deaths of these miners!

Massey employees better make sure their life insurance policies are paid up, because the odds are against them.

Twenty-five West Virginians have sacrificed their lives on the altar of the Golden Calf of corporate avarice. Any gains from the 1973 coal strike reported on in the documentary Harlan County USA have been eroded by the invasion of Massey and other multi-national energy consortia. The same folks who are destroying mineworkers’ unions, mountaintops and local ecology (and economies) throughout Appalachia have distanced themselves from their evil deeds by hiding behind layers of internal corporate masks. Don Blankenship is only the tip of the iceberg, and he is useful to Massey as a convenient and prominent public target to misdirect our attention and anger.

Twenty-five West Virginians have been sacrificed so a few Old Rich Men and Women can a few extra pennies in their dividend checks, so a few Massey and Fluor executives can wallow in slightly bigger bonuses, so payoffs can be made to the right politicians and governmental officials, and so the wheels of American economy can spin without interruption on the highway to economic destruction.

President Obama promises to "look into this."

Mr. President, fellow Americans, WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?

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