“Our livelihood and our brotherhood” – and the “brotherhood” of Massey Coal

“How can we fail them? How can a nation that relies on its miners not do everything in its power to protect them?” Obama said. “How can we let anyone in this country put their lives at risk by simply showing up to work, by simply pursuing the American Dream?”

President Obama delivered an eloquent “eulogy to the workers who died in the worst mine accident in a generations” as Obama: W.Va. miners died in pursuit of better life reported:

“In coveralls and hard-toe boots, a hardhat over their heads, they would sit quietly for their hourlong journey, 5 miles into a mountain, the only light the lamp on their caps, or the glow from the mantrip they rode in,” Obama said.

“Most days, they would emerge from the dark mine, squinting at the light. Most days, they would emerge, sweaty, dirty, dusted with coal. Most days, they would come home. Most days, but not that day.”…

“All that hard work. All that hardship. All the time spent underground. It was all for the families… these miners lived — as they died — in pursuit of the American Dream.”

Money earned working in the Massey-owned mine made it possible for the 29 miners to pursue the American Dream that became a nightmare for their families after the explosion at Upper Big Branch.  Massey’s owner had a bigger version of the American Dream – one that created the nightmare of equal justice for all revealed in Caperton v A.T. Massey Coal Co:

Justice Brent Benjamin of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia refused to recuse himself from the appeal of the $50 million jury verdict in this case, even though the CEO of the lead defendant spent $3 million supporting his campaign for a seat on the court–more than 60% of the total amount spent to support Justice Benjamin’s campaign– while preparing to appeal the verdict against his company. After winning election to the court, Justice Benjamin cast the deciding vote in the court’s 3-2 decision overturning that verdict…

Caperton claims, among other things, that Massey entered into negotiations to purchase Harman mine, used confidential information to decrease the mine’s value and discourage other buyers, delayed finalizing the agreement to undermine Harman’s financial position, and that Massey’s CEO and President, Don L. Blankenship, intended to force Harman into bankruptcy.

In 2004, Brent Benjamin ran against incumbent Justice Warren McGraw, for a seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.  Mr. Blankenship opposed Justice McGraw, and spent $500,000 on “literature and advertising to convince the electorate that Justice McGraw was not the right person for the job.”  In accordance with West Virginia law, he did this without the cooperation or consent of Benjamin’s campaign.  Blankenship also gave $2,500,000 to And for the Sake of the Kids (ASK), an organization that ran ads and held events opposing Justice McGraw. Blankenship gave $1,000 to Benjamin’s campaign, and Massey’s Political Action Committee also gave $1,000; no other contributions were made by Massey and its subsidiaries. Benjamin won the election and began his twelve-year term on January 1, 2005.

Don Blakenship, the CEO and President mentioned in the summary of Caperton v Massey Coal, is the same “chief executive of Massey Energy” who “mingled with the crowd before taking his seat near the back of the floor in the Beckley-Raleigh Convention Center” before Obama delivered his eulogy to the families of the 29 miners killed by the explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine.

While the magnitude of the disaster merited the President’s involvement, Obama has a connection to Massey Board member, former Mississippi State University President, Robert “Doc” Fogleson:

Robert H. “Doc” Foglesong continues to fight long after retiring as a four-star Air Force general. The Mingo County resident says it’s a campaign, not just a battle, to teach West Virginia students to be leaders.

Foglesong got a boost from the leader of the United States recently that will add ammunition to his effort — the money came via President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize.

The retired general’s current mission is president of the Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports and enables students from Appalachia with academic and leadership abilities to pursue higher education.

Organizations receiving money were all national entities, such as the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, the United Negro College Fund and the American Indian College Fund — and Foglesong’s foundation. The Appalachian Leadership Education Foundation received $125,000.

Although it was a Board member with a connection to the President, Mr. Blankenship’s $3,000,000 investment in Judge Benjamin was, no doubt, a reason Governor Manchin consulted with his lawyer before hopping on Bankenship’s jet:

West Virginia’s governor flew back to the state hours after last week’s deadly mine explosion on a jet provided by the mine’s owner.

Gov. Joe Manchin said he was trying to return as quickly as possible after the April 5 blast that killed 29 miners. The governor was in Florida for vacation, and said a flight on a state-owned plane couldn’t immediately be arranged.

Massey Energy owns the Upper Big Branch mine. Manchin said company officials offered to fly him back while briefing him on the blast. The governor said his lawyer found that acceptable because of the emergency situation.

The news story reporting Obama’s participation quoted a member of the “rescue team that helped pull 11 bodies out of the Upper Big Branch mine” who “said he liked Obama’s speech. ‘He understands our livelihood and our brotherhood’.”

Unlike the brotherhood of miners who feel, “We’ve got to work to support the nation”, the “brotherhood” of Massey Coal  is formed by power and money – a brotherhood that expects a return on its support.

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