Blankenship To Testify Before Congress: The Dark Saga Continues

Its been over a month since the Upper Big Branch Mine, a Massey Energy owned and operated mine, faced a disaster due to a methane related explosion that took 29 miners lives. It was a dark day for the state of West Virginia, the coal industry, and the entire country. To West Virginians, and even those not from the state, these fallen miners will be in our hearts forever.

Don Blankenship is the current Chairman, CEO, and head right-wing gun-toting thug in charge of Massey Energy. Massey is currently the 6th largest coal company in the United States by production. Blankenship, to most people, is seen as cold, dark, and very mysterious. If you need further convincing, watch this ABC News video of one of their correspondents attempting to evoke an interview from Blankenship. The video shows the ABC News rep wanting to ask Blankenship about pictures published in the New York Times of him with Former WV State Supreme Court Judge and Current Republican nominee for WV 3rd Congressional District Eliot "Spike" Maynard. Maynard was elected to the Supreme Court in WV.

Several news outlets have begun to report that Don Blankenship will testify this Thursday before the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) Committee regarding the April 5, 2010 mine explosion in Raleigh County, West Virginia .

Mine blast: Don Blankenship, the head of Massey Energy Co., testifies before a Senate panel investigating the explosion that killed 29 workers at his company’s coal mine in West Virginia.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle’s SF Gate

Blankenship, 60, plans to appear before the Labor and Health and Human Services subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, on May 20 in Washington, his first appearance before Congress since the explosion.

Massey said last month that it expects a second-quarter charge of as much as $212 million for the accident, more than twice its 2009 earnings.

The costs will include $80 million to $150 million for benefits for families of the miners, rescue and recovery efforts, insurance deductibles, legal and other contingencies, Massey said. The value of the damaged equipment, development and mineral rights is an additional $62 million.

Source: Businessweek.com

With the pieces still being picked up in rural West Virginia, Blankenship has a slew of problems on his hands. Massey Energy has seen its stock slump since the disaster (big shocker there) and he is constantly being questioned about the incident and his lack of care for safety violations and hazardous working conditions. It has seen a -21.7% change YTD with their stocks recently plummeting 10% after a possibility of a criminal investigation was mentioned, and 40% since the disaster.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Shares of Massey Energy plunged about 10% Monday after a report surfaced over the weekend indicated the coal mining company may face a criminal investigation.

Federal prosecutors are investigating possible "willful criminal activity" by "directors, officers and agents" of Massey subsidiary Performance Coal at the Upper Big Branch coal mine where an explosion killed 29 workers last month, The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.

A Bloomberg report on Monday claimed that some large Massey shareholders will seek to block the re-election of three company board members at the meeting.

Another report by the Wall Street Journal on Monday said a congressional committee will vote on Wednesday on whether to give the House Education and Labor Committee deposition power to call witnesses in for questioning on the case.

Massey shares have fallen about 40% since the mine explosion on April 5.

Source: CNN Money

More interesting news for Massey Energy, in what seems to be an effort to obtain transparency in lieu of shady business, as they have now declared that they will declassify their board of directors. This according to the Wall Street Journal, the board is proposing to introduce the idea to shareholders etc. and potentially even make the process more democratic.

Massey Energy Co. said its board plans to propose that directors stand for election every year for one-year terms.

Chairman and Chief Executive Don Blankenship and lead independent director Admiral Bobby R. Inman said the move to declassify the board of the coal producer was a result of stockholder input and the board’s ongoing review of Massey’s corporate governance policies.

A classified board, where classes of directors generally are elected for three-year terms and only a portion of the directors stands for election each year, is harder to dislodge through the shareholder meeting process.

The board plans to hold a special shareholder meeting in the next three to six months where it will propose that stockholders approve declassification.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Blankenship has seen his fair share of controversy, as I have detailed in several previous blogs in wake of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, and this proves there isn’t an end in sight. Blankenship, amidst numerous calls to step down and many claims of injustice and fraud, refuses to forgo his position as CEO of Massey. Its hard to tell whether this is simply Blanky trying to play a game and manipulate his business further, saving his butt from criminal allegations, or just plain stubbornness. My personal opinion? He needs to step down. Futher even, he needs to be criminally indicted. Too often, CEO fat cats like Blank are left alone to ravage whatever gets in their way in the holy name of money.

Massey Energy chief executive Don Blankenship, whose Richmond-based company is under investigation after a deadly explosion at its Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia, said he has no plans to resign.

"Whatever happened at UBB is something that needs to be figured out, but it’s not the result of my management style," Blankenship, 60, said in an interview.

From The Washington Post, as reported by Bloomberg

An end is not in sight for this ongoing Blankenship conundrum, which can be seen as good news and bad news. I want resolution. I hope that one day this man will receive the proper justice brought to him, not on a silver platter, but closer to a penitentiary meal tray.

He doesn’t represent the values and culture of Appalachia, he represents the coal industry and corporate greed. I for one will not stand for this. The question still remains, will the people of Congress and those in higher powers finally grow a pair and do something about corrupt and greedy tycoons like Blankenship? Or will they let this case slither away like a cunning snake, deep into the elusive tall grass it will await yet another prey who is unbeknownst to their presence.

 

The Journal Never Learns

The Wall Street Journal has an op-ed today from Karl Rove called, “How Badly Will The Democrats Do?” Why the Journal found Rove to be a trustworthy prognosticator, I’ll never know. Granted, he’s better than Dick Morris, but that’s not saying much. This go-round, Rove lists a variety of numbers regarding fundraising, primaries, polls, enthusiasm, etc., and comes to this conclusion about the 2010 midterms:

The White House has many tools to change the narrative to its advantage. But it's unlikely swing voters will abandon their concerns about ObamaCare, spending and deficits. The public, especially independents, increasingly believes Mr. Obama's policies threaten America's economic future.

Though this midterm election will likely turn on national concerns, it will still come down to individual contests. While a lot will play out over the next six months, there's no question good Republican candidates running effective races will make this a memorable, perhaps even epic, election for the GOP. Obama Democrats should beware.

Okay, but remember the last time he talked about individual contests, on NPR in 2006? Days before he GOP lost 30 House seats and the majority? Here’s the man’s track record:

SIEGEL: I'm looking at all the same polls that you are looking at.

ROVE: No, you are not. I'm looking at 68 polls a week for candidates for the US House and US Senate and Governor, and you may be looking at 4-5 public polls a week that talk attitudes nationally.

SIEGEL: I don't want to have you to call races...

ROVE: I'm looking at all of these Robert and adding them up. I add up to a Republican Senate and Republican House. You may end up with a different math but you are entitled to your math and I'm entitled to THE math.

SIEGEL: I don't know if we're entitled to a different math but your...

ROVE: I said THE math.

Okay, so, after all that, the Journal still gives the man’s predictions credibility… why, exactly?

First Lawsuits Against Massey Energy Filed

The widow of William Griffith, a miner lost in the awful tragedy at the Upper Big Branch Mine, has filed the first lawsuit against Massey Energy in lieu of the disaster.

Marlene Griffith, the widow of William I. Griffith, filed a suit alleging that "reckless and negligent conduct" by Massey resulted in Mr. Griffith's death. The eight-page complaint seeking damages under West Virginia's wrongful death statute was filed in Raleigh County Circuit Court Thursday and names Massey as well as its subsidiaries Performance Coal and Massey Coal Services as defendants.

Source: WSJ

Griffith is the first of no doubt several men and women who will be pushing lawsuits against the Massey Energy Company and Don Blankenship himself.

The lawsuit brought by Ms. Griffith says that William Griffith began working as a coal miner in 1974, shortly after graduating from high school, and that he began working for Performance Coal in 1992 at the Upper Big Branch mine.Mark Moreland, a Charleston, West Va., attorney representing Mr. Griffith's estate, said in an interview that Mr. Griffith's family wanted to have representation during ongoing investigations of the accident. "Massey will have a representative at all those investigations, and our client felt that they deserved representation," he said.The complaint includes inspection-related material previously released by MSHA. "We looked at the history of this mine through the MSHA Web site and it's clear that Massey and Performance were operating in a reckless manner," Mr. Moreland said.

Don Blankenship and Massey have had too much disregard for safety regulations and violations, and have shown incredibly negligence with their business operations.  Don Blankenship is seeing his first allegations against him as well.

Separately, a Massey shareholder filed a complaint in Kanawha County Circuit Court against CEO Don Blankenship and Massey's board of directors, alleging that they failed to ensure the company complied with worker safety laws and ignored "red flags" in the months leading up to the accident.The complaint, filed Thursday, alleges that Mr. Blankenship and other board members "have caused and will continue to cause severe injury" to Massey by "consciously ignoring" the company's legal obligations and exposing the company to "a substantial threat of monetary liability." The suit seeks unspecified damages as well as reimbursement for the costs of bringing the complaint.

I would hope that the Obama Administration, and members of Congress stay on top of this situation before it is allowed to wither away.  A mining disaster of this caliber should not be allowed to have corporate entities going unpunished.

March Madness Strikes the Terror Debates

The Wall Street Journal is absolutely right thatLindsey Graham is tossing up an embarrassing air ball. Graham's effort to get the administration to abandon legitimate federal court trials for suspected terrorists in exchange for the funding needed to close Guantanamo Bay is headed nowhere fast, predicts the Journal.

As I've noted before, Graham doesn't have support for his scheme from either side of the aisle.

Senators with any respect for the U.S. justice system, let alone real concern for national security, know that it's absurd to bargain away the requirement that the 9/11 suspects get a legitimate trial. That means a trial that not only convicts the guilty but reveals what really happened when the United States was ruthlessly attacked on September 11, 2001, and showcases our respect for the rule of law over brutality and political expedience. After all, the US constitution is no bargaining chip - it's survived 223 years, through war and peace, for good reason.

Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and others know that any cheap political points lawmakers might score by abandoning American principles will come back to bite them - particularly if military commission convictions are reversed on appeal. They'll be even more embarrassed when the country looks back a few years from now and wonders how Congress came to abandon the most basic American principles because it was cowed by a handful of thugs eager to be seen as warriors for Allah martyred by the United States government.

Lawmakers speaking out against civilian trials, meanwhile, are so intent on undermining the Obama administration, regardless of their impact on national security, that they're obstructing justice to score political points. Not only do they oppose federal trials, but they won't agree to closing the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay so long as President Obama remains in office. No matter that scores of military leaders, in addition to former President George W. Bush and Senator John McCain - when he was a presidential candidate - agreed that Guantanamo must be shuttered.

So the Journal's right that Graham can't possibly deliver victory on his proposed compromise. But the paper's conclusion -- that military commissions are the place for KSM & Co. to go -- is based on assumptions wholly divorced from the facts.

Military commission proceedings "since September 11 have been serious and even-handed," writes the Journal in its endorsement of those trials.

Really? Three convictions in eight years - only two of which followed trials that were even contested -- hardly backs that claim up.

Take the case of Salim Hamdan, who military prosecutors characterized as a "hardened Qaeda member" and bin Laden's right hand man. The military jury acquitted Hamdan of all conspiracy charges and three of eight charges for "material support for terrorism." The result was a sentence of only five and a half years - most of which he'd already served. And that was a case that government officials had said was "one of their strongest" against any of the Guantanamo detainees, as reported in the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors have convicted more than 195 terrorists in federal court.

Even Brookings Institution fellow Benjamin Wittes and former Bush administration official Jack Goldsmith, writing in the Washington Post last week, acknowledge the weakness of the military commissions. The two note that "serious legal issues remain unresolved, including the validity of the non-traditional criminal charges that will be central to the commissions' success and the role of the Geneva Conventions." Sorting out those issues "will take years and might render them ineffectual," the authors add. They also note that the commissions lack international legitimacy.

Wittes' and Goldsmith's solution, however, is even worse than the Journal's. "Don't bother trying them at all," the two scholars pronounced. "Domestically, the political costs of trying high-level terrorists in federal courts have become exorbitant," they argue, while the "public relations and related legitimacy benefits" of a military commission trial aren't great, either.

So there we have it. Whether and how to try a group of men who are believed to have orchestrated the worst terrorist attack and mass murder ever on U.S. soil has come down to a question of pure politics. "It is time to be realistic about terrorist detention," write Wittes and Goldsmith, and to concede that the time has come to do away with our quaint notions of justice in favor of a new system of indefinite detention without trial. That should be supported, they argue, with new legislation codifying its legitimacy in U.S. law.

To be sure, that's been the de facto response to many of the suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay for the past eight years.

A similar course was briefly considered after World War II, when Winston Churchillreportedly told Joseph Stalin that he'd rather just execute Nazi leaders upon their capture. Stalin, of all people, insisted that they deserved a trial.

Historically, the United States has prided itself as being several steps above Stalin in terms of its respect for the rule of law. But these latest proposals make one wonder just how low some American opinionators and policymakers may be willing to sink.

U.S. Poised to Commit War Crimes in Marjah

The United States and NATO are poised to launch a major assault in the Marjah district in southern Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians are in imminent peril. Will President Obama and Congress act to protect civilians in Marjah , in compliance with the obligations of the United States under the laws of war?

Few civilians have managed to escape the Afghan town of Marjah ahead of a planned US/NATO assault, raising the risk of civilian casualties, McClatchy News reports.

Under the laws of war, the US and NATO - who have told civilians not to flee - bear an extra responsibility to control their fire and avoid tactics that endanger civilians, Human Rights Watch notes. "I suspect that they believe they have the ability to generally distinguish between combatants and civilians," said Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch. "I would call that into question, given their long history of mistakes, particularly when using air power. Whatever they do, they have an obligation to protect civilians and make adequate provision to alleviate any crisis that arises," he said. "It is very much their responsibility."

"If [NATO forces] don't avoid large scale civilian casualties, given the rhetoric about protecting the population, then no matter how many Taliban are routed, the Marjah mission should be considered a failure," said an analyst with the International Crisis Group.

A report in the Wall Street Journal cast fresh doubt on the ability - and even on the interest - of U.S. forces to distinguish combatants from civilians. "Across southern Afghanistan, including the Marjah district where coalition forces are massing for a large offensive, the line between peaceful villager and enemy fighter is often blurred," the Journal says. The commander of the U.S. unit responsible for Pashmul estimates that about 95% of the locals are Taliban or aid the militants. Among front-line troops, "frustration is boiling over" over more restrictive rules of engagement than in Iraq, the Journal says - a dangerous harbinger of potential war crimes when the U.S. is about to engage in a major assault in an area densely populated with civilians.

Today, AFP reports, military helicopters dropped leaflets over Marjah as radio broadcasts "warned residents not to shelter Taliban ahead of a massive assault." Doesn't this suggest that the invading U.S. forces may regard any civilian alleged to be "sheltering Taliban" as a legitimate target, including women and children?

If the U.S. assault in Marjah results in large scale civilian casualties, the U.S. will have committed a major war crime. If the United States cannot protect civilians in Marjah, as the U.S. is required to do under the laws of war, the assault should be called off. Under international law, every U.S. citizen is legally obligated to work to bring about the compliance of the United States with international law. Raise your voice now, before it is too late.

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