Friday, January 20, 2006

Connecting Sago to Katrina

In light of the search for two additional miners trapped after a fire in the Aracoma Coal company's Alma No. 1 Mine in West Virginia, I thought I'd link to the following post (part 4 of 4 posts) by Edie in
Annotated Life which connects the Sago and Katrina disasters to the prevalence in the United States of a political economy which does a great job of promoting individual responsibility for personal safety and fortunes, but which doesn't do such a great job of promoting individual responsibility to society, or society's responsibility to individuals.

I've taken the liberty of inserting my own wording where I disagree with the author's adherence to what I believe is a naive ideological doctrine:

In non-union mines such as the one in Sago, dangers and accidents are passed off by the owners as just another part of the job, a matter of personal responsibility.

So much was also said by fascistic elements [right-wing ideologues] of destitute victims abandoned by their government to the flood waters in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. The hundreds of thousands of dispossessed are to this day being persecuted for the destruction of their homes and lack of insurance, never mind the government's refusal to reinforce the levee system in the years before Katrina despite repeated warnings from engineers and meteorologists.

Like Hurricane Katrina, the mine disaster revealed the precarious economic situation with which millions of working class families must contend.

After Katrina politicians of both big business parties, including Bush himself, vapidly declared that the lessons of the catastrophe would usher in a new era of social reconstruction. Four and a half months later, the working class neighborhoods of New Orleans are still in ruins, tens of thousands remain homeless, and all but the upscale neighborhoods are without basic utilities. Billions of dollars in reconstruction funding have meanwhile been pocketed by a handful of corporations with close ties to the Bush administration. Wielding their lesson of Katrina, politicians have gone about eradicating poverty by way of eradicating the presence of poor people, enriching themselves in the process.

Personal responsibility is a rampant form of victim-blaming by defenders [freeloaders of] the capitalist system.

Edie observes that "violations of safety standards often directly contribute to the deaths," providing a link to the federal Mine Health and Safety Administration "fatalgrams." There are a number of interesting tools on the MHSA site, including a search tool and crosstab tables, but nowhere could I find a tool that facilitated a search for companies that are the worst violators of mining standards. I couldn't, for example, find any mines operated by "International Coal Group" which operates the Sago mine. Indeed, the general thrust of the Web site's message, as Edie observed, is that mine safety is an issue of personal responsibility, not company responsibility.

Blaming the victim has also been the sport of people who seem to prefer abdicating from their obligation to help rebuild New Orleans.


At 1/20/2006 10:58:00 AM, Anonymous Lenny Zimmermann said...

Personal responsibility is usually where a system will be most effective, for example take into consideration the many lives saved in New Orleans by folks who had boats and just wanted to do something to help their fellow man.

Even so we are certainly not completely lacking in social responsibility in this country. We have most of the tools in place, such as the first ammendment, that should allow for what David Brin refers to as human T-Cells, effectively reports, to find situations of injustices and bring them to light. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But it's working more and more with the advent of more easily accessible information sources such as through the internet.

In all the biggest tool in a capatilist society is, quite simply, money. Hit a big corporation in the pocketbook and they stand up and listen. Often their social consciousness must come from the outside. "Bad press" might lead to a loss of revenue and to a company scrambling to fix whatever the precieved problems are. Lawsuits also directly affect corporate finances, as I would expect each of the families affected by the tragedies in these mining accidents to follow up with, most especially in a case where the company was already shown negligent through failing standard safety inspections.

In all I'm not convinced that government intervention is the right answer. A true comparison would show government inability to act in the capacty of inspecting it's own levees here in New Orleans and is, therefore, no better, IMHO, than any coporation putting it's employees in danger. When all is said and done it really does end up in the hands of individuals to do the best they can to rectify these egregious wrongs. In that respect I think we must work to ensure that our government ensures that the individual is left with the power to achieve those kinds of laudable goals.

At 1/20/2006 10:00:00 PM, Blogger Maverick said...

*sigh* I have no idea why the Sago mine incident has been such a big news item, getting so much coverage. Lack of news?

Lemme Go Crazy On You

At 1/21/2006 03:48:00 PM, Blogger Richard Myers said...

They've just found two more coal miners dead.

Ever get really, really fed up? The business article below did it for me.

It says-- even after continuing mining disasters-- that once again, nothing of significance will change.

Why? Apparently because coal is more important than the women and men who dig it.

The miners are safe enough, and we can't have "an undue financial burden on the operators at coal mines."

So i've just created a new email list, Sago Outrage:

If you're concerned that there's no justice for coal miners, please join.

Safety not seen costing coal co.'s after deaths [excerpt]
Fri Jan 20, 2006 5:03 PM ET
By Timothy Gardner
NEW YORK, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Coal companies may not have to pay much for additional safety measures following two accidents this month in West Virginia -- one fatal and the other in which two miners are missing -- according to experts.

Rescue teams searched smoky tunnels on Friday for two miners after a conveyor belt fire broke out a day earlier at a mine owned by Aracoma Coal Co., a subsidiary of Virginia-based Massey Energy Co.

The fire came weeks after a blast killed 12 miners at the Sago mine owned by International Coal Group Inc.

While the two accidents are reminders that mining can be dangerous, U.S. regulators are limited in the safety changes they can require companies to make.

Under the framework set up by Congress, federal regulators [at] the Mine Safety and Health Administration can propose new safety rules, but none that would create an undue financial burden on the operators at coal mines.

"We can't just say willy nilly you have to do this or that," said an MSHA official who did not want to be named.


Here's the first message, an overview of the Sago disaster:

Please join Sago Outrage:

best wishes,
richard myers
Denver, Colorado


Business article:


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