From the Magical to the Material

April 18, 2010


The Pope and Blankenship

What better examples could there be of plutocratic arrogance than the way the Catholic Church has dealt with the sexual abuse of children by priests on one hand and, on the other, the union-busting policy of the owner of the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia whose disregard for safety recently killed 29 miners? 

Children, miners? –  just collateral damage in the protection of the church and the profits of mining operations.  All too typically, systemic outrages are permitted for the sake of the system; the effects of its actions on living, breathing humans is a low priority.

Upper Big Branch Mine is owned by Massey Energy.  As reported in Think Progress, “Massey (was) actively contesting millions of dollars of fines for safety violations at (the) coal mine where disaster struck…” 

Think Progress says the Mine Safety and Health Administration reports that of 3,007 violations Massey is contesting 353.  This suggests there were probably 2654 violations Massey figured were uncontestable.  But Massey is also contesting over a third of 516 safety citation received since 2009, while in 2010 fifty-three new ones were added –including violations of its mine venting plan (the disastrous explosion was apparently caused by a buildup of methane and/or coal gasses).

But Massey’s owner, Don Blankenship, is nothing if not loaded with chutzpa.  At the very time he was contesting charges of safety violations he declared at a Labor Day rally last year, “I also know Washington and state politicians have no idea how to improve miner safety.  The very idea that they care more about coal-miner safety than we do is as silly as global warming.”

If Massey’s statement is indicative of the true state of things then global warming deniers might as well hang up their Al-Gore-is-an-idiot signs and buy drought insurance.

As for the Catholic Church, the revelations of abuse of children by priests keep on coming. Since 2002 one wave after another has buffeted the ecclesiastical juggernaut.  Bishops and Cardinals have been manning the pumps, bailing water from one end of Mother-Church into the other.  Instead of cutting child-abusing priests loose they’ve assigned them to other congregations for likely reruns, all to avoid scandal, not to seek truth.  In any system bent upon survival truth is one of the first things jettisoned.

Despite the Church’s conceit of being the one true mediator between man and God it appears to be an organization with a fairly human agenda –which makes it like every other earthly organization mired in the things that mark the difference between the sacred and the profane. In its handling of the sex abuse scandal the church is not much different than Massey Energy.  They’ve the same bottom line: survive and prosper; and each has done what it thought it had to do to with that in mind.  Why we expect more of a church than we do of any other terrestrial corporation when its trappings and behavior are so antithetical to those of its founding figure is odd.  What-you-see-is-what-you-get, as they say in the cyber world. Why expect humility and honesty from flamboyant, gold-encrusted glitterati?

And what-you-see-is-what-you-get works in the business world as well.  Realizing that a mining corporation like Massey would endeavor to bulk up its profits by foot-dragging as long as possible to avoid making expensive changes to protect its miners is just a stupid “Du-uh” moment.  This is what we get with unregulated or poorly regulated “free-market” capitalism; cutting costs and disdaining labor is fundamental to its creed and long tradition. This is why the formation of unions was imperative for the working person.
With their religious power churches can hide behind God; and with their financial clout corporations can call the shots.  They can buy whomever they need to squash the laboring individual.  In their financial collusion with senators and congressmen they can suppress the vitality of working men and women.

The optimal labor/management arrangement for business is to pay no labor costs at all: slavery. That brutal system was once semi-rectified militarily by government. Today, in this globalized moment, with congressional representatives alternately employed by Wall Street and government by means of revolving doors, labor still struggles against established power. Only an organized labor force can counter the might of corporations when it comes to the well-being of workers and Massey did what it could to undermine such organization; the safety, sanctity, and dignity of individual miners be damned.

Do I think labor unions have been corrupt?  Yup.  Do I think they’ve been a positive force in spite of that?  Yes. Has the Catholic Church been corrupt?  Obviously.  Has Massy Energy? Aye. Government? Oh sure.

You can tell a person’s politics (or religion) by whichever institution’s corruption they choose to downplay or overlook. Ask a tea-partier which is most likely to be corrupt it’ll, of course, be government.  As business sucks them dry (think obscene insurance industry profits and preexisting conditions –or Enron and Goldman Sachs), they hammer “Obamacare”.

What the church and Massey Energy have had in common is the will to survive and prevail no matter the human cost. Human nature being what it is everybody needs to have eyes in the back of their head 24/7 and to pay attention to the practices of all players from the magical to the material.


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