Posts Tagged ‘conspiracy’

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Here’s an episode concerning U.S. unemployment statistics I was not aware of: in September 1961, James Daniel, writing in the Readers’ Digest, accused the U.S. government of providing “excellent fodder for the communist line.”

Daniel’s article, “Let’s Look at Those ‘Alarming’ Unemployment Figures,” began as follows:

For months the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has been pouring out a stream of doleful figures depicting the worst ‘unemployment crisis’ in the United States since the Great Depression of the 1930′s. Almost daily some administration official tells us that nearly seven percent of our labor force is out of work. Meanwhile, Congress has passed one emergency spending bill after another on the ground, in part or in whole, that it will help employment…. All this unemployment news out of Washington provides excellent fodder for the communist line, of course.

At least in part in response to the Daniels article, in November 1961, the President’s Committee to Appraise Employment and Unemployment Statistics was appointed. Then, in 1963, the Subcommittee on Economic Statistics of the Joint Economic Committee held hearings on “Measuring Employment and Unemployment” (pdf).

Here’s Robert A. Gordon, the chair of the president’s committee:

You will forgive me if I say that this article represented an egregious example of irresponsible journalism. In effect, it charged that the official data on unemployment were being deliberately manipulated in order to justify larger Government spending and more extensive Government controls.

The entire transcript of the hearings is worth reading, if only to get a sense that there is no level of unemployment “out there” to be measured. The measuring of unemployment (like all such statistics, from national income to profits) is a social construction.

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Today, of course, the rate of unemployment is once again contested, as conspiracy theorists (like Donald Trump) argue the official unemployment numbers out of Washington are exaggerated. However, in their case, it’s not that they’re too high, but too low.

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Don Blankenship, the chief executive of the Massey Energy Company in 2010 when a fire in the Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 miners—who should have been charged with murder but was earlier only convicted of a federal misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate mine safety standards—was sentenced by U.S. district judge Irene Berge to one year in prison and fined the maximum of $250,000.

That comes out to only about twelve or thirteen days in jail for the deaths of each one of those murdered workers.

That’s why Ann Bybee-Finley [ht: ja] has launched the “Making one year count” campaign, calling on people to send letters to Blankenship every day he is in prison:

She wants to show Blankenship how many people he affected and empower West Virginians to speak out against the abuses and influence of the coal industry in their state. . .

“He only gets one year and nothing we can say or do will change that right now. Working with what we got, how can we make this year more meaningful?” Bybee-Finley said. “If we could make it longer, a lot of people would, but we can’t, right now, so we have to take this alternative approach.”

 

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Don Blankenship, the chief executive of the Massey Energy Company in 2010 when a fire in the Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 miners—who should have been charged with murder but was earlier only convicted of a federal misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate mine safety standards—was sentenced by U.S. district judge Irene Berge to one year in prison and fined the maximum of $250,000.

As Blankenship left the courthouse, a few family members of miners who were killed started yelling at him while he and his attorneys spoke with reporters.

“We buried our kid because of you,” said Robert Atkins, whose son Jason died in the explosion. “That’s all I got is a goddamn tombstone.” . . .

The judge described Blankenship’s rise from a meager, single-mother Appalachian household to one of the wealthiest, most influential figures in the region and in the coal industry.

“Instead of being to be able to tout you as a success story, we are here as a result of your part in a dangerous conspiracy,” she said.

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I’ve been following and writing about the saga of Massey Energy and Don Blankenship even since the 5 April 2010 fire in their Upper Big Branch Mine when they killed 29 miners.

Now, Blankenship—who should have been charged with murder—is actually standing trial on three felony counts, including conspiracy to violate mining safety rules, conspiracy to block inspectors from carrying out their duties at the Upper Big Branch mine before the explosion, and misleading financial regulators about his company’s safety record after the explosion.

According to the New York Times,

That he is being prosecuted at all is stunning, given his political clout in a state with a long, sordid history of coal-mine tragedies, stretching back to at least the late 1800s. He spent $5 million to elect one State Supreme Court justice, which prompted a documentary film labeling him “The Kingmaker,” and he was photographed on the French Riviera with another. Both later voted to throw out a $50 million jury verdict against Massey.

“Politicians, Democrats and Republicans, flocked to Blankenship,” said Patrick McGinley, a law professor at West Virginia University who contributed to the state inquiry. “He was viewed by many as untouchable, just like all the other corporate executives of coal companies that killed scores or hundreds or thousands of miners over the last century.”

That’s why the trial itself, regardless of the final verdict, is a sign of change in coal country:

Gary Quarles, a retired miner whose son, Gary Wayne Quarles, 33, died in the blast, was a miner himself. He and his wife, Patty, who has a tattoo on her left ankle of her son wearing his black miner’s hard hat, have been attending the proceedings.

The trial began last week; it is expected to run into November. By the end, Mr. Quarles said, the public will “see what kind of man Don really is.”

Five years after losing their son, the couple would like to see Mr. Blankenship convicted. But seeing him in court — surrounded by lawyers, listening to himself referred to as “the defendant” — is a kind of satisfaction in itself.

 Not enough, perhaps, but change it is.

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Special mention

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