Monday, December 12, 2011

When People Kill People They Go to Jail –When Corporations Kill People They Pay Fine

For Massey Energy It’s Like a Traffic Ticket – Only There Are Dead People

One of the worse mine disasters in recent history killed 29 people.  Now accidents happen all the time, but this accident was preventable.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration concluded after a 20-month-long investigation that the physical conditions that led to the explosion were the result of a series of basic safety violations that "were entirely preventable." Chief among those, the agency said, was permitting large amounts of coal dust to accumulate in the mine.

The agency also said that production delays to resolve safety-related issues often were met by threats of retaliation and disciplinary actions. That included suspension of a section foreman, who delayed production for one or two hours to make needed safety corrections, the agency said. It said the company promoted a culture that valued production over safety, and that "unlawful policies and practices" by the company "were the root cause of this tragedy."

Now this is pretty serious stuff, and if the report is correct the corporation engaged in activities that were directly responsible for the death of the miners.

So what is happening?  Well the company’s new owners, who inherited the liability of the old company have agreed to pay hundred of millions in fines.  That’s it.  No one is going to jail, although the investigation into criminal charges against individuals is continuing.

See a corporation is an inanimate being.  But to conservative members of the Supreme Court this inanimate object has constitutional rights, including the right to free speech, which means they can pour unlimited amounts of money into political campaigns.  Money that will elect politicians that pass laws to allow Massey Energy to get away with killing people by paying just a fine.  So corporations have rights according to conservatives, but none of the responsibilities of the individuals who secured those rights for them.

In fact, one assumes that these fines will be tax deductible, as expenses incurred in the ordinary course of business.  Think about that for a minute.

A solution is rather simple.  Hold the senior officers of a corporation criminally liable when the corporation is convicted of or admits to a crime.  That more than any thing else will fix the problem.  But propose such a policy and Conservatives will cry “class warfare”, “anti-business” and the like.  See they are opposed to job killing regulations even when those regulations prevent people killing.

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