Black Lung Returns To Coal Country

This investigation by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity on the issue of black lung shows – once again – that industry can’t be trusted to police itself.  Workers are not being protected.  The coal industry has gamed the system through the exploitation of loopholes, as well as downright fraud.  Regulators are not doing their jobs, either; the analysis in this story shows that they have known for more than 20 years that miners are breathing excessive amounts of coal dust.

From the series:

From the very beginning, miners reported “irregularities” in controlling coal mine dust, says Donald Rasmussen, 84, a pulmonologist in Beckley, W.Va. Rasmussen says he’s tested 40,000 coal miners for black lung in the last 50 years.

“So many miners will say, ‘If you think the dust is controlled you’re crazy,’ ” he says.

Measuring coal mine dust is key to preventing overexposure. Excess dust can trigger citations, fines and even slowdowns in coal production. Mining companies enforce their own compliance by taking and reporting mine dust samples. Federal mine inspectors also test for excessive dust.

Donald Rasmussen, 84, a pulmonologist in Beckley, W.Va., says he has tested 40,000 coal miners in the last 50 years.

But NPR and CPI have found widespread and persistent gaming of the system designed to measure and control exposure.

Richard Allen, a federal mine inspector underground when the 1969 law first took effect, says he remembers a strange question from a Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) investigator about a carpet’s color in a coal mine manager’s office.

“It was blue and [MSHA was finding] little blue fibers in each [mine dust] sample,” Allen says. “[Investigators] cross-referenced the fibers in these samples to that carpet and found that he was sampling in his office” and not deep inside the mine.

The mine manager was later convicted of defrauding the mine safety agency and served time in prison.

Federal records obtained by CPI and NPR describe 103 cases resulting in criminal convictions for fraudulent dust sampling from 1980 through 2002. Fines totaled $2.2 million, and some mining company officials went to jail.

In 1991, the Labor Department levied civil fines of more than $6.5 million against about 500 coal mines for tampering with mine dust samples.

Listen to the series or read the transcript here.

How Will the Citizens United Decision Affect Sustainable Business?

US Supreme Court
Photo by dbking
This is a very good article, full of links and references, covering not only the Citizens United case but also the issue of corporate personhood. I’m somewhat surprised at the reaction to the court’s decision in this case. As noted in this article, the US Supreme Court has previously established that corporations are persons in the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad decision of 1886 (yes, I know that there are disagreements about the implications of that decision, and I don’t like it, either). As a result, no one should be surprised that they have been afforded the protections of the Constitution. What we really need to be doing is to be rethinking the whole corporate personhood model.

Read the article here.

Excerpt:
News outlets and the blogosphere are abuzz with reactions to Thursday’s Supreme Court decision that will allow corporations to fund political campaigns. The ruling, which overturns decades of legal precedent and legislation limiting the ability of corporations to influence the outcome of elections, may have broad implications for the political process in the U.S. News of the decision has drawn criticism from both the right and the left, many voicing the opinion that dramatically increased rights for corporations will significantly diminish the ability for individual citizens to have their voices heard.

Read more…

You may also find this article of mine to be of interest: “Capital” Punishment: For Corporations That Violate the Public Trust

What Iceberg? Just Glide to the Next Boardroom

Read the article here.
Excerpt:

You might think that board members overseeing businesses that cratered in the credit crisis would be disqualified from serving as directors at other public companies.

You would, however, be wrong.

Directors who were supposedly minding the store as disaster struck at companies like Countrywide Financial, Washington Mutual or Fannie Mae have not all been banished from other boardrooms. In many cases, directors just seem to skate away from company woes that occurred on their watch.

To some investors, this is an example of the refusal of those involved in the debacle to accept responsibility for it. Whether you are talking about top executives loading up on leverage, regulators who slept while companies took on titanic risks or mortgage lenders that made thousands of dubious loans, few in this crowd have acknowledged culpability. Taxpayers and shareholders, meanwhile, who had nothing to do with the problems, are left holding the bag.

Read more…

Worse Than Enron?

Here we go again… Read the article here.
Excerpt:

Enron was the financial scandal that kicked off the decade: a giant energy trading company that appeared to be doing brilliantly—until we finally noticed that it wasn’t. It’s largely been forgotten given the wreckage that followed, and that’s too bad: we may be repeating those mistakes, on a far larger scale.

Specifically, as the largest Wall Street banks return to profitability—in some cases, breaking records—they say everything is rosy. They’re lining up to pay back their TARP money and asking Washington to back off. But why are they doing so well? Remember that Enron got away with their illegalities so long because their financials were so complicated that not even the analysts paid to monitor the Houston-based trading giant could cogently explain how they were making so much money.

After two weeks sifting through over one thousand pages of SEC filings for the largest banks, I have the same concerns. While Washington ponders what to do, or not do, about reforming Wall Street, the nation’s biggest banks, plumped up on government capital and risk-infused trading profits, have been moving stuff around their balance sheets like a multi-billion dollar musical chairs game.

Read more…

House Approves Tougher Rules on Wall Street

This is progress, but not near enough. Read the article here.
Excerpt:

After three days of floor debate, the House voted 223 to 202 to approve the measure. It would create an agency to protect consumers from abusive lending practices, set rules for the trading of some of the sophisticated financial instruments that fueled the crisis, and take steps to reduce the threat that the failure of one or two huge banks or investment firms could topple the entire economy.
[…]
The approval of the bill is the most significant step lawmakers have taken to confront the financial crisis since the $700 billion bailout package was rammed through Congress at the peak of the emergency more than a year ago. The bill represents an attempt to address comprehensively what many of its supporters have called the underlying causes of the collapse — reckless risk-taking unrestrained by regulation.

Read more…