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December 2, 2014

ferguson: people used to be only awful in the shadows

I think I may have said this before, and I'm sure we're all sick to the bone of reading things about Ferguson, Missouri, but there is one aspect of this contretemps that is utterly baffling to me: how is it that there are two sides to this?

Believe it or not, this is prompted by the players at the St. Louis Rams game, coming out to the field all hands-up-don't-shoot, and then some local police union losing every last bit of their shit over it.  Clearly there is some sort of disagreement that falls on two sides, with the Rams players on the one side and the cops on the other, but there is a certain squishiness in defining the two sides that's giving me pause.

First, you have the hands-up side, which is pretty easy to parse.  Mike Brown was killed by cop Darren Wilson in what can most charitably described as murky circumstances.  Brown was unarmed and, some allege, surrendering.  The District Attorney of St. Louis County went well out of his way to sway the grand jury to pass on an indictment, and members of the community, and people in general, are sick of brazen abuse from the constabulary.  The majority of the protests are good ol' non-violent protests, though a bit of the old riot has flared up here and there.  But the goals are obvious and overt: justice for Mike Brown, and reform the cops.

And then there is the other side, which is both inchoate and dug-in.  What do they stand for?  I mean, I guess they're pro-cop?  There's been all sorts of fundraising for Wilson, so in some sense?  But, like, are they supporting just the idea of Cops, or are they supporting wanton and unwarranted use of force?  Or, and I don't mean to slippery-slope it here, are they specifically supporting the murder of Mike Brown?  After all, no small amount of ink has been spilled to remind us that Brown smoked pot and may have robbed a convenience store and was (gasp) black.  Is that what these supporters are supporting?  It's hard to argue against it.

And that's the problem: they don't stand for nothing.  They are purely reactive, and they will kneejerk oppose anything that the hands-up side supports.  What we have is a side, a movement, that exists only to oppose a group of people with a well-defined purpose.

And that is what makes it hard not to impugn the motives of the police union in St. Louis and the like-minded.  They oppose any gesture of sympathy for a murdered kid, solely because the kid was black and from a lower socioeconomic class.

I guess what's keeping me up at night is I would love to have a reason not to believe these people utter fucking monsters, just a hair's width short of the Klan.  But I don't.  And I'm waiting.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:41 AM

December 1, 2014

don blankenship being indicted is a start

I'm by no means as up to date on the state of the coal industry as I should be, considering that I am a son of the proud state of West Virginia, but I am watching with interest the slow downfall of Don Blankenship.  Blankenship was the head of what was then known as Massey Energy back in 2010, when an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine killed 29 miners.

Blankenship was notorious as a stereotypical coal boss — union busting, safety rules skirting, that sort of thing.  And this is no Amazon warehouse, either.  With mining, when employees are largely abused and misused, they're not going home because they pulled a hamstring or threw their back out.  They're going home because they have black lung and months to live.  So as the dude responsible for this mistreatment (let alone the slow destruction of pretty much every holler in WV).  He's also infamous for bankrolling the campaign of a state judge, who would go on to win the seat and then rule favorably for Blankenship.  He's just an unrelentingly dirty guy (more background here).

But for once Blankenship isn't skating, as he has been indicted on four counts in connection with his actions at Massey.  None of the charges are related directly to the Upper Big Branch explosion (i.e., he's not indicted for any sort of murder charge, as he is most surely guilty of), but rather for ignoring safety standards in general, lying to the Feds about it, that sort of thing.  So this is a good thing.

And here's a fun personal detail on Blankenship from the piece linked above (emphasis mine):

Although Mr. Blankenship now lives in Las Vegas, his primary residence was once in Mingo County, where he grew up and built a mansion with a helipad in one of West Virginia's poorest communities. He piped in clean drinking water to his home even as neighbors sued Massey for poisoning the local wells.

Blankenship is one Dickensian piece of work, and I hope he does a good stretch of time.

And remember, which execs like Blankenship complain that regulations are stifling their business, what they mean to say is how are they supposed to make money if they can't cause the deaths of employees every so often?

Posted by mrbrent at 11:08 AM