Evil Murdery Coal CEO Says He's A 'Political Prisoner,' Amnesty International Oddly Uninterested
Don Blankenship at a -- get this -- Labor Day event.
Looks like Dinesh D'Souza finally has some company for his "Political Prisoners of Barack Obama" support group. Don Blankenship, the grotesque caricature of a 19th century robber baron stuffed into the ill-fitting suit of a modern coal company CEO, has written a passionate pamphlet proclaiming himself an "American Political Prisoner," in which he explains his conviction last year on a misdemeanor conspiracy charge was the result of an evil liberal vendetta against capitalism in general, and coal in particular. Blankenship, you may recall, is the slimy former CEO of Massey Energy, owners and operators of the Upper Branch Mine in West Virginia, where a 2010 coal dust explosion killed 29 miners. Well damn it, Blankenship is not going to passively live out the rest of his life in the Gulag, so he's mailing 250,000 copies of his 67-page booklet to proclaim his innocence to the world! Actually, he wasn't going to live out the rest of his life in the Gulag anyway -- he was sentenced to one year in prison, and will probably be out before some of his supporters finish sounding out all the words in his manifesto.
A year for Blankenship on a misdemeanor, and eight months in overnight jail (plus five years probation) for D'Souza for election fraud. It's almost as if America is really crappy at doing the whole political prisoner thing. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn these guys are not.
Investigations of the Upper Big Branch (UBB) disaster found that “failures of basic safety systems,” inadequate ventilation, and poor maintenance of safety equipment led to the deadly coal dust explosion. In Blankenship’s trial, prosecutors argued:
[H]is leadership had laid the groundwork for a catastrophe. There was not necessarily a formal conspiracy, prosecutors acknowledged, but they said that Mr. Blankenship’s example and tone had set Massey on a course that put profits ahead of lives.
Prosecutors portrayed Blankenship as a very hands-on manager who regularly pushed production and profits over safety, resulting in “thousands of safety citations” at Massey while treating safety as a secondary concern. In one 2008 document, he wrote to a Massey executive, "We’ll worry about ventilation or other issues at an appropriate time. Now is not the time." Oh, and as Think Progress notes, he was also relentlessly anti-union. Like you couldn't have guessed.
Ultimately, a federal jury found Blankenship not guilty on two felony charges (securities fraud and lying to federal investigators) that could have put him away for up to 30 years, and guilty on the much lesser misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate federal mine safety regulations. Thus the one year trip to the Gulag -- or actually, to a minimum-security prison in Taft, California, one of the privately operated prisons set to close when the Department of Justice stops contracting with private prisons. He'll presumably spend the rest of his sentence in another federal prison, where the tennis courts may not even be properly surfaced.
Now, as Blankenship sees it, he was persecuted by a corrupt federal government determined to crush one of America's most effective spokesmen for coal, for mine safety, and for free enterprise. Also, he insists every single investigation by state and federal agencies was wrong, and that the explosion at UBB was caused by a freak inflow of natural gas into the mine, not coal dust, and that no safety equipment could possibly have prevented it. It's pretty much the same garbage he floated in a 2014 "documentary" film he commissioned, subtly titled Upper Big Branch -- Never Again , because poor Don Blankenship and the coal industry were Holocausted by the federal government and by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
We've only skimmed the booklet ( available online as a PDF ), but it doesn't seem like it's anything more than a verbose version of this genuinely astonishing interview Blankenship gave in 2014 to Chris Hayes, who seemed simultaneously flabbergasted and slightly awestruck at how slippery Blankenship is, as we said at the time:
Blankenship is a wonder to watch. Here’s an amoral bastard who is so dedicated to vindicating himself and his industry that he singlemindedly meets every question with a preprogrammed talking point or a pitch for one of his Coal-Is-Great websites -- at one point, MSNBC host Chris Hayes can’t stop from giggling at Blankenship’s devotion to getting that URL out there, no matter what.
Prepare to be astonished at this bastard's chootspah:
So, go look at the booklet if you want a nice piece of corporate bullshit propaganda dressed up in enough red, white, blue, and purple prose to convince true believers that Don Blankenship is a noble victim of corrupt politics, silenced for being politically incorrect. Or take a moment to ponder whether Blankenship will be out of prison in time to be appointed Donald Trump's Secretary of the Interior, to oversee the dismantling of that cabinet department and its replacement with the Department of Coal.