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Column: A case of murder in the workplace

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AUSTIN, Texas -- A mass murder has taken place in an American workplace, taking 29 lives. The authorities know who did it, so shouldn't that person be made to pay for this heinous crime?

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Yes! But the killer is one of America's largest coal corporations, Massey Energy Company, and you can't give the death penalty to a corporation. Can you? Well, the Supreme Court has ruled that a corporation is a "person," so why not?

Massey -- headed by its right-wing multimillionaire CEO, Don Blankenship -- has spent millions of dollars on lobbyists and lawmakers to fend off any effective regulations to protect mine workers. By using its political clout to muzzle the federal watchdog, Massey has been able to flaunt the law. Last year, it had nearly 500 safety violations in just one of its mines, including life-threatening violations. Its punishment? Fines totaling a mere $168,000 -- chump change to an outfit with $56 million in profits last year.

Blankenship blithely says, "We don't pay much attention to the violation count." On April 5, federal inspectors added two more violations to the tally of dangerous indifference at the corporation's Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. The honchos just shrugged. That afternoon, Upper Big Branch exploded, killing 29 miners

Blankenship expressed his compassion by saying, "Violations are unfortunately a normal part of the mining process."

Normal? Nonsense! Other major mining nations provide effective regulatory protections to assure that such deaths are abnormal. By putting its profits over human life, America's coal industry is killing people, passing it off as a "cost of doing business." Shouldn't these profiteers pay more than a fine?

One watchdog group is calling for the immediate arrest of Blankenship for homicide. For information go to StopTheChamber.com.

Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He's also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.

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