"Harlan County, USA" stays in my mind, and floats up to the top when I read about a new mining accident in West Virginia such as happened yesterday. According to news sources, "...the country’s highest-paid coal executive, Blankenship is a villain ripped straight from the comic books: a jowly, mustache-sporting, union-busting coal baron who uses his fortune to bend politics to his will. He recently financed a $3.5 million campaign to oust a state Supreme Court justice who frequently ruled against his company, and he hung out on the French Riviera with another judge who was weighing an appeal by Massey. 'Don Blankenship would actually be less powerful if he were in elected office,' Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia once observed. 'He would be twice as accountable and half as feared.'"
I realize it's not a matter of physics that mine owners tend to be cut from this same cloth, no matter the decade. There was also a mine disaster last week in China, and I'm sure the mine there was run by the gubment (which also according to reports has managed to rescue over one hundred trapped miners). Mining is a tough, dangerous business, and people are going to die in mines as long as there are mines.
That fact becomes very easy to translate, as Doris Lessing did with her gold mine owner in South Africa, into "You have to break some eggs to make an omlet." A lot of the problem comes with Olympian distance, no matter the individual character of the person involved. And the kabuki dance of death seems essential, tragically, in the service of "getting something done." The boy with his brains splattered on the roadside, in "Harlan County," becomes the final necessary ingredient in a resolution of the strike, gasping his last breaths on the gurney, another Jesus to save the rest of us. Or is it the murdered Jock Yablonski who turns the trick? "Harlan County" pulls no punches. Mr. Miller is eventually snookered by Duke Power, the lawyers, and the persistent fear that a real coal strike would be a threat to national security. And if you think that's all quaint history from our hippie past, I offer you the Iraq War, where Olympian perspective came into general view yesterday with a finally released video of our soldiers mowing down some civilians on a street-corner in Baghdad. Because of course the only thing that really ever made sense about the Iraq War was the fact that Iraq sits astride the world's oil supply.
There are no easy answers. There remains a truth, however. Without laws (and love), there is only power, and power's largesse. Laws (and love) are the exact place where will stands against power. The founders of the United States reached back farther--to "Natural Law." While one might wish for a Platonic universe, the step to Natural Law is in truth a bridge too far. This is why Robert Creeley's little poem also stays in my mind. "Drive," he said. Fr Christ's sake, watch where yr going."
Update (and thanks to Digby for this link): the head of the coal company in WV is actually politically active in right wing circles. Here's some stuff about him, including speeches he's given.
As Digby remarks, the next move for the right wing defense is to berate the government for not making Blankenship follow the rules.