Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mining Disaster- an American Tale

It all started when 33 miners were trapped one half mile below the desert surface south of Phoenix, Arizona.  The copper mine where they worked was in a hill composed of dense rock. The miners, five of whom were women and six of whom were African-American were employees of the Arizona Mining Company, one of the largest copper mining concerns in the world.  The country was stunned by the plight of these miners and the cable news services provided non-stop coverage of the event.  President Obama took time to address the nation about the tragedy.  He spoke from the White House Rose Garden about the bravery of the miners and their families and was about to ask for everyone to pray for them, and to urge Congress to appropriate $10 million for the recovery effort and to compensate the miners and their families.   Unfortunately, the presidential teleprompter malfunctioned so the President had to cut his comments about five minutes short.  The noise of the presidential helicopter soon drowned out the proceedings, as the President and his family were whisked away to Andrews Air Force base, where they boarded their flight for a vacation in the south of France.  Soon thereafter, Speaker Pelosi introduced legislation to appropriate the $10 million.  It passed the House and made its way to the Senate, where debate over the measure was intense.  Many Republicans argued that the portion of the bill designed to provide support to the miners and their families was simply another unnecessary government bailout.  They instead moved to cap the liability of the Arizona Mining Company in this situation.  As a result, each miner could sue to recover no more than $5,000 in damages. 

During the debate, TV commentators opined about the maneuvering in Congress.  Pat Robertson said that the mine disaster was God’s retribution for the recent federal court action that ruled “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” unconstitutional.  Glenn Beck decried the notion that the government would involve itself at all in what was essentially a private sector matter.  He urged Christian churches to open their pocketbooks to assist the miners and their families, and urged members of Congress to defeat the aid bill.  Ed Shultz, on CNBC, was outraged that the government wasn’t doing more. He urged that $20 million be appropriated with no liability cap.  He also interviewed both Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who accused the Senators who did not support the bill of being racist, given that some of the miners were African American.  Similarly, Rachel Maddow interviewed attorney Gloria Allred who, on behalf of the female miners, accused the recalcitrant Senators of sexism.  On the O’Reilly show, Maricopa County (AZ) Sheriff Joe Arpaio said that he had reviewed the employment records of the miners and found that two of them may be in the country illegally.  He announced that he would station two of his deputies at the mining site these undocumented workers should they be rescued.  Sharron Angle, Republican candidate for senate in AZ, announced that several Caucasian miners, who were also employed by Arizona Mining, had been found beheaded in the desert.  She urged all Americans to pray that this would not happened to any of the miners now entombed below ground, although she would not address reporters’ questions about whether she was saying that the allegedly illegal immigrant miners posed a threat to their colleagues.

Tea Party members demonstrated night and day in front of the Capital with signs saying “Another Obama Bailout” and “No more deficit spending, even for miners” and “No government funds for Health Care for Miners.”  An elderly couple had to be rushed to the hospital when their oxygen concentrators shorted out in the rain.  Another demonstrator was seriously injured when his electric scooter tipped over.  HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that her department would do all it could to expedite payment for new medical equipment for these brave Americans.
After two weeks of debate the Senate was poised to vote on a $4 million appropriation to help rescue the miners and support their families.  The Administration signaled that it was happy with this bipartisan compromise. Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) ultimately filibustered the bill and it died. No money was to be forthcoming from the government.  

The Arizona Mining Company had worked feverishly to drill a hole into the stone to enable it to regain contact with its workers.  Everyone was elated when the drill broke through and contact was again made with the miners.  Seemingly in good spirits, the miners asked for some of their favorite food to be sent down.  Thirty three Big Macs and supersized fries and cokes were carefully delivered down the new shaft and the miners were heard cheering to celebrate the arrival of food.  The McDonald’s crporation offered to provide an unlimited supply of it menu to be delivered to the miners every day. 

Mining company officials began to drill a two foot in diameter shaft that would enable them to send  a rescue capsule to bring each of the miners up one-by-one.  After two months of drilling, the new shaft was complete.  The capsule was introduced to the public at a news conference held by Harry Pennington, CEO of Arizona mining.  The rescue vehicle was about six feet long with a diameter of just less than two feet.  After the unveiling, the capsule was lowered in a test run, where all seemed to go well. 

After about a day, Mr. Pennington announced that there were some major technical difficulties with the plan.  Apparently, only about 13 of the miners would fit into the capsule because of its limited size.  He said that his company would do all it could try to address the issue. Unfortunately, it would not be possible to increase the size of the new shaft without endangering the integrity of the shaft itself.  The unionized miners, in a show of solidarity, said that none of them would return to the surface unless all of them could. 

Today, the New York Daily News announced in its headline “Game Over for Dead Miners.” President Obama, at a photo op with Hamid Karzai, expressed his sympathy to the families and announced that violence on the ground had been reduced in Afghanistan.  He also declared that, in its pursuit of Afghani peace, America shows itself again to be the greatest country in the world.  He ended by saying “God Bless America.”

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