Planning for his next election campaign, Patrick Morrisey moves to secure the NRA vote
Despite the fact that Maryland’s gun law has no effect upon West Virginia, our Attorney General is leading a challenge to Maryland’s ban on military-style weapons. As the Baltimore Sun reports:
Led by West Virginia's attorney general, 21 states have joined a legal effort seeking to overturn Maryland's tough new gun control law.
The Maryland statute has no effect on gun laws in their states, but the attorneys general argue in an amicus brief filed this month that Maryland's law was written too broadly and violates the Second Amendment rights of their citizens.
"States must band together in times when they see citizens' rights being diminished or infringed upon," West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said in statement released when he filed the brief. "If the courts decide this law passes muster, it would undermine a core part of the Second Amendment."
On the other side, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence will also be filing a "friend of the court" brief. Jonathan E. Lowy, the director of its legal action project, says that this is really about political posturing:
"There's absolutely no interest for West Virginia to have more people in Maryland buying and possessing assault weapons," Lowry said. "There's no court decision that could say the people of West Virginia must have an assault weapons ban. That's not an issue. That's a political decision. There is just no legitimate reason for the attorney general of West Virginia to be fighting the gun lobby's fight."
What about the publicity and a future NRA endorsement for Morrisey’s next political campaign? No, Lowry is correct – there is no "legitimate" reason.
Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker asks "What's the Matter with West Virginia?"
Toobin discusses West Virginia's recent election, coal mining, and Don Blankenship in a look at some of the contradictions in our recent election:
To endorse coal is not necessarily to endorse the alleged perfidies of Don Blankenship. But it is true that the charges against Blankenship only came to light because he was so aggressive in fighting the regulations that Capito and other Republicans so despise.
It’s a good bet that a majority of the Massey miners, whose lives Blankenship may have placed in jeopardy and whom the federal bureaucrats were trying to protect, voted Republican. (In Raleigh County, where the Upper Big Branch mine is located, lt Capito got sixty-two per cent of the vote.) Fairly or not, white voters in West Virginia appear to regard the Democratic Party as an alien force—élitist, condescending, bureaucratic, out of touch, and perhaps, unduly diverse.
Mother Jones has an article that won't surprise anyone who has lived here very long: "29 Coal Miners Died in a 2010 Explosion. Congress Still Hasn't Fixed the Problem."
After discussing the Blankenship indictment, it notes:
In addition, Republicans capitalized on an electorate resentful of President Obama’s environmental policies, which have received little support in a state where coal mining has long played a big part in the economy and in politics. Even with an open race for the presidency in two years, it’s doubtful that any Democratic hopeful could sway a large number of voters in state contests.But the indictment also came as a sobering reminder: In the four years since the disaster, little has been done to make the mining industry safer. Legislation designed to rein in the worst offenders and give regulators teeth was beaten back by big business. Meanwhile, tens of millions of dollars in safety fines have gone uncollected.
Finally, today's New York Times tells us "Election Was Rough for Democrats. It Was Worse for West Virginia Democrats."
While the article does not offer what I would consider fresh insight, it does suggest how the national media see what happened in the state.
In addition, Republicans capitalized on an electorate resentful of President Obama’s environmental policies, which have received little support in a state where coal mining has long played a big part in the economy and in politics. Even with an open race for the presidency in two years, it’s doubtful that any Democratic hopeful could sway a large number of voters in state contests.
This morning’s paper had as its front page headline, "EPA Rules Prove Costly for Valley." Once again, an Intelligencer article tells us how recent EPA restrictions on coal-fired plants will cost the consumer more and more money:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's push for more restrictions on coal-fired power plants and the resulting shift to using more natural gas could cost local residents $750 to $850 more per year for energy use in 2020 compared to what they paid in 2012, a new study indicates.
A new study? Later in the article we find out that this study was funded by Peabody Energy. You might ask "who is Peabody Energy?" Peabody is the largest private-sector coal mining company in the world. According to its 2013 annual report, it produces fuel for about 10% of America’s electricity and around 2% of the world’s electricity. Should we be surprised that a study funded by the world’s largest coal company tells us that EPA rules and greater reliance on natural gas will cost the consumer? Is this study biased? Of course it is - this isn’t news, it’s coal company propaganda.
I checked to see if any other newspaper in the United States thought that this self-serving study could be considered "news" let alone something that deserved the largest headline on its front page. My Google results gave me the Wheeling Intelligencer and (appropriately) the PR Newswire. Yes, that’s what we got - public relations posing as real news. (And I doubt that we’ve seen the last of this study, it’s sure to be referenced by Myer and the editors in the upcoming months.)
In the last couple of years after reading similar pro-coal propaganda in the Wheeling "newspapers," I’ve considered (at least partly in jest) the possibility that the Nutting family doesn’t actually own and run these newspapers, they’re just fronts for the real owners from the coal industry who use it for propaganda purposes and for recruiting troops for the "war on coal." After "news" articles like this one, perhaps I need to take that thought a bit more seriously.
Update - November 22
Some additional information on Peabody Energy I found while researching yesterday’s blog post.
WWF Europe has filed a complaint for false advertising against Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal mining company, after the company began a campaign to promote the use of coal in developing countries, claiming that so-called "clean coal" technology could eradicate poverty.
WWF’s complaint alleges that Peabody's ad is in violation of the Jury d’Ethique Publicitaire code which require that require that "any publicity must be decent, honest and verifiable." "Peabody is marketing its dangerous technologies onto those poorest countries with the least development options," says Tony Long, the director of WWF European Policy Office.
From the Desmogblog last week:
Speculation is rife that the new GOP-led Senate will join with its similarly fossil fuel-beholden House colleagues to usher in a new era of coal. Peabody, the world’s largest privately held coal company, isn’t waiting around to find out.
The company has teamed with public relations firm Burson-Marsteller—the notorious PR giant that helped Big Tobacco attack and distort scientific evidence of the dangers of smoking tobacco—to launch Advanced Energy for Life, a desperate attempt to shift the discussion around coal away from its deleterious effects on health and massive contributions to climate change and instead posit the fossil fuel as a solution to global poverty.
Finally, from Ecowatch yesterday – the headline explains the extent to which Peabody will go for good publicity: "Big Coal Buys Facebook ‘Likes’ in Lame PR Stunt."
Update - November 23
Well, that didn't take long. From today's News-Register editorial:
As we reported Friday, a new analysis of Environmental Protection Agency plans estimates that by 2020, Americans on average will be paying 60 percent more than they did in 2012 for electricity and gas. Get out your utility bills and do the math.
Of course, there is no mention of who paid for the study. For Peabody and the paper, it's a win-win situation: Peabody gets its bogus message out there and the News-Register looks like it is actually quoting from a reliable study. The real loser is the reader who thinks that they are being provided with objective information.
Regular readers of the Intelligencer editorial page knew this one was coming once the votes on the Keystone pipeline were counted. Today, our local "newspaper" gives us two nearly evidence-free editorials attacking West Virginia's Senator Jay Rockefeller and Ohio's Sherrod Brown for voting against the pipeline.
The Rockefeller editorial asserts a number of points. The first is that building the pipeline would lessen our dependence upon foreign oil. Here, the editorial does reference Senator Manchin who believes that it would lessen this country's dependence on fuel from unreliable foreign sources. That would be true if the pipeline was meant for US domestic use. But as a number of sources have pointed out (this one is from Forbes magazine), the pipeline is meant for foreign sales - that’s why it goes all the way to the Gulf of Mexico:
The Keystone XL is designed to promote exports of Canadian tar sands oil and its refined products to non-U.S. markets, especially China and Latin America. China is now the largest foreign investor in Canada’s tar sands, representing 52 percent of all foreign investment since 2003.
The editorial also asserts that the pipeline would be good for consumers by lowering prices at the pump? As the Washington Post fact checker points out:
For all the claims about energy security, it’s important to remember that TransCanada has not claimed the pipeline would lower gasoline prices. "The price of international oil prices has no impact on the operation of our pipeline and we do not profit from changing market changes," TransCanada says in a fact sheet. "Prices are set on a global level." In other words, if oil prices spike because of unrest in the Middle East, the impact will still be felt in the United States.
Moreover, much of the oil that gets pumped through the pipeline might end up being refined into gasoline that, depending on market conditions, would be exported overseas.
The Forbes analysis takes the Washington Post even one step further – the pipeline may actually increase prices:
Ironically, the XL pipeline may increase gasoline prices for Americans and reduce national energy security – not bolster it, as promoters claim. (Note -- Forbes is a pro-business and not an environmental magazine.)
The editorial additionally argues that Senator Manchin believes that it "would create thousands of jobs." Okay, once the construction is done, how many of these jobs would be permanent? The State Department’s study of Keystone released earlier this year says "once the proposed Project enters service, operations would require an estimated 50 total employees: 35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors."
And what about the downside to pushing the dirtiest oil on the planet through America’s heartland? The editorial tells us without a shred of evidence that "exhaustive reviews to date have found no reason to worry about the pipeline for that reason." Really? Then how about quoting just one of those "exhaustive reviews"? For example, if you Google "summary of potential environmental harms + Keystone Pipeline" as I did you can find all kinds of "reason to worry about the pipeline" as I did. Here’s one from Ecowatch.com:
The State Department and independent experts have already determined that the Keystone XL will vastly increase tar sands development in Alberta, Canada. Acclaimed climate scientist Dr. James Hansen has said Keystone would be "game over" for avoiding catastrophic climate change.
"Keystone XL will transport nearly a billion barrels of highly toxic tar sands oil through America’s heartland each and every day for 50 years or more—only to have much of it refined and exported," said Bill Snape, senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Along the way it will crush some of the last habitat for endangered species like the swift fox and whooping crane. It’ll pollute water used by millions of people and emit as many greenhouse gases as 51 coal-fired power plants."
Last year the Center for Biological Diversity released a report on the risks posed to endangered species by Keystone XL and a video highlighting the dangers of oil pipelines—a key point given the State Department’s estimate that the 1,700 Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline will spill at least 100 times during its lifetime.
Below the editorial attacking Rockefeller for his vote against the pipeline is a shorter editorial attacking Democratic Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown for a similar vote. It is also has the usual assertions and name-calling. Here’s the first sentence:
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, stuck with his fellow ultra-liberals Tuesday, in voting against a measure to allow construction of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
According to our "newspaper" there are 41 "ultraliberals" in the Senate. 41 of them? Who knew? Where have they been hiding?
Finally, from the first editorial we find out what the problem was:
But on Tuesday, the bill lost in a procedural vote in the Senate. Sixty votes were needed for it to advance; the final tally was 59-41. So though an overwhelming majority of senators want the pipeline, 41 lawmakers were able to block it.
Let’s see, for the past four years a Republican minority in the Senate has blocked nearly all legislation and Presidential appointments using that very tactic. And now the ultra-liberals are using the same tactic. How dare they! Don't they it's only acceptable when Republicans do it.
WV Senator Joe Manchin has been very busy lately. If you watch television news or read about what’s happening in Washington, you may have seen pictures of him yesterday with Senator Heidi Heitcamp supposedly trying to save fellow Democratic senator Mary Landrieu’s job by voting with the Republicans in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline. (I don’t think that’s only reason they voted that way.)
Yesterday’s local paper had yet another editorial praising him – this time for not supporting their #2 most-evil-person-in-the-world, Harry Reid, for Minority Leader. The editorial did not mention, however, Joe’s co-authored op-ed piece for Monday’s Wall Street Journal. The piece, "The Fed Needs Governors Who Aren’t Wall Street Insiders (With two vacancies to fill, Obama should pick nominees who will look out for Main Street, not the big banks)" says what the long title indicates:
. . . the Federal Reserve—our first line of defense against another financial crisis—seems more worried about protecting Wall Street than protecting Main Street. Fortunately, this is one problem the Obama administration can start fixing today by nominating the right people to fill the two vacancies on the Fed’s Board of Governors.
And while the piece is probably a bit too populist for their liking, my hunch is that our local editors ignored it because the co-author is Elizabeth Warren, currently #3 on the Intelligencer’s most-hated-person list. Hmmm. For most of the year, almost any mention of Natalie Tennant in the Intelligencer meant that you could bet that she would immediately be connected to all those "ultra-liberals" - Obama, Reid and Warren. This week, Manchin co-authors a WSJ piece with Warren and not a single word is written -- he gets his usual free pass. Not too hypocritical.
As I suggested, Joe has been keeping busy. The Hill reports that Democrat Manchin will soon be giving up his position on the Senate Banking Committee so that newly-elected Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito can take his place and keep those big bucks from the big banks flowing her way. It’s not hard to see this as yet another indicator that Joe will soon be switching parties.
My last post dealt with The News-Register’s sit-down series and mentioned Don Blankenship and his $3 million contribution to Brent Benjamin’s campaign. Mother Jones is out with an excellent investigative report on how the problem is getting worse: "How Dark Money Is Taking Over Judicial Elections" In the article, Blankenship and Benjamin are discussed under "The Best Ruling Money Can Buy."
From In These Times, another story on the Blankenship indictment. I thought the title said a lot about our culture’s priorities in the big scheme of things: "Charges for Coal CEO: 6 Years for Worker Deaths, Up to 25 for Deceiving Investors."
Finally, a diarist over at Daily Kos attempts to tackle the difficult political question of how Democrats in states like West Virginia can or cannot deal with issues surrounding climate change. The diary also includes a video from the last election on West Virginia and the politics of coal.
From time to time, the Sunday News-Register gives us an extended interview with a newsmaker in something called "Sunday Sit-Down." These interviews have two things in common: the newsmaker is one whose message the "newspaper" almost always agrees with, and consequently, the interviewed is never asked even a semi-tough question. A recent list of those interviewed include: local university presidents, Catholic Schools Superintendent Vince Schmidt and Senator Joe Manchin. (The only person interviewed in the last year that surprised me was Rodney Bartgis from the Nature Conservancy. Even so, the published interview, with the exception of one edited answer, avoided the issue of climate change.) In these interviews, the questions that are asked usually resemble softballs although occasionally something about the size of a watermelon is also tossed.
My "favorite" sit-down interview was with WV Supreme Court of Appeals Judge Brent Benjamin in March 2013. Benjamin was first elected in 2004 when his candidacy was the beneficiary of Massey Coal’s Don Blankenship’s $3 million dollars campaign contribution aimed at defeating his opponent, Warren McGraw. Not surprisingly, Benjamin would later be in the 2-1 majority that reversed an earlier large financial judgment against Massey. (The U.S. Supreme Court would later reverse the decision and Justice Kennedy would label this conflict of interest "extreme.") Yes, this could have formed the basis for a number of excellent questions in the interview but it didn’t happen. Instead, we got just the opposite. For example, Benjamin answers the question: What about the public's perception of the court?
Benjamin: I think there was a concern for a long time that it mattered, in many cases, who was in front of the court rather than what their case was when it came to their case being adjudicated. Now people have seen that judges decide cases on a case-by-case basis, they apply the law, there's a lot more stability and predictability in how we decide cases, we use precedent.
Wouldn’t that have been an excellent moment to ask Benjamin about his vote in the Blankenship case? Of course it would have been if the paper was trying to inform the public instead of just giving Benjamin a public forum and some publicity.
The pattern continues with today’s interview of State Republican Chairman Robin Lucas – he’s a friendly source and so he gets softball questions and no follow-ups on any of his assertions. An example:
Has anyone done a spending breakdown on the legislative races? Were Republicans outspent, or vice versa? Or was spending fairly even?
Lucas: We're always outspent. We're used to that. There are a few different ways to look at it. You have to look at the candidates themselves, the parties, and then the outside groups that have already disclosed and the outside groups that haven't.
Lucas later hedges what he has asserted but is not pressed on any of it. I checked (something the interviewer could also have done) and the WV state legislative spending numbers are still incomplete. If the numbers aren’t out there, how would Lucas know what the Democrats and Republicans spent on local elections? This question wasn’t meant to elicit a real answer; it was asked to allow Lucas an opportunity to assert anything he pleased – in this case, how Republicans triumphed even though they were "outspent" by the Democrats.
Here’s a final thought for the News-Register. Why don’t you invite the Chairman of the Democratic Party for a Sunday Sit-Down about this election and toss him some softballs? I’m sure I’m not the only one who would be interested.
Get out your Friday Intelligencer and compare how it covered the federal indictment of Don Blankenship with the screenshot of this morning's Charleston Gazette below.
Notice the differences:
The Gazette featured two locally-written, long articles prominently placed in the upper-half of the front page. One article is about the indictment and another is on the reaction of some of the survivors of those who died in the mine. (Both are continued on different pages.) Not pictured but also on page 7 is a detailed timeline of the important events.
The Intelligencer: It featured a teaser headline above the masthead that required that you turn to page 3 in order to read a short AP summary of the indictment. (The Festival of Lights was the big story for the day!)
Back when Blankenship was head of Massey Energy, his views were regularly featured on the front page of Wheeling "newspapers" (not unlike Robert Murray of Murray Energy is today). And similar to Murray, Blankeship was never criticized. And now that a federal grand jury has indicted him, he's shuffled off to page 3. Who knows? Maybe his defense will be that his indictment is just another part of Obama's "war on coal" in which case he'll be back on the front page again.
Cartoon by John Jonik (see more at http://jonikcartoons.blogspot.com/)
What about Democratic Party candidates in coal states actually doing something beyond parroting the Republicans?
From blogger Willnois from Daily Kos:
Democrats have two choices:
1) Run candidates who make unconvincing appeals that they're just as pro-coal as the Republican and continue losing year after year while never changing the conventional wisdom.
2) Talk about creating new energy economies in a way that builds support to win next time.
Political parties don't like to think beyond the next upcoming election, but it's going to take a long term strategy for Democrats to regain ground in post-coal country. Running on a new message may not work right away, but hey, the pro-coal Democrat is going to lose anyway. You might as well build for the future by honestly telling people we have to attract new energy jobs because the old coal jobs are never coming back .
It's only a matter of how long it takes party leaders to accept that fossil fuel Democrats aren't coming back either.
And yesterday's Charleston Gazette carried this op-ed piece from Jim Lees:
So in light of the recent election results, I ask a very simple question. What was the philosophy of the State Democrat Party that was the heart and soul of its persuasion strategy over the past 10 years? What were the opinions and biases the Democrat Party wished the people ofWest Virginia would form?
There was no philosophy. The thoughts and opinions of the West Virginia electorate are today a reflection of a well-executed Republican persuasion strategy boosted by Democratic candidates who in their zeal to win ran campaigns that simply chased the polls and boosted the Republican message. And because this vacuum of leadership failed to articulate a philosophy through a well-executed persuasion plan, November 4, 2014, became the date of death for the West Virginia Democrat Party.
And Joe Manchin still plans to play nice with the Republicans
As Talking Points Memo notes, Joe Manchin appears to be edging closer to the Republican Party:
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) made it clear in an interview published Monday that he has no plans to support Democrats who want to take a page out of the GOP playbook by obstructing the new Republican majority.
"That's bullshi—…. I'm not going to put up with that," Manchin told Politico when discussing the prospect of Democrats blocking the Republican agenda over the next two years.
Of course not, Joe. And here's a much more cynical take from Charlie Pierce:
So, naturally, the kidz went in search of the party's "centrist" intelligentsia because the most important thing in Washington now is to find enough Democrats who will go along with Republican ideas so everybody can "get along" and "gridlock" will end and the dinner parties and cocktail hours won't be so uncomfortable. So, come on down, Joe Manchin (D-Anthracite), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-GunsNAmmo), the maitre d's of the Appomattox Bar And Grille.
What's the future of health care in West Virginia?
Finally, there’s the future of health care in America and more specifically, West Virginia. It's still not certain but there appears to be some hope that it will survive in something close to its present form on the national level. (That is, if it survives the Supreme Court’s next decision on it.) I haven’t found much speculation on what might happen in West Virginia given the Republican takeover of both chambers. One diary-writer at dailykos.com does write:
West Virginia, too, seems to be putting Medicaid repeal on the back burner. Probably soon-to-be Republican state House Speaker Tim Armstead doesn't include Medicaid in this list of priorities which include "education reform, legal reform, infrastructure and tax and budget issues." Of course, it could sneak in on that "budget issues" line, but since for now the federal government is picking up 100 percent of the tab, it would be a hard case to make. Particularly since more than 150,000 West Virginians are now insured because of it.
Myer gets this one right
Regular readers of this blog are probably stunned that I would agree with any Michael Myer’s column. Myer, in his Saturday column, argues that WV’s political spending law is being ignored. Surprisingly, he support all of his points and the column is balanced and free of any name-calling or guilt-by-associations. Myer writes:
After all, knowing that "X" group spent money in a race involving "A" candidate is of limited use without being told whether the funds were spent to support or oppose the person.
That's how much of the independent expenditure information on West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant's website is presented, with dollar amounts and candidates' names but without notes on support or opposition. You may have thought as I did that there ought to be a law requiring organizations to report whether they supported or opposed specific candidates.
There is. It just wasn't being observed until a few days before the election Tuesday.
The good news is that the law was being ignored in bipartisan fashion. Neither groups supporting Democrats nor those backing Republicans were being required to comply.
I’ve spent some time on the site and Myer's description is accurate. He's right and I agree - candidates need to follow the law.