Earth Justice recently released this ten minute video about the incredible damage the dumping of coal ash into the environment is doing to the most northern tip of the West Virginia Panhandle. The video interviews two families from West Virginia and Pennsylvania about what is happening there. As Theresa in the video says: "It’s very disturbing."
Of course we could contact Congressman David McKinley about this but I don’t think it will help - here’s a press release from the congressman’s office dated June 18 of this year:
Washington, D.C.—This morning, Rep. David B. McKinley, P.E. (R-WV), was presented with the Champion of Coal Ash Award for his work in Congress to protect and promote the use of coal ash and stop the EPA from labeling it as a hazardous material.
McKinley has also done very well this election cycle with contributions from the coal industry. So far this campaign he has received $116,000 from the coal which ranks him second in the House.
Update – As I was putting this post together, Earth Justice reported that the "White House Begins Review of First-Ever Coal Ash Rule":
Washington, D.C — The White House Office of Management and Budget has begun its review of the first-ever federal rule for the storage and disposal of toxic coal ash. This is an important step towards ensuring the EPA meets its court-ordered deadline of December 19 to finalize much needed protections.
I'm sure both McKinley and the Intelligencer will have something to say about this within the next day or two. And given the choice of coming to the aid of either his constituents or the coal industry, which do you think he'll choose?
Giving up any pretense of being anything but a Republican propaganda rag
With a column by Michael Myer and a news report by Ian Hicks, yesterday's Intelligencer suggests that they've clearly abandoned the standards of objectivity and fairness.
Meyer tells us in his title that "Mudslinging Serves No Purpose." His first criticism is of Glenn Gainer's campaign which, according to Myer, has recently been slinging the mud. Myer does not provide us with any details and I couldn't find anything in a Google search of Gainer or McKinley. I guess we are just supposed to take Myer's word for it that Gainer is mudslinging.
Just a thought -- isn't calling someone a mudslinger without providing any details a form of mudslinging? Yeah, it’s a form of name-calling - one of Myer’s favorite methods of arguing. For example, I would think that calling someone an "ultra-liberal" or "radical environmentalist" as he often does without providing any evidence certainly qualifies as mudslinging (given his intended audience). Myer’s other argumentative method is guilt by association. Just look at his recent columns and see how many times he tries to connect Natalie Tennant to President Obama and Harry Reid. He does not deal with what Tennant says because she is saying the same thing as Capito on most issues. Whenever she says what Capito says, Myer calls Tennant a liar and then once again connects her to Obama and Reid knowing the Obama-haters and the war-on-coal troops will respond appropriately. Okay Michael Myer, tell us again how "mudslinging serves no purpose."
Myer also tells us that:
Gainer has no chance of winning. By most accounts, he has not campaigned much in critical areas of the first District.
He hasn't campaigned? Really? How would Myer know since the Intelligencer has totally ignored his campaign. (The last time I checked the Intelligencer Derby, his opponent had four times more coverage than he had and most of Gainer’s coverage came in just one article early in the campaign.) A friend of mine has also let me know how frustrated a Gainer campaign worker she knows has been trying to get any publicity into our local papers.
Myer then spends the last one third of the column attacking Tennant once again over her courthouse fiasco comparing her explanation to the "if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck" old saying. (As similes go for Myers, "like beating a dead horse" would better describe what he was doing.)
Despite the word "mudslinging" in the title, the column is mostly about Gainer and Tennant. I think the "mudslinger" part is to set up the story on Dolph Santorine by Ian Hicks on the front page of the Region section: "Candidate Santorine Responds to Negative Ads."
Over the years, I’ve obviously read some biased stories in the Intelligencer and regular readers obviously know what I think of their ethics and journalistic integrity. That said, I have to say that this story is right up there with the worst that I’ve seen from the Intelligencer. The article is almost 400 words of Santorine propanganda posing as a news story.
Some background: Republican Dolph Santorine is running in the 3rd District for House of Delegates. A group called Protect West Virginia sent out two flyers in which they pointed out that Santorine paid for his campaign instead of his taxes:
Dolph Santorine has no problem spending $91,203 on his own political campaign, but he has a real problem paying his taxes. He’s racked up a stunning seven tax liens totaling over half a million dollars in state and federal taxes.
Dolph could pay his taxes if he wanted to, but he thinks he’s above the law and doesn’t need to pay his fair share.
Instead of paying his fair share like the rest of us do to help fund our roads, schools and military, Dolph decided to give his political campaign $91,203 of his own money.
(Note – bold is in the original.) The bottom of the ad has references to case numbers, filing numbers, and the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office.
If the Intelligencer wanted to cover this story properly they could have easily fact-checked the flyer and then talked to Santorine to get his explanation and there are number of excellent models for newspaper fact checking on the web. (For example, factcheck.org run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center often examines how truthful political ads are.) Instead the Intelligencer gave candidate Santorine free rein to say whatever he wanted including criticism of the Democratic Party. Interestingly, Santorine did not deny the charges. Instead he said that he didn’t like the IRS bullying him.
Santorine doesn’t deny the charges but he gets 400 words anyway. The man admits to not paying taxes but the story makes him sound like a hero. And there are no editorials or columns about candidates who don’t pay their taxes but expect law-abiding citizens to pay theirs. Finally, can you imagine how the Intelligencer would handle a Democratic candidate not paying his/her taxes? It wouldn’t be pretty.
Saturday’s lead Intelligencer editorial, "Obama Knows His Supporters," is just another in its seemingly endless and predictable "guilt by association" opinion pieces. Taken individually, it’s hard to find the development of any argument beyond "Democrat so-and-so, who supports Obama on a particular issue, also supports Democrat fill-in-the-blank (usually Natalie Tennant)." That’s it – that’s usually the only argument. The "so-and-so’s" mentioned always include Harry Reid and, in the last month or so, they’ve clearly added Michelle Obama to the list. Michelle Obama? Yes, regular readers of editorials and Michael Myer’s columns have learned that surprise, surprise – Michelle support’s Democrats. As we read again today:
Last year, Mrs. Obama attended a New York City fundraiser for Democrat candidates. She told those at the gathering "it is critical that we elect Michelle Nunn (Georgia), Alison Grimes (Kentucky) and Natalie Tennant. It is critical we get them to the Senate."
And so, Natalie Tennant should not be elected because the President’s wife supports her. This is taking "guilt by association" to a whole new level. Okay, what terrible atrocity is Michelle Obama guilty of – having married Barack? Being the wife of a Democratic president – wouldn’t you expect her to support Democrats?
Okay, the Intelligencer's hatred of all-things-connected-to-Obama appears to be getting worse and Michelle is obviously connected to him but from a right-wingers point of view, aren’t there more obvious targets? I have some thoughts on this but I’ll save it for a later date. What do you think? Click on "read more" and give us your opinion – what’s with the Intelligencer’s obsession with Michele Obama?
NPR to significantly cut environmental reporting staff
The report is that NPR is in the process of reducing from one editor and three full-time reporters covering climate change/the environment to one reporter who will cover the beat on a part-time basis. I guess all that Koch and fossil fuel money PBS/NPR has been getting is finally taking its toll on the reporting. It's probably just a coincidence but I also find it interesting that this gets out near the end of their semi-annual pledge drive.
Is there any hope?
Last week I linked to an excellent post about West Virginia and coal by David Roberts who writes over at grist.com. A couple of days ago, Roberts received an email from a friend and former West Virginian, Jeff Young, who wrote to him about what he sees as West Virginia’s future. Roberts asked Young to put it into an article and has published it. Here are a few choice quotes from "Is there hope for West Virginia as it moves away from coal?"
The key to understanding West Virginia is to recognize that it is less a fully functioning state government than a resource-extraction colony. Even before King Coal’s rise, this was the case with timber and salt. And after coal’s reign ends, I predict, this will again be the case with natural gas, as wealth and power rise from the Marcellus shale (and, soon, the Utica shale ). . . .
The political, economic, and institutional forces of the state are almost completely aligned with the needs of those taking raw natural materials from the state and exporting them. This provides little incentive for investment in things like education, economic diversification, development of an entrepreneurial middle class, or (needless to say) environmental protections. . . .
The "war on coal" is bogus, of course. Coal’s real problem is cheaper, cleaner natural gas, which is kicking coal’s butt as a fuel for electricity. But politically it’s a lot more appealing to scream about a socialist menace than to admit you’ve lost in a capitalist market. And the "war on coal" provides a convenient scapegoat for inevitable cutbacks and layoffs that the largely played-out regional coal industry must make.
It’s definitely worth a read even if you don’t agree with everything Young writes.
The Tennant Campaign
Wasn’t someone in the Tennant campaign aware that it probably wasn’t a good idea to hold a rally on the steps of a courthouse without first checking if it was allowed under the election law? (I would think that someone might have checked with the person in charge of elections over at the Secretary of State's office. Ah. . . . never mind.) Didn't someone realize how this might play with newspapers looking for Tennant campaign scandals? Isn’t there anyone in the Tennant campaign who makes sure the candidate doesn’t do something stupid like this? The answer to all of the above is "apparently not."
Oftentimes, the winner in an election devoid of substantive issue differences like this one is the candidate who did or said the fewest dumb things. In this election, Capito’s campaign staff seems to understand this much better than Tennant’s. For example, after Capito made her statement about climate change following the first debate, someone in her campaign realized that debates hold too many opportunities for making incredibly dumb statements. ("Is the climate changing? Yes, it’s changing, it changes all the time, we heard it raining out there.") Consequently, Capito conveniently had another commitment when the next debate was scheduled. Natalie Tennant probably wasn't going to win this election anyway but this gaffe probably insured it.
The Online Slang Dictionary defines astroturfing as "the creation of lobbying groups that appear to be separate from corporate interests, but that are actually funded by them. As opposed to "grass-roots" political activism." The roots of the word come from the first baseball field with fake or artificial grass (it didn’t have "grass roots") – the Astrodome which used "Astroturf." Thus, astroturfed material appears to be the real thing but it is actually fake. If you've ever read product reviews online, you’ve probably been astroturfed. Letters to the editor are sometimes examples of astroturf. Organizations, often with noble-sounding names, that appear to have our best interests at heart but are really serving others would be another example. I mention all of this because of the opinion piece by Tom Harris published in yesterday's Intelligencer: "Standing up for W.Va."
Harris represents the International Climate Science Coalition. The group uses the word "science" which is good and it’s combined with "coalition" which usually has positive connotations – thus, it is people from all over the world working together to deal with climate scientifically. Although they sound impressive, should we pay attention to them? Maybe not.
Essentially, from what I’ve read, ICSC is an astroturfing organization that provides documentation for those who agree with its anti-climate change perspective.
Sourcewatch.org notes that the International Climate Science Coalition gets at least some of its funding from the Heartland Institute, which gets much of its funding from the oil and gas industries. (Heartland’s beginnings go back to funding from the tobacco industry. Heartland, an early astroturfer, would find and pay scientists who would then publicly question the link between cigarette smoking and health problems. Heartland is currently doing the same thing with climate change.) It also appears that the ICSC fronts Heartland’s anti-climate reports. For instance, the Intelligencer opinion piece appears to be referencing one such study from September of 2013 which mentions a report from the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change that claimed: "Sea-level rise is not accelerating." Desmogblog.com notes the lengths these astroturfers will go to try to win their point:
In an effort to dupe reporters into trusting these "climate experts," this anti-science outfit even named itself the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change ( NIPCC ), mirroring the official science body, the lt Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC ).
The Intelligencer has ignored just about every AP report this year dealing with the science of climate change. Instead they publish this stuff without telling the reader anything about the real background of the International Climate Science Coalition. On the issue of climate change, I think it’s clear that they have moved beyond informing and persuading to become a propaganda tool of the extraction industries.
One final note on the astroturfing issue. If you follow this blog you know that I like to connect to the appropriate article when possible. When I attempted to link to this opinion piece, however, it was not listed anywhere on the Intelligencer’s site. I found that unusual. I then googled part of the article along with "ICSC" and the organization’s name and still nothing came up. Why are there no search engine records of this article? My hunch is that if you are an astroturfer you want to go undetected by flying under the radar so that you can fool as many people as possible.
WLU Names Science Classroom for Physical Therapist
This morning's Intelligencer tells us that a classroom in West Liberty University's new Campbell Hall has been named the Ryan Ferns classroom because Ferns has given $50,000 and helped raise money for the University as a sponsor of its Great Gala fundraising event. Ferns, despite being a graduate of both Wheeling Jesuit University and Bethany College, "believes in West Liberty as a community University." (I'm sure that West Liberty's president having been the former treasurer of the state Republican Party had nothing to do with it.)
Obviously, selling naming rights at colleges and universities is not new - especially with sports stadiums and buildings. And recently we've added names to classrooms and other physical facilities. This opens up lots of new and creative possibilities. For those donors who can't afford the purchase of a building or a room, colleges could sell lounges, dumpsters, bathrooms, or even toilets. (Think of it as NASCAR without the speeding cars.) What better way to introduce students to the increasing corporatization of America?
For the rich donor who wants their name to be remembered long after they have departed, schools could sell the naming rights to the institution itself. For those readers who believe I've now taken this post to absurd lengths, I will present as evidence the case of a Pennsylvania state university just a few miles east of here on Interstate 70 -- California University of Pennsylvania. In 2001, a rich donor who had already given 10 million dollars to the university proposed renaming the school Eberly University. The president of the school agreed and began the process of renaming the university. However, the students, alumni, faculty and staff objected enough that the Eberlys themselves asked that the proposed name change be withdrawn. The president of the university, who in hindsight appears to have been ahead of his time in placing marketing and funding over tradition, commented "In my heart, I believe that the proposal that is now off the table would have helped us as part of a major marketing campaign."
Yes, for a few bucks why not change West Liberty University to Gary E. West University - it has a nice ring to it.
Some final questions. West Liberty's Great Gala occurred last spring - why wasn't the naming of the classroom annouced then? Could it have something to do with the upcoming election?
Another coal story you won’t see in Wheeling "newspapers"
From the front page of this morning’s Charleston Gazette:
Employees of a Raleigh County laboratory falsified water quality samples under pressure from their coal company clients, a laboratory technician and supervisor who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act told a federal judge earlier this month.
John W. Shelton told U.S. District Judge Irene Berger that he and others at Appalachian Laboratories Inc. faked the samples so "that we could maintain the business with the coal companies that we were working for."
"The coal companies put a lot of pressure on the [laboratory] companies, smaller companies, to get good water data, and that was it," Shelton testified under oath during an Oct. 9 hearing in federal court in Beckley.
Shelton made his comments when pressed by Berger to explain his actions during a hearing where he pleaded guilty to taking part in a conspiracy to repeatedly fake compliant water quality standards for coal companies.
Just when I thought that I was viewing a rare exception to the rule that the Sunday "newspaper" must have at least one cheap shot aimed at Democrats, I reread the lead editorial "Reject Political Mud Slinging." The first three paragraphs are innocuous enough – a basic discussion of negative campaigning. The fourth paragraph provides us with the examples:
During just the past few days, we have heard of mud-slinging campaigns against Ryan Ferns, a candidate for the West Virginia State Senate from this area and Dolph Santorine, a candidate for the House of Delegates from Ohio County. Also recently, U.S. Senate candidate Shelley Capito has had mud flung her way.