The NRA and West Virginia's senatorial election
From time to time I hope to take a look at how money influences our local and statewide election.
Today I want to focus on one of the most powerful lobbying group in America – the National Rifle Association. The NRA spent a large amount of money, almost $28 million for and against senate and house candidates, and over $400,000 in West Virginia's last senatorial election. The $400,000 intrigued me because both Capito (R) and Tennant (D) were pro-gun - especially Tennant who went out of her way to verbally and visually tout her gun credentials. Not surprisingly, both had previously received an "A" rating from the NRA.
Given their ratings, you would think that the NRA would either spend equally on both candidate or, more likely, not bother because both were A-rated candidates. That would make sense if the NRA based campaign spending on a candidate’s record and campaign promises. However, in the last election, the NRA spent $114,000 for advertising in support of Capito and $287,000 in advertising against Tennant. (The NRA did not spend any money on pro-Tennant ads.) This matches what the NRA did nationally –
Total Independent Expenditures: $27,151,426
For Democrats: $17,943
Against Democrats: $16,222,441
For Republicans: $10,713,889
Against Republicans: $67,171
The NRA may be pro-gun but first and foremost they are pro-Republican - 99% of the NRA’s money supported Republicans. Maybe the "R" in NRA stands for Republican.
Here’s the headline on the front page of this morning’s Charleston Gazette: "Climate change learning standards for W.Va. students altered" and here’s the article’s lede:
At the request of a West Virginia Board of Education member who said he doesn’t believe human-influenced climate change is a "foregone conclusion," new state science standards on the topic were altered before the state school board adopted them.
The state school board member is Wade Linger and he authored a number of changes. When asked about them, he explained:
"We’re on this global warming binge going on here," Linger said. ". . . We need to look at all the theories about it rather than just the human changes in greenhouse gases."
Another state school board member, Tom Campbell, defended Linger:
State school board member Tom Campbell said that in response to the climate change language, Linger brought up concerns about political views being taught in classrooms during an open school board meeting in Mingo County in November. Campbell said he shared those concerns.
"Let’s not use unproven theories," said Campbell, a former House of Delegates education chairman. "Let’s stick to the facts."
So Linger and Campbell are concerned about politicizing science by teaching the "unproven science" of climate change:
When asked why climate change was the particular "unproven science" that he and Linger were concerned about, Campbell responded that "West Virginia coal in particular has been taking on unfair negativity from certain groups." He also noted the coal industry provides much money to the state’s education system.
"I would prefer that the outlook should be ‘How do we mine it more safely and burn it more cleanly?" Campbell said. "But I think some people just want to do away with it completely."
Yeah! Let’s not politicize science.
The morning News-Register did not cover the change in the state science standards. Instead, the top story was about the drop in student test scores at some of our local schools. Here are two predictions: (1) we will soon see an editorial praising the changes in the state science standards, and (2) we will see another editorial about the decline in test scores for which President Obama and/or liberals will somehow be blamed. I was going to add (3) long term, student science scores will drop if these new state standards are kept but I think the state's science teachers are a lot brighter than the creators of these standards.
"We have met the enemy and he is us."
- comic strip character, Pogo (1971)
A week ago last Sunday (December 14), the Wheeling News-Register devoted a great deal of space in its Sunday edition to the heroin problem in the Ohio Valley. Four wide-ranging articles examined local heroin use from the perspective of law enforcement officials, counselors, and former users. Taken together as a whole, I think the articles reflect a shift in attitudes toward heroin addiction by the local "newspapers" which mirrors the changing perspective toward those users by the larger culture. (Unless your television viewing excludes news and information-oriented programming, I’m sure you’ve seen a number of sympathetic segments on the "heroin epidemic" this past year.) Like those television reports, notably absent from the News-Register articles are calls for prison time or, at the least, a condemnation of the user – both of which have been an essential part of both the paper’s and the culture’s attitude toward the user since at least the 1970s. In its place, are a compassion for the user’s plight and a call for helpful programs. I’m very glad that we’re no longer blaming and punishing the victim but I can’t help but wonder "what has changed?"
If the reporting is accurate, I think what has changed is who is using the drug. Since at least the early 1970s, heroin use has been seen as an inner-city (a nice euphemism for "African-American") problem. Back then, we never had a chance to develop any real understanding of the problem - our popular culture, especially the movies and TV programs that followed The French Connection (1971), provided us with scary images of drug users and dealers and connected them to life in the ghettos of our large cities. More importantly, we had a president, Richard Nixon, who realized that there was much to gain politically with middle-class, white Americans by scaring them and then declaring (also in 1971) a "war on drugs." Since then, we’ve added a few more drugs (cocaine and crack cocaine, meth, and pain pills) and added new groups to demonize (Appalachians with our "hillbilly heroin" and meth). And since 1971, we’ve wasted billions of dollars waging a "war on drugs" only to finally find that the enemy, as Pogo said, is us.
I went online to see who was writing about this shift and, to my surprise, I didn’t find very much. Amid a scattering of articles that dealt with the topic was this excellent column by Stephen Lerner and Nelini Stamp from last May in the Washington Post:
Clearly, new attention to heroin use in white, affluent areas is changing the perceptions and politics of drug addiction. No longer are the addicts "desperate and hardened." Apparently, heroin use isn’t the result of bad parenting, the rise of single-parent families or something sick or deviant in white culture. It isn’t an incurable plague that is impossible to treat except with jail time. Drug addicts no longer are predatory monsters.
In short, the root problem is not the degeneracy of a group of Americans.
No, it’s not and it never has been. It was, and still is, a much more complex problem that includes other things like jobs and a steady income, health care, housing, and maybe, most importantly, a hope for a better future. On some social issues like gay marriage and legalization of marijuana our culture gets more liberal by the day. But on the important economic issues, we are getting more and more conservative. A number of our leaders (with our local papers’ support) seem intent on destroying what is left of the unions and the middle class, rolling back health care and the other safety nets, and widening the gap between rich and poor. It seems to me that this Randian future will only increase drug use, especially among young people who need to see a future beyond working a lifetime in McJobs.
The Intelligencer lies to its readers
Earlier today I posted an "update" to yesterday’s post on West Virginia’s prevailing wage and noted how quickly the Intelligencer had jumped on the issue (see 2 posts below). This afternoon I researched a statistic used in their editorial, "Prevailing Wage Law Too Costly:"
A 2013 report by the Anderson Economic Group of Michigan estimated the prevailing wage law costs West Virginians $224 million a year.
And then the editorial asked us to imagine what we could have done with all that additional money:
Think of all the good that much money could accomplish. If anything, it would be likely to provide more good jobs for Mountain State construction workers by freeing up money for more projects.
$224 million in one year? That’s a lot of money for a state our size. I decided to look for the report authored by the Anderson Economic Group. I found the report here (it was the Group’s only study of prevailing wage and it was published in 2013). I would note that the report was commissioned by the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan which certainly ought to make a reader wary of the study’s conclusions. The report’s title, "The Impact of Michigan’s Prevailing Wage Law on Education Construction Expenditures" made me wonder what it had to do with West Virginia. I then used the "search" function in my browser to look for all mentions of our state in the study. That search turned up empty. I then went looking for the $224 million figure and found it. If you turn to page 5 of the study, you will see "TABLE 1. Estimate of the Potential Savings in the Absence of Michigan’s Prevailing Wage Law." A short discussion of the table precedes it.
Apparently biased studies just aren’t good enough for the Intelligencer’s purposes – they’re now lying about what a study says – can they get any lower?
Running for governor – what a surprise!
A front page article in the Intelligencer confirmed what Wheeling "newspapers" were already acting upon: WV’s Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (genus carpetbagger electus) will likely run for governor. That is, after he’s had a "transformational effect" on the AG’s office. Given his weekly publicity stunts and the papers’ coverage of them, it was inevitable.
Manchin and the NRA
Senator Manchin has shown some independence lately. Not from the NRA, however, where Manchin (surprise, surprise) continues to voice the NRA line on Obama’s surgeon general nominee:
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Monday bucked Democratic leadership to vote against the controversial surgeon general nominee whom conservatives have bashed for calling gun violence a public health concern.
"I don’t believe it’s appropriate for America’s number one doctor to participate in political activism," Manchin said in a statement Monday an hour before the Senate confirmed Dr. Vivek Murthy in a 51-43 vote.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. had an excellent op-ed piece about West Virginia coal and Don Blankenship, "Coal, an Outlaw Enterprise," in yesterday's New York Times
Coal is an outlaw enterprise. In nearly every stage of its production, many companies that profit from it routinely defy safety and environmental laws and standards designed to protect America’s public health, property and prosperity. In fact, Mr. Blankenship once conceded to me in a debate that mountaintop removal mining could probably not be conducted without committing violations. With a business model like that, one that essentially relies on defiance of the law, it is no wonder that some in the industry use their inordinate political and economic power to influence government officials and capture the regulating agencies.
A Daily Kos diarist writes what may happen to prevailing wage laws in WV next month
Perhaps it's a reward for voting Republican.
Update December 20 - That didn't take long!
Today's lead editorial in the Intelligencer: "Prevailing Wage Law Too Costly."
I don’t usually comment on the Town Hall columnists published by our local "newspapers" because (1) the subject matter is not local and (2) I have so little respect for what I’ve read from the Town Hall crew that it doesn't seem to be worth the effort. Usually the columns we see are nothing more than 600-800 words of anti-Obama, anti-progressive, extremist rhetoric that is even nastier and more mean-spirited than what is otherwise found on the editorial pages.
Today’s Town Hall column by Michael Schaus may be a new low even by those standards and so I will make an exception. (I guess I wonder "does anybody at the Intelligencer ever read this stuff?") Originally published two days after the two-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting, Schaus begins:
A handful of families impacted by the Sandy Hook school shooting have decided to ease their grief by suing the manufacturer of AR style rifles. Obviously, a little unnecessary litigation is the most effective way to right the wrongs of a madman.
Schaus is not questioning, he's impugning, the motives of the families of the victims. Nice.
Wheeling "newspapers" are not the only ones with one-sided coverage
Media Matters recently studied how major newspapers have covered the "war on coal" this year. Here’s a synopsis of what they found:
A Media Matters analysis of major U.S. newspapers reporting on the alleged "war on coal" found that newspapers provided one-sided coverage of the issue and seldom mentioned the coal industry's negative environmental and health impacts or its efforts to fight regulations. Out of 223 articles published in major U.S. newspapers this year mentioning the phrase "war on coal," more than half failed to mention underlying issues that account for the coal industry's decline and the need for regulations. Further, less than 10 percent of articles mentioned harm caused by the coal industry or how the coal industry is fighting against regulations aimed at protecting miners and reducing pollution.
The article is well-developed and includes a number of graphs to help visualize its findings. While the analysis does not mention the names of the worst newspapers, it does list the Louisville Courier-General, the New York Times, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe as having the most coverage of the other issues facing the coal industry. (I find it interesting that two of the most even-handed newspapers are from coal country.) It is too bad that neither Wheeling "newspaper" was part of the study. My hunch is that they would fair very poorly.
Note – I sometimes complain about the Wheeling "newspapers’" use of clearly biased studies as news. Since Media Matters generally approaches the media from a liberal perspective, I debated whether I should link to their analysis. I decided to link because (1) they are using the Factiva (owned by Dow Jones) newspaper search engine for what is essentially a content analysis which should help keep their study unbiased, and (2) they clearly explain their methodology at the end of the piece which means that any reader who questions the study’s findings could replicate it and see if the results remain the same.
But there was not much to actually read
The News-Register usually has 4 sections that have news content: the front section, opinion & community, life, and sports. Below are screen shots of the front page of three of those sections. Look at the graphics and how they dominate the page: the hypodermic needle is twice the size of a real needle and gets used twice, the near-life size picture of the child's head is part of a graphic that itself takes up almost half the page, and all of the oversized headlines use a graphic design that dominates the page. When you use graphics to this extent, it certainly limits how much actual news can be covered.
Credit where credit is due
While the rest of the news was on the sparse side, I thought the team of reporters looking at the heroin problem did a thorough job. I hope to come back to this issue in a couple of days.
Speaking of headlines
If you turn to the automobile section, you'll see this headline: "1932 Packard Gets Lifetime Gentile Care." Henry Ford would be proud.
Michael Myer reverts to the mean
After a month of not-very-political commentary, Michael Myer is back to form with his usual assortment of guilt by association, name-calling, extranaeous issues, straw men, and mean-spiritedness. The column is supposed to be about Jonathan Gruber, the former-Obama advisor who was one of the architects of Obamacare, who recently suggested that the stupidity of the American voter was necessary for its passage. As usual, everything is connected to Obama and liberals. One sentence doesn't have all of the above but this one comes mighty close:
From an objective standpoint, West Virginians' opposition to Obama, his health care law, his attack on coal and affordable electricity and any number of other liberal initiatives sets us outside the "stupidity of the American voter" category Gruber has mentioned.
Recently, I've not had much to write about on Sunday - it's good to see Myer returning to form!
A new NOAA study has raised questions as to whether the California drought is being caused by climate change. Here’s the morning Intelligencer’s editorial, "Climate Change Myth Dispelled":
During a visit to California earlier this year, President Barack Obama linked the lengthy drought there to climate change. "A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, floods are potentially going to be costlier and they're going to be harsher," he said.
But scientists, led by those in the federal government, say climate change had nothing to do with the Golden State drought. A report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lays the blame on natural variations in the weather - not climate change.
In fact, NOAA's Martin Hoerling suggested the drought may be an argument against accepting some climate change predictions. Weather events in California for three winters are "not the conditions that climate change models say would happen," he noted.
Will Obama heed the scientists he is so fond of claiming support his climate change agenda? Don't bet on it - because for Obama, it is the politics that are really settled.
As is often the case with their editorials, the Intelligencer did not publish the original AP story on which I presume (it has the quotes) this editorial was based. By not publishing the original article, it allows them to use the material that supports their position and ignore that which doesn’t support it and this editorial does leave out a number of important details from the original article:
1. The study has not been peer-reviewed. The article states: "Study lead author Richard Seager of Columbia University said the paper has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal." Is that important? Yes. In the scientific community, peer review is extremely important – it gives credibility to a study.
2. A significant amount of space in the article is devoted to critics of the study. For example:
Some outside climate scientists criticized the report, saying it didn’t take into effect how record warmth worsened the drought. California is having its hottest year on record, based on the first 11 months of the year and is 4.1 degrees warmer than 20th-century average, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
"This study completely fails to consider what climate change is doing to water in California," wrote Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. He said the work "completely misses" how hotter air increases drying by evaporating more it from the ground.
Leaving the AP article, you can google the study and find considerable commentary about it from other scientists. (My understanding is that this is not unusual with the release of a non-peer-reviewed study.) Here for example is climatologist Michael Mann:
" . . . most inexplicably, they pay only the slightest lip service to the role of temperature in drought, focusing almost entirely on precipitation alone. This neglects the fact that California experienced record heat over the past year, and this certainly contributed to the unprecedented nature of the current drought."
What I am pointing to is the fact that one study, despite what the editorial tells you, doesn’t prove or disprove climate change by itself – it’s the sum total and that total overwhelmingly supports climate change.
Finally, it ought to be noted that the only time you’ll read something about climate change in the Intelligencer is when someone questions it. And then it will usually show up on the opinion page where the writer can either quote from the industry-financed study or cherry-pick the evidence if it’s a real study.