Follow the Money

AP photograph  (no photographer listed) accompanied Politico's October 19 story, "Ginni Thomas seeks Anita Hill apology."

Ginni Thomas crossed our collective radar screen this week, when Charlie Savage reported she viewed herself as holding out an "olive branch" on October 9 when she left a voice mail for Anita Hill demanding an apology, an explanation and perhaps prayer. On the very morning she had called Hill, the New York Times page A1 featured Jackie Calmes reporting "Activism of Thomas’s Wife Could Raise Judicial Issues."

Ginni Thomas married to Justice Clarence Thomas 23 years ago. According to a February 18 interview with Hot Air's Ed Morrissey, Ms. Thomas--a long-time conservative advocate associated with the Chamber of Commerce and the Heritage Foundation--founded Liberty Central in November 2009 to roll back Obama’s left-leaning ways.

We cannot see into the mind of Ginni Thomas as she called Hill, but I found myself asking if Ms. Thomas were motivated by more than a desire to stand by her man?  

It's hard to follow Deep Throat advice to Woodward and Bernstein to "follow the money."

Poring over LC’s sole form 990 filed for FY2009, I wondered who would give $500,000 and $50,000 since Liberty Central is organized as  a non-profit under IRS Code Section 501(c)4 and can't offer donors tax deductions. I also wondered how much Ms. Thomas will receive as CEO, since she (conveniently?) collected no salary during the period covered by the tax form.

Next I looked at Liberty Central's website and noticed that the organization claims to be "non-partisan," its scorecard for my state graded all the Democrats "F" except one "D" and all Republicans "A."

The IRS shields (c)4 donors from scrutiny

 Any (c) 4 group gets the protection for its donors established under NAACP v. Alabama. And, under current law, (c)4’s do not have to report electioneering-types of advertising more than 60 days before a general election or 30 days before a primary. They do not have to report non-broadcast communication--mail, Internet, telephone---nor candidate-specific issue ads that fall outside the legal definition of political speech.

We do know Justice Thomas "sole outlier" on disclosure in Citizens United

In January 2010, Justice Thomas, voted in a 5-4 majority in the landmark Citizen's United decision , to equate corporate and union donations with free speech, thus allowing unlimited campaign donations. Justice Thomas went further.

NYU Law School’s Adam Scaggs wrote me in an email interview,
All eight of Justice Thomas's colleagues upheld the disclosure rules, on the grounds that the public has a real interest in knowing who spends in political races. Thomas was the sole outlier in voting against disclosure.
Scaggs emphasized,
it's important that Ms. Thomas doesn't lose any of her First Amendment rights just because her husband is a judge…The concern is that Justice Thomas would face a conflict of interest if...ever asked to hear a case involving the groups that have given major contributions to his wife's group. Judges — including Supreme Court justices — are ethically obligated to step aside from any cases in which they have a financial stake, and they must also step aside when their impartiality might reasonably be questioned……The public would not know that there is a conflict if the identity of the donors has not been disclosed.
We do know that Koch Industries rallies the right twice a year to plan on how to sway public policy and that former guests include Justice Clarence Thomas. 

Non-disclosure should not be germane to all (c)4's

The non-disclosure precedent of NAACP v. Alabama is only germane to (c)4’s, Campaign Legal Center's Trevor Potter wrote me,

IF the groups can make the arguments made by the NAACP--that their donors would be killed or beaten or their houses burned down if their identities were known.

We do know that during this election cycle, record donations are flowing into the (c)4’s.

For instance, Doyle McManus reports that one new such group, CrossroadsGPS, advised by Karl Rove,
 says it's going to spend $65 million this year — much of it to try to defeat [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
If corporations have free speech, let's at least know who’s talking

Supreme Court reporter Lyle Denniston has suggested we could increase transparency
by more rigorous disclosure legislation, in hopes of exposing more vividly who is in fact benefiting and, perhaps, by embarrassing the beneficiaries.
In Congress, the House passed the DISCLOSE Act, (H.R. 5175). Republicans in the Senate blocked a vote, most recently on September 24.

 It's time for Congress to let us "follow the money."


No more moratorium on offshore drilling?

Photo by J. Henry Fair accompanied his blog post on the BP disaster, "A World Gone Crazy." His website, Industrial Scars features photographs from his book, The Day After Tomorrow, Images of Our Earth in Crisis, to be be released on January 4, 2011 and available at this link for pre-order via Amazon.

I wrote this piece on an assignment from Matt Seaton, web editor for the Guardian where it appears as "Deepwater drilling: risks and consequences".

It's up for review at Newstrust, thanks to Barry Grossheim.


On 11 October, the Christian Science Monitor reported that Hungarian police had arrested an executive connected to red sludge spill, which had killed eight people.

For months, we've heard of Deepwater Horizon's 20 April explosion, killing 11 platform workers, injuring 17 others. We've mourned the deaths, the idled fishermen and oil rig roughnecks, the marshlands and wildlife coated in crude oil, the estimated 185m gallons of oil dumped, according to independent study. We've rued lost livelihoods, as images of tar-coated beaches shrank tourism. We've railed as Mac McClelland documented BP's restriction of press access. And on 13 October, Obama's own commission meets to discuss its preliminary reports critical of the White House's handling of the spill.

So, I was disappointed when interior secretary Ken Salazar announced an early end to the offshore drilling moratorium imposed 28 May. He told reporters about "significant progress in reducing the risks associated with deepwater drilling", concluding, "it is now appropriate to lift the suspension", based on Michael Bromwich's report as director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM). Salazar thus seemingly contradicts his 30 September promise to require proof that industry has reduced risk of another spill and to issue rules beyond those drafted covering standards for well equipment (pdf) and worker training (pdf). The ban, enjoined by the courts, only to be reissued, was to have lasted six months.

Obama has faced pressure as the oil industry called for the moratorium's end, through its Institute for Energy Research which had always emphasised the safety of drilling prior to the spill. Regional officials and businesses complained about economic impacts, including Senator Mary Landrieu (Democrat, Louisiana), who blocked confirmation (pdf) of the nominee to run the Office of Management and Budget. An environmental coalition – including the Centre for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Florida Wildlife Federation, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice and Southern Environmental Law Centre – urged that the freeze continue and extend to shallow-water drilling.

Salazar's announcement seems to favour the oil industry and its supporters; it doesn't satisfy Landrieu, however. She issued a statement refusing to release her hold, saying she would look "closely at how BOEM is handling the issuing of permits and whether or not drilling activity in both shallow and deep water is resuming… [to] evaluate if today's lifting of the moratorium is actually putting people back to work."
Meanwhile, those who see themselves as protecting public health and the environment criticise the ban's end. Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director for the Centre for Biological Diversity, responded to my query, sending this press release, and writing:
Salazar's decision to lift the moratorium is yet another mistake…the real crux is that the agency that is supposed to be overseeing oil drilling has completely failed to evaluate the environmental impacts before allowing it to go forward.  Nothing has been done yet to solve the problem of impacts of oil drilling on the Gulf's ecosystem and wildlife.
Ervin Gonzalez, an attorney with spill victims' steering committee, appointed by the US district court, wrote to me that:
The creation of rules does nothing to protect the public and the environment if those responsible fail to follow the safety rules and ignore common sense measures that prevent tragedies like… [this] disaster. BP, Transocean and Halliburton violated numerous rules, regulations and safety measures that resulted in tremendous damage and devastation… We cannot and must not trust the oil companies to supervise themselves and take their word that they will follow the rules and regulations.
So, as John Lennon says, Imagine...What if officers of corporations in the oil, coal or auto industry were to face arrest and possible prosecution, when their actions in the US – as in Hungary – result in deaths? Might that change the calculation of acceptable risk?


Appalachia Should Abide

Painterly photo by my friend Wendy Johnston of Athens, WV,  shows Larry Gibson of Kayford, WV (the only time I have seen him without his cap, other than in this photo by Antrim Caskey) as he gazes out the window of the Metro bus police used to transport arrestees to  Anacostia for booking.  To the immediate left, ahead of the window frame,  is Dustin White,  of Charleston, WV, who grew up in the  endangered community of James Creek on Cook Mountain.


I've always loved the song Peter and Gordon recorded in the 60s, "Land of Oden", about a mountain 10,000 miles high and square:
Once every million years
A little bird comes winging,
Sharpens his beak
And quickly disappears.

And when that mountain,
it wears away
Then, to eternity
will be one single day.
On  September 25  in Washington, DC, I read to folks preparing to rally, march and sit in during the Appalachia Rising protest the following Monday. My poem "Looking Out Over An Abyss in Boone County" includes the line "mountains should abide."

Big Coal has decided against almost-eternity for Central Appalachia. Ours is a war zone. To get at thin seams of coal, Massey and others detonate fertilizer and diesel fuel – the same materials used to build truck bombs. They destroy up to 1,000 vertical feet, dump the resulting rubble into valleys: hauling it away would cut into profits. And while solid mountains are practically inert, pulverised, their rock poisons air; poisons headwater streams flowing through valleys, down to the Mississippi, into the Gulf of Mexico.Top soil and hardwoods? Companies often shun these gifts from nature, bury them as "overburden", standing in the way of getting at coal.

Companies that destroy the world for privatized profits and socialized harm are amoral or immoral. A government that won't protect us from such rogues is complicit. How are we supposed to live without air, without water?

After years, I'm still surprised by the lies. Take Massey spokesman Jeff Gllenwater, who told Peter Slavin, "There's no credible evidence of coal causing cancer." That depends on whom you find credible. I asked Michael Hendryx, at West Virginia University, about Gillenwater's claim. He wrote back:

No credible evidence of coal causing cancer"?  Nonsense.  There is abundant evidence.
Coal contains trace elements of a number of known carcinogens including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, nickel, beryllium, and others.  When coal is processed at local facilities after extraction, these elements enter the local environments in the air and in the water.  Furthermore, particulate matter from air pollution such as that caused by coal mining and processing is a well known cancer risk.  Water and air pollution from coal mining and processing are well established. This is to say nothing of coal combustion, which kills over 20,000 Americans every year from a variety of causes including cancer.

There is also solid epidemiological evidence that cancer death rates are higher in Appalachian mining environments compared to non-mining environments in ways that are NOT explained by smoking, diet, age, or other factors.

In short, there is credible evidence.

Big Coal, though, has money to spread lies, influence policy. Citizens sued to protect our mountains and won under the Clean Water Act, only to have the Bush EPA and Army Corps of Engineers reclassify mining waste as "fill", in 2002 – as if rubble were gravel being used to build bridges across streams.

Since then, we have sued some more, signed petitions, made phone calls, testified at hearings, written letters, travelled hours to meet with officials, appointed and elected – all to stop this stripmining on steroids. Still, the coal industry goes virtually unchecked.

So, yes, thousands went to Washington and marched on 27 September to tell the EPA to do its job. Yes, we continued on to PNC Bank to say stop funding this obliteration. Then, 115 folks sat down in front of the White House, in an act of civil disobedience, accepting arrest, to tell President Obama that, yes, he can do something, if he only will.

Appalachia and its people predate Big Coal. There's still a remnant of "almost heaven" and we're willing to share it. Come visit, educate yourself, join your voice with ours. Otherwise, these mountains will be squandered – not at the end of time, but in less than 20 years.

Note:  thanks to Bo Webb, who encouraged Matt Seaton of the Guardian to solicit a piece from me.  This originally appeared (with British spellings and dating conventions) on October 7 as "Appalachia rises as mining razes mountains."  I've restored Michael Hendrxy's quote in full, as I have no word limit here and I find the ellipses distracting.