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“Spin Wasn’t Invented Yesterday”: No, Clinton’s Late-Primary Struggles Don’t Portend November Defeat

With Bernie Sanders winning yet another primary (in West Virginia) well after most pundits have concluded Hillary Clinton has all but locked up the Democratic presidential nomination, it’s natural for there to be some speculation that her late-primary performance may portend a lack of momentum that could haunt or curse her in the general election. For one thing, the “Big Mo” argument is central to Bernie Sanders’s forlorn message to superdelegates. For another, Republicans are using Clinton’s primary fade along with some very dubious general-election polling to counter doom-and-gloom fears about their unlikely new nominee, Donald Trump. “Hillary Clinton is unraveling quickly,” chortles New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin.

Now, this is all obviously a bit absurd, since the general election is nearly six months away, with conventions, debates, and billions of dollars in paid media still ahead. It’s a bit like judging the postseason “momentum” of Major League Baseball teams based on their current early-season records. But for the record, there’s no particular correlation between late-primary performance in contested nomination contests and success in general elections.

Sure, most nominees win late primaries because their opponents have dropped out. But when they don’t, the ultimate winner doesn’t necessarily have a cake walk.

The obvious example is Barack Obama, who after May 1, 2008, lost primaries to Hillary Clinton in Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Puerto Rico, and South Dakota. His loss in West Virginia was by 39 points, compared to Clinton’s 15-point loss in the same state this year. And he lost Kentucky by 36 points. Somehow he managed to recover by November.

There’s earlier precedent for a late-primary fade leading to a general-election win. In 1976 after May 1, Jimmy Carter lost to Jerry Brown in Maryland, Nevada, and California, and to Frank Church in Nebraska, Idaho, Oregon, and Montana. He somehow regained “momentum” and won the presidency.

Carter also, however, provided a counterexample in 1980, when Ted Kennedy beat him in five June primaries. He did indeed go on to lose in November, but a lack of late-primary “momentum” probably had less to do with the results than the fact that he was an incumbent president with terrible economic numbers dealing with a hostage crisis and the partisan realignment of his home region. And he was facing Ronald Reagan rather than Donald Trump.

Matter of fact, even Reagan wasn’t entirely immune to the late-primary swoon. In 1980, he lost a late-April Pennsylvania primary and a late-May Michigan primary to Poppy Bush. I don’t know if there were columns headlined “Reagan is unraveling quickly,” but spin wasn’t invented yesterday.


By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 11, 2016

May 13, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, General Election 2016, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Legacy Of The Old Democratic Pre-Civil Rights South”: Reagan Democrats Of Kentucky, Oklahoma And West Virginia

To no one’s surprise, Bernie Sanders won the Democratic presidential primary in West Virginia yesterday and has so far picked up 16 delegates to Clinton’s 11. While that is not enough to change the trajectory of the race, it produced some interesting information.

As exit polls were released, there was some surprise in a couple of categories. Thirty-five percent of voters in the Democratic primary plan to vote for Donald Trump in the general election. Of those, 63% voted for Sanders. Similarly, a plurality of voters (41%) want the next president to be less liberal than Obama. Of those, 51% voted for Sanders.

Initially pundits attempted to ascribe these results to Clinton’s remarks in March about how she’d “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” But given that Sanders’ position on coal is the same as Clinton’s, that doesn’t seem plausible. Rye Spaeth provided some information that is probably more pertinent.

“No state has lower approval ratings for the president than West Virginia,” Philip Bump pointed out in February. And unlike embattled Democrats in West Virginia, Clinton has embraced Obama’s legacy and diverse coalition.

It is also worth noting that the population of West Virginia is 93% non-Hispanic white.

Nate Cohn provides some data suggesting that Reagan Democrats (a term that has been dismissed by a lot of people, including me) are actually a large part of the electorate in states like West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky (which holds its primary next Tuesday).

Coal County, Okla., is one of the most extreme examples. There, 80 percent of voters are registered Democrats, yet President Obama won just 27 percent of the vote in 2012. Mrs. Clinton has performed very poorly where the share of voters who are registered Democrats is much greater than the share of voters who supported Mr. Obama…

These conservative Democrats are a legacy of the old Democratic strength among white voters in the South, where many white conservatives nonetheless remain registered as Democrats.

Cohn provided this map to demonstrate.

The conservative registered Democrats helping Sanders have helped him elsewhere, especially Oklahoma

— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) May 11, 2016

These voters have tended to remain registered as Democrats and support local candidates like Sen. Joe Manchin in West Virginia. But they mostly resemble white Democrats of the pre-Civil Rights South. When it comes to presidential elections, they ensure that their states are firmly red. That’s a pretty classic definition of the term Reagan Democrat.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 11, 2016

May 13, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Big Coal, Reagan Democrats | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“You Don’t Need To Be A Scientist”: West Virginia Can’t Get Its Story Straight On The Chemical Spill

Over the weekend, West Virginia authorities lifted the last remaining tap-water ban in effect since a January 9 chemical spill at the Freedom Industries plant in Charleston contaminated the water supply of 300,000 people. But in a press conference Monday, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin hardly inspired confidence that the water was safe to drink, saying, “It’s your decision” to choose to drink the water and “I’m not going to say absolutely, 100 percent that everything is safe.” Tomblin, a Democrat, later added, “It’s a very complicated issue. I’m not a scientist, you know.”

There’s the problem. Scientists don’t know much, either, about the leaked chemical, “crude MCHM,” and on Tuesday a Tomblin spokeswoman confirmed that a second chemical, a modified form of PPH, also leaked into the water during the spill. The Center for Disease Control insists that 1-part-per-millon or less of crude MCHM isn’t harmful, but adds, “Due to limited availability of data, and out of an abundance of caution, pregnant women may wish to consider an alternative drinking water source until the chemical is at non-detectable levels in the water distribution system…. Few studies on this specialized chemical exist and most have been conducted on animals.” The CDC reported that toxicologic information on PPH is also limited but does “not suggest any new health concerns.”

This is little comfort to #aquapocalypse victims whose tap water still smells like licorice, despite following a U.S. Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Register (ATSDR) recommendation that they flush their plumbing systems until the odor goes away. Dr. Paul F. Ziemkiewicz of the West Virginia Water Research Institute explained to me that crude MCHM is a surfactant that lowers the surface tension between a liquid and a solid—in this case, water and coal. It’s a detergent of sorts, cleaning coal by separating it from non-burnable (and thus non-usable) mined substances such as shale. Because crude MCHM is only slightly soluble in—and lighter than—water, it is possible that traces of the chemical could settle at the top of water tanks in homes, continuing to contaminate its contents even after households have flushed their plumbing system. Little is known, too, about PPH, which made up five percent of the leaked tank’s total capacity. According to the Charleston Gazette, “A Freedom Industries data sheet on the chemical says it can irritate the eyes and skin and is harmful if swallowed. The sheet lists the material as less lethal than Crude MCHM but also says no data are available on its long-term health effects.”

With the state sending mixed messages, West Virginians affected by the spill are hoping scientists can provide more clarity on the chemicals. “The governor has closed the book on this disaster,” said Rob Goodwin, an activist in Charleston, “and it’s unfortunate because the disaster relief aid as it was, especially in rural areas, is going to stop because the state is no longer seeing this as an emergency anymore.” Goodwin thinks that in the absence of a regulatory standard, the least the state and the water supplier, West Virginia American Water, could do is clarify and expand the flushing instructions. (Goodwin advises draining hot water heaters completely and minimizing exposure by leaving the home during the process.) But the state has confused even this relatively simple matter. West Virginia authorities rejected ATSDR’s flushing advice, and when asked about it Monday, Tomblin said, “I’m not aware that we did. I have not seen that.”

No wonder there’s still “a big demand” for the bottled water being trucked in by FEMA—a supply that, according to the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security, is only expected to last through the weekend.


By: Claire Carusillo, The New Republic, January 22, 2014

January 24, 2014 Posted by | Environment, Public Health | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Diabolical Chicken-And-Egg Conundrum”: Fear Is Why Workers In Red States Vote Against Their Economic Self-Interest

Last week’s massive spill of the toxic chemical MCHM into West Virginia’s Elk River illustrates another benefit to the business class of high unemployment, economic insecurity, and a safety-net shot through with holes. Not only are employees eager to accept whatever job they can get. They are also also unwilling to demand healthy and safe environments.

The spill was the region’s third major chemical accident in five years, coming after two investigations by the federal Chemical Safety Board in the Kanawha Valley, also known as “Chemical Valley,” and repeated recommendations from federal regulators and environmental advocates that the state embrace tougher rules to better safeguard chemicals.

No action was ever taken. State and local officials turned a deaf ear. The storage tank that leaked, owned by Freedom Industries, hadn’t been inspected for decades.

But nobody complained.

Not even now, with the toxins moving down river toward Cincinnati, can the residents of Charleston and the surrounding area be sure their drinking water is safe — partly because the government’s calculation for safe levels is based on a single study by the manufacturer of the toxic chemical, which was never published, and partly because the West Virginia American Water Company, which supplies the drinking water, is a for-profit corporation that may not want to highlight any lingering danger.

So why wasn’t more done to prevent this, and why isn’t there more of any outcry even now?

The answer isn’t hard to find. As Maya Nye, president of People Concerned About Chemical Safety, a citizen’s group formed after a 2008 explosion and fire killed workers at West Virginia’s Bayer CropScience plant in the state, explained to the New York Times: “We are so desperate for jobs in West Virginia we don’t want to do anything that pushes industry out.”


I often heard the same refrain when I headed the U.S. Department of Labor. When we sought to impose a large fine on the Bridgestone-Firestone Tire Company for flagrantly disregarding workplace safety rules and causing workers at one of its plants in Oklahoma to be maimed and killed, for example, the community was solidly behind us — that is, until Bridgestone-Firestone threatened to close the plant if we didn’t back down.

The threat was enough to ignite a storm of opposition to the proposed penalty from the very workers and families we were trying to protect. (We didn’t back down and Bridgestone-Firestone didn’t carry out its threat, but the political fallout was intense.)

For years political scientists have wondered why so many working class and poor citizens of so-called “red” states vote against their economic self-interest. The usual explanation is that, for these voters, economic issues are trumped by social and cultural issues like guns, abortion, and race.

I’m not so sure. The wages of production workers have been dropping for thirty years, adjusted for inflation, and their economic security has disappeared. Companies can and do shut down, sometimes literally overnight. A smaller share of working-age Americans hold jobs today than at any time in more than three decades.

People are so desperate for jobs they don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want rules and regulations enforced that might cost them their livelihoods. For them, a job is precious — sometimes even more precious than a safe workplace or safe drinking water.

This is especially true in poorer regions of the country like West Virginia and through much of the South and rural America — so-called “red” states where the old working class has been voting Republican. Guns, abortion, and race are part of the explanation. But don’t overlook economic anxieties that translate into a willingness to vote for whatever it is that industry wants.

This may explain why Republican officials who have been casting their votes against unions, against expanding Medicaid, against raising the minimum wage, against extended unemployment insurance, and against jobs bills that would put people to work, continue to be elected and re-elected. They obviously have the support of corporate patrons who want to keep unemployment high and workers insecure because a pliant working class helps their bottom lines. But they also, paradoxically, get the votes of many workers who are clinging so desperately to their jobs that they’re afraid of change and too cowed to make a ruckus.

The best bulwark against corporate irresponsibility is a strong and growing middle class. But in order to summon the political will to achieve it, we have to overcome the timidity that flows from economic desperation. It’s a diabolical chicken-and-egg conundrum at a the core of American politics today.


By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, January 15, 2014

January 20, 2014 Posted by | Public Health, Public Safety | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Culture Of Privatization And Deregulation”: West Virginia Spill, Where “Regulation” Is A Dirty Word, Shady Businesses Flourish

Asked about the spill of thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals into a West Virginia river – a disaster that shut down schools and businesses, sent hundreds of residents seeking medical treatment and left an estimated 300,000 Mountain Staters without potable water – Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told reporters that he is “entirely confident that there are ample regulations already on the books to protect the health and safety of the American people.”

Others weren’t as sanguine. “We have a culture of deregulation – regulation has been turned into a dirty word down here,” says Russell Mokhiber, the West Virginia-based editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter. “Both the Democratic and Republican parties are complicit,” he told Moyers & Company.“The chemical and coal industries have a stranglehold on most institutions in the state. The political situation is locked up.”

Jennifer Sass, a lecturer in environmental health at George Washington University told The New York Times, “West Virginia has a pattern of resisting federal oversight and what they consider EPA interference, and that really puts workers and the population at risk.”

A 2009 investigation by the Times found that “hundreds of workplaces in West Virginia had violated pollution laws without paying fines.”

Current and former West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection employees said their enforcement efforts had been undermined by bureaucratic disorganization; a departmental preference to let polluters escape punishment if they promised to try harder; and a revolving door of regulators who left for higher-paying jobs at the companies they once policed.

But this isn’t just a story of anti-regulatory zeal – and the price hundreds of thousands of West Virginians paid for it. As new details emerge about Freedom Industries, the company responsible for the leak, it’s becoming clear that it’s also a tale of how shady businesses can prosper in an environment where regulatory capture by an industry is so deeply entrenched.

Even the history of Freedom Industries is murky. It was co-founded in 1992 by Carl Kennedy and Gary Southern — who during a Friday press conference sipped bottled water and told reporters that he’d had a really trying day. Southern had been president but the firm’s website now lists Dennis Farrell, a college friend of Kennedy’s (with whom he also opened a sports bar in 2002), as president instead. As Businessweek put it, “That clearly needs sorting out.” According to The Charleston Gazette, Southern is also the president of Enviromine, “which makes products to help remediate environmental problems from mining.”

Kennedy may or may not remain with the company; according to The Gazette, he’s still listed on documents the firm filed with the Secretary of State’s office, but a woman who answered the phone at the company said he was no longer with Freedom Industries.

That may be a distinction without a difference. Only weeks ago, the firm merged with several others: Etowah River Terminal, Poca Blending and Crete Technologies. According to The Gazette, in 2007, Kennedy claimed to have stakes in both Etowah River Terminal and Poca Blending. Prior to the merger, these companies already had complementary operations in the Kanawha Valley, known as “Chemical Valley.”

Carl Kennedy’s history reads like that of a character in an Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen novel. In 1987, he pleaded guilty to selling between 10 and 12 ounces of cocaine in a case that would lead to the federal prosecution of then-Charleston Mayor Mike Roark, a former prosecutor himself who, according to The New York Times, “was once nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’ for his zeal in fighting drug abuse.” He was charged with 30 counts of cocaine possession.

The Gazette’s David Gutman reports that in the early 2000s, when Kennedy was the accountant for Freedom Industries, Poca Blending and New River Chemical Co., he pled guilty to withholding $1 million in taxes from employees’ paychecks and pocketing it rather than sending it to Uncle Sam. He also owed $200,000 in unpaid state taxes. Sentenced to three years in prison, Kennedy got his time cut in half “after he cooperated with authorities by making controlled cocaine buys and wearing a wire in conversations with a former business associate.”

In 2005, Etowah River Terminal lost its license for failing to file an annual report. It was resurrected in 2011, according to The Gazette.

Despite Kennedy’s reluctance to send tax dollars to Washington, in 2009 Freedom Industries was happy to accept stimulus funds which helped the company stay afloat. David Gutman recalled that “sand, silt and mud had built up in the river, making it difficult for barges to travel the 2.5 miles from the company’s river terminal to the Elk’s confluence with the Kanawha.”

The company was in deep trouble until the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the waterway, thanks to a $400,000 grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. “It could’ve put us out of business,” Dennis Farrell told the Charleston Daily Mail. “At some point we wouldn’t have been economically fit to run the facility. That’s our claim to fame: the barges.”

Questionable Response

Last week, Gary Southern told reporters that Freedom Industries’ employees had discovered the spill, but that claim was contradicted by reports that officials from the state’s Environmental Protection Agency found it independently after nearby residents complained of a suspicious odor.

According to the Daily Mail, a team of inspectors visited the facility this week, and issued five violations for poor maintenance and operations, insufficient employee training and reporting, and storing chemicals in an above-ground tank without a secondary containment wall.

As The New York Times noted, “lawmakers have yet to explain why the storage facility was allowed to sit on the river and so close to a water treatment plant that is the largest in the state.” The facility hasn’t been inspected since 1991 because, unlike other states, West Virginia requires it only of chemical manufacturers and emitters, not storage facilities.

According to The Gazette, in 2010, experts from the US Chemical Safety Board asked the state to create a new program to prevent accidents and releases in Chemical Valley. Those recommendations followed a 2008 fatal explosion at a Bayer Chemicals plant. They were ignored.

The chemical released last week, 4-methylcyclohexane methane, isn’t classified as a hazardous material, which under state law would have required the leak to be reported within 15 minutes. The Daily Mail reported that “a different legislative rule states a facility must give ‘immediate’ notice of a spill, but leaves it up to the head of the [state’s Department of Environmental Protection] to determine what ‘immediate’ means in each case.”

The chemical’s classification as non-hazardous may also explain why state officials didn’t have an emergency response plan in place, despite the facility’s close proximity to a major water supply.

That 4-methylcyclohexane methane isn’t considered hazardous doesn’t mean it’s safe. Richard Denison, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, told Mother Jones that little is known about its potential effects in humans. According to Denison, studies have found the substance to be lethal in rats at high doses, but it’s impossible to extrapolate from those data how humans might respond to smaller quantities of the chemical.

Today, many West Virginia residents are angry that they had no idea of the hazards posed by the storage facility. Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, told The Huffington Post, “No one seemed to be aware or care that this dangerous chemical was upstream from our largest drinking water intake in the state. It was a recipe for disaster.” The same chemicals are stored in above ground tanks across the state, but it’s difficult for public health and environmental activists to know where.

That’s why Russell Mokhiber cautions against focusing too much on Freedom Industries itself. “It’s really not about an individual corporation,” he said. “It’s a question of why the state has allowed the chemical and coal industry to get away with this. Because however you slice it, you see privatization and deregulation at the heart of these kinds of cases.”


By: James Holland, Bill Moyer’s Blog, January 16, 2014

January 19, 2014 Posted by | Environment, Public Safety | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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