Shining a Light on the Attacks on Solar Energy

January 9th, 2015 · energy policy, environment, journalism, regulation

By Denise Tessier

A year ago this month, I posted some of the 2014 new year’s goals for the powerful “bill mill” known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), one of which was to protect polluters and attack clean energy sources by metering and charging those who produce their own solar energy.

A few months before, Huffington Post had reported an example of this how this scheme could play out, saying Arizona Public Service was given state approval to charge its roof-top solar ratepayers a monthly 70 cents per kilowatt generated. (APS, which has coal, nuclear, gas and oil-fired power plants, had originally proposed charging rooftop solar customers an additional $50-100 on their monthly bills.)

A year later, Public Service Company of New Mexico is asking the New Mexico Public Regulatory Commission to allow it to charge solar rooftop generators a fee. [Read more →]

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Standing Up for George Orwell, Citing Pete Domenici and Fact-checking The Fact-free Victor Davis Hanson

January 7th, 2015 · budget policy, energy policy, Fact Check, journalism, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

Is a newspaper responsible for its syndicated columnists? For the columnists’ factual accuracy and intellectual honesty, I mean. It’s not an easy question. An answer in the affirmative puts a serious burden on editors. It’s time-consuming to read copy carefully and decide if it should be published as is, corrected or shelved.

Victor Davis Hanson’s column in the Albuquerque Journal Monday, January 5, under the rubric, “Oil glut saved Obama from himself”, inspired the query.

As a member of the Journal’s squad of conservative and far right syndicated columnists, Hanson’s primary role (befitting a “classicist and historian”) has been rewriter of history. A tireless cherry picker, he inevitably finds evidence in the Past for endorsing the partisan desires of today’s oligarchs.

And he is creative. I’ve never forgotten his portrayal (Feb. 13, 2014) of George Orwell as a rightist! This required that Hanson ignore testimony to the contrary from George Orwell himself, which is precisely what he did.

It was downright Orwellian.

But Hanson sometimes plays another role at the Journal. Editors use him, in rotation with other syndicated and local rightists, as a political hit man on trending political and economic issues.

As in Monday’s column, the message of which is clear if a trifle convoluted:

The American economy is not surging, but if it is surging, don’t credit President Obama. He did everything wrong. Heroic oilmen rescued us.

That’s fine. It’s an opinion column.

I’ll try to steer around the politics below so as to focus on Hanson’s accuracy and intellectual honesty – the better to discuss the Journal’s responsibility, if any.

First, though, let’s cheer the editor who wrote the headline – accurate, active voice, easily understood. Journal editors can write good rubrics when they want to.

Also, let’s note that the editors interjected information (on Albuquerque gas prices) at the very top of Hanson’s column. This is evidence they read it, worth keeping in mind.

In paragraph six Hanson claims that President Obama “promised” in the 2008 campaign “Under my plan…electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”

He adds that Mr. Obama proposed that, “shutting down coal plants and using higher-priced but cleaner natural gas would pave the way for even pricier mandated wind and solar generation.”

This is a canard.

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Mr. Obama did say those words. If, however, you credit the Washington Post’s fact checker, Hanson’s use is unfair.

When a fossil fuel lobby included that quote in an ad, WaPo’s Josh Hicks analyzed it. His Oct. 22, 2012 account headlined “Did Obama promise a ‘war on affordable energy’?” reached this conclusion:

“The American Energy Alliance used cropped footage of Obama’s 2008 interview to suggest the president is bent on raising electricity rates and bankrupting coal-powered energy plants. But the extended version of his remarks show that he supported clean-coal technology and thought it was possible to mitigate the higher electricity rates that would result from cap-and-trade.”

Yet Hanson doubled down on the American Energy Alliance misuse.

Five graphs further down, Hanson implied the Keystone XL pipeline is a factor in domestic oil supply, though TransCanada’s goal is to export its product.

In the next graph, Hanson referred to the “noble cause of curbing supposed man-made global warming.”

Forget the sneering “noble,” but make a note of the “supposed.” Hanson, a Hoover Institute scholar, is a climate change denier.

Why am I surprised?

Moving right along, Hanson writes that “sky high oil prices” proved an economic disaster.” Now I’m not certain to what disaster he refers. I hope it wasn’t Wall Street’s gift of 2008 which inspired President George W. Bush (and later, President Obama) to bail out the banks, insurance and mortgage companies that brought down the Temple.

Next Hanson complains those elevated gas prices were the reason the economy didn’t recover faster from the recession.

That’s borderline nuts. You will find few economists of any political stripe who agree.

But four graphs further down, Hanson soars. Oil and gas prices finally fell, he explains because of the “can do attitude of the private sector.

“Americans can thank the US oilman…who did the impossible.

“Oilmen, not the government, returned hundreds of millions of dollars to American consumers,” he added.

Funny, that’s not the way Pete Domenici tells it.

In Pete’s version, those heroic oilmen got a hand up from the taxpayer. As the former Senator put it in a Journal column Monday, Aug.18, 2014:

“Decades of research and development, a partnership of government and energy producers, prepared the way to current innovation.”

Domenici singled out for kudos Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs, the Bureau of Mines and the National Energy Technology Laboratory for developing the technology used in fracturing rock.

He didn’t quite say it, but the American taxpayer paid for those “decades” of R&D by, er, government agencies. Which subsidies Domenici thinks right, proper and the way to go:

“And that government-industry partnership is paramount to future breakthroughs,” he wrote.

Duly noted – Victor Davis Hanson and Pete Domenici both like the “can do” oil industry but one of them also knows what government can do for the industry.

Back to the Hoover Institution classicist/historian whose next paragraph boggles the mind:

“Almost everything Obama tried for six years in an effort to rev the economy – from near-zero interest rates and $1 trillion annual budget deficits to Obamacare and vast increases in entitlements – has failed.”

Forgive me for not parsing that sentence in full; I don’t want to slip into political commentary. But it opens with blatant ignorance – the Fed determines interest rates, not the White House. And the Constitution empowers the House on budgets, not the White House. Oh, and the Fed’s interest rate policy has been very successful; that’s the consensus not just nationally but worldwide.

Well, except for Mr. Hanson and the governor of Texas.

Time to taper off. I’ve suggested that Hanson’s essay combines (scholarly) ignorance with fierce partisanship. And that’s just in what he states affirmatively. Imagine the length of this post if I had to examine what he left out!

Like the effect of austerity on economic development, best expressed as premeditated murder. See Western Europe.

Like what the exploitation of fossil fuels does to humans and their environment. (Yes, I know Milton Friedman said corporations should shirk social responsibilities.)

Now it’s time to step back and consider the Journal editors who read Mr. Hanson’s essay riddled with basic inaccuracies and a gaping hole where intellectual honesty should be?

What to do?

Nothing, they did nothing but add a few words about gas prices in Albuquerque. Perhaps those editors agree with Hanson that the President determines interest rates and passes a budget. Perhaps they think journalists should excel in the picking of cherries.

Or maybe they just get s kick out of publishing syndicated columns proclaiming the Journal’s political agenda.

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Not Much Fanfare Now That Solyndra Loan Program Promise Is Fulfilled

January 3rd, 2015 · energy policy, environment, journalism, Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

During years of constant claims by conservatives – parroted by media like the Albuquerque Journal – the name “Solyndra” became shorthand for a fool’s errand, both in terms of the promise of green alternative energy and the Obama administration’s encouragement of it.

So, now that the federal loan program behind Solyndra has been proven a tremendous success – $5 billion in earnings to the federal government! Tens of thousands of jobs! – the Journal at least has run that information, even if its placement at the bottom of the business page isn’t quite equal to the frequent front-page coverage the multiple “failure” stories received.

And while the Journal headline on the Associated Press story it ran Tuesday (Dec. 30) is technically correct, it doesn’t convey the story’s information about just how successful the federal green energy loan program of 2009 has been.

First, let’s look at how other media outlets headlined their versions of the same success story. From Businessweek:

“U.S. Expects $5 Billion From Program That Funded Solyndra”

From the Washington Post:

“Remember Solyndra? Those loans are making money”

Here’s the Journal’s headline:

“Green-energy program overcomes Solyndra flop”

Now, as a long-time headline writer, I can see the value of “flop” – it’s short; it fits.

But to the conditioned news follower, “Solyndra flop” carries negative weight that almost prevents the reader from bothering to read the story that follows it. And in this case, the success story merits greater emphasis precisely because the Department of Energy green energy loans received so much bad press in the past.

[Read more →]

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Get Ready for the Journal’s Right to Work Campaign

December 31st, 2014 · inequality, labor, NM Legislature

By Arthur Alpert

And so it begins. The Albuquerque Journal launches its campaign to pass right-to-work legislation in New Mexico.

Unlike the Journal’s never-say-die resistance to Obamacare, which originated before passage and continues to this day (Tuesday, Dec. 30, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar’s A3 story), this campaign will be an offensive effort.

Offensive as in forward leaning, I mean. Oh, and offensive to simple journalistic fairness.

As in the anti-Obamacare campaign, however, the newspaper will bring to bear all its political assets – its editorials, its heavily Rightist opinion pages and its so-called news columns.

At that last stop, the Journal high command will work subtly, in particular where capable staff reporters turn in professional copy; there the editors will rely on story placement and headlines to promote management’s political agenda.

[Read more →]

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Hacker Incident: What’s the Journal Got To Hide?

December 25th, 2014 · journalism

By Denise Tessier

Hacker attacks Journal website” was the headline on a brief four inches of copy deep inside the Albuquerque Journal’s print edition Christmas Day.

The story said the Journal’s website had to be taken down for “several hours” Wednesday morning “after someone posted an altered version” of a news report of a police officer slaying from 43 years ago. The short hacker story said:

The alteration inserted under the reporter’s byline purported to be a threat from the radical group ISIS.

Quickly wrapping up, the story concluded that the Journal’s servers “were not breached,” the story was fixed, the FBI had been notified and “alterations appear to be limited to that story.”

Not much to see here folks, right?

That’s the impression. But why is the Journal’s story so different from that in the Santa Fe New Mexican?

Hoax or cyberattack?” was the New Mexican’s headline on a much longer, much more interesting story by Patrick Malone, which said:

Hackers apparently commandeered the Albuquerque Journal’s mobile app Wednesday morning, giving top billing to a story that expressed support for the Islamic extremist group ISIS and warned citizens of Albuquerque that their personal secrets were being collected through mobile devices, with plans to expand the havoc to other locations.

“You’ll see no mercy infidels. We are already here, we are in your PCs, in each house, in each office. With Allah’s permission we begin with Albuquerque,” the post said.

. . .“While the us (sic) and its satellites are bombing the Islamic State, we broke into your home networks and personal devices and know everything about you,” the post said.

It’s unlikely the Journal’s Christmas Day story was very reassuring to anyone who on Wednesday had seen the mobile app described by the New Mexican. [Read more →]

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How the Journal Played the Torture Report Story

December 14th, 2014 · journalism, Washington

By Arthur Alpert

We drown in facts even as we thirst for meaning.

Meaning is born of context. Reporters and essayists provide it within their pieces by using history, comparisons and other explanatory material.

(It’s not today’s subject but that required reportorial intervention is why “objectivity” doesn’t exist and why “just the facts, please” is a nonsensical request.)

Another kind of context is less obvious. It’s supplied by editors when, for example, they decide to to play a story on Page One, thereby signaling to the reader that it’s important. Page 42? Not that big a deal. They also send us messages with their decisions on size, adorning the piece with color and art, using a pull quote and, of course, headlining it.

This is where the Albuquerque Journal’s top decision makers strike. Blatantly, insistently, they impose a political agenda. Today’s case in point is their “news” coverage of the report on U.S. torture following 9/11.

Let’s start with a Ripley event. Believe it or not, on December 10, 2014, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the editors ran a sidebar on the front page!

A sidebar, the narrower piece that accompanies the main story, follows its big brother. Sometimes, they abut side-by-side. Sometimes the sidebar is below. Once in a while the main story runs up front and there’s a note alerting us to a sidebar on another page.

But – and it’s a big BUT – putting the sidebar (lesser, remember) on Page One and burying the basic account inside is, well, weird. Backward and – I was going to say – inane.

But no, not if we presume the editors are politicians. Now it makes great sense.

For by running the sidebar on the front page (noting that “details” are on A5), the Journal relegates the big, ugly story to A5.

Allow me to hover over that for a moment and restate it this way:

[Read more →]

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Piecemeal Treatment on a Story of Toxic Proportions

December 11th, 2014 · energy policy, environment, journalism, role of government

By Denise Tessier

Catching up after three weeks away from both a computer and New Mexico news, one story jumped out among the many I’d missed. It wasn’t in the Albuquerque Journal, but the Weekly Alibi.

Written by University of New Mexico Professor David Correia, the Nov. 27 Alibi piece was headlined “Welcome to Albuquerque, Nuclear Meltdown Capital of the World.”

Now, a nuclear reactor is needed for a real nuclear meltdown to occur, and the only nuclear reactors in New Mexico were three small experimental ones at the labs and at UNM. But as Correia’s story revealed, Sandia National Laboratories actually triggered dozens of real meltdowns in its unit near Albuquerque after being asked by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to conduct research, with a goal of preventing a repeat of the Three Mile Island incident in 1979. Correia outlined this time period, saying:

. . .commercial nuclear plants all over the world sent enriched uranium to Sandia, where scientists triggered dozens of nuclear meltdowns by irradiating the fuel at temperatures greater than 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit in its Annular Core Research Reactor. . .The experiments contributed to the creation of fail-safe computer codes based on various worst-case scenarios. Nuclear reactors worldwide reprogrammed their computers based on these codes.

But here’s the kicker:

These were real nuclear meltdowns that produced dangerous nuclear wastes. The only safe storage option for such wastes would have been in a specially engineered facility, but no such option existed at the time. Instead the NRC allowed Sandia to bury dozens of radioactive canisters full of meltdown material in vertical holes drilled into shallow, unlined trenches in its 2.6-acre Sandia Mixed Waste Landfill (MWL).

The dump opened in 1959 and for nearly 30 years, until it closed in 1988, received as much as 1.5 million cubic feet of radioactive and toxic material.

And that wasn’t all that was dumped:

Into open pits near the Pueblo of Isleta, Sandia dumped carcinogenic solvents such as tetrachloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethelyene (TCE) and dichlorodifluoromethane (CFC-12).

Into unlined trenches a few hundred feet above the aquifer, it dumped metals like beryllium, cadmium, chromium, nickel and 281,000 pounds of lead.

In the middle of it all, it buried tons of various radioactive elements, including more than 100 drums of plutonium, which has a radioactive half-life of 24,100 years.

Correia’s story ended with a chilling quote he elicited from H. Eric Nuttall, UNM emeritus professor of Chemical & Nuclear Engineering, one of five scientists who conducted an independent review of the landfill at the request of the Department of Energy in 2001, and who is an expert on in situ remediation of groundwater:

“This is no ordinary landfill,” Nutall told me. “It’s unlike any other dump in the United States. It’s full of extremely hazardous and highly radioactive materials. . . .It’s no exaggeration to say that if the material in the landfill were distributed around the world and people were exposed, it would kill everyone on Earth.” (emphasis added)

[Read more →]

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The Journal Deserves Worse Than A Flunking Grade for Keystone XL Pipeline Editorial

December 5th, 2014 · climate change, energy policy, environment, Fact Check, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

I rarely write about the Albuquerque Journal’s editorials because the daily’s owners have a right to express their opinions there. And since the aim of most editorials is to persuade, the authors deserve plenty of room to assemble and tailor evidence for the argument.

That said, editorials ought to live up to the same standards you and I impose on, say, the newspaper’s opinion columns or news stories. Like seriousness of purpose, accuracy, the proper use of evidence, logic and, above all, fairness.

By these yardsticks, I generally grade the Journal’s editorials on local issues as acceptable, some higher, but when it comes to national topics, I flunk a lot. Such is my dismay, however, at the newspaper’s take on the Keystone pipeline published Friday, Nov. 21, that a D or F would not adequately reprove it.

It was that journalistically shameful.

“Pandering to their environmentally activist base,” the editorialist wrote, “59 Senate Democrats, including both Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, have again declared war on American jobs and rejected a boost for the U.S. economy and another step toward energy independence by blocking congressional approval of the $5.3 billion Keystone XL pipeline project.”

The Journal’s stand was no surprise, of course. As my colleague, Denise Tessier and I have noted here, New Mexico’s largest print daily regularly publishes fossil fuel industry views via essays ostensibly from concerned citizens but financed, in fact, by the industry. Also, pro-fossil fuel industry opinions from “think tanks” also financed by the industry or its affluent allies. Nor do the editors bother to identify the real sources of these opinions for readers.

Simultaneously, it omits most stories on alternative energy progress, technically and in market terms. [Read more →]

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Willed Superficiality

November 20th, 2014 · journalism, NM Legislature

By Arthur Alpert

Not a day passes that the Albuquerque Journal does not offer a lesson or five or six in how not to do journalism. This drives me crazy because I get lost trying to decide what to target first.

Should I point out stories the Journal ignores, presumably because its plutocratic agenda forbids?

OK, here, briefly, are a few of the latest:

  • The DOE expects a five billion dollar profit for the taxpayers from the program that funded Solyndra and other green energy startups, as Bloomberg Business Week (and others) noted Nov. 12. Somehow, the Journal, which ran umpteen stories on Solyndra’s big loss (as I noted here Nov. 16, 2011) hasn’t found space for DOE’s big profit.
  • Speaking of energy, the Journal also missed Donald Blankenship’s indictment. The former Massey Energy Co. CEO is charged with conspiring to violate mine safety standards and to impede mine safety officials, making false statements to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and securities fraud. News organizations reported it Nov. 13.

Of course, they were only miners, the 29 who died in that April 5, 2010 Upper Big Branch explosion, not mine owners.

  • The Journal’s post-election analysis included zero coverage of the decisive role played by dark money.

Of course, the Journal continues to employ a range of tactics to promote its oligarchic agenda, including stories not assigned, stories hidden in the back pages and stories disguised under misleading rubrics. [Read more →]

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Old-fashioned Virtues, Anti-Journalism and Net Neutrality

November 16th, 2014 · health care reform, journalism, net neutrality, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

I wanted today to evaluate the Albuquerque Journal’s political coverage leading up to Nov. 4 – hint, it ranged downward from mediocre – and I will get to it soon. But columns by Winthrop Quigley and D’Val Westphal intervened, reminding me of an old suggestion by my colleague, Denise Tessier and, well, I’ve changed course.

If memory serves, she wondered why the Journal doesn’t replace some syndicated columns (and Op Ed essays from covert sources) with the work of staff writers, publishing them not on Page One but on the editorial and Op Ed pages, as local newspapers traditionally do.

(I’ve just read her Feb. 24, 2010 post and yes, memory did serve but she said a lot more and said it better.)

We’ll get back to Denise’s point but first, the columns I cited above:

In his UpFront column headlined “Opposition to the Affordable Care Act is often ironic”, Quigley gently put down those opponents of Obamacare who cry “Socialism” when the reality is the ACA recruits “new customers for the for-profit insurance industry.”

That was Thursday, Nov. 13. I’m writing Friday and the top story is Westphal’s continuing UpFront inquiry into the facts on testing in the state’s public schools. Facts, that is, as opposed to broad generalizations or wild assertions.

This is not about agreeing with Quigley or Westphal. I don’t always. Quigley seems to side with business rather than the nation when their interests clash. And while Westphal’s decision to ask teachers what goes on in classrooms is as impressive as it is rare these days, I’m wary of how she will link and interpret what she finds given Journal management’s record on improving schools.

What matters, however, is that both essayists are serious journalists who are allowed by Journal management to stray from the party line.

Of course that party line – or rather, management’s use of it in deciding what is “news” and in structuring the opinion pages – is destructive of journalism.

[Read more →]

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