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Kentucky Senator Rand Paul continued his book tour this week, appearing on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

The 15-minute interview (in three parts—1,2,3) covers current issues and the philosophical differences on government between Stewart and Paul. The second part, specifically, deals with the cause and effects of the recession, and whether budget crises federally and in the states are the result of government overspending or the economic slump.

Massey Energy owns the Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 workers died in April. Transocean owns the oil rig that blew up earlier this year, killing 11 workers and causing an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

Aside from recent disasters, what do these companies have in common? Government safety awards.

From the Washington Post:

Worker safety advocates say the awards – given, in some instances, to companies involved in disasters – show the dangers posed when federal agencies become too cozy with the industries they regulate.

[edit]

“This allows companies to promote themselves a certain way. Shareholders and employees are told: ‘The government thinks we are safe,’ ” said Celeste Monforton, a former senior official at the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and assistant research professor in occupational health at George Washington University. “It can potentially be used as a shield against criticism when problems arise.”

Which is what happened after the Upper Big Branch mine exploded this spring. Within days, the MSHA released an 11-page report it wrote for President Obama detailing Massey’s safety record that characterized it as “troublesome.”

Massey immediately pointed to the three Sentinels of Safety awards it won six months earlier from the MSHA and the National Mining Association. It was the most a mining company had received in a single year from the awards program, which dates to Herbert Hoover’s administration.

(h/t Rural Blog)

It’s already been reported that politicians (governors, Senators, etc) who opposed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus) have welcomed stimulus funds into their states. But now, Public Integrity blows the story open with a long report on how stimulus opponents “sought money out of public view.”

Scores of Republicans and conservative Democrats who voted against the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act subsequently wrote letters requesting funds for projects in a massive, behind-the-scenes letter-writing and phone call campaign, documents obtained by the Center show.

Those asking for money include Tea Party favorites like freshman Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., former presidential candidates Ron Paul and John McCain and Republican congressional leaders like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana.

Many Democratic leaders who had boasted they prevented lawmakers from inserting special spending requests in the stimulus law when it passed also engaged in the behind-the-scenes letter writing to secure funding afterwards, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Included in the reporting are PDF files of letters lawmakers sent requesting stimulus funds for certain projects. Look in the sidebar on the article for links to letters from Kentucky Senators Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning.

The U.S. Census Bureau is having trouble recruiting census workers for many areas, including Appalachia.

But as the Rural Blog puts it, the recruiting troubles stem from confusion of the duties and benefits of census work, not fear of anti-government violence.

One factor they say isn’t discouraging Kentucky applicants, at least not now, is the highly publicized death of rural census worker Bill Sparkman in Clay County, Ky., last fall. Sparkman staged his death to look like a victim of anti-government sympathy, but it wasn’t ruled a suicide for two months, long after news stories had painted him as a possible victim of marijuana growers, methamphetamine makers, or haters of President Obama.

Althea Francis, head of the census office in Somerset, Ky., said it had trouble recruiting after Sparkman’s death, but most of those problems had been erased by the suicide ruling. Nevertheless, every county in her 24-county region of southeastern Kentucky remains short of applicants.

We all know Mayor Jerry Abramson is not seeking another term and will instead try to become Lieutenant Governor Jerry Abramson. Abramson helped shape the merged government, and we’ve been looking at what Jefferson County will be like without his presence.

I reported on how Abramson’s absence might or might not sway the vote to a Republican for the first time in decades. The last Republican city mayor left office in 1969. Before merger, the county had a history of electing Republican leaders, but that momentum was more or less stopped by Abramson’s electoral popularity. Without him in the race, the old city and the old county will come to a head politically.

Even though they may vote differently, the city and county are one entity, and Stephanie reported this week on what exactly that means, and what it will mean once Abramson’s last term ends. Many old county residents and politicians are anxious to see how the next mayor handles merged government. Several candidates say the promises of merger must be fulfilled; the old county must feel included in decisions and they need to see the benefits of decisions made downtown. Most of the candidates have said this, but it’s not clear how it can be accomplished by one person in power.

Since Abramson was such a proponent of and influence on merger, it will be interesting to see how candidates from the outside approach a government they didn’t have such a powerful hand in creating.

Years ago, families might have gathered in West Virginia to protest poor treatment at the hand of coal company CEO’s and ask the government to help them. But on Labor Day, families gathered to cheer on a coal company CEO, TV celebrity and former rockstar and tell the government to back off…or something like that.

The Friends of America Rally in Holden, West Virginia featured speeches, musical performances and a lot of American flags.

The rally was sponsored in part by Massey Energy, whose CEO Don Blankenship took the stage to defend coal mining against so-called cap-and-trade legislation and the people he called “Environmental nuts.”

He dismissed the notion of global warming, and criticized TV ads that say it’s real.

“Only God can change the Earth’s temperature, not Al Gore,” he said, later adding, “Global warming is pure make-believe.” (from the Charleston Gazette)

But the party wasn’t just pro-coal; it was essentially a Tea Party-style protest against the government. Fox News star Sean Hannity spoke at the rally and event M.C. Ted Nugent riled up the crowd with anti-Obama sentiment.

“We have the perfect president for a nation who doesn’t care,” he said, suggesting the new national anthem should perhaps sound like a sheep’s “baa.”

“Go home and raise hell like you’ve never raised it before,” he said.

Nugent, who recently showed how much he loves freedom and human rights with his album cover, got a little violent with his rhetoric. From the Rural Blog:

…Nugent began by evoking the memory of the Boston Tea Party and American Revolution as examples of Americans fighting back against oppressive governments. “I particularly like it when the British came to get our guns so we went to Concord Bridge and shot them,” Nugent said. “I like dead tyrants.”

Note: Death threats against the President have gone up about 400%.

The Rural Blog and the Gazette both say attendance at the rally was about a third less than anticipated.

The event was essentially a response (fueled by corporate dollars) to environmental rallies. A few folks quoted in the Gazette piece were worried about their jobs. We’ve wondered about this before. Where will the workers go if mountaintop removal ends? As we wrote in July:

But what about green jobs? If the government cranks up support for clean-energy production, should workers whose industry has become obsolete get priority consideration for new jobs?

It’s easy to live and work outside of the coal industry and not think about the individual people who do the mining. It’s also unfair to…well, the world as a whole to continue environmentally harmful practices for the sake of a comparitively small group of workers and their families.

It seems easy for someone like the Motor City Madman to whip up fear that the government is out to destroy coal jobs, but does Massey care more than the government? The coal will run out and what will Massey do for the miners? The company apparently spent $1 million on the rally, how much do they spend on perks for their workers? The company is spending to survive, the environment be damned. But are the protesters fighting for their jobs or a corporation?

This is part two of the earlier post.

Tomorrow, the Diane Rehm show will look at the recent trend of opposing government regulation. In modern times (after WWII), this trend got going under Ronald Reagan. While Richard Nixon was no fan of regulation, he wasn’t always shy about using the government to control and protect people or the environment.

The current debate over health reform seems focused not on what the government should do, but what it can do. Can it manage a healthcare option beyond SCHIP, Medicare and Medicaid?

But where should government stop? Keep in mind that it’s the government regulating firewood to keep the Emerald Ash Borer out of state parks. It’s also the government maintaining those parks. There are those who push for as little government as possible, but that means different things to different people.

Where do you stand on government regulation and involvement? Should the government be involved in parks, healthcare, libraries, police, fire, traffic and food inspection? Should this be a state or federal matter? If less government is needed, how will the sectors under regulation be policed? Leave your comments below.

Here’s what we reported on today:

This isn’t really Louisville news, but since we like talking (read: griping) about FOIA, we thought we would share another method of obtaining hard-to-find government documents. This story comes from IT World. It seems that decommissioned government hard drives were not wiped clean and ended up being sold in Ghana.

The drive had belonged to a Fairfax, Virginia, employee who still works for the company and contained “hundreds and hundreds of documents about government contracts,” said Peter Klein, an associate professor with the University of British Columbia, who led the investigation for the Public Broadcasting Service show Frontline. He would not disclose details of the documents, but he said that they were marked “competitive sensitive” and covered company contracts with the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Transportation Security Agency.

The data was unencrypted, Klein said in an interview. The cost? US$40.

When I was a kid, a neighbor bought a used Apple II from another neighbor and found neighbor #2’s unfinished adventure/crime novel stored on the hard drive. I’ve gotten phone calls from people who have bought used cell phones that once belonged to people I knew. So seriously, clear your data. Also, don’t send personal messages from devices you don’t own.

If you’re the type of person who is into sleuthing, keep an eye out for any decommissioned Metro hard drives. Let us know what you find.

This solidifies my notion that I’m unable to write any serious posts today.

While doing research for a feature story, Stephanie discovered the Kentucky Tobacco and Candy Association. This is a 501(c)(6) group that, presumably, lobbies for candy and tobacco industry insiders. As they put it:

The objects and purposes of this association are as follows:

To lawfully promote the general business welfare of all persons, firms or corporations engaged in the business of distributing, marketing or selling tobacco, candy and related products at wholesale.

Our main goal is to band together to fight increases in cigarette and tobacco taxes as well as any legislation that affects our membership.

Are there candy taxes in Kentucky? If not, I guess we know why. Do we need a lobbying group for candy? I, for one, have heard too many horror stories about big peppermint taking advantage of the working man. At least the government split up ‘ma Snickers into all those Baby Ruths (to make competition fair for all those Pieces of the Reese’s conglomerate). Though, I do get taxed like mad on my 100 Grand. I suppose I shouldn’t complain, everyone is feeling the Crunch. I hope any proposals for nougat levies are negotiated Kit for Kat by the KTCA.

I apologize.

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