Mitch McConnell declines Second Amendment questions at Second Amendment campaign event

mitch nra event table

Sen. Mitch McConnell held a campaign event this morning at the Jefferson County Sportsmen Club, where he once again touted his endorsement from the NRA and criticized the Obama Administration’s gun control policies.

I’m quite pleased to say that McConnell’s campaign decided to respect the First Amendment at his Second Amendment event today, as his campaign decided not to dispatch law enforcement to bar me from the event, and even allowed me to ask the senator a question for the first time since last July. Progress!

At the rally, attended by roughly 60 supporters, the NRA’s Chris Cox blasted President Obama and Attorney General as gun grabbers who hated the Second Amendment, saying McConnell was an even better advocate for gun rights than Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, and that he would fight the United Nations Small Arms Treaty.

He then turned the mic over to McConnell, who spoke for only 53 seconds to the crowd.

Shortly after his speech, McConnell addressed the media with his wife Elaine Chao at his side, ripping state House Democrats for a “cover up” of the John Arnold scandal, saying that he stood up against Sen. Bob Packwood in the 1990s even though he was a Republican. McConnell then opened the floor for questions, and I asked the first (and last) question, referencing his campaign’s tweet this week claiming (along with Grumpy Cat) that AG Holder was for tracking bracelets on guns.

Mitch grumpy cat

Since this claim is 100 percent false — Holder did no such thing — I asked McConnell if he stood by this claim:

LEO: Your campaign tweeted out this week that Eric Holder is advocating tracking bracelets for guns. Do you stand by that claim?

McConnell: What I’m here to talk to you about, in addition to what we did in there, was what I just had to say. Anybody interested in any follow up on the statement that I just made?

After two seconds of silence, McConnell said “OK, well thanks a lot,” turned around and walked away from reporters. That’s obviously not the first time he’s laid out ground rules for what topics reporters are allowed and not allowed to ask him, but it seemed odd to me — and the other reporters present — that questions about the Second Amendment are somehow not relevant at an campaign event that was supposed to tout his Second Amendment credentials.

I asked Cox if he agreed with the McConnell’s campaign’s contention that Holder is for gun tracking bracelets, who went into an indictment of Holder’s tenure without addressing the specific question. After I followed up to ask about the tracking bracelet claim, Cox said, “You can talk to the Justice Department about that.” The AG’s office corrected multiple false media reports this week by saying that he has never advocated for such a thing.

The McConnell campaign’s tweet about Holder’s support for tracking bracelets — from the frowny mouth of Grumpy Cat… so hip — remains on their Twitter account.


Big Cockfighting lobby inserts itself into KY Senate race

Mitch hearts Blue Devils, Bevin hearts Gamecocks

Mitch hearts Blue Devils, Bevin hearts Gamecocks (killing each other)

Our big, stupid and ridiculous U.S. Senate race in Kentucky got another dose of WTF on Wednesday, as The News Journal in Corbin reported that Matt Bevin attended and spoke at a rally in support of legalizing cockfighting in Kentucky. Yes, cockfighting.

chicken

But wait just a second there before you go jumping to conclusions and affixing sharp blades on your ankles to do battle with Kentucky’s new Tea Party poster boy. Bevin explained that he actually thought it was a “state’s rights” rally, and didn’t know anything about cockfighting being discussed at the rally. However, Michael Devereaux — the Director of the Gamefowl Defense Network, which advocates for the legal and humane practice of cheering on two animals fighting each other to the death — says that is a chickenshit story:

Organizers say there was never any ambiguity about why they were meeting.

Devereaux said a new federal spectator law criminalizes not only those who participate in cock fighting, but any spectators at the event.

However, wording in the federal law states that if cockfighting is legal in the state and none of the fowl have crossed state lines, the federal law is moot.

“The basic argument is that the people of Kentucky have the right to determine how this issue is dealt with in their state,” Devereaux said.

Perhaps in damage control mode, Matt Bevin went on Terry Meiners show yesterday to ease people’s concerns about this whole cockfighting kerfuffle. And judging from his comments, when I say “people’s concerns,” I think I mean the concern of the Big Cockfighting lobby, not people who think cockfighting is sadistic and barbaric:

“But it’s interesting when you look at cockfighting and dogfighting as well. This isn’t something new, it wasn’t invented in Kentucky for example. I mean the Founding Fathers were all — many of them — very involved in this and always have been.”

If you’ve ever listened to speakers at a Tea Party rally, you know that the Founding Fathers were immortal and infallible saints who descended from heaven to chisel the Bill of Rights into stone tablets many years ago. And a very cursory Google search tells me that the likes of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson all enjoyed a pleasant evening watching roosters stab each other to death in a pile of blood.

However, I didn’t bother to spend any further amount of time verifying those claims on the website, because I actually couldn’t give a shit whether this was true or not, as Thomas Jefferson betting on a cockfighting match wouldn’t change my opinion that people who enjoy such a “sport” in 2014 are mentally deranged.

It should also be noted that George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson all owned slaves at one point in their lives. So if you want to go all Founding Fathers state’s rights on us… oh, be my guest.

Also, did Bevin actually bring up “dogfighting?” That’s special.

Understandably, Mitch McConnell’s people jumped all over Bevin for hugging the Big Cockfighting lobby, proudly sending out the Humane Society’s statement ripping Bevin and saying he should withdraw from the race:

“There’s no hidden purpose here: Organized criminals want to repeal Kentucky’s already weak anti-cockfighting statute,” Markarian said in the statement. “We have plenty of evidence that they are brazenly breaking the law, strapping razor-sharp knives and ice pick-like gaffs to the legs of roosters, throwing them into a pit and forcing them to hack each other to pieces — just so they can shout out bets and be titillated by the violence and bloodletting.”

*****

“Matt Bevin showed appalling judgment in associating himself with this band of lawbreakers and perpetrators of unspeakable animal cruelty,” Markarian said. “He’s brought discredit upon the state of Kentucky, and he should withdraw from the Senate race.”

That’s certainly some biting criticism from the Humane Society. In fact, it’s somewhat similar to how they feel about those who support the practice of “soring,” the intentional infliction of pain to the feet and legs of Tennessee walking horses to produce an exaggerated gait. And according to the Humane Society, Sen. Mitch McConnell’s new legislation would actually protect this barbaric practice so that humans can be entertained by the sport of watching crippled horses perform in pain:

Federal legislation introduced by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-TN, with Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-KY, Rand Paul, R–KY, and Johnny Isakson, R-GA, as original cosponsors, would weaken protections for horses under the federal Horse Protection Act by placing enforcement authority in the hands of individuals with ties to the Tennessee walking horse industry. This would codify – and actually make worse – a scheme of self-regulation that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General called a failure and recommended be abolished. The bill, S. 2193, is intended as a companion to H.R. 4098, which was introduced in February by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-TN, and has been widely condemned by the horse industry, veterinary community and animal welfare groups.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, said: “This new bill will do nothing to end soring of Tennessee walking horses. It amounts to a prescription for continued abuse of horses by the ‘Big Lick’ faction of trainers who seek to gain an advantage in competitive shows by intentionally injuring the animals. It puts a criminal faction of the industry in control of oversight.”

Keith Dane, vice president of Equine Protection at The HSUS and an owner of Tennessee Walking horses and a horse show judge, added: “Lawmakers sincerely interested in combating the criminal practice of soring should get behind the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, H.R. 1518 and S. 1406 – which collectively have more than 300 cosponsors. We call on House and Senate leadership to swiftly move the PAST Act to the floor for a vote, and end the unconscionable suffering of these horses.”

Now, one might be quick to call McConnell a hypocrite when it comes to the cruel treatment of animals for entertainment purposes, but we should note that these are totally different. One sport is watching the quick death on an animal — that animal being one of 8 billion that are killed in America each year — for entertainment purposes. The other sport involves inflicting intentional pain on a horse — who Kentuckians seems quite fond of, I’ve heard — so that people can be entertained by their painful limping throughout the rest of the horse’s life.

It’s totally different.


What type of racist are you? A guide to online comments

Recent violence in Waterfront Park and Downtown Louisville has people talking. Not surprisingly, a lot of it has been pretty damn racist. Here at LEO, we read all of the comments of our local news outlets and wept for humanity, so you don’t have to.

Here’s our baseline. This comment doesn’t make any sweeping generalizations about entire groups of people. It’s rational and not at all racist. Take a screenshot because this is a rarity:

The week of Christmas my home was burglarized. I live in the suburbs. Three other homes on my street (my white neighbors) were broken into as well. They caught them. It was 3 white 21-year-olds. Is it fair for me to judge all white people for that?

With the calm and rational stuff out of the way, let’s get to the eight types of people you can expect if you make the mistake of reading the comments.

8. The “there is a chance I might not be racist but I am definitely crazy” commenters who propose using fully automatic weapons on groups of people in public spaces

“Machine guns with cameras” is what he meant to say, right? Gun-grabbers are right about one thing—we don’t need 30-round magazines. We need 200+.

7. The “black people are out to get me” people who don’t even live in Louisville but still comment on our local news sites

 I wouldn’t go to Louisville, Baltimore, D.C. or L.A. if you paid me. It’s open season on Caucasians. Do you think Holder cares? It’s payback. Black kids who do something positive will only be accused of “acting white.”

6. The separate-but-equal racists

Sounds like Louisville needs to wall off part of the city.

5. The people who believe that whites don’t riot, they just party hard! 

White people don’t tear up their cities; they build them.

4. The classy racists, who evoke the memory of dead teenagers:

Oh wait… Those are black teens shown on the video… That can’t be… Right? I bet they were just looking for Skittles.

3. Students of history who take their lessons from the Internet

You’re proud of what exactly… I’d really like to know? The color of your skin? Don’t even bring up the bogus slavery bit, because Whites were slaves in this country long before the Blacks, and they were treated WORSE, because they were not as valuable.

 2. The time-traveling racists from 1860 whose great-great-great-great-great granddaughter taught them how to use the Internet

Lynch them

1. The unclassifiable scum

Boy, our policy of pretending blacks are people is really working out well, huh?

Our soul hurts. Racism is alive and well in 2014. For more soul-crushing comments, see Twitter user @LvilleNewsDoge’s take.


Dukeghazi fallout: Mitch McConnell cancels on Matt Jones, gets ribbed by Jimmy Fallon (UPDATE)

Mitch Duke 2

Sen. Mitch McConnell has been dead silent when it comes to basketball over the last two days, and considering his daylong rake-in-the-face exhibition on Tuesday, we’ll give that campaign strategy a grade of A.

Then again, plenty of other people are continuing to talk about McConnell’s Duke/Randle flub on Tuesday, including Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon in last night’s monologue (at 2:27 in clip below):

Pretty funny, but not quite David Schankula of B&P’s creation this morning, picking up on Jon Stewart’s new #MitchTake suggestion to replace #McConnelling (Laettner trigger warning on this video, UK fans):

Then again, McConnell’s campaign has even been able to screw up the “shut your mouth” strategy since Tuesday’s Dukeghazi travesty. McConnell’s campaign told Kentucky Sports Radio’s Matt Jones — Lord of the most popular UK call-in show and website — that he would appear on his 10-noon radio show yesterday, but bailed late the night before due to a “scheduling conflict.”

“Mitch McConnell was going to come on the show today, I think he wanted to sort of do his mea culpa to the fan base, and I was excited to have him on,” said Jones on Wednesday’s broadcast. “He ended up canceling last night. He’s now canceled on us three or four times. So, you know, whatever.”

KSR’s website put up a rather brutal post on Tuesday — titled “Mitch McConnell celebrates Duke 2010 title win in new ad” — once the video was exposed, which amounted for a large chunk of the now over 74,000 views the video has received on YouTube.

LEO spoke with Matt Jones on Wednesday, who told us that while it would have been smart for McConnell to do damage control with UK fans on his program, he wasn’t going to flame him over the cancellation, “because that makes me look like Bill O’Reilly, that people must come on my show so I’m so important.”

LEO asked Jones what kind of impact this could have on McConnell with UK fan voters, as some have speculated that this is completely trivial and means nothing, while others say that a significant number of fans could take out their frustrations on McConnell in the ballot box — as “crazy” as that might sound.

“I think it’s somewhere in the middle,” said Jones. “The people who think it’s nothing, that’s not correct. I think it’s something. But I don’t think it has cost him the race. I think he was saved by two things. One, nothing came of the Randle (eligibility) thing. If anything had come of it, he would have been dead. Second, I do think he was helped by the fact that Mayor Fischer screwed up too yesterday (poking his finger in the eye of UK fans). Because a lot of fans think the Louisville mayor’s screw up was worse than his.”

“But I do think it matters. Is it going to be a huge difference? I don’t know. I think what will happen is that for people who already think he’s out of touch, this just confirms it.”

Jones says that while the inclusion of Duke’s 2010 title celebration was the most baffling/hilarious screw up of McConnell on Tuesday, the use of Julius Randle in the replacement video is what might upset UK fans the most.

“I think the Randle incident was probably a bigger deal than the Duke thing,” said Jones. “The Duke thing was a better story, but Kentucky fans are smart. As soon as they did that, every Kentucky fan immediately knew that was a violation. They knew that and were like, ‘Are you really so dumb that you made the school have to report a violation?’ The week of the U of L game, the compliance compartment spent the week talking to the NCAA.”

***** UPDATE *****

McConnell’s GOP primary opponent Matt Bevin has been completely absent from the TV airwaves only had limited TV ad time over the past few weeks with 15-second spots, but he has his first 30-second TV ad going up during the big UK-UL game tomorrow night (a $40,000 ad buy, according to the campaign)). And…. he went there:

BjwtatnCcAAV2Ur.png-large

I don’t know what to say, other than “You people are crazy!”


Team Mitch for Team Duke: McConnell’s day of #BBN rake-in-the-face


(cartoon actor recreation of Sen. Mitch McConnell on Tuesday)

Yesterday morning, the campaign of Sen. Mitch McConnell released another hilarious video by boy wonder Lucas Baiano that tried to make Kentucky’s senior senator look like a mix of Vin Diesel and Abraham Lincoln. Over the audio of McConnell’s CPAC speech — and wild cheering that was canned — the viewer sees all-American and all-Kentuckian images such as horses, Muhammad Ali, cute children holding American flags, mom and apple pie…

…and the celebration by the Duke Blue Devils after winning the 2010 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

I was the tenth person to watch this video yesterday morning, and when I got to the very end I noticed not just the Louisville player going in for a dunk, but another quick image that looked out of place. It was two players celebrating as confetti rained upon them, but it sure as hell didn’t look like UK players. I thought to myself: What team wearing blue and white recently won a national championship? After tracing back the past few winners in my head, a ridiculously improbable thought struck me, just as my finely tuned Duke Hatred Spidey Sense began to tingle. Surely not…

After going back and freezing the frame at the 1:09 mark, I recognized those devilish stripes on the uniform and that very Dukie face. To double-verify I checked the Duke 2010 roster, and sure enough there was Lance Thomas, No. 42. I ripped the video — as I was quite certain this would soon erase from the Interwebs — and tweeted out the news about the implausible stars of McConnell’s new ad.

Mitch Duke 2

I’m sure the McConnell campaign was thrilled that it was me — who they threatened to arrest last week for wanting to ask the senator a question at a press conference — who found the Dukies and saved the video from the memory hole. Maybe if I was wearing a Duke jersey that day I could have slid into the press conference undetected.

McConnell’s campaign immediately pulled down the video — which I put back up on YouTube and currently has a staggering 45,000 views — and said they were “horrified,” as they thought the clip was of UK celebrating their championship in 2012. Though most Kentuckians can tell the difference between UK and Duke players, we must remember that Baiano, Jesse Benton, Josh Holmes, and most people high up in Team Mitch are not from Kentucky, so they apparently don’t have this Bluegrass-bred sensibility. “Larry Cox isn’t walking through that door,” one might say, but Team Mitch probably wouldn’t get that reference.

The campaigns of Alison Lundergan Grimes and Matt Bevin, as well as national Democrats and media all over the country, immediately heaped a pile of mockery on McConnell. Grimes’ campaign tweeted out, “KY, as your next Senator, I promise to never glorify a Duke championship in a campaign ad like @Team_Mitch” and “Turns out @Team_Mitch has been in DC for so long he can’t tell the difference between UK & Duke basketball,” playing off their theme that McConnell has lost touch with Kentuckians.

And then there were things like this, from David Schankula of B&P:

In an effort to save face — and all of the money they spent on the video — McConnell’s campaign put the video back up, but replaced the happy Dukies with a photo of UK’s star forward Julius Randle. Problem solved, right?

At a press conference in D.C. later that afternoon, a reporter for the New York Daily News asked a wonderfully smart ass question to McConnell, inquiring whether he is a Louisville fan or a Duke fan. Nevertheless, it was a total softball question for McConnell to… swing at and miss completely, as he refused to answer it, going into a “gosh, people in Louisville sure to love their basketball, don’t they?” answer.


McConnell’s staff later said
that he heard “UK” and not “Duke,” when he answered the question. So let’s get this straight. When Mitch is shown video of Duke players he sees UK players, and when someone says “Duke” he hears “UK”? In a state where most voters revere UK basketball as much as the Baby Jesus — and hate Duke as much as… well, possibly more than anything on Earth — that seems like a very politically problematic trait to have.

But back to Julius Randle, where McConnell stepped on possibly his biggest rake of the day yet. It turns out that UK was concerned about a possible NCAA violation caused by Team Mitch using Randle in the video, so they sent a cease and desist letter to McConnell demanding that he take it down, which they did.

“NCAA by-laws prohibit student-athletes from making any endorsements or appearances for commercial purposes, whether expressed or implied. If a player’s image is used without their knowledge then either they or the university is required to take steps to stop such activity in order to retain their eligibility.”

Another political rule of thumb in the state of Kentucky: Potentially jeopardizing the eligibility of UK’s best player just before their biggest game of the year, simply so you can exploit his popularity for your own personal political gain, is somewhat frowned upon in these parts. In fact, doing such a thing — along with putting celebrating Dukies in your campaign video because your campaign doesn’t know the difference between UK and Duke — can land you a front page in Kentucky’s biggest newspaper that looks like this:

herald front duke mitch

Now you might be asking yourself — especially if you’re from out of state and not familiar with our unique culture, like much of Team Mitch’s top staff — isn’t this whole thing stupid and trivial? In one sense, of course it is. Which team you root for to throw the bouncy ball into the basket has absolutely nothing to do with how you’ll vote as a senator. But in the very practical sense of being elected senator in Kentucky, yes, this could very well matter a great deal. Not many voters in Kentucky are paying close attention to this Senate race yet, or focusing on the various candidates policy positions. But this? Everyone heard about this yesterday, and in the lead up to Friday’s big game, people will be talking about it constantly. What kind of person confuses UK with Duke? How could they have used Randle like that and risk his eligibility even in the slightest? Those are the questions that everyone will be asking each other in all corners of the state for the rest of the week. That’s not exactly the first impression you want to have among voters who have tuned out politics and this campaign so far.

And it’s not like Team Mitch took the high road, either, which they could have. Instead of just sticking with the line of “This isn’t important, and our opponents using this to attack us just shows how trivial and un-serious they are,” they told every reporter within earshot that Grimes picked Kentucky to lose to 34-0 one-seed Wichita State in the second round of the tournament, so she has to answer to voters for that. Uh huh. Such complaining didn’t just undermine their public argument, but one could also point out that McConnell didn’t even have Kentucky making it out of the first round — he didn’t release a bracket — and everyone on earth knows that if Grimes or Bevin did the same thing, McConnell’s campaign would have unmercifully exploited it.

This race certainly isn’t going to hinge on McConnell raking himself until he was Blue Deviled in the face yesterday. But no, this certainly did not help his cause. Because, as Coach John Calipari loves to say over and over again, “You people are crazy!”


Councilmembers James and Welch volley accusations back and fourth after Democratic Caucus meeting (UPDATE)

The Metro Council Democratic Caucus discussed several proposed amendments to their rules of conduct tonight, a process that first began in February when chairwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch accused the staffer of a then-anonymous Caucus member (later determined to be Councilman David James) of campaigning against one of their colleagues, saying this violated their rules and was grounds for expulsion from the Caucus.

While that drama has simmered over the past month, tonight’s meeting only saw more accusations spring forth. While there appeared to be no further discussion or interest in investigating the anonymous and second-hand accusations that James’ staffer was working against Councilwoman Attica Scott’s re-election effort, James and Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin threw out some new accusations towards Welch.

The biggest of those accusations came from James after the meeting, who told LEO that four different people have informed him that Welch herself tried to recruit a candidate to run against Councilman Dan Johnson, in retaliation for his vote to keep Shanklin on the Council in her expulsion trial last year. Welch told LEO after tonight’s budget meeting that those accusations — which if true would be a rather clear grounds for expulsion, unlike those levied at James — are completely without merit.

In the Caucus meeting while their rules amendments were discussed, Shanklin accused a fellow Caucus member of openly trashing her on Facebook. When Welch questioned who could do such a thing, Shanklin shot back and said that Welch should know, strongly implying that it was her. James then followed by saying he was told by several people that an unnamed fellow Caucus member — not a staffer, but a member of Metro Council — had actively tried to recruit a candidate to run against Councilman Dan Johnson.

After the stressful and awkward meeting ended, LEO asked James about the specifics of what he was told. James says four different people have told him that it was Welch who tried — and failed — to recruit a challenger named Nicole George to run against Johnson. James says he was told by these individuals that Welch made this move against Johnson because of his vote against kicking Shanklin off the Council last year. Openly mimicking the exact words of Welch in a previous meeting where she described how she was gathering evidence against him, James said that this information “dropped in his lap.” He added that these individuals who brought him the information about Welch also said that other Democrats in the Caucus were aware of what Welch was doing — supporting it because of Johnson’s vote on Shanklin — though James declined to identify them.

James noted that the alleged actions Welch would be a direct violation of Caucus rules, unlike the charges that Welch first brought against him, which involved a staffer. Asked if he would call that ironic, James answered, “extremely.” He said that he first informed Johnson of what he heard after the meeting, and said it should be up to Johnson whether Welch should be investigated or kicked off the Caucus, adding that Johnson “didn’t look happy” when he told him about it.

Asked about all of the drama in the Caucus, James replied, “Some people ran for Caucus chair saying they were going to bring things together. It hasn’t seemed to happen yet.” This January, Welch challenged James for his seat as Caucus chair and defeated him in a closely divided vote.

LEO asked Welch about James’ allegations against her, which she said were flatly false. She also said that no such action was taken by any of her staffers. Asked why James would make these accusations, Welch replied, “I’m not going to say why. I can’t get inside his head. I have no idea where this came from.”

“I know who she is, but I’m not recruiting anyone to run against any of our Council members, because I do abide by Caucus rules,” said Welch.

“I know I talked to (George) many many months ago in a parking lot. I didn’t even know who she was. She came up to me and introduced herself and said she had been through the Emerge Kentucky group and was interested in running for whatever offices. And I said, “Great, we need more women in politics!” you know? So that’s all I know about her.”

Welch says that George claimed that they had talked before that day, but she couldn’t remember meeting her. She says they never discussed challenging Dan Johnson, and if George would have brought it up, Welch would have told her that she could not help her because it is against their Caucus rules. Welch also says that the point is moot, because this person isn’t even running against Dan Johnson.

Welch added, “Maybe you should ask (the two candidates that did file to run against Johnson) if they got recruited? You might as well ask all of the opponents of all the incumbents. Has anybody recruited you to get in this race? Then see what happens.” Asked if anyone was recruited to run against Attica Scott and Marianne Butler, Welch said, “That’s a possibility. Sure. It’s always a possibility.”

Welch conceded that there was still much division within their Caucus, but attributed that to the diversity of the Democratic Party and their agendas.

Asked about rumors within city hall that David James was somehow behind the ongoing FBI inquiry into possible misconduct within Metro Council or the recent Ethics Commission charges against Jim King, Welch said she had no idea, but added, “The only thing I know that’s slightly related is that I think I heard he was on the Kentucky Bureau of Investigations at one point. And that’s the only thing I’ve heard that would be remotely… I don’t know if that coincides with the FBI or not. No idea.”

In summary: No, the massive tornado of drama within the Metro Council Democratic Caucus is not going away any time soon.

***** UPDATE *****

LEO just spoke with Nicole George — who was allegedly the person Welch tried to recruit — and she completely denied that she ever sought to run against Dan Johnson, or that Welch ever urged her to run against Dan Johnson.

George says that her interactions with Welch are exactly as she described them to LEO, as she only talked about wanting to run for office one day, but did not mention any specific office, not did Welch suggest any. George says she has no idea why the unnamed individuals told their story to Councilman James.

From my perspective, it looks like we have two wings of the Democratic Caucus at war, taking wild swings at each other but not making any contact — “contact” meaning evidence to back up their claims. At least for now…


Rachel Maddow mocks Beshear administration’s shrug on coal ash discharge at LG&E Mill Creek plant

Mill.Creek spill boat photo

As we’ve written about this week, the Sierra Club caught LG&E red-handed with a hidden time-lapse camera of their Mill Creek plant in Louisville, showing visual proof that coal ash wastewater has been dumped into the Ohio River nearly constantly for an entire year. While the Sierra Club And Earthjustice are planning to sue LG&E for violating their permit, environmental regulatory bodies in the Beshear administration have had a peculiar reply. Though LG&E’s permit with the state says that they can only release wastewater from their coal ash pond “occasionally,” that state says that “occasionally” pretty much means “whenever they want to.”

Last night on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel got out her dictionary to give the Beshear administration definitive lesson on what that word does and doesn’t mean:

Don’t worry, if you get some arsenic or mercury in your system, Steve can just hook you up with Kynect.


Mitch McConnell: Part-time First Amendment advocate, full-time coward

joe_sonkax-540x360
(Photo by Alton Strupp/Courier-Journal)

As you’ve probably heard by now, Sen. Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager Jesse Benton threatened to have police arrest me for covering his press conference at a hotel in Louisville on Monday, then followed through on that threat by ordering a Louisville police officer to block me from entering the room.

This rather self-defeating and cowardly overreaction brings up a slew of questions I’ll get to, but first here’s a little background on the McConnell campaign’s actions toward me leading up to Monday, and what actually happened at the hotel that day.

The last time I was able to ask McConnell a question was at the groundbreaking of a park in Louisville last July that he directed millions of dollars in federal earmarks to. As you can see at 1:09 in the video below, I asked him if the federal government can afford to spend millions of dollars on a park, considering his concern about the federal debt:

As you can see, I asked a fair question, he answered, no “incident” to speak of.

In August, I was invited to and attended McConnell’s “Women for Team Mitch” event in Louisville — where he took credit for supporting the Violence Against Women Act, dubiously — but McConnell snuck out without taking any questions from reporters. In November, I attended a McConnell campaign event at a gun club in Louisville where he received an NRA endorsement, but snuck out again while snubbing — and not even making eye contact with — reporters who wanted to ask him a question. Video here:

Also in November, McConnell held a press conference (that I could not attend) in Louisville in which he told reporters they could only ask questions on the topic that he approved of — and derided reporters for wanting to ask him questions (“stakeouts” he called them) after his campaign photo ops — because he wanted to control what the news would be about. Also that month, I attended his “Veterans for Team Mitch” event in Louisville, where he held a brief, two-minute gaggle that ended before I could get a question in.

The McConnell campaign started being directly hostile toward me in February. After learning about their press conference to announce an endorsement that day, I emailed the campaign to RSVP. I was informed that LEO was not invited due to “limited space,” but I decided to show up anyway, since it seemed ridiculous to exclude local media from a press event.

After entering the business — CSS Distribution Group — where the presser was to be held and waiting with other reporters for McConnell to arrive, his campaign staff directed McConnell’s capitol security to remove me from the building. After I complied, I spoke with the business owner, Daniel Whitlow — who was endorsing McConnell at the event — outside. After discovering who I was, Whitlow said he had read my interview and fairly critical article on McConnell’s opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes that week, and he really liked it. After talking with me, he decided to override McConnell’s staff and let me back into his building to cover the event, which was short and without any incident at all. Whitlow later emailed me to say he thought it was only fair to let an established local media outlet and reporter cover a press conference, and said he appreciated my work.

After finding out about McConnell’s presser with Sen. Kelly Ayotte in Louisville on Monday, I again emailed his campaign to RSVP, and was again told that I was not invited due to “limited space.” I decided to show up anyway — since I cover Kentucky politics … it’s my job — to see if there really was “limited space” and if I could get in.

Once I arrived to the hotel lobby, I walked up to Jesse Benton and said hello. Benton immediately informed me that I was not invited and would not be allowed into the room next to us where the presser was to be held. I looked into the room and noted that it was both large and mostly empty, and Benton informed me that their “limited space” argument for denying me entry was not true at all. Benton gave me a rather bizarre and implausible excuse that another reporter had told them they did not want me covering McConnell’s events, because they didn’t like the questions. Benton refused to say who that supposed reporter was — and every Kentucky reporter I’ve talked to since says this claim by Benton is completely ludicrous. After I told him that he obviously made up that story, I asked him why on earth would I believe that his campaign takes orders from reporters on who can and cannot cover their events, which he struggled to answer.

After some back and forth, Benton offered me what he called a “gentleman’s agreement.” He said I could enter the room to cover the event, but only on the condition that I not ask McConnell any questions. I asked Benton if other reporters would be allowed to ask questions, and he said yes, just not me. After I told him that I would like to ask a question, Benton immediately informed me that he would summon the police to have me arrested if I tried to enter the room.

After pressing Benton with more questions about why he was so afraid to have me ask a question — and the campaign’s multiple and evolving rationale — he finally declared loudly, “Joe! I’m being a gentleman here.” When I replied by asking him how threatening me with arrest for covering a press conference with plenty of room is being a “gentleman,” he cut me off and said, “Joe! You’re not going in there,” and walked away.

After sitting in the lobby for about 10 minutes talking with Joe Gerth and reporters from Time and Rolling Stone, the event was about to begin, and we all got up and started to walk into the room. Once I got near the door, I was stopped by a gentleman identifying himself as a Louisville police officer, who told me I would be arrested if I tried to enter the room. The officer told me that McConnell’s staff had told hotel staff to tell him to give me that order. He didn’t look especially pleased about having to do this, but he said he was just doing what he was told. I decided, probably wisely, that I wouldn’t fare very well in jail, and went back over to the lobby couch to tweet out what just happened.

After sitting there for a few minutes, a person walked up to the officer and whispered something to him, after which the officer told me that I couldn’t even sit alone in the empty lobby — with the door to the conference room closed — or else I would be arrested. I laughed and went 20 yards down the hall to another seat that they said was acceptable.

I’ve been told by other reporters that Benton’s real reason behind this crazy overreaction is because I’ve written critical things about McConnell, I’m a “muckraker,” and a “troublemaker.” I consider any good journalist both of those things, so I’ll take that as a compliment.

One of the odd things about this entire incident is that McConnell has always portrayed himself as the greatest defender of the First Amendment, citing his opposition to the flag-burning amendment and his zealous belief that unlimited campaign spending should be protected as free speech. I guess freedom of the press is stricken from his copy of the Constitution, as only certain journalists can cover his events, and those who can can only ask questions on pre-approved topics.

Perhaps McConnell’s terrible poll numbers are getting to the campaign? Despite spending millions of dollars on ads — along with pro-McConnell Super PACs spending millions as well — McConnell’s approvals have only gotten worse, with the Bluegrass Poll showing him with a 32 percent approval rating, 27 percent favorable rating and a 4 percent deficit to Alison Lundergan Grimes. Or perhaps, in Jesse Benton’s case, holding your nose for too long can cut off the proper supply of oxygen to your brain. Either way, their “presidential-level campaign” seems awfully panicky.

Another funny aspect about Monday’s events with Sen. Ayotte is that their topic that day was how tough they were going to be on Vladamir Putin, and how weak and frail Barack Obama is — even though they are now advocating the exact same policy. If you ask me, it doesn’t speak to McConnell’s “strength” if he’s scared to death that he might get a tough question from an alt-weekly reporter in his hometown. But then again, the Republican Party seems rather enamored with Putin’s leadership style these days, so maybe McConnell is just talking cues from that other tough guy in Russia who knows what to do with troublesome journalists.

Anyway, I’ll see you at the next McConnell campaign event … or in Jefferson County Jail.

(Also, here’s my appearance last night on MSNBC’s The Last Word, guest hosted by Ari Melber, below)


Sierra Club plans to sue LG&E, citing footage of coal ash wastewater flowing into Ohio River from Mill Creek plant (UPDATE)

Citing evidence obtained by a hidden camera positioned across the Ohio River from Louisville Gas & Electric’s Mill Creek power plant, the Sierra Club and Earthjustice have given their notice of intent to sue LG&E for violating the federal Clean Water Act and the terms of the utility’s own permit, which allows only an “occasional” discharge of coal ash wastewater into the river.

Last year, local Sierra Club organizer Thomas Pearce set up a time lapse camera across the river from the Louisville plant, which has led to a year’s worth of images showing not an occasional discharge or small leakage from the edge of Mill Creek coal ash pond, but a constant gushing into the Ohio River.

Below is a photograph of the discharge coming from this camera — highlighted by the red box — as well as photos and video taken from a boat closer to the Mill Creek coal ash pond:

Mill Creek screen grab from hidden camera_highlighted

mill creek photo 2

Mill.Creek spill boat photo

Additionally, Sierra Club and Earthjustice found images from Google Earth over the past two decades showing a similar discharge in the same area, resembling what you see at Mill Creek today:

Google Earth 2014

Google Earth 2014

Google Earth 2010

Google Earth 2010

Google Earth 2005

Google Earth 2005

Google Earth 1998

Google Earth 1998

LG&E’s permit for Mill Creek through the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection allows for an “occasional” discharge of wastewater from the coal ash pond into the Ohio River, but in the 60-day notice of intent to sue LG&E, the Sierra Club and Earthjustice claim that the evidence is overwhelming that such discharge — occurring “on an almost daily basis”– is a clear violation of both the permit with the state and the federal Clean Water Act. The full notice of intent is below:

Sierra Club NOI to sue LG&E for Mill Creek discharge

Coal ash ponds contain contain byproducts from the burning of coal at power plants, including such toxic pollutants as arsenic, mercury, selenium, lead, and cadmium. According to LG&E’s 2007 permit renewal application for Mill Creek, the discharges from this coal ash pond contain significant levels of each of these toxic pollutants, as well as others.

While LG&E has been slapped on the wrist in recent years by the Metro Air Pollution Control District with fines ranging in tens of thousands of dollars for fly ash blowing out of the coal ash landfill at their Cane Run plant just up the river in Louisville, the notice of intent to sue by the Sierra Club and Earthjustice says that violations ranging back from 2009 alone would call for an extremely stiff penalty:

“Under the CWA, 33 U.S.C. § 1319(d) and 40 C.F.R. § 19.4, each of the violations described herein occurring on or after January 13, 2009 is subject to a penalty of up to $37,500 per day per violation. Thus, LG&E is subject to over $68 million in civil penalties.”

This notice of intent to sue LG&E comes just a month after a retired Duke Energy coal plant in North Carolina spilled up to 82,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of wastewater into the Dan River.

Currently, there are no federal safeguards specific to coal ash pollution, though the Sierra Club is allied with almost a dozen other environmental organizations compelling the EPA to finalize safeguards against coal ash pollution by the end of this year. Kentucky, a state where the coal industry has enormous political power, employs little to no oversight over coal ash landfills and ponds throughout the state, many of which have been leaking into groundwater slowly for many years.

“It’s devastating to think that this could have been going on for more than 20 years,” says Sierra Club organizer Thomas Pearce, who installed the camera monitoring the Mill Creek discharge last year. “It’s like the North Carolina or West Virginia spills but in slow motion, with no one to stop it.”

“Coal ash contamination is rampant across the country, and the evidence gathered at Mill Creek is unequivocal,” says Earthjustice attorney Thom Cmar. “Coal ash has already polluted more than 200 lakes, rivers, streams and drinking waters. The problem continues to worsen, but no federal protections exist. Our household garbage is better regulated than this toxic waste.”

We’ll update the story once we receive a comment from LG&E.

***** UPDATE *****

Here’s LG&E response — which doesn’t respond to the charges — by Chris Whelan, their Vice President of Communications:

“We have not received a formal notice of intent and we will not comment on potential litigation.”

We also received this response from Dick Brown, the spokesperson for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet:

The following information is in regards to the discharge identified in the March 17, 2014 Notice of Intent (NOI) from the Sierra Club to sue Louisville Gas & Electric Company (LG&E) Mill Creek Generating Station. 
 
The discharge identified in the NOI is a legally permitted discharge under the Clean Water Act Section 402 permitting program as administered by the Division of Water (DOW). The discharge is monitored under that KPDES permit and has been and continues to be in compliance with permit requirements.
 
LG&E Mill Creek
KY0003221
Permit issued May 6, 2002, effective November 1, 2002
Permit reissuance application received May 14, 2007
Administrative complete May 21, 2007
Permit renewal application remains under review
 
The KPDES permit includes authorization to discharge from outfall 002 either internally to outfall 001 or direct to the Ohio River at mile point 356. The discharge reflected in photos contained in news stories today and as referenced in the NOI is a legally permitted discharge.
 
While the permit description and narrative of the fact sheet describe the direct discharge component of outfall 002 to the Ohio River as “occasional”, the permit effluent requirements do not restrict the frequency of the discharge. Consequently, there is no violation of the permit for frequency of discharge from outfall 002 as alleged in the NOI. The flow volume is monitored in accordance with the permit.
 
In addition, the discharge is monitored for various parameters, including metals, and for whole effluent toxicity testing (WET) or biological monitoring. LG&E Mill Creek’s discharge monitoring results indicate that the discharge is in compliance with permit requirements.

More updates to come…

***** UPDATE #2 *****

Thomas Cmar, the attorney for Earthjustice, responded to the claims of the Division of Water:

“The state can’t rewrite this permit in the press. The permit describes the point at which LG&E is dumping coal ash into the Ohio as ‘internal’ to the plant. The law clearly prevents regular toxic mercury discharges into our water, and LG&E’s own permit states that discharges may only be occasional. We’ve documented a year’s worth of constant coal ash wastewater dumping — far more than ‘occasional.’ The evidence shows that LG&E is in blatant violation of existing standards, threatening the health of Kentucky families.”


APCD fines Butchertown’s JBS Swift plant nearly $100,000 for air quality violations

jbs swift

As we wrote about last month, many residents in Butchertown are fed up not just with the odors coming from the JBS Swift plant that slaughters up to 10,000 hogs per day in the burgeoning neighborhood, but the inability of Metro Government to do anything about it.

However, last week the Metro Air Pollution Control District sent a notice of violation letter to JBS Swift for a long list of air quality violations dating from 2009 to December of last year, fining them $98,750. The NOV is below:

APCD JBS Swift

The NOV lists over 40 incidents where residents called APCD to complain about objectionable odors coming from the plant, which were confirmed by APCD employees. The NOV also claims that JBS Swift was late on permiting, failed to report particulate and greenhouse gas emissions, failed to monitor its odor control equipment, and failed to keep monitoring records.

In APCD’s letter, JBS Swift was informed that they could settle the matter for $74,050 if they submitted a plan to control livestock odor in the future by March 28. APCD held out the possibility of fining JBS $10,000 for each day that the plant continued to be in violation.

A press release sent out by the Butchertown Neighborhood Association — who has battled the JBS over the plant’s odors and permits for years — ripped JBS over their continued violations and inability to control odors:

“The alleged violations come as no surprise to anyone who lives or works in any neighborhoods surrounding the JBS/Swift slaughterhouse,” said Butchertown Neighborhood Association President, Andy Cornelius.  “JBS/Swift should be held accountable for refusing to follow the law and required to take all steps necessary to keep its animal slaughtering odors out of our homes, businesses and schools.”
 


The District’s Notice of Violation Letter comes on the heels of a special Courier-Journal report on chemical “Danger Zones” in Louisville.  That article noted that JBS/Swift has previously run afoul of District regulations related to its risk management plan for catastrophic chemical releases.  The report went on to note that in 2011, just days after paying a fine to the District, JBS/Swift was responsible for an anhydrous ammonia leak that forced workers to evacuate and local residents to shelter in place. 
 


“JBS/Swift’s refusal to play by the rules doesn’t just affect Butchertown.” said Bill Marzian, a NuLu property owner.  “The smell of the plant comes right down East Market Street and into our businesses.  It should be pretty obvious to anyone that the smell of a slaughterhouse doesn’t encourage foot traffic.  As a property owner, I know that if I don’t follow the law, I’m at risk of being shut down by the appropriate authorities.  It’s only fair that JBS/Swift should have to control its awful smells or face the same consequences.” 

We’ll reach out to JBS Swift and update with their comments on the NOV.