“Don’t watch the monkey, watch the organ grinder.” That was the advice I heard a political commentator provide a few days ago on CNN on how best to observe and understand the inner workings of the Trump administration. That is an alteration of an old saying, “Speak to the organ grinder, not the money”, which of course means talk to the boss, not an underling. In its new form the saying means don’t focus on the distractions associated with Trump’s chaotic organization; instead pay attention to what is really happening in the background. As I watch Trump’s chaotic press conference today, I was reminded of the advice of that political veteran, but I also realized that in the current White House, Trump is both the organ grinder and the monkey.
I am convinced that Trump staged the last minute press conference to distract from the fixation of the media on the Flynn affair, the revelations of constant communications between members of his campaign staff and Russians, and growing the suspicions that Trump was aware of, and perhaps even orchestrated those communications. What better way to distract the press than to throw out a few “alternate facts” – like my staff “is running like a well oiled machine” and “I inherited a mess” – and then throw a public tantrum attacking the media unmercifully.
Trump was undoubtedly expressing his growing frustration with wide spread criticism by the press and with his inability to shape the message. However, his main objective was to bait the press into spending time fact checking his obvious lies and defending themselves instead of continuing to explore his connections with Putin’s Russia. And based on the focus of the discussions on CNN this afternoon and evening, he was largely successful, at least for today. Virtually no time was spent discussing Trump’s Russian connections or his public bromance with Vladimir Putin. However, the antics of the monkey also distracted attention away from something else that happened today that was equally important, especially to environmentalists and those focused on the health of those living in the Appalachian Mountains.
Today, Trump signed a bill which reduced Obama era regulations on coal companies performing open pit mining, particularly in the Appalachian region. The bill ends the Office of Surface Mining’s Stream Protection Rule which was a regulation protecting waterways from coal mining waste. This important event went virtually unnoticed in today’s news cycle with all of the attention focused on the organ grinder’s monkey.
If you have studied the subject and/or have read John Grisham’s excellent novel, “Gray Mountain”, you know that coal companies no longer dig expensive underground mines in the Appalachian Mountains to extract coal. They instead use a process called mountain top removal. They completely remove the top of mountains up to 5,000 feet high to get to the coal seams within, dumping the huge amounts of the mountain top rubble removed into the valleys below. Not only do these mines, which sometimes cover thousands of acres, forever destroy the beauty of the landscape leaving huge ugly scars and cause untold ecological damage; they also cause the valleys below and the streams which run through them to be severely compromised.
Huge amounts of mountain top material are bulldozed into the valleys below filling them and blocking the streams causing very serious additional ecological damage. Heavy metal and carcinogenetic material associated with the coal mining is allowed to run down into the streams and to eventually pollute the ground water. Many university studies have strongly linked the practice of mountain top removal to high rates of cancer, birth defects, as well as respiratory and heart disease in the resident population. The cancer rates in the Appalachians have sky rocketed. One university study found that 60,000 cancer cases in counties where mountain top removal is prevalent can be directly attributed to the practice
The stream protection rule created a buffer between the open mines and streams running nearby and made the blocking and pollution of those streams and nearby lands illegal. Environmentalists applauded the rule enacted late in President Obama’s term after years of study and planning. It not only protected the waterways, but also would have greatly reduced the practice of mountain top removal because it would have increased the costs of the coal mining companies who elected to continue to use the practice. As usual Trump and the republicans in Congress who passed the legislation with the help of senators and Representatives from coal mining states, put a greater premium on supporting the big coal companies and saving jobs than safeguarding the environment and the health of our citizens.
In the final analysis the legislation will not save an industry which is already dying a slow death due to economic factors. Hydraulic fracturing, which some believe causes its own environmental problems, is creating a glut of natural gas and resulting lower gas prices It is also expected to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Natural gas is now much cheaper to use than coal to produce electrical power and run factories and it produces far less carbon dioxide and other pollutants. The threat of global warming and serious pollution problems are also causing rising industrial powers like China to greatly reduce their use of coal.
However, before the last coal mines are shut down forever, the legislation signed today will be responsible for more beautiful Appalachian mountains being leveled, ruining the surrounding environment and causing an untold number of unnecessary deaths. During a normal Presidential administration the enactment of this kind of legislation would have attracted a great deal of press attention with much of that attention directed at the negative affects of the bill. Today, however, it rated only brief mention in the media because everyone was too busy watching the monkey. One has to wonder what else is escaping our attention in the Trump White House.