Three-of-a-Kind

by Martin Harris

Martin Harris

In poker there are rules, which are observed by the players. In politics (verbal and otherwise) there aren’t. Any statement which might convince the unwary is OK, factual or not, and any facts which might not, can be suppressed. It’s as if you could paint extra pips (or paint over them) in the right colors on your cards so as to get the three-of-a-kind which, yes, beats two pair. Herewith your Humble Scribe offers a trio of recent examples for reader evaluation as to veracity, entirety, and even deniability. All were taken from a recent issue of one of Vermont’s three major daily newspapers. Identifications of publication and reporters are redacted here for compassionate reasons.

One is a discussion of the “power plant” which doesn’t generate power (its role is to provide comfort space heating for the bureaucratic occupants of the some of the State-Street office buildings in Montpelier) which was built between 120 State and the Winooski River at the time of the first oil-price crisis 40 years ago. Then, we were told it would burn only wood chips, but now, I’ve just learned, it burns wood chips and -ugh-oil, and therefore must be removed and replaced with one burning only wood chips. Those newly-arrived-in-VT who fled New York City will recognize the model for the proposed new “district energy system” whereby the new no-fossil-fuel furnace will pipe under-street heat and hot water to buyers throughout Montpelier, just as Con Ed did and does in Gotham to this day. Its ’70’s-era “Dig We Must…” street barricades are doubtless still available for re-use. The $19 million project will, we read, be local-vore (the furnaces will consume locally harvested wood, not imported oil) and will “…reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% in 20 years.” Seemingly impressive, but not what my Hoyle’s rule book says. An engineering reference shows that oil burning produces .26 kilograms of CO2 per kilowatt-hour of energy produced, while wood burning produces .39kg/kwh. I think .39 is 50% higher than .26. But a note on the EngineeringToolbox website also offers a convenient new rule: you can count wood for zero emissions if you plant a tree for each one you burn. (Of course, if you plant trees, burn metallic fuel rods, and don’t cut, you get even more O2 and less CO2.) The BioMass website says that wood chips emit CO2 at a far lower rate per mega-watt than oil, but the Clean Air Revival website says that wood chips produce 222,000 pounds of CO2 per million BTU produced, while #2 oil produces only 161,000. In short, there’s no agreement on the merits of wood chips, a specific set of conflicting facts the print media in Vermont chose not to disclose when reporting on a specific proposal. For shame.

Another is a discussion of Green Mountain Power’s power-purchase plan, the nuclear kilowatts to come not from in-State Vermont Yankee but from out-of-state (NH) Seabrook. James Moore, president of the anti-nuclear Vermont Public Interest Research Group, is quoted thus: “what we need to do is pick up the pace for clean, renewable…” and so on, while “…GMP did the right thing..” for price reasons in rejecting an in-state nuclear source for an out-of-state one and advocating for all the renewable sources which uniformly cost more than nuclear –wind, solar, and hydro– require more in taxpayer subsidy; and are presently able to furnish only tiny percentages of overall power requirements. A full report would have laid out these conflicts, but the print media chose not to. Maybe it was just a terribly unfortunate shortage of column-inches that prevented the recitation of all nine numbers.

Third in the trio is a report on the Entergy-vs-Vermont lawsuit, devoting more than 24 column inches to a full recitation of the State’s arguments – for example, that Entergy knew what it was buying into, regulatory-climate-wise, when it purchased Vermont Yankee in 2002, and little to no exposition of Entergy’s points-at-issue — for example, that the State unilaterally changed the rules for re-licensing after purchase-and thereby (intentionally?) induces a reader hostility to the Corporation and its operation of VY. On the subject of replacement power costs -a certainty in the event of re-licensing denial and shutdown-the article blithely recites the what-me-worry? anti-nuke position thus : imported expert witness Seth Parker assuring all that “there is substantial evidence in these studies and sources indicating that electric prices may be lower if Vermont Yankee shuts down” and not even mentioning that fact that (see card #2 above) one of the State’s major power distributors, GMP, could find adequate quantities of similarly-priced power only by offering to purchase from another nuclear source, Seabrook in New Hampshire. Surely even modestly investigative reporting would have thought that nexus worthy of discovery and print. But apparently there’s not much of the Woodward-and-Bernstein tradition surviving in the modern Fourth Estate in Vermont. A reader must look elsewhere, and fortunately, there are such sources in the alternative media, mostly electronic, but, of course, they’re not as widely read and therefore the sets of fact and history surrounding the energy question aren’t as widely known. Is that the editorial intent, when a major component of “all the news that’s fit to print” is chosen not to be printed? You decide. To your Humble Scribe, it appears that in contemporary Vermont print-media practice, the once-honored New York Times slogan has been adjusted to “all the news that fits the template, prints”, the template being the now-dominant Progressive ideology which pretty much rules Vermont governance and policy.

If you cheat at cards, you’re soon alone at the table. That’s what’s been happening to every national daily except one, The Wall Street Journal, which doesn’t, and that’s why it’s now the only daily with rising circulation. For a full account of the decline of The New York Times, read “Grey Lady Down”. Author McGowan traces its embrace of just the sort of biased reportage described above (and worse: plagiarism, fictional quotes, and so on) and how readers have become non-readers. To what extent Vermont dailies suffer the same consumer rejection, we know not. We know that, when Pravda went the same route for the same reasons long before the Grey Lady of 43rd Street did, the readership invented an alternative news source: samizdat. The Russian word translates literally to self-publishing, and that was before the widespread availability of electronic web pages and copy-machine newsletters, such as presently circulate widely amongst the surviving minority of the Vermont electorate still not convinced by the Progressive agenda with its gentrified environmentalism and its retiree-trust-funder economics.