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Stereotyping Appalachians Feeds Only the Coal Industry

By Nick Mullins - The Thoutghtful Coal Miner, November 6, 2017

Trump won the vote in Appalachia because people are tired of being looked down upon. Considering the work of powerful industry interests, a century’s worth of negative stereotyping, and culturally insensitive protests against coal—a source of people’s pride, heritage, and income—it’s not difficult to understand how. 

My family has lived in Appalachia for nine generations, and we have worked hard all our lives without asking for a great deal. We were never drawn to extravagance, nor did we need to keep up with the Joneses. Simplicity and family were the means to much of our happiness. As long as we had a decent home, food, and the time to watch our children grow up with a good moral compass, we were fulfilled. “It’s not your needs that get you into trouble—it’s your wants,” my grandfather would often say.

But this lack of complication has been the subject of ridicule by many outside our communities. Among a national and now international audience, Appalachia has been viewed as a degenerate region without sophistication. The dehumanization of its people has allowed for the exploitation of its vast energy and timber reserves, and putting Appalachians down has often been a means of lifting others up: “I may not be rich, but at least I’m not a hillbilly.” These forces have made maintaining our dignity a constant struggle.

Exploitative economic systems have ensured that there is no change to our status quo. Low property taxes have appeased out-of-state land-holding companies while keeping our public education system in a near constant budget crisis. What money extractive industries do contribute is spent funding state-certified curriculums on the benefits of coal. Our children are fed an industry narrative that dignity, sacrifice, and the patriotic duty of mining are inextricably tied all while downplaying a century’s worth of labor struggles for basic human rights. These issues, compounded by an existing need to appease common core initiatives and standardized testing goals, have limited teachers’ abilities to instruct on critical thinking.

By co-opting Appalachian values, the coal industry has elbowed itself to the center of our region’s cultural identity. Shannon Bell, a sociologist at the University of Kentucky, has studied the many ways coal industry associations have adapted Appalachian culture in appealing to its people. She found that the industry has used pro-coal media campaigns such as Friends of Coal to manipulate the region into believing that support for the industry, despite its destructive nature, is the accepted cultural norm.

Meanwhile, media misrepresentations have fueled negative stereotypes held by urban populations. In many ways, this has put us on the defensive, pushing Appalachians to seek out and attack the shortcomings of our city counterparts. Rural people have long seen urbanism in contrast to their own values, fixating on stereotypes of city dwellers and suburbanites as being selfish and lacking common sense. Many also associate academia and liberalism with urbanism, an association exploited by media organizations, like Fox News, that politically oppose government regulation and environmentalism.

As a result, the efforts of progressive organizations working in Appalachia are sometimes taken as downward-looking elitism. It doesn’t help that many progressives and environmentalists have done a terrible job of communicating with local communities, both in their actions and presentation. When outside activist organizations expect Appalachians to simply accept their protests, marches, street theatre puppets, and public civil disobedience as avenues to their logic, they foster tensions that manifest in bumper stickers like: “lib·er·al / lib(-ə)-rel / noun 1Someone so open minded that their brains have fallen out.”

The Confederate flags, Trump signs, and pro-coal stickers I see displayed throughout Appalachia are not as much the result of deep-rooted racism and bigotry as many would like to believe. They are often symbols of defense against a world that views us as lesser people. They are symbols given to us by politicians and corporations that have learned to speak our language, and they throw gasoline on the fiery dissent many feel toward longstanding urban ridicule.

There is no easy fix for the situation in Appalachia. Poverty causes intense suffering with all of the symptoms you would expect. Health outcomes are plagued by a lack of access to health care, food deserts, and the environmental pollution created by decades of coal and natural gas extraction and processing. Overprescription of pain medications has led to a drug abuse epidemic that has spread to younger generations suffering from a loss of hope. Recent media attention on these issues stemming from Donald Trump’s election has fed into the national stereotyping of the region, keeping Appalachia in a vicious cycle of self-destruction.

If there is any hope for Appalachia, it is in eliminating the sources of the problem, not just treating its symptoms. We must address the communication barriers that exacerbate feelings of resentment and increase political and cultural divides. Perhaps then we can work toward ending corporate influence over our local culture, economics, and political systems so that we, ourselves, can really begin to shape a better future for our region.

Trump's Insistence on Coal Revival Finds Pushback Even In Coal Country

By Julia Conley - Comon Dreams, October 30, 2017

President Donald Trump pledged to end the "war on coal" by slashing regulations and putting coal miners "back to work." New research, however delivers a rebuke to the moves, indicating that they're harming the very mining communities he's professing to help—and that Americans in "coal country" are far more willing to adapt to new sources of employment.

"I'm beginning to see some real enthusiasm, particularly among young people in small communities in West Virginia, to begin looking for something beyond coal," said one West Virginian who was interviewed by three researchers at Indiana University for the study.

The team interviewed residents of two coal mining towns in the state in July 2016, as then-candidate Donald Trump was making repeated campaign promises to put coal miners back to work by fighting regulations put in place by the Obama administration.

In their resulting report, to be printed in the March 2018 edition of Energy Research and Social Science, the researchers said they found that the federal government would better serve former coal mining communities by investing in professional development programs, education, and healthcare services rather than pushing for deregulation of the coal industry.

One respondent who participated in the researchers' focus groups said, "Coal is probably not coming back, or if it is, it's not what it once was, so I'm going to learn as [many] new and exciting things as I can. I want to get a degree, so I'm more hire-able later on."

Meanwhile, Trump has heralded his rollback of Obama-era rules that limited pollution from coal-fired power plants, assuring supporters that regulations were the cause of the coal sector's 71 percent employment drop since 1985. The researchers found that as many Trump critics have stressed, it's unlikely "that these policy changes will drastically affect the country's current energy transition."

The loss of coal jobs has resulted far more from greater demand for less expensive, cleaner energy production methods like solar and wind power, than from environmental regulations, the study notes.

While Trump has frequently visited Appalachia to tell citizens he will bring their jobs back and retain the deeply-embedded culture of coal mining that exists in the region, the authors of the study found "substantial evidence that Appalachian coal communities are working to shed the culture of coal and develop new opportunities and an evolving conception of identity based on these opportunities," said researcher Sanya Carley.

"I think longer term, it is an opportunity, despite all the pain that people feel to finally diversify our economy, to be healthier, and diversify how we create energy ourselves, to be a kind of a healthier, more vibrant place," one study respondent said of the shift to new sources of energy.

The authors of the study urge the Trump administration to join former coal towns in finding new opportunities for economic development, education, and professional growth for citizens.

Part of the 1st Ecosocialist International

By various - Ecosocialist Horizons, November 2017

It has been one year since “The Calling of the Spirits” in Monte Carmelo, Lara, when, with spirited minds and seeds in our hearts, we initiated a convocation titled “The Cry of Mother Earth.” Those who responded to this cry are now here: around 100 people from 19 countries and five continents, 12 original peoples from Our America, and ecosocialist activists from 14 states of Venezuela. We are here in the Cumbe* of Veroes, cradled in the enchanted mountains of Yaracuy, where the guardian goddess of nature lives. From the 31st of October until today, the 3rd of November, 2017, we have done the work demanded of us: the articulation of a combined strategy and plan of action for the salvation of Mother Earth.

We have made the decision and the collective commitment to constitute the First Ecosocialist International: To reverse the destructive process of capitalism; to return to our origins and recuperate the ancestral spirituality of humanity; to live in peace, and end war.

We recognize that we are only a small part of a spiral of spirals, which has the profound intention to expand and include others until all of us are rewoven with Mother Earth; to restore harmony within us, between us, and among all the other sister beings of nature.

The First Ecosocialist International is not just another meeting, nor another conference of intellectuals to define ecosocialism. We believe that ecosocialism will define itself to the extent that it is reflected and conceptualized in praxis; based on what we do and what we are. Nor is the First Ecosocialist International a single organization or a rubber stamp in constant danger of becoming a bureaucracy. It is a common program of struggle, with moments of encounter and exchange, which anyone may join, by committing themselves to fulfilling one or more of the various actions agreed upon here in order to relieve our Mother Earth. No person or process can be owner or protagonist of that which is done and achieved collectively.

We invite all peoples, movements, organizations, collectives and beings in the world to join the First Ecosocialist International, and to undertake the collective construction of a program for the salvation of Mother Earth. By restoring a lost spirituality we may arrive at a new one; a new and sometimes ancient ecosocialist ethic, sacred and irreverent, fed by the sun of conscience. We are recreating our spirituality with a new imagination and a new heartbeat, which may carry us to unity and diversity. The understanding and practice of this new spirituality will have the power to repel empire and capitalism which are powered by greed, and it will be able to strengthen our peoples and cultures which are conditioned by necessities. Because right now we are not living – we are merely surviving. We confront a contradiction: restore life, or lead it to extinction. We must choose.

We don’t have any doubts. We are radicals; we shall return to our roots and our original ways; we shall see the past not only as a point of departure but also as a point of arrival.

A collective birth towards a loving upbringing; we are an immortal embryo… Let’s dream, and act, without sleeping!

Read the report (PDF).

What’s the plan?

By Hannah McKinnon - Oil Change International, November 1, 2017

Why we can’t hide from the discussion about a managed decline of fossil fuel production.

It is clear that the end of the fossil fuel era is on the horizon. Between plummeting renewable energy costs, uncharted electric vehicle growth, government commitments to decarbonization enshrined in the Paris agreement, and a growing list of fossil fuel project cancellations in the face of massive public opposition and bad economics, the writing’s on the wall.

The question now becomes: What does the path from here to zero carbon look like? Is it ambitious enough to avoid locking in emissions that we can’t afford? Is it intentional enough to protect workers and communities that depend on the carbon-based economy that has gotten us this far? Is it equitable enough to recognize that some countries must move further, faster? And is it honest enough about the reality that a decline of fossil fuels is actually a good thing?

In short – will this be a managed decline of fossil fuel production, or an unmanaged decline? What is the plan?

Let’s take a closer look:

The King is Dead

By Anna Goldstein - 350.org, October 18, 2011

“It’s really difficult to understand a moment in history when you are in it.”
—Shaun King

Kumi Naidoo, the great South African human rights and environmental leader, happened to be in Seattle on September 26, the day the Department of Ecology denied a key permit for the Millenium coal export terminal. I told him the good news, and he related the story of a recent victory in South Africa. But Kumi was a bit jet lagged and world weary, reluctant to celebrate too much. It’s important to recognize the victories to keep up morale, he said, but so often they turn out to be temporary. We rarely win definitively or permanently. And the next battle is never far behind.

Anyone who’s joined the climate fight can feel this. But there’s an opposite effect on the other side of the Sisyphean hill. (Do we have a myth for this, or do we need a new one?) The Millenium coal export project–a climate disaster as big as the Keystone XL pipeline–will never be built. Coal export from the West Coast is never coming back. The coal industry is never coming back. We’ve won much more than a permanent victory against these projects.

Earlier this week, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt proclaimed “the war on coal is over” and announced plans to roll back President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. One hates this “war” talk, a cynical political ploy to manipulate workers and communities who depend on coal economically. The fight to overcome the concentrated, abusive political and economic power of the coal industry is a fight for people, for jobs, for communities, for a decent future for our kids.

But if you must have it that way, Mr. Pruitt, then yes, the “war on coal” is ending. And coal is losing. These last spasms of resurgence under Trump are pure political theater, without economic foundation. And the coal export saga in the Northwest was a decisive battle, a late stand for a dying proposition.

When the coal export boondoggle first hit the news in 2010, the chairman of Peabody Energy, giddy with illusions of limitless markets in Asia, gushed that “coal’s best days are ahead.” By 2016, Peabody had lost 99.9% of its value and filed for bankruptcy, as did most of the North American coal giants.

They were, of course, in big trouble when they started this misadventure. Coal prices and markets had begun a steep decline in the U.S.–the product of fierce opposition, stiff competition from cleaner energy sources, growing momentum to address the climate crisis, and renewed enforcement of basic public health protections after the lax Bush years. Peabody has now “emerged” from bankruptcy, meaning they reneged on enough commitments, screwed enough workers, abandoned enough communities, and wriggled out of enough cleanup obligations to get their stock ticker back up off the floor. But they can’t escape the fundamental economic, technological, and human forces at work here. Their era is ending, because we must end it; and now that we’ve developed better, safer, cheaper ways meet our energy needs, we know we can.

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on

By Marienna Pope-Weidemann - Red Pepper, October 13, 2017

The fatal police shooting of 37 striking workers at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine in August 2012 was the worst recorded instance of police violence in post-apartheid South Africa. Five years on, there have been no prosecutions and no real improvements – no compensation for the families living in grief and dire poverty.

There has also been no apology, although staggeringly Lonmin has created a commercial out of the incident. But as always with the Marikana story, the most important characters were left out.

A few weeks after the massacre there was another death in the community. Amidst a brutal crackdown Paulina Masuhlo, a powerful community leader, died after being shot by police. Paulina’s death helped galvanise the birth of Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana.

As well as demanding criminal prosecution for the killings and compensation for the families, Sikhala Sonke also carries forward the demands those workers died for: a living wage and dignified conditions.

Pensioners & young workers show solidarity for Idaho silver miners

By Staff - ILWU Dispatcher, September 25, 2017

Idaho’s “Silver Valley” may sound romantic, but hundreds of miners who work deep inside the region’s deep, hot and dangerous hard-rock silver mines were forced out on strike last March and now find themselves on the frontline of America’s working class struggle.

 ILWU support

 ILWU Pensioners and young workers from Northwest locals are stepping up to help roughly 250 miners and their families employed by Hecla to work in the Lucky Friday mine in Mullan, Idaho where silver, lead and zinc are extracted from narrow shafts up to 8500 feet underground.

Early contributions

 In early May, the Seattle Pensioners made a $500 contribution to help the members of United Steelworkers Local 5114. Additional support came the following month when Local 19 donated $5000 on June 8, and Local 21 donated the same amount on June 14.

Personal delivery

 “I read about what was happening to these miners, and thought my fellow pensioners would want to do something,” said Mark Downs who personally delivered an early check and solidarity letter from the ILWU Seattle Pensioner’s Club, after making the five-hour drive across Washington State with two other activists.

May Day decision

 Downs noted that the Seattle Pensioners had held their monthly meeting on May Day, “which was a pretty good day to share some solidarity,” he said, adding that the group’s vote to contribute was unanimous. Downs stayed overnight in Idaho near the small town of Mullan where the Lucky Friday miners are taking their stand against Hecla, and he attended a union picnic the next day with the striking miners.

Young Workers & pensioners 

Downs returned from his trip excited to share his experiences. Word of the strike reached Tacoma where Local 23’s Young Worker Committee (YWC) has been meeting with Pensioners on Thursdays for the past two years. YWC activist Brian Skiffington did some research about the strike and took his own trip to Mullan where he met with the miners and reported back to a joint meeting of the Tacoma Pensioners and the YWC. Both groups decided to launch a new round of solidarity over the summer.

Larger caravan

A larger solidarity caravan with 14 participants was organized to depart on August 2, in time to mark 130 days on the picket line. Caravaners made their way to the Wolf Lodge campground where they received a warm welcome from miners and family members, including camp “mom” Megan Chavez and cook Cory Chavez, who prepared breakfast early the next morning.

After finishing the hearty meals, the solidarity visitors were soon mixing it up with miners and other supporters in a spirited protest held in front of Hecla’s corporate headquarters in Coeur d’Alene that attracted 200 participants – a new turnout record.Songs were sung, chants and slogans were shouted and solidarity signs drew many honks from supporters driving past the protest.

The Real Reason Why Trump and Pruitt Are Repealing the Clean Power Plan

By Mike Ludwig - Truthout, October 10, 2017

As concerns about climate disruption and pollution continue to seep into markets and political systems across the globe, coal will never be "clean" enough to keep up with other sources of energy. However, coal is intimately connected to an industrial past that President Donald Trump glorified on the campaign trail. That's why Trump hired Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and give coal a helping hand.

On Tuesday, Pruitt and the EPA released a proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan, President Obama's signature environmental achievement, which requires power generators to clean up their coal-burning operations or switch to a different fuel source. The rules were principally designed to help the nation meet international climate commitments -- commitments that Trump has said he wants to ditch -- by reducing carbon emissions. The new regulations would also prevent thousands of premature deaths each year by reducing other types of air pollution.

From the destructive act of mining to the toxic pollution that coal plants spew into the air and leave behind in massive sludge pits, coal is one of the dirtiest ways to generate power. It's the nation's largest source of carbon dioxide emissions and responsible for about one-third of US greenhouse gas emissions.

For Trump, though, coal holds the key to voters in the regions thought to have thrust him into the White House: the Appalachian rust belts and Midwestern industrial corridors where heavy loads of coal mined from rural hillsides were once loaded onto trains and transported to steel mills and manufacturing plants before globalization sent those jobs overseas, leaving a disgruntled -- and in some areas, a mostly white -- working class behind. Coal-burning power plants survived these economic shifts, thanks to a constant demand for cheap domestic energy.

The EPA spent much of the Obama administration working to clean up the coal industry, but the industry kicked and screamed in the face of regulations that require costly investments in much-needed pollution controls and give cleaner fuels a competitive advantage, accusing Obama of waging a "war on coal." Once in office, Trump appointed Pruitt to turn back the clock.

"The war on coal is over," Pruitt said on Monday as he announced his plans to repeal the Clean Power Plan in a coal-producing region of Kentucky.

Going to bat for coal helped Pruitt launch into national politics and become the head of a major environmental agency despite his skepticism of climate science. While serving as attorney general of Oklahoma, a power company complained directly to Pruitt, even providing him with a report detailing how Obama-era regulations would force power generators to spend millions of dollars on equipment upgrades to reduce smog and carbon emissions. Pruitt went on work with the coal, oil and gas industry to challenge nearly all of the Obama administration's environmental initiatives in court.

The National Mining Association doesn’t speak for coal communities

By Erin Savage - Appalachian Voices, October 5, 2017

Last month, West Virginian Bil Lepp authored a letter in the Charleston Gazette-Mail regarding the U.S. Department of the Interior’s decision to halt a review of research linking mountaintop removal coal mining and impacts to human health.

In his letter, Lepp calls out the National Mining Association and cites its skepticism of the review, which was led by the National Academy of Sciences and already well underway.

“The National Mining Association is saying that because mountaintop removal is such a small part of the mining industry, the people affected by it simply aren’t worth worrying about,” Lepp wrote. “They are saying, ‘Even if this process is bad for the people who live near it, who cares? There are not enough of them to matter to us.’”

In response, National Mining Association President Hal Quinn submitted his own letter to the Gazette-Mail. In it, he claims that because the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences already reviewed some of the studies, the additional review by the NAS (which is independent and non-governmental) is unnecessary. “We applaud and support legitimate efforts to improve health and safety in and around mines, but this study was a symbolic gesture left over from an anti-coal administration,” Quinn wrote.

Quinn wants it to seem like the NMA cares about miners and coal communities. But nothing could be further from the truth. The NMA openly opposes multiple efforts that would benefit coal communities.

The National Institute of Environmental Health and Sciences study Quinn mentioned in his letter does not actually make additional review unnecessary. Rather, that study concluded:

Improved characterization of exposures by future community health studies and further study of the effects of MTR mining chemical mixtures in experimental models will be critical to determining health risks of MTR mining to communities. Without such work, uncertainty will remain regarding the impact of these practices on the health of the people who breathe the air and drink the water affected by MTR mining.

The much more robust review being conducted by the NAS was a step toward conducting some of that work.

More than two dozen peer-reviewed studies show strong links between living near mountaintop removal mines and suffering from negative health effects. The industry likes to suggest that regional health disparities are due to other problems, but researchers control for these socioeconomic factors. Poverty and public health issues are critical problems in Central Appalachia, but they have been problems for decades, even when the coal industry was booming. An economy based on a single extractive industry has done little to lift the region out of poverty, despite what the industry may claim.

One example of how the NMA is holding coal communities back is its opposition to the RECLAIM Act, a bill that would direct $1 billion from the Abandoned Mine Land Fund over the next five years to reclaim post-mined land for the economic benefit of the region. All five members of West Virginia’s congressional delegation are co-sponsors of the RECLAIM Act.

Not only does the NMA oppose the RECLAIM Act, it opposes the Abandoned Mine Land Fund as a whole. The fund is dependent on a tax on current coal production, and the revenue is spent on mines abandoned by coal companies prior to the passage of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in 1977. Without the fund, taxpayers would likely be responsible for the cleanup of these sites.

The NMA claims that the fund has been mismanaged since coal companies have paid in more than $10 billion while only $2.8 billion has been spent on priority sites. Priority 1 sites pose a direct risk to human health and safety — an open mine portal or unstable land near communities, for example. Thankfully, these sites do not make up the majority of abandoned mine lands. Much of the land does not pose a direct threat to people, but it does hamper economic growth; it may be unsuitable for development in its current condition or deter nearby growth. Many sites have ongoing problems with soil and water contamination, erosion and revegetation.

In reality, $8 billion of the fund has been distributed, including $5 billion distributed to states and tribes and more than $1.4 billion transferred to the United Mine Workers of America Health and Retirement Funds. So, the NMA is upset that $1.4 billion has been spent to ensure that miners have health care and retirement benefits, rather than for Priority 1 sites...

A year of resistance against coal extraction: support the Ffos-y-fran 5!

By Mitch - Reclaim the Power, September 22, 2017

Reclaim the Power’s 2016 camp focussed on the issue of coal with a mass trespass against Ffos-y-frân coal mine closing it for the day. But that was far from the end of the story…

Ffos-y-frân is the UK’s largest opencast coal mine, it is very close to Merthyr Tydfil and is operated by Miller Argent. The main consumer of the coal for most of its existence has been Aberthaw power station near Barry in South Wales.

In December 2016 Reclaim the Power, Coal Action Network, Bristol Rising Tide and United Valley’s Action Group began a series of actions to close Aberthaw power station.

The first action against Aberthaw was a short and creative blockade of the only access road. Check it out in this short film which shows what happened and explains why we are targeting Aberthaw.

Aberthaw power station was the dirtiest power station in terms of nitrogen oxides in the UK, with the UK government allowing it to breach European Union air quality standards. The levels of toxins were more than double those from other power stations because Aberthaw burnt Welsh coal which is less flammable but supported Welsh mining jobs. In 2016 environmental lawyers, Client Earth, brought a case to the European Court of Justice which ruled against the UK government for allowing Aberthaw to kill 400 people a year through poisonous emissions.

Within two weeks of the opening action activists were back at Aberthaw, this time with a more serious blockade of the power station’s only access road. This time for four hours, entirely blocking the road with two tripods, causing a large tail back of lorries, before campaigners left with no arrests. It was unclear whether the power station was actually asking the police to remove the blockade as its workers and bosses were absent.

Aberthaw is run by the utility company RWE nPower whose head offices in Swindon were visited within a month of the previous action. There was a visual presence at the enormous offices which resulted in a security shut down (although one person still managed to get inside). The protest raised awareness of the opposition to the power station amongst employees and in thelocal media.

The next action in part organised by Reclaim the Power involved many more people; 150 made it to a stony south Wales beach in January to show their opposition to the power station. Marianne Owens from the PCS union said, “It’s working class people who suffer from this dirty energy,” as she addressed the crowd from the sea wall. At the demonstration demands were made for a Just Transition for coal workers to sustainable jobs.

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