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ICYMI™: Gilmer County’s 2016 Drinking Water Quality Report

The Free Press WV
The Free Press WV

What is the quality of your drinking water?

What are new developments and initiatives conducted by the Gilmer County Public Service District?

Where does your water come from?

How is it treated?

The answers to these questions and more are included in the 2016 Annual Drinking Water Quality Report, the latest report issued by GCPSD.

Click HERE to review and print the report.

Recovering WV Addicts Fear for Future If Healthcare Bill Passes

The Free Press WV

One of the big issues in the current healthcare debate is what will happen to Medicaid support for substance abuse treatment. Some in West Virginia say they’re afraid losing it could kill them.

Bailey Hendricks is a single mother from St. Albans, and a recovering opioid addict. She credits substance abuse treatment with saving her life. She said if Medicaid no longer covered the treatment, it would likely be a death sentence for many.

“Nobody knows what’s going to happen to all of us,” Hendricks said. “We’re all going to be turned out into the street. Most of us are probably going to die. I don’t even understand why it’s even a thought that they would take it way from us.“

Substance abuse treatment was added to the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. That expansion would be rolled back over time in the GOP bill to repeal the ACA now being debated in the Senate.

Senator Shelley Moore Capito has said she intends to defend funding for substance abuse treatment, but has not said how she plans to vote on the legislation.

In the House bill, known as the American Health Care Act, Medicaid funding would be slashed by 25 percent over ten years. The Senate bill would take longer, but it uses a formula most expect would actually result in deeper cuts.

Unless a specific provision for substance abuse treatment is added, it’s likely those cuts would force states to end Medicaid support for Suboxone clinics like the one Bailey goes to.

“The Suboxone program saved my life. And if they take this part of the healthcare out and I lose my treatment, there is a big uncertainty in my future,” she said.

Bailey said most people have no idea how hard it is to break an addiction. She said the difference between how she was before treatment and now is like night and day.

“Sitting in jail and having my 3-month-old at home was devastating for me,” Bailey said. “And it has completely changed my life. I have my own vehicle, my own house. I have a lot of responsibility at work.“

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he wants to pass the repeal-and-replace legislation by the end of the month. Capito’s is one of the key votes he would need to do that.

More information is available HERE .

~~  Dan Heyman ~~

Savings are a Good Start in Fighting Disability Fraud

The Free Press WV

One of life’s little pleasant surprises is reaching into an old coat pocket and finding a few misplaced dollars.

Even better is keeping millions of dollars in the pockets of taxpayers, which is exactly what my office’s Social Security disability fraud unit was created to do.

Since the Mountain State established a Cooperative Disability Investigation Unit in December 2015, it has netted $4.4 million in savings from benefits not paid to those who would try to cheat the system. Our efforts prevent stealing from taxpayers and mucking up the works for those who are in genuine need.

The Cooperative Disability Investigation Unit (CDIU) generated $1.9 million in savings in the first quarter of 2017—nearly as much as the total savings generated in the unit’s entire first year.

The CDIU is staffed by investigators and an analyst from our office whose salaries are covered by the federal government. They work diligently to reduce Social Security fraud in partnership with the Social Security Administration, its Office of the Inspector General and the state’s Disability Determination Section.

The unit assists in making informed decisions and ensuring payment accuracy, a formula that will continue to generate significant savings into the future. The return on our invested time and effort, in just a few months, has been tremendous.

Those who lie about having a disability rob the poor, disabled and retired.

Rather than keeping the money in Social Security coffers, these thieves contribute to the potential exhaustion of available funds for those properly receiving benefits. Ultimately, our goal is to ensure that precious taxpayer dollars are spent on those who need it most.

Just as our disability unit demonstrates, I am also committed to reducing fraud, waste and abuse in all areas of government.

As a state, we also need to more aggressively pursue Medicaid fraud.

Our state’s approach has left millions on the table for far too long. For instance, a September 2013 performance audit revealed 171 backlogged referrals within the existing unit operated by the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

Of those cases, 23 were dated as far back as five years with reports that suspicious billings can remain uninvestigated for years.

That is totally unacceptable.

It is the prime reason why I continue to urge the Legislature to transfer our state’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit to our office. Such a move would fix deficiencies in the existing unit and bring West Virginia in line with the rest of the nation as 43 of 50 units are housed within the state attorney general’s office.

The potential savings in rooting out Medicaid fraud, coupled with the tremendous kickoff to our disability unit, can lead to significant budgetary savings and greater economic development for West Virginia.

The $4.4 million in savings already generated by our disability unit demonstrates our aggressive approach to fighting fraud works.

By continuing this crucial fight we secure the disability program for those who need it the most, while also identifying and punishing those who would steal from their neighbors.

Our success helps keep millions of dollars in taxpayers’ pockets. That is one of the ways we will help West Virginia reach her full potential.

Patrick Morrisey is the Attorney General of West Virginia.

The Free Press WV

St. Joseph’s Hospital Auxiilary Holds Annual Recognitin Dinner 2017

President Carolyn Hornbeck welcomed everyone and introduced Hospital Administrator, Skip Gjolberg. 

Gjolberg gave the Auxiliary an update on the hospital and its transition into the UHC/WVU Medicine family. 

Hornbeck then presented the hospital with a check for $10,000 from funds raised by the Auxiliary.

The Free Press WV
Karen Trent, Patty McComas, Carolyn Hornbeck, Beverly Reger and UHC Auxiliary Coordinator Denise Steffich


Pins were presented in recognition of hours of service to:

  • 15,500 hours: Shirley Lewis
  • 7500 hours: Colleen Simmons
  • 5500 hours: Carolyn Hornbeck
  • 3000 hours:  Vonnie Hager
  • 2500 hours: Esther Dyer
  • 2000 hours: Boots Marino
  • 1000 hours: Cathy Debarr
  • 500 hours: Patty McComas and Beverly Reger
  • 100 hours: Geraldine Howard

Denise Steffich, Auxiliary Coordinator at UHC, installed the new officers for 2017-2018.

They are:

  • Carolyn Hornbeck, President
  • Pat McComas, Vice President
  • Beverly Reger, Secretary
  • Karen Trent, Treasurer

In West Virginia….

The Free Press WV

►  WVDEP Offering Training on Natural Gas Electronic Permitting

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s (WVDEP) Division of Air Quality (DAQ) is offering free in-person training on the G70-D General Permit Electronic Submission System (ESS) for the natural gas industry and consultants.

The training session will be held Tuesday, July 25 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at WVDEP headquarters in Charleston.

An ESS portal is being developed for the G70-D Natural Gas Production Facilities Class II General Permit registration application. The training will detail how to properly complete an electronic application, which will be available August 01.

Seating is limited and is being offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. To register, email Jennifer Rice at no later than Friday, July 21.

For more information on WVDEP’s ESS, go to https://apps.dep.wv.gov/eplogin.cfm.


►  Most Elkview Mall Stores Returning After Bridge Repair

A bridge that was washed out in flooding last year is being replaced at a mall in West Virginia, and almost all of the businesses are expected to reopen.

The representatives of the businesses and rent documents from Crossings Mall owner Tara Retail Group indicate 23 of the 26 businesses open at the Elkview mall when the June 23, 2016, flood occurred are expected to reopen.

The new bridge is expected to be ready to cross in July.

The bridge connected hundreds of West Virginia residents to their workplace, but bankruptcy sparked legal battles and delayed the repairs until a federal bankruptcy judge approved a bridge financing plan.

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper says the return of most of the businesses shows the community’s resiliency.


►  West Virginia Expert Offers Tips to Avoid Tick Attacks

A West Virginia University Extension Service expert wants to help residents of the state avoid attacks by ticks this summer.

Entomology specialist Daniel Frank says three things that can help are mowing grass frequently, trimming trees and using insecticide when appropriate.

The university says the most common tick varieties found in West Virginia are lone star tick, blacklegged tick and American dog tick.

Frank said in a news release from the university that one good way to avoid tick-borne diseases is to inspect your body regularly for ticks. If one is found, just remove it and kill it.

Frank says the longer an infected tick is attached to the body, the more likely it becomes that it could transmit a disease-causing pathoGeneral He says with Lyme disease, for instance, ticks would have to be attached at least 36 to 48 hours.


►  YouthBuild assists WVDNR with Shavers Fork River trout habitat project

Students with Elkins-based YouthBuild North Central recently worked with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) Aquatic Habitat Enhancement Program to restore fish and wildlife habitats at the site of the historic logging town of Spruce, near the head of the Shavers Fork River. Since the old town was abandoned and demolished in the 1940s, the site had remained largely unforested.

With the cooperation of the State Rail Authority, the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad, Cass Scenic Railroad, Snowshoe and landowner Steve Callen, DNR and West Virginia University led an ambitious reforestation project at the remote site, with a primary goal of improving trout habitat in Upper Shavers Fork.

Two dozen students and staff from YouthBuild North Central worked with DNR and WVU staff on the project. They planted, limed and fertilized more than 2,600 trees and shrubs over the course of a week in May.

The goal of YouthBuild is to give young adults the tools to find and keep a good job. YouthBuild helps young adults become responsible members of their families and communities by strengthening their educational backgrounds, teaching them marketable skills and entrepreneurship, and instilling leadership values that relate to home, work and community. YouthBuild participants earn money while they get valuable hands-on work experience.

David Thorne, a DNR Fisheries biologist who oversaw the project, explained that the reforestation effort was focused on establishing fast-growing trees on riverbanks to shade the water and reduce water temperatures to levels preferred by trout. Riverbanks on both sides of more than a mile of Shavers Fork and a tributary received plantings during the project. Thorne praised the work of the YouthBuild participants as essential to the effort.

“Our planting window was very tight and we simply could not have completed this ambitious project without the great work of YouthBuild,” Thorne said.

This work is reinforced with classroom instruction, job shadowing and personal guidance. GED preparation and testing is another key component of the program. Out-of-school youth ages 16 to 24 are eligible to apply.

The program, which lasts between six and 10 months, is funded from a variety of state, federal and nonprofit grants. More information can be found online at the YouthBuild website: rchawv.org/youthbuild/youthbuild-3.html.

The goal of the DNR Aquatic Habitat Enhancement Program is to enhance aquatic habitats for fish and anglers. The program is funded with fishing license revenue, federal excise taxes on fishing equipment and frequent grant funding from the National Fish Habitat Partnership. The WVU Natural Resource Analysis Program is an integral partner with DNR in the statewide habitat effort.


►  EQT moves to next phase of shale gas strategy

The Marcellus Shale gas revolution is moving out of its first phase of growth at any cost and is transitioning to its second phase of focusing on shareholder returns.

That’s the philosophy EQT Corp. is taking following its announced $6.7 billion acquisition of Rice Energy. Once it closes, the acquisition creates the largest natural gas drilling company in the nation based on fourth-quarter 2016 production numbers.

The deal also triples EQT’s pipeline capacity to move gas from Appalachia to customers and ports on the Gulf Coast.

“It is my belief that we are in the second phase of the shale gas — I guess you can call it revolution. And the high-growth models of the first phase I don’t think are going to work in phase two. We really need to be focused on creating real value and getting that value directly back to shareholders,” EQT President and CEO Steve Schlotterbeck said June 19 in a conference call with investment analysts following the announcement of the merger.

“We will have to determine what the appropriate growth rate is, but that growth will likely be certainly within cash flow and most likely below our cash flow so that we can return cash to shareholders,” he said. “And we will have to study what the best method of doing that is, whether it’s share buybacks or reestablishing a meaningful dividend. But I think it’s critically important that we get there really as soon as practical.”


The Deal

Under terms of the deal, each Rice shareholder will receive 0.37 of a share of EQT stock, plus $5.30 in cash for each share of Rice. EQT will issue $5.4 billion in equity, pay $1.3 billion in cash and assume about $1.5 billion of Rice’s net debt and preferred equity. EQT’s shareholders will own 65 percent of the combined company, and Rice will nominate two directors to EQT’s board.

The transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter. In it, EQT acquires 187,000 acres of Marcellus Shale from Rice in Greene and Washington counties in Western Pennsylvania. It also acquires 64,000 acres of Upper Devonian Shale in Pennsylvania, 105,000 acres of Utica Shale in Pennsylvania and 65,000 Utica Shale acres in Ohio. Rice has no acreage under its control in West Virginia.

EQT also acquires Rice’s midstream assets, which it will drop down to its own midstream operation after the deal closes.

“This transaction brings together two of the top Marcellus and Utica producers to form a natural gas operating position that will be unmatched in the industry,” Schlotterbeck said in the company’s news release announcing the acquisition. “Rice has built an outstanding company with an acreage footprint that is largely contiguous to our existing acreage, which will provide substantial synergies and make this transaction significantly accretive in the first year.”

Most of the acreage EQT acquires from Rice is contiguous with acreage EQT controls in Pennsylvania. Schlotterbeck said the consolidation of acreage will allow wells to have longer laterals.

“This transaction is driven by our strategy to significantly improve returns on invested capital and capture capital and operational synergies, driven by a 50 percent increase in lateral length in Greene and Washington counties,” Schlotterbeck said in the conference call.

“By extending laterals from 8,000 to 12,000 feet, the well returns will increase from 50 percent to 70 percent at a $3 NYMEX gas price,” he said. “We also will capture operational efficiencies through sharing of technical data and best practices, rig allocation, pad sites, water, access roads, etc.”


WV Impact

Although Rice has no holdings in West Virginia, but its experience in drilling in the Utica Shale in Ohio could help EQT’s test drilling of Utica wells in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Utica has drilled at least one Utica shale well in Wetzel County and has plans to drill another. It has also drilled Utica wells in Greene County.

EQT executives have said they want to get the cost of their West Virginia and Pennsylvania wells in the Utica down to the point they are competitive with Marcellus wells.

In the call, Schlotterbeck talked about what the Rice properties in Pennsylvania could do for EQT once the deal closes. He would not say how EQT will allocate its capital expenditure money next year. The deal won’t close until the fourth quarter, so it does not affect this year’s cap ex plans. Next year’s cap ex plan won’t be decided and announced until December, Schlotterbeck said.

One analyst asked about EQT’s plans for further development in West Virginia and Ohio, given its enthusiasm for what the deal means for returns in Pennsylvania.

“It will depend on the returns that are available in all of those areas,” Schlotterbeck said. “So, when we do our business planning, that will be one of the primary drivers.

“Ohio is pretty contiguous acreage and fairly long laterals. So, I think it’s got a good job to compete. And West Virginia, the consolidation efforts we’ve had over the past year have allowed us to lengthen laterals pretty considerably. So, there will certainly be areas in West Virginia, particularly when you include the liquids-rich areas of West Virginia that we won’t have in Pennsylvania.”

Schlotterbeck said from an economic standpoint, there will be areas in West Virginia that have shorter average laterals, but equivalent returns.

“So, I think there’ll be a place in our development strategy or development plans for that,” he said.

All three states will have a place in EQT’s cap ex plan for next year, but analysts can expect to see a strong focus on the core areas of Pennsylvania “where we have some excellent rock and the significant synergy potential between the two sets of assets,” Schlotterbeck said.


Looking Forward

“We’ll be weighing all of the factors and determining exactly when we get there and how far we go,” Schlotterbeck said.

“But I think it’s important for a company our size and in this phase of the shale gas economy, I guess I’d say, to start looking at more moderate growth rates, generating profits and returning those profits to shareholders.”

Schlotterbeck said that’s where EQT is headed throughout the next several years.

“I’m a strong believer that the grow-as-fast-as-you-can-at-any-cost model, while probably necessary early in the shale revolution, doesn’t work anymore and isn’t going to work anymore,” he said. “And for a company our size, you know, that’s far too risky of a strategy. So, we’re going to be more prudent. We’re going to have a moderate growth rate. …

“I think we will have the leading natural gas cost structure in the country with a long, long runway of opportunity. And I think that will generate the ability to grow at pretty attractive rates while giving cash back to shareholders. I think it’s going to be a pretty attractive value proposition.”    ~~  Jim Ross ~~


►  Swearengin prepares for campaign fight against Manchin

Paula Jean Swearengin spent the first 12 years of her life in Wyoming County before moving to North Carolina. She said she still remembers the color of the water she drank and bathed in prior to her move.

“Our water was orange with a blue or purple film. People called it ‘copper water’ back then,” she said. “Later it was tested, and it was acid mine drainage.”

“I thought my hair was red until I was 12 years old.”

Swearengin — whose grandfather, father, stepfather and uncle were coal miners — said coal mining has been damaging to her family and communities across the state.

“I’ve seen the regression, the boom and bust,” she said. “I’ve buried a lot of my family members because of coal. If they are still around, they are suffering from black lung.”

Swearengin moved back to West Virginia in 2001 after her grandfather was diagnosed with black lung disease. That spurned Swearengin to researching and advocating against mountaintop removal, going to political town halls and reaching out to elected officials about providing clean resources.

All of this led to Saturday when the 43-year-old, single mother-of-four Swearengin was handing out fliers and knocking on doors in Charleston as part of a canvassing event for her 2018 U.S. Senate campaign. Swearengin said after years of advocacy, something else had to be done.

“It’s gone on deaf ears,” she said. “We’ve had community support, but we haven’t had any support from our leadership.”

One of those political leaders is Senator Joe Manchin, who Swearengin is challenging for the Democratic nomination.

“He’s made it clear that he serves the coal industry and not coal miners and their communities,” she said. “It’s obvious that our leaders are not going to do anything and when coal is gone, we really don’t have a plan ‘B.’ We deserve a diverse and equal and fair economic infrastructure.”

Manchin and Swearengin have crossed paths before; when he was governor, Swearengin said she raised concerns directly to him regarding water quality in the state. After Manchin was elected to the Senate in 2010, Swearengin continued adding pressuring, attending forums and similar events Manchin held across the state.

That includes a town hall last February in South Charleston. Swearengin said she only knew about the town hall an hour before it began, and drove 75 minutes from her Coal City home to attend. She stood in line next to a coal miner waiting to talk to Manchin.

“When I got up to talk to him and I told him we deserve clean and safe jobs, he tried to put the coal miners and the crowd against me, saying we would have to agree to disagree,” Swearengin recalled.

“My family has died to power this nation, and he acted like he was immune and angered because we were begging for clean water.”

Swearengin said she has not contacted Manchin’s office since, adding there is no use after so many attempts.

Swearengin launched her campaign on May 9 in a Facebook video. In the video, she talks about the dangers of the state’s economy being based heavily on coal.

“We have to invest in ourselves, and we have to fight back,” she said.

Swearengin was then contacted by Brand New Congress, a political action committee formed by volunteers and staffers from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. The Independent Senator won West Virginia’s Democratic Primary, beating eventual candidate Hillary Clinton 51 percent to 36 percent.

Swearengin is one of 14 candidates the organization is supporting, and the only Senate candidate currently under its banner.

At the canvass Saturday, volunteers were wearing purple shirts with Brand New Congress’ logo, which underneath read “Paula Jean 2018 for U.S. Senate, West Virginia.”

Justice Democrats, another political action committee, is also supporting the ticket.

Swearengin said she is not “against the coal miner,” but rather the silence regarding coal mining’s effects and its future. In the state’s current Democratic Party, however, she has not found a leader to guide West Virginia to a post-coal economy.

“Ken Hechler was a true public leader, a true Democrat,” she said. “He protested against mountaintop removal. He got arrested for West Virginia. He was a true public servant, and I admire him for that.”

Hechler died in December 2016 at the age of 102. Prior to his death, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives and as West Virginia Secretary of State. He was arrested in 2009 with 29 other marchers protesting coal mine sludge ponds in Boone County.

Another person Swearengin said she admired was Sanders, who she met during a March 2017 visit to McDowell County. She was seen Sunday at a Charleston rally Sanders spoke at regarding the Senate Republican health care legislation draft.

“Paula Jean 2018!” some yelled before Sanders took the stage, resulting in some audience members applauding.

Swearengin said Saturday she felt Sanders had real solutions to address the United States’ prominent concerns.

“People voted for Donald Trump because they are desperate to feed their children, but (Sanders) was the only one giving us real promises,” she said.

She added while Trump has repeatedly offered to bring back mining jobs, getting rid of regulations like the Stream Protection Rule is not the best solution.

“People will die from that. People will get cancer from that,” she said. “And what do we have to offer people? Still no jobs.”

Chuck Nelson was one of the dozen volunteers who walked door-to-door Saturday. A former coal miner who spent 29 years underground, he argued something has to be done regarding coal.

“I know how these companies and politicians treat the miners and the people of West Virginia,” he said. “Joe Manchin is a friend of the industry. He likes to paint the picture like he cares for the miner.”

Nelson said he met Swearengin through mountaintop removal activism.

“I remember when she first came on board and started this fight with us,” he said. “Paula has just turned into one of those leaders not only in our community but everywhere she goes.”

“She cares about people and the future of West Virginia.”

Swearengin said like Hechler someone needs to stand up for the average West Virginian.

“He was a hellraiser, and that’s the thing our leadership needs to know,” Swearengin said. “We have fought generation after generation of labor struggles. It’s not going to end in this generation. I’m a hellraiser, too, and I’m going to fight back.”

Swearengin is not the first person to announce their 2018 plans; Manchin and Representative Evan Jenkins, R-WV, have announced plans to run for Senate.

Former coal miner Bo Copley released a video in announcing May his intention to capture the Republican nomination, and an official campaign kickoff is scheduled for Monday.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said in early June a decision regarding plans to challenge Jenkins and Copley will come in the next two months.


►  State School Building Authority Meeting Report

State School Building Authority member Tom Lange criticized SBA Executive Director Frank “Bucky” Blackwell and state School Superintendent Steve Paine Monday for a recent development involving the Nicholas County school system.

During Monday’s SBA meeting, Lange spoke out and said he didn’t like the way Blackwell and Paine worked together on an alternate proposal to the Nicholas County Board of Education’s consolidation plan.

“I just support letting the local boards of education do what they have to do in working in conjunction with the SBA,” Lange said. “Not the SBA developing plans for the (state Board of Education) and surprising them saying, ‘Here it is,‘” Lange said.

The Nicholas BOE voted in March to consolidate Nicholas and Richwood high schools along with the county’s technical center into one school. The plan also would combine Summersville and Richwood middle schools. The June 2016 flood destroyed three schools.

The state Board of Education refused to approve the plan at a meeting earlier this month and instead heard an alternate plan from SBA Director of School Planning and Construction Scott Raines. The plan would consolidate Richwood Middle and Richwood High into one school while merging Summersville Middle and Nicholas County High into a separate school.

Lange said the Nicholas County BOE should have been involved in the discussions of the alternative plan instead of it hearing about it for the first time at the state BOE meeting.

“Our executive director (Blackwell), who has been here for four months, he has our staff put a plan together without any knowledge to the Nicholas County Board of Education–that’s not fair to them,” Lange said. “I’m not for consolidation one way or another, I’m just defending the right for the (local) boards of education to do what they have to do.”

Lange said he is concerned the Nicholas County move may erode the trust other county superintendents have in the SBA.

“There’s a trust factor involved, ‘Do we trust the SBA to go along with our plan and if they haven’t are they going to surprise us and not share with us?’ That’s my concern–we have to be open and transparent,” Lange said.

Also during its meeting Monday, the SBA agreed on the allocation of $6.7 million to 10 school districts for Major Improvement Projects (MIP) funding. Fayette County received the most at $1 million for a project at Oak Hill High School.

ETC.

The Free Press WV

  • GOP Holdouts Could Postpone Trumpcare Vote:  Are they rushing into things? With 52 Senate seats, Republicans have the majority - but so far five GOP senators have said they won’t vote for their party’s health care bill, which was drafted in secret and revealed last week. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office hasn’t yet scored the Senate’s bill, but estimated that the House’s version - which Donald Trump called “mean” - would leave 23 million more people uninsured than under Obamacare. Concerned lawmakers are pushing to delay this week’s planned vote until the deeply unpopular legislation can be altered.    The Guardian


  • The Drug Trade Is Felling Central America’s Trees:  Call it “green” money laundering. According to research from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, cocaine traffickers in places like Honduras and Guatemala are pumping their illicit profits into clearing remote forests, making way for vast cattle farms that effectively mask the money’s origin. The practice threatens some of Central America’s richest forests - and the indigenous people who rely on the land. While traffickers also provide some impoverished locals with jobs and even health benefits, researchers say the increased violence and environmental destruction far outweigh those factors.    PRI


  • MS-13 reborn.  After a period of seeming dormancy, the violent Central American gang is back in the U.S. in force, thanks to the Obama administration’s openness toward “unaccompanied alien minors.”  National Review


  • Cyber Awareness:  Even as the threat of “ransomware” has exploded in recent years, victims simply are not taking the time to report these attacks to the authorities, says the FBI.    Bleeping Computer


  • Protestors mobilize in key states to stop GOP health care repeal:    “As people mobilize nationwide under the #ProtectOurCare banner in a collective bid to defeat the Republican Party’s plan to strip healthcare coverage from millions in order to give the nation’s wealthiest a massive tax break, Senator Bernie Sanders was helping lead the charge over the weekend as he joined MoveOn.org and others on a rapid-response bus tour designed to galvanize opposition in key states. ‘This is not a drill,’ said MoveOn.org’s Ben Wikler in Columbus, Ohio as he called the current moment a ‘code red’ situation for the resistance movement aimed at stopping President Trump and his Republican allies. With stops in three states on Saturday and Sunday – the tour is aimed at key Republican Senators identified as targets: Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, and Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.”  Common Dreams


  • 22 Million People Will Lose Insurance From Senate Republican Healthcare Bill, CBO Says:  The Senate’s healthcare bill will leave 22 million more people uninsured by 2026, the Congressional Budget Office estimated on Monday.    FUSION

Did You Know?

The Free Press WV

HOW THE SUPREME COURT RULED ON TRUMP’S TRAVEL BAN

The Supreme Court says President Donald Trump can forge ahead with a limited version of his ban on travel from six mostly Muslim countries. Trump hails the decision as a “victory for national security.“


WHAT THE CBO SAID ABOUT THE SENATE REPUBLICAN HEALTH CARE BILL

It would leave 22 million more Americans uninsured in 2026 than under President Obama’s health care law, the Congressional Budget Office estimates, in a blow to GOP leaders’ hopes of pushing the plan through the chamber this week.


WHO GAVE TRUMP A BIG HUG

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi went in for two big bear hugs with Trump during their joint statements in the Rose Garden. Both leaders sought to project warm relations in their first face-to-face meeting.


THREE RESIGN AT CNN OVER RUSSIA STORY

The network says it has accepted the resignations of three people involved in a retracted story about a meeting between an associate of President Trump and the head of a Russian investment fund.


HOW TRUMP CHALLENGES TV WRITERS

Writing TV shows based on real life in Washington has always been a challenge, but since Trump became president, writers of such series as “House of Cards” and “Veep” say their job is tougher than ever.


WHY LONDON’S HIGH-RISE FIRE RAISED THE ALARM

While flammable insulating panels may have allowed the fire to engulf Grenfell Tower before firefighters could reach trapped residents, the underlying culprits are building regulations that haven’t kept up with changing building materials and cuts to inspections and oversight that might have spotted the problem before the disaster, fire experts say.


BAYLOR CONFIRMS NCAA INVESTIGATION

The sports body is investigating after a sex abuse scandal that led to the firing of football coach Art Briles and the departure of the school president.


HOW MUCH SUPPORT FOR SAME-SEX MARRIAGE HAS SURGED

A majority of African-Americans and baby boomers are in favor of it for the first time, according to a Pew Research Center poll.


WHO WISCONSIN WANTS TO STAY IN JAIL

The state is asking a federal appeals court to keep an inmate featured in the Netflix series “Making a Murderer” behind bars while the agency appeals a ruling that his confession was coerced.


WHAT SERENA SAYS ABOUT MCCENROE

The tennis legend has no interest in John McEnroe’s thoughts on what would happen if she tried to play on the men’s tennis tour, after McEnroe says Williams would be “like 700” in the rankings if she played on the men’s tour.


Justin Caldbeck, a partner at VC firm Binary Capital, has quit after six women in tech claimed he sexually harassed them

Caldbeck originally denied the claims, then apologized, then quit, according to several media reports over the weekend.


Amazon has applied to patent a beehive-like tower for delivery drones

The strange, sci-fi design shows a “multi-level” tower, and the structure is intended for densely populated areas, like cities.


Microsoft suffered a massive code leak, after Windows 10 source code was posted online anonymously

Microsoft confirmed the leak, which included confidential Windows 10 builds that hackers could have used to look for security flaws, according to The Register.


A former Tesla engineer has launched an FDA-approved company that makes hangover cures

Sisun Lee will launch Morning Recovery on July 5, selling drinks containing Asian herbs that he says helps the body get rid of toxic acid buildup after a night of drinking.


Google will no longer scan your Gmail inbox in order to work out how to target you with advertising

Gmail previously scanned for keywords to inform inbox ads, and Google didn’t explain why it was ditching the practice.


Mac malware is surging, according to analysis from security firm McAffee

The number of cases of malware targeting Macs was up 53% in the first quarter.


Child safety experts are worried that a new feature from Snapchat, which lets you track your friends nearby, could lead to online bullying or harassment

The safety group Childnet International said people shouldn’t give their location away on Snapchat to people they don’t know.


Facebook wants to produce high-quality, scripted TV shows costing up to $3 million an episode

The company is in talks with various Hollywood production firms for shows like Freeform’s “Pretty Little Liars”, according to the Wall Street Journal, and is also looking for shorter 10-minute unscripted content.


Apple CEO Tim Cook, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai were among 21 CEOs to meet with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi in the US this weekend

Modi gathered the leaders in a roundtable to pitch his government’s tax reforms, ahead of a meeting with his US counterpart Donald Trump this week.


Pandora CEO and founder Tim Westergren is reportedly planning to step down

Westergren has been running the streaming music service since 2016, and the company has not found a replacement yet.

In USA….

The Free Press WV


►  Supreme Court rules for Missouri church in playground case

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that churches have the same right as other charitable groups to seek state money for new playground surfaces and other non-religious needs.

By a 7-2 vote, the justices sided with Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, which had sought a grant to put a soft surface on its preschool playground. The church was denied any money even though its application was ranked fifth out of 44 submissions.

Chief Justice John Roberts said for the court that the state violated the First Amendment by denying a public benefit to an otherwise eligible recipient solely on account of its religious status. He called it “odious to our Constitution” to exclude the church from the grant program, even though the consequences are only “a few extra scraped knees.“

The case arose from an application the church submitted in 2012 to take part in Missouri’s scrap tire grant program, which reimburses the cost of installing a rubberized playground surface made from recycled tires. The money comes from a fee paid by anyone who buys a new tire. The church’s application to resurface the playground for its preschool and daycare ranked fifth out of 44 applicants.

But the state’s Department of Natural Resources rejected the application, pointing to the part of the state constitution that says “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion.“

A recycled scrap tire is not religious, the church said in its Supreme Court brief. “It is wholly secular,“ the church said.

In dissent, Justice Sonya Sotomayor said the ruling weakens the nation’s longstanding commitment to separation of church and state.

“This case is about nothing less than the relationship between religious institutions and the civil government — that is, between church and state,“ she said, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “The Court today profoundly changes that relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church.“


►  Promised college loan forgiveness, borrowers wait and wait

Danielle Ramos’ student-debt nightmare was supposed to be over.

Like thousands of others who studied at failed for-profit colleges, she was promised by the U.S. Education Department under President Barack Obama that her federal loans would be forgiven by now. But as the weeks tick by with no reprieve, the 30-year-old college student fears the financial burden will force and her 4-year-old son to move back with her parents.

“I’m a single mom, so that’s really scary,“ said Ramos, of Framingham, near Boston. “It’s just a lot of uncertainty. I’m probably going to have to rely on family to help me, and it doesn’t feel fair.“

Borrower advocates say the pipeline to loan forgiveness appears to have slowed significantly since Donald Trump took office, stirring concern that some students may be left in the lurch. Some also see it as a sign that the department is veering from its predecessor’s years of work to rein in fraudulent for-profit colleges.

Education Department officials dispute those claims, saying they’re working quickly to clear a backlog that was inherited from the previous administration.

When Obama left office, 16,453 borrowers were waiting for loan cancellations that had already been approved, and more than 64,000 others had filed new applications. For months, advocates say, it appeared few or none of those cases were being processed. Democrats in the Senate requested an update from the Education Department in May but say they received no response.

On Monday, the Education Department released data showing that 7,085 of the 16,453 previously approved claims have now been discharged, amounting to $92 million in loans. According to the data, which were provided first to The Associated Press, another 7,300 cases are in the final stages of the process and will be discharged shortly, while the remaining 2,000 are currently being processed by the department.

Still, the wait has left some borrowers paying for loans that were promised to be wiped clean by now. Some have lost wages and tax returns to debt collectors.

Ramos ran up $15,000 in debt to attend the American Career Institute, a chain of for-profit colleges that abruptly closed in 2013 after she received nine months of training as a medical assistant. Now enrolled at MassBay Community College and working toward a certificate in surgical technology, Ramos says she hasn’t heard any update on her debt cancellation and worries she’ll still have to pay it back.

“Because of the education I got at MassBay, I’m going to be able to get good-paying job. But it’s not fair that I’m going to have to use that money to pay back something that didn’t deliver,“ she said.

The Obama administration cracked down aggressively on for-profit colleges that enticed students to take on hefty loans with promises they couldn’t keep. It pressured chains including Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute to close , and it approved at least $655 million in loan cancellations from those chains.

Under Trump, the department’s new data suggest, no new loan discharges have been approved from the pool of 64,301 pending applications. A department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“In its last three months, the Obama administration approved more than 12,000 loans for discharge,“ said Pauline Abernathy, executive vice president of the Institute For College Access and Success, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Oakland, California. “In its first five months, the Trump administration has approved zero, while tens of thousands of applications languish and borrowers are left waiting for relief.“

In May, a group of Democratic lawmakers urged Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to speed up the process. Attorneys general from 17 states and Washington, D.C., later told DeVos the delay was harming borrowers. And a coalition of 31 advocacy groups for military veterans sent a letter to members of Congress this month saying many veterans are waiting for loan discharges, adding that “any delay is an affront to defrauded service members.“

After publicly saying little on the topic for weeks, DeVos said this month that nearly 16,000 cases are now being processed and that “some borrowers should expect to obtain discharges within the next several weeks.“ Her statement didn’t provide an explanation for the delays.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a Democrat, said the slowdown can’t be explained as a hiccup in the new Republican administration’s transition to office.

“This is the Trump administration stepping on a bunch of people who have already been stepped on many times before,“ Warren said in an interview. “Students who were cheated by predatory for-profit schools should not have to wait another day to get their loans canceled.“

For some borrowers, the wait has stretched more than a year.

Sarah Dieffenbacher is waiting on an application she filed in March 2015 after taking out $50,000 in federal loans to attend a Corinthian Colleges campus in Ontario, California. She has since defaulted on her loans, and a collector is trying to garnish her wages. On June 9, a federal judge reviewing her case told the Education Department to make a decision within 90 days.

On June 14, DeVos drew a new round of criticism from borrower advocates when she announced plans to rewrite Obama-era rules that were meant to streamline the complex path toward loan forgiveness. She described the rules, which were set to take effect in July, as “a muddled process that’s unfair to students and schools.“

An Education Department spokeswoman said the 64,301 pending cases will be reviewed under current rules.


►  Government websites hacked with pro-Islamic State rant

Government websites, many of them in Ohio, were hacked Sunday with a message that purports to be supportive of the Islamic State terrorist group.

A message posted on the website of Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich said, “You will be held accountable Trump, you and all your people for every drop of blood flowing in Muslim countries.“

The message, left by “Team System Dz,“ also ended, “I love the Islamic state.“

According to the New York Post, the same message also infiltrated government websites in Brookhaven, New York, on Long Island. In the past, the group also claimed responsibility for similar hacks in the past in Richland County, Wisconsin and in places such as Aberdeen, Scotland.

Several other government websites were hacked in Ohio, including that of first lady Karen Kasich, Medicaid, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and the Casino Control Commission.

Tom Hoyt, chief communications officer for Ohio’s Department of Administrative Services, was among Ohio officials who confirmed the hack.

“All affected servers have been taken offline and we are investigating how these hackers were able to deface these websites,“ he said. “We also are working with law enforcement to better understand what happened.“

He said the hacking in Ohio happened at about 11 a.m. EDT. He hoped the websites would be up and running sometime Monday.

The hack is part of ongoing cyberterrorism that has impacted governments and corporations across the globe.

Some see these types of hacks as simply a nuisance, though in some instances, they have been disruptive to work and government life.

Others see cause for alarm.

“Wake up freedom-loving Americans. Radical Islam infiltrating the heartland,“ Josh Mandel, the Ohio treasurer and a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, said in a tweet Sunday.


►  Al Capone song, pocket watch fetch over $100K at auction

Artifacts connected to some of the nation’s most notorious gangsters sold for more than $100,000 at auction Saturday.

A diamond pocket watch that belonged to Al Capone and was produced in Chicago in the 1920s, along with a handwritten musical composition he wrote in Alcatraz in the 1930s, were among the items that sold at the “Gangsters, Outlaws and Lawmen” auction. The watch fetched the most – $84,375 – according to Boston-based RR Auction.

The winning bidder of the watch was not identified. The buyer is a collector who has an eye for interesting American artifacts, said RR Auction Executive Vice President Bobby Livingston. He was among about 30 internet, telephone and in-person bidders.

Capone’s musical piece entitled “Humoresque” sold for $18,750. The piece shows Capone’s softer side. It contains the lines: “You thrill and fill this heart of mine, with gladness like a soothing symphony, over the air, you gently float, and in my soul, you strike a note.“

Livingston told The Associated Press he wasn’t surprised that lyrics written by a man better known for organized crime than his musical talents sold at the auction because of the way Capone “resonates in the American imagination.“

“The musical artifact gives insight into who this man was,“ Livingston said. “It humanizes him, and shows that he had an imagination and creativity. These people had talents and they used those talents, unfortunately for criminal endeavors.“

Livingston was referring not just to Capone, but to infamous couple Bonnie and Clyde. An autographed “So Long” letter written by Bonnie Parker and signed by Clyde Barrow just before their deaths sold for $16,250. A pair of Texas arrest warrants fetched $8,125.

Parker’s silver-plated, three-headed snake ring fetched $25,000. The ring was not made by Barrow – a skilled amateur craftsman who engaged in jewelry making, woodworking and leathercraft behind bars – as originally believed, according to RR Auction’s website.

Clyde Barrow’s nephew, Buddy Barrow, and Bonnie Parker’s niece, Rhea Leen Linder, were in attendance.

“I asked Buddy Barrow what his uncle would be thinking about the auction, he felt that Clyde would have said ‘make as much money as you can’,“ Livingston said.

A letter written by John Gotti, the reputed head of the Gambino crime family in New York, didn’t sell. The 1998 letter to the daughter of a mob associate urges the recipient to tell her father “to keep the martinis cold.“


►  Family members: Seattle mom killed by police adored her kids

Charleena Lyles loved to sing and dance. She adored her four children. She always smiled, even when facing obstacles.

Friends and family members say the 30-year-old pregnant woman shot and killed by police this week was so much more than authorities’ account of an unstable person who confronted two officers with kitchen knives and had previous run-ins with the law.

The Seattle woman was kind and caring, and “if you met her, you would be drawn in,“ said her older sister, Monika Williams.

“I don’t care what she was going through or what anybody was trying to bring on her, she would hit it with a smile,“ Williams said.

Authorities noted the shooting happened less than two weeks after Lyles threatened officers with long metal shears, and family members expressed concerns about her mental health after that incident. Lyles also was arrested in 2014 for assault.

Williams described her sister as a strong, independent woman.

Lyles, whom relatives called “Leena,“ grew up in Seattle and was largely raising two boys and two girls on her own – including a 4-year girl with Down syndrome – but she had a supportive network of siblings, cousins, aunts and others, Williams said.

“Her whole life was her kids,“ said her father, Charles Lyles, who owns an income-tax preparation business and lives in Lancaster, California.

The youngest three children – ages 11, 4 and 1 – were home when Lyles called police Sunday morning to report a burglary.

Before arriving at Lyles’ apartment, the responding officers discussed Lyles’ June 5 encounter with police and noted an “officer safety caution” at the address. Two officers, rather than one, went to the apartment because of her prior history with police.

According to audio recordings released by police, Lyles and the officers can be heard calmly talking about someone taking her video game console.

But a confrontation erupted. There are sounds of rapid movement, the woman yelling “Get ready, (expletive)!“ and the police repeatedly warning her to get back before five shots are fired.

The killing has prompted outrage among many, including Lyles’ family, who questioned why the officers couldn’t use nonlethal methods to subdue the petite woman, and suggested race played a role. Lyles was black; the officers were white.

“They’re trying to portray her as someone who wanted police to kill her – which is a bold-face lie,“ her father said. “She called them for help. They ended up coming in and killing her.“

Police and the mayor say the shooting will be investigated and under the watch of a federal court monitoring team.

“This is a horrible tragedy on every front,“ Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole told KING-TV in Seattle. “We will get to the truth. We will leave no stone unturned. We’re committed to that. We’ll conduct this investigation thoroughly.“

On June 5, Lyles was arrested and charged with obstruction and harassment after police say she refused officers’ orders to drop metal shears. Lyles had called police to report a domestic disturbance at her apartment. She was released from jail on conditions, and her case was referred to mental-health court.

Over the past year, Lyles had struggled with depression but was seeking help, according to family members and King County District Court records. She met with a mental health counselor last fall, and this year saw a family therapist with her children several times, court records show.

Lyles was “going through some things in her life,“ said her cousin Kenny Isabell, a pastor.

“Her life wasn’t perfect, like none of us are,“ he said. But she was attending his church regularly, and was making an effort to improve her life, Isabell said.

Lyles’ father, Charles, said Lyles was devastated when her mother died in 2005. She lived with various relatives over the years and with him in California, where the kids had friends up and down the street where he lived.

She didn’t have a home of her own until she recently moved into the apartment complex in northeast Seattle run by the nonprofit group Solid Ground. The family lived in permanent housing set aside for those who previously were homeless.

“She was so happy to get her own home,“ he said.

Charles Lyles said his daughter liked to take her children to carnivals and do fun things with them. But she also worried they would be taken from her because an abusive ex-boyfriend, the father of the youngest children, was causing problems for her.

Lyles’ sister Tiffany Rogers told hundreds of mourners who gathered Tuesday night outside the apartment complex where Lyles was shot that she used to call Lyles every day. She said she will miss having that support.

Lyles’ father said he wants justice for his daughter, who liked to dress up and enjoyed playing little jokes on him.

“She’s a little bitty woman. And they shoot her to death in front of her kids?“ he said. “They could have used other (less lethal) force.“

In The World….

The Free Press WV

►  Forest fire in Spain threatens renowned national park

A forest fire in southern Spain forced the evacuation of at least 1,000 people and threatened a national park famous for its biodiversity and endangered species, authorities said Sunday.

The fire started on Saturday night on Spain’s southern coast, then advanced east to reach the Donana Nature Reserve, one of the country’s most important wildlife sanctuaries and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1994.

“The fire has entered in the limits of the reserve, and that is where we are focusing our efforts,“ Jose Gregorio Fiscal Lopez from the regional Andalusian authority in charge of the environment told Spanish national television.

The reserve protects over 264,403 acres considered of extreme ecological value for their mix of ecosystems, including wetlands, dunes and woods. It is a key stop for migratory birds home to a variety of animals, including about a fifth of the 400 remaining Iberian lynxes.

Ecologists who work in the park are concerned that the fire could wipe out some of the area’s prized species and terrain.

“We are worried because the impact could be huge,“ Carlos Molina, an ornithologist who works inside the reserve, told The Associated Press by phone from his home nearby.

“Donana is probably one of the most important areas for birds in all of Europe, and we just happen to be in a nesting season for several species,“ Molina said.

While Molina said the reserve’s endangered Iberian imperial eagle should not be in danger, the area in immediate threat from the fire is territory for the extremely endangered lynx.

Juan Sanchez, director of the Andalucia’s forest fire prevention unit, said the fight was “in its critical phase” due to strong winds whipping up the flames.

“Right now the fire is developing how we expected. The wind is shifting, gaining strength, which is normal as we get to the afternoon,“ Sanchez said. “We are managing it, but a change in the direction of the wind could alter the situation.“

Susana Diaz, the regional president of Andalusia, said no people have died in the blaze and “there’s no risk to the population” after about 1,000 were evacuated from campsites and houses near the town of Moguer, where the fire started on Saturday night.

Diaz said fighting the fire was proving difficult due to hot, dry weather, with temperatures reaching 102 degrees Fahrenheit, and shifting winds. Over 550 firefighters, soldiers and police officers supported by 21 air units were combating the blaze Sunday.

“It’s still very early, but we are not ruling out the human factor” as a possible cause of the fire, said Diaz.

Spain’s interior minister, Juan Ignacio Zoido, said from a control post near the fire that since “we are taking special measures, even though the wind is pushing the fire toward (the reserve) to keep the damage to a minimum.“

The fire comes a week after wildfires killed 64 people in neighboring Portugal, which like Spain is suffering from a lack of rain and high temperatures.


►  Dali’s bones to be exhumed in Spain for paternity test

A Spanish judge on Monday ordered the remains of artist Salvador Dali to be exhumed to settle a paternity suit, despite opposition from the state-run foundation that manages the artist’s estate.

Dali, considered one of the fathers of surrealist art, died in 1989 and is buried in his museum in the northeastern town of Figueres.

Pilar Abel, a tarot-card reader from the nearby city of Girona who was born in 1956, says she is the offspring of an affair between Dali and her mother, Antonia.

At the time of the alleged affair, Dali was married to his muse, Gala, who died seven years before the painter. Gala had a daughter from an earlier marriage but the couple had no children of their own. Upon his death, at age 84, Dali bestowed his estate to the Spanish state.

On Monday, a Madrid court statement said that tests with DNA from Dali’s embalmed body were necessary because there were no other existing biological remains with which to make a genetic comparison.

Abel’s court litigation started in 2015 when she sued the Ministry of Finance, as the trustee of Dali’s estate, and the Gala Dali Foundation that was created to administer it.

“What she wants is to have a result of the tests with full guarantee in order to finish with this as soon as possible,“ Abel’s lawyer Enrique Blanquez told The Associated Press.

If there’s a match, Abel could use Dali as her surname and pursue further legal action to claim her rights over the artist’s work and property, which according to regional laws could amount to 25 percent of all of the estate.

The Gala Dali Foundation will appeal Monday’s decision, foundation spokeswoman Imma Parada said in an e-mailed statement.

But according to Blanquez, the appeal could not immediately stop the exhuming of Dali’s remains.

The first hearing in the case is scheduled for September 18, the lawyer said.


►  Over 150 dead as overturned fuel truck explodes in Pakistan

Alerted by an announcement over a mosque’s loudspeaker that an overturned tanker truck had sprung a leak, scores of villagers raced to the scene with fuel containers Sunday to gather the oil. Then the wreck exploded, engulfing people in flames as they screamed in terror.

At least 153 men, women and children were killed, with dozens more in critical condition, hospital and rescue officials said.

“I have never seen anything like it in my life. Victims trapped in the fireball. They were screaming for help,“ said Abdul Malik, a police officer who was among the first to arrive on the scene of horror in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

When the flames subsided, he said, “we saw bodies everywhere. So many were just skeletons. The people who were alive were in really bad shape.“

About 30 motorcycles that villagers had used to rush to the site of the highway accident lay charred nearby along with cars, witnesses said. Local news channels showed black smoke billowing skyward and army helicopters taking away the injured.

As victims cried out for help, residents wandered through the area, looking for loved ones.

Zulkha Bibi searched for her two sons.

“Someone should tell me about my beloved sons. Where are they? Are they alive or are they no longer in this world? Please tell me,“ she pleaded.

Many of the dead were burned beyond recognition, said Dr. Mohammad Baqar, a senior rescue official in the area. They will have to be identified through DNA.

The disaster came on the eve of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. While Saudi Arabia and most other Muslim countries celebrated the holiday Sunday, Pakistanis will mark it on Monday.

The fuel truck was traveling from the southern port city of Karachi to Lahore, the Punjab provincial capital, when the driver lost control and crashed on a highway outside Bahawalpur.

A loudspeaker atop a mosque alerted villagers to the leaking fuel, and many rushed to the scene with fuel containers, said Rana Mohammad Salim, deputy commissioner of Bahawalpur.

Highway police moved quickly to redirect traffic but couldn’t stop the scores of villagers, spokesman Imran Shah told a local TV channel.

When the fire erupted, the same mosque loudspeaker called on the remaining villagers to help put it out.

Mohammed Salim said he ran toward the smoke with buckets of water and sand, but the heat was too intense for him to reach the victims.

“I could hear people screaming, but I couldn’t get to them,“ he said.

Dr. Javed Iqbal at Bahawalpur’s Victoria Hospital said most of the patients suffered burns to upward of 80 percent of their bodies. Many were evacuated by plane or helicopter to hospitals in the Punjab cities of Lahore and Multan.


►  Jordan to cancel ‘marry the victim’ clause shielding rapists

A pregnant 15-year-old who had been raped by a brother-in-law decided to marry her attacker, hoping this would shield her from other male relatives who might kill her in the name of “family honor.“

A young woman was taken into protective custody after being stabbed 17 times by a brother who accused her of bringing “shame” to the family for running away from an abusive husband.

Jail, forced marriage or the risk of getting killed by family members – these are some of the harsh choices still faced by victims of abuse or sexual violence in Jordan.

In a key step toward reform, the kingdom is now poised to abolish a provision that exempts a rapist from punishment if he marries his victim. Jordan’s parliament is expected to do so in a special session sometime after the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan next week.

Women’s rights advocates say repealing Article 308 would be a victory, but that more work lies ahead in a society with deeply rooted customs of patriarchy and a legal system that often goes easy on the male perpetrators.

“It’s about the patriarchal mentality in a society that never punishes the man or shames him for anything,“ said Asma Khader, a lawyer and activist.

The “marry the rapist” provision has been repealed in Egypt and Morocco, but remains on the books in Tunisia, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain, Algeria and the Palestinian territories, according to the international group Human Rights Watch.

Judge Jehad al-Duradi, who handles sexual violence cases at Jordan’s main criminal court, said women who agree to marry their attackers often act out of desperation.

The judge cited the case of the 15-year-old who was raped by her sister’s husband. At the pregnant teen’s request, the judge approved a marriage between the rapist and his victim.

The rapist escaped punishment and expelled his new wife from his home on the day of the wedding, leaving her to fend for herself and her child, the judge said.

Several other Jordanian laws allow lenient treatment of those who kill or assault women.

One provision lightens punishment if a man kills his wife or another female relative for allegedly having sex outside marriage. Another article says a convicted killer could receive as little as a year in prison if he acts in a “state of great fury resulting from an unlawful and dangerous act” by the victim.

If the victim’s family drops a complaint, even that one-year minimum can be cut in half. Some perpetrators in Jordan have been jailed for as little as six months for killing a daughter or sister.

Al-Duradi said Jordanian courts have imposed harsher punishment for such crimes in recent years; no convicted killer has received a sentence of less than 10 years in prison since 2010.

“The text of the law hasn’t changed, but the interpretation has,“ the judge said.

Jordan’s main criminal court heard 182 rape cases in 2015 and 168 in 2016. It also dealt with 39 slayings of women in 2015, including nine labeled “honor crimes.“ In 2016, there were 36 killings, including eight honor cases.

The actual numbers are believed to be higher, with many assaults going unreported, said Samar Muhareb, director of a legal aid group. Communities prefer to handle such crimes in tribal arbitration to avoid public shame.

“Whenever we see informal justice, it’s at the expense of women,“ Muhareb said.

Meanwhile, Jordanian authorities often detain at-risk women.

A decision on protective custody can be made by a provincial governor, without court approval. Detention typically continues until the woman’s family promises not to harm her, or until she finds a man to marry her.

Fidaa, 25, has repeatedly ended up in prison, following a chain of events that began with her divorcing an abusive husband when she was just 15 years old.

Angered by the divorce, one of her brothers stabbed and seriously wounded her.

The brother was sentenced to five years in prison, but the then-teen also ended up behind bars. Desperate to get out of protective custody, she married a 27-year-old man, only to be forced into prostitution.

Her new husband threatened to alert her brother to her whereabouts if she refused to work as a prostitute, Fidaa said in an interview at the Juweida women’s prison on the outskirts of the Jordanian capital, Amman.

Fidaa, a petite woman with dark hair and a quiet demeanor, complied for three years. She eventually managed to leave her husband with help from the police’s family protection unit.

Ten years after her first detention, Fidaa is back in prison.

She was arrested in January, during a police raid of a brothel where she said she had found refuge after befriending some of the women there. Fidaa has been cleared of prostitution charges, but is again unable to leave detention without a sponsor.

“If my brothers know about what happened, they will slaughter me,“ said Fidaa, who only gave her first name for fear of repercussions.

Sadeq al-Omari, a senior official in the prison system, said protective custody is often the only solution, adding that “the right to life is more important than the right to freedom.“

Plans to set up shelters with police protection have not materialized so far, he said.

In the meantime, authorities imprison the female victim rather than potential perpetrators because there are too many male relatives who might hurt her, he said. “Should I put 20 people in prison for one person’s protection?“ al-Omari said.

Legislator Wafa Bani Mustafa said change begins with legal reform.

“If we can change the law so that it’s no longer a solution to get rid of the girl this way, we can encourage families to treat their daughters as victims, not as a source of shame,“ she said. “If we cancel the legal umbrella, society will follow.“


►  Polish protesters demand halt to logging in primeval forest

Hundreds marched in Warsaw on Saturday to protest widespread logging in Europe’s last primeval forest, a project undertaken by Poland’s conservative government.

The ruling Law and Justice party has allowed increased logging in the Bialowieza Forest, a vast woodland that straddles Poland and Belarus, alarming environmentalists who say it threatens a natural treasure. The forest has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The government says it has increased logging to fight an outbreak of bark beetle, which has infected many spruce trees. But ecologists see that as a pretext to increase timber production for profit, saying authorities have been felling not only infected trees but also healthy ones, some 100 years old. Young trees are to be planted in their place.

Speakers at the rally organized by Greenpeace and other groups said they want the entire forest to be declared a national park to ensure its protection. They fear the virgin forest, home to a complex ecosystem of bison, woodpeckers and many other species, is being transformed into what will be essentially a tree plantation.

Robert Cyglicki, director of Greenpeace in Poland, called the logging “a crime against our heritage.“

Protesters rallied in central Warsaw and then marched to the Environment Ministry.

Currently only the forest’s core is protected as a national park on the Polish side.

The march came several days after Environment Minister Jan Szyszko called for Bialowieza to lose its UNESCO natural heritage status.

“The Bialowieza forest was granted UNESCO natural heritage status illegally and without consulting the local community,“ Szyszko said. He said a complaint was lodged with prosecutors over the decision, which occurred under a previous government.

Last year he approved a decision to triple logging above a level that had been considered environmentally sustainable.

The European Union says the increased logging is illegal under EU law.

In recent days, protesters have sought to stop logging in the forest, at times by trying to block the heavy equipment.


►  Death toll from Pakistan attacks climbs to 85

The death toll from twin blasts in the northwestern town of Parachinar climbed to 67 Saturday, bringing the overall death toll from three separate attacks in Pakistan to 85, with several others in critical condition, officials said.

Shahid Khan, a government official in Parachinar, confirmed the toll Saturday, saying residents who had been preparing to celebrate the end of Ramadan and Eid feast were now in mourning.

He said during the day another 12 critically wounded died at different hospitals. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni extremist group, claimed the Friday twin bombings at a crowded market in the Shiite-dominated town, linking them to sectarian fighting in Syria.

Dr. Sabir Hussain, an official at a government-run hospital in Parachinar, said they had received 261 victims of the twin blasts, with 62 listed in critical condition.

Another 14 people were killed Friday in a suicide car bombing near the office of the provincial police chief in the southwestern city of Quetta, police spokesman Shahzada Farhat said. That attack was claimed by a breakaway Taliban faction and the Islamic State group. Gunmen in the port city of Karachi attacked police officers at a roadside restaurant, killing four of them before fleeing, senior police officer Asif Ahmed said.

Maj. General Asif Ghafoor, a military spokesman, linked the attacks to alleged militant sanctuaries in neighboring Afghanistan and promised greater border security. The two countries often accuse each other of turning a blind eye to militants.

Security forces raided a militant hideout in the northwestern city of Peshawar before dawn Saturday, triggering a shootout in which three Pakistani Taliban were killed and two police officers and a soldier were wounded, senior police official Sajjad Khan said. He said the militants were making bombs that likely would have been used to target holiday festivities.

Khan said the identity of the slain militants was not immediately known. But intelligence officials said one of the men has been identified as a wanted militant commander linked to IS. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attacks, which came just days before Eid-al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

Parachinar, a majority Shiite town, has been targeted by Sunni militants group several times in recent years, leaving dozens dead.

In March, a car bomb exploded near a Shiite mosque in Parachinar, killing 24 people, mostly Shiites. In January, a bomb ripped through the crowded market of Parachinar, killing 22 people and wounded over 100. In December 2015, the same market was targeted by a suicide bomber, killing 22.

Friday’s car bombing in Quetta could be heard across the city, and shattered the windows of nearby buildings, said police spokesman Shahzada Farhat. TV footage showed several badly damaged cars and a road littered with broken glass.

Hours after the attack, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a breakaway faction of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility. Later Friday, the IS group said in a competing claim that it was behind the attack, adding that one of its followers targeted the police post in Quetta, detonating his suicide belt there. It also released a photograph of the alleged attacker, identified as Abu Othman al-Khorasani.

Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan province, which has long been the scene of a low-level insurgency by Baluch nationalists and separatists, who want a bigger share of the region’s resources or outright independence. Islamic militants have also carried out several attacks in the province.


►  UK finds 34 high-rise apartment buildings with unsafe siding

Britain’s fire-safety crisis expanded substantially Saturday as authorities said 34 high-rise apartment blocks across the country had cladding that failed fire safety tests. London officials scrambled to evacuate four public housing towers after experts found them “not safe for people to sleep in overnight.“

Hundreds of residents hastily packed their bags and sought emergency shelter, with many angry and confused about the chaotic situation. Some refused to leave their high-rise apartments. Scores of evacuees slept on inflatable beds in a gym while officials sought better accommodations for them.

Camden Council leader Georgia Gould said it decided to evacuate four blocks in north London’s Chalcots Estate late Friday after fire inspectors uncovered problems with “gas insulation and door stops,“ which, combined with the presence of flammable cladding encasing the buildings, meant residents had to leave immediately.

The evacuation comes amid widening worries about the safety of high-rise apartment blocks across the country following the inferno that engulfed Grenfell Tower in west London on June 14, killing at least 79 people. Attention has focused on the 24-story tower’s external cladding material, which has been blamed for the rapid spread of that blaze, but multiple other fire risks have now been identified in some housing blocks.

The government said Saturday that the cladding samples that failed fire safety tests came from 34 apartment towers in cities including London, Manchester, Plymouth and Portsmouth. Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said further testing “is running around the clock.“

So far, Camden Council has been the only local authority to have asked residents to leave as a precaution. It said about 650 apartments were evacuated, though initial reports put the figure at 800 apartments.

The council said residents would be out of their homes for three to four weeks while it completes fire-safety upgrades.

“I know some residents are angry and upset, but I want to be very clear that Camden Council acted to protect them,“ Gould said in a statement. “Grenfell changed everything, and when told our blocks were unsafe to remain in, we acted.“

Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May, who has been criticized for her slow response to the Grenfell tragedy, said Saturday that the government was supporting Camden officials to ensure residents have somewhere to stay while building work is done.

In response, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, said May needed to “get a grip” and lead a stronger response to what is now a “national threat.“

Residents – including families with babies and elderly relatives – trooped out of the buildings late Friday night with suitcases and plastic bags stuffed with clothes. Council workers guided dozens to a nearby gym, where they spent the night on inflatable mattresses. Others were being put up in hotels or other housing projects.

Many residents complained about a lack of information and confusion. Officials first announced the evacuation of one building, then expanded it to five before reducing it to four. Some residents said they learned about the evacuation from the television news hours before officials came knocking on doors.

Renee Williams, 90, who has lived in Taplow Tower since 1968, told Britain’s Press Association: “No official came and told us what’s going on. I saw it on the TV, so I packed an overnight bag.

“It’s unbelievable. I understand that it’s for our safety but they can’t just ask us to evacuate with such short notice. There’s no organization and it’s chaos,“ she said.

Carl McDowell, 31, said he took one look at the inflatable beds at the gym and went back to his Taplow apartment to sleep there overnight. Other residents were distraught that they were ordered to evacuate, but were told to leave their pets behind in buildings that could be dangerous.

Fire-safety experts say the Grenfell Tower blaze, which police said was touched off by a fire at a refrigerator, was probably due to a string of failures, not just the cladding, which is widely used to provide insulation and enhance the appearance of buildings.

Police said Friday they are considering filing manslaughter charges in the Grenfell disaster and they were conducting a wide-ranging investigation that will look at everything that contributed to it. The Metropolitan Police said cladding attached to Grenfell during a recent renovation failed safety tests conducted by investigators.

“We are looking at every criminal offense from manslaughter onwards,“ Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack told reporters. “We are looking at all health and safety and fire safety offenses, and we are reviewing every company at the moment involved in the building and refurbishment of Grenfell Tower.“

The government has ordered an immediate examination of the refrigerator model that started the blaze, the Hotpoint model FF175BP refrigerator-freezer.

The government also urged building owners, public and private, to submit samples of their cladding. One hotel chain, Premier Inn, has calling in experts to check its buildings.

Police say 79 people are either confirmed or presumed dead in the Grenfell blaze, although that number may change, and it will take weeks to find and identify remains. To encourage cooperation with authorities, May said the government won’t penalize any Grenfell fire survivors who were in the country illegally.


►  Madrid hosts – and debates – global gay pride

Madrid is gearing up to be the world capital of gay pride, a colorful mixture of commercialism and all-night partying that has brought vindication for sexual and gender diversity and created fissures among LGBT activists.

“Pride Yes, But Not Like This,“ reads the banner a residents’ association is planning to stretch across Chueca square in the heart of the city’s gay quarter during the 10-day WorldPride celebration that started Friday.

The rainbow flags flying from balconies in and around the square are evidence that the Chueca neighborhood is still the epicenter of Spain’s LGBT movement. But the flags decorating bars and shops, advertising anything from socks to bags of popcorn, have become a symbol of the aggravation anticipated by the people who live there.

“We are against the commercialization of gay pride by business people. It’s an attack on the neighbors of this quarter and on the city,“ Esteban Benito, president of the local residents’ group, which has denounced the dirt, noise and large crowds gathered outside bars that accompany the annual festival.

Lesbians, gays, transgender people and bisexuals grouped in the Critical Pride collective are opposing this year’s event, too. The collective has called for an alternative LGBT parade to highlight how WorldPride is “a direct threat through a stereotyped vision of our identities.“

But Jesus Generelo, who heads the Spanish federation of LGBT people, defended the massive festival that is expected to draw three million visitors to Madrid. The federation is leading the massive demonstration and parade scheduled for July 1, the climax of the 10-day WorldPride that opened Friday.

The festival “rounds out beautifully the transformation we have brought about in the country to achieve equality in the laws,“ Generelo said.

Considered the Olympics of pride celebrations, WorldPride is a franchise that attracts global attention to LGBT events in different cities. London held it in 2012 and Toronto in 2014. New York will be the next host, in 2019, to mark 50 years after the Stonewall riots.

The parade through the center of Madrid will make calls to extend LGBT rights across the world, with particular emphasis on Chechnya and the rest of Russia. It will also demand that the World Health Organization stop categorizing transgender identity as a mental illness.

Fifty-two floats sponsored by businesses, political organizations and popular brand-name companies are registered to participate, a lineup the organizers are calling a “Manfiesta” that highlights the festival’s party element as well as the rights demands.

“It can be both things, because capitalism has transformed gay pride just as it has football or political campaigns,“ Begonya Enguix Grau, an anthropologist at the Catalan UOC open university, said. “We shouldn’t think that just because there are floats no one is making demands for rights,“ she said.

A subway strike is likely to cause some problems but with official predictions of between two to up to three million tourists arriving in Madrid — a city of just under 4 million people — security is deemed to be the main concern.

At least 2,000 police agents are being deployed for the July 1st parade. And while there have been no specific terror threats to the WorldPride celebration, Spain has been on one step below maximum security for the past two years to avert violence similar to the attacks seen in other European cities.

Besides security searches at the entrances to major events, authorities are also restricting traffic and banning heavy trucks in the city center. The floats will be the only big vehicles allowed after their drivers are vetted.

The city is also taking the opportunity to express its support with buildings illuminated with rainbow colors. It has also installed some 300 “inclusive” and “gender equal” traffic signals, featuring women identified by skirts and ponytails and same-sex couples holding hands instead of the familiar figure of a man in mid-stride to let pedestrians know when to cross.

The debate over the essence of pride comes four decades after the 1977 demonstration by transgender people in Barcelona that is regarded as the birth of Spain’s modern LGBT rights movement following the repressive legacy of late dictator Francisco Franco.

Spain stepped ahead of many other countries and legalized same-sex marriages and adoptions in 2005. More than 40,000 such weddings have already taken place since then, according to official statistics. And Parliament is planning a new law to ensure that all government levels remove barriers for LGBT equality.

On a recent hot afternoon in central Gran Via, Sussy Marbella was checking her makeup with her smartphone camera as she waited to be picked up for dinner. Madrid “always welcomes girls like me,“ she said.

Asked about the party vs. politics divide, Marbella said she liked the “super party” emphasis of the festival but stressed that it “should continue to include a message of protest, albeit without being too boring.“

Q&A

The Free Press WV

The Free Press WV    If I go to bed and watch TV, my husband insists I turn the TV off when he gets there. But he often puts on the TV if he goes to bed first, and when that happens, he immediately falls asleep. I change the channel to my preference and leave the room for one or two hours. If I come back and get quietly in bed, as soon as he realizes I am watching TV, he is irritated. Is this a control thing? If I am not there, he can sleep for hours with the TV on. And I actually turn it down lower when I arrive. Help! — TV in Bed

The Free Press WV    Dear TV in Bed: Numerous studies have shown that screen time before bed disrupts your sleep cycle, so the bedroom isn’t the best place for your television set. A TV in the bedroom can also negatively impact intimacy.

Why not keep it in the living room instead? Then you can watch your shows and your husband can sleep, all without interruption.

The Free Press WV

The Free Press WV    “Saved by Sobriety’‘ wonders why his wife cannot get past his 22 years of drunkenness. When you live in constant fear for that long, you don’t just let it go. It has become your new normal.

I remember when my husband and I were in the same boat. I wanted him to go to Alcoholics Anonymous, not just to stop drinking but also to go through the 12 steps. The eighth step is to apologize to those you have harmed by drinking. I needed that apology to move forward. He could not just assume that everything was now hunky-dory because he stopped drinking. It hurts a spouse to her very core thinking that she ranks below the bottle. In this case, the wife may never feel No. 1 again.

Al-Anon helped me move past this when I reached the eighth step myself and apologized to the drinker for not looking at the positives in our life and only concentrating on the hurt. Even though he never attended AA to give me what I felt I needed, my attending Al-Anon helped me move forward.

Thank God that now in our 60s, we are both in a good place and best friends – and more in love than ever. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but sometimes you have to be the first one to turn it on. — I Am No. 1 Again

The Free Press WV    Dear No. 1 Again: I loved reading your letter. It’s inspiring to hear from people who have taken it upon themselves to find peace.

For anyone who is bothered by a loved one’s drinking: Try Al-Anon meetings (www.al-anon.org).

The Free Press WV

The Free Press WV    A year after my wife of 21 years and I divorced, I reconnected with a woman I had met some 30 years before. I was happy to hear from her; I wanted to marry her before I married my ex-wife. We started seeing each other. After a year, we started talking about living together and decided to rent a home.

When she moved in, I quickly realized my mistake. She has two cats and a lot of junk. But we bought a home two years later anyway – my second mistake.

She does not cook or clean the house. Her cats tear up everything, and she won’t have them declawed. We do not sleep together, because she lets the cats in the bedroom and there is cat hair everywhere. I have tried for two years to get her to change, but she won’t. She says that she is retired and can do what she wants.

I care for this lady, but I am fed up. I have tried everything I can think of to get her to change. She put the down payment on the house and pays the utility bills. I make the house payments. She used her savings on the down payment, and I do not want to just dump it on her, so I am asking: What should I do? I do not like living like this. I hate going home because the smell is overwhelming when you walk in the door. I want love and compassion and a nice home to go to. — A Lonely Blue Boy

The Free Press WV    Dear Lonely Blue Boy: As an animal person myself, I’m probably not the most sympathetic audience for your letter. Declawing is akin to cutting a person’s finger off at the last knuckle. Few vets will even perform the surgery anymore because they consider it inhumane.

But the feline friction is merely a symptom of the real problem. You and your partner have incompatible styles of living. If at least one of you were flexible and willing to adapt, this wouldn’t be a deal breaker. But because you’re both set in your ways, I’m afraid that it is.

Speak with a financial adviser about the best options for you to salvage as much of your money as you can, in a way that’s fair to you both. The sooner you move out the sooner you’ll move on to living your happiest lives.

The Free Press WV

The Free Press WV    I am 56 years old. I have a good, steady job, a beautiful home and two great children. I don’t smoke. Do you know of anyone in the Louisville, Kentucky, area who would be interested in finding a really good Christian man and having a serious relationship? I’m very easy to please and get along with. I don’t expect a perfect relationship, because there’s no such thing as one. If you know of anyone, please let me know. I pray I hear from you. God bless. — Looking for True Love

The Free Press WV    Dear Looking for True Love: I’ve received a number of letters similar to yours over the course of writing this column. Unfortunately, I can’t play matchmaker, but I can recommend some general dating tips. Get involved in your community. Join a singles group at your church. Give online dating an honest try. For a man of strong Christian faith such as you, ChristianMingle.com would be a good place to start. More general dating sites include Match.com and eHarmony. You sound like a terrific catch; get out there and share your joy.

Critics Attack “Bailout of Dirty, Expensive” Power Plant

The Monongahela Power Company is asking ratepayers to pay more to bail out a Marion County power plant that critics charge is dirty, already expensive and damaging to the air, land and water.

Customers currently pay a bit above the market rate for the Grant Town Power Plant because the small power station was designed to burn waste coal – low-energy gob from old mines.

But Jim Kotcon, chair of the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, says Monongahela Power is asking the Public Service Commission to make ratepayers pay even more to keep an especially dirty power plant running, and keep its operators out of bankruptcy.

The Free Press WV
The Grant Town Power Plant is in the middle of a contentious argument at the West Virginia Public Service Commission.


“Mon Power really doesn’t need that generation, and they certainly shouldn’t have to force their customers to pay higher rates in order to keep that plant on-line,“ he states.

Monongahela Power argues that it does need the generating capacity and that Grant Town is helping to clean up an environmental issue.

Kotcon argues the environmental benefit is “marginal at best,“ and Grant Town is one of most expensive and polluting power sources in West Virginia.

Kotcon says if the PSC agrees to another in what is becoming a series of the coal plant bailouts, ratepayers would pay about twice the rate that wholesale electricity could be bought for off the grid. In return, he says they sustain a power plant that has some of the highest air pollution numbers in the West Virginia.

“Some of these gob piles are getting cleaned up, but at the same time they’re creating new mines that require reclamation,” he stresses. “In addition the ash leads to leaching of salts and heavy metals and other problems going into the water.“

The fly ash from Grant Town is being applied to mine remediation sites to reduce acid mine drainage.

But Kotcon points out the ash from gob is high in heavy metals, which are free to leach into the surface water from the old mines. He says there are cheaper, cleaner options that are less of a risk than the already subsidized Grant Town plant.

“Even at that inflated price, they are on the verge of bankruptcy,” Kotcon points out. “It is certainly not one that is competitive, given how cheap natural gas or wind power or even solar power would be.“

Grant Town supporters say closing the power plant would be hard on the community and the 170 employees. The proposal would raise the cost of power from the plant by 14 percent.

~~  Dan Heyman ~~

HEPC Reports Increase In Student Success Rates Following Education Reform

The Free Press WV

More Mountain State students are succeeding in college thanks, in part, to an overhaul in the way entry-level courses are taught. Earlier today during a meeting of the Higher Education Policy Commission (HEPC), state officials announced that recent efforts to reform developmental, or “remedial,” education are helping more students pass first-year math and English courses.

Historically, one in four students at West Virginia’s public colleges and universities has been required to take developmental math or English classes because their high school grade point averages (GPAs) or entrance exam scores were below the threshold at which students are considered ready for college-level work. These courses, which typically do not count toward a degree, often lead to students’ dropping out of college.

“In the past, developmental education too often has led to a dead end for students,” Dr. Paul Hill, HEPC Chancellor, said. “It’s discouraging, because not only are they taking and paying for classes that don’t count toward their degrees, but they often are being asked to re-learn information at a snail’s pace. Our new model of administering remediation allows students to catch up quickly and maintain momentum toward earning a college diploma.”

Working closely with Complete College America, HEPC and the West Virginia Community and Technical College System (CTCS) have worked with the state’s public colleges and universities to redesign developmental education using a “co-requisite model.” The new format provides students who have low GPAs or test scores with extra help, such as required tutoring or extra lab classes, while simultaneously allowing them to complete college-level coursework that counts toward their degrees. West Virginia is one of just five states to implement the model across the entire public higher education system.

Data presented during the HEPC meeting showed that the redesign has resulted in a major boost for course completion rates. For example, at Fairmont State University, the number of students completing entry-level math jumped from 28.1 percent to 81.8 percent after the school switched to providing co-requisite courses. Similarly, pass rates in English at West Liberty University jumped from 46.4 percent to 90.7 percent. And institutions across West Virginia are seeing similarly impressive results.

“Ultimately, we expect this to have a major impact on college graduation rates,” Dr. Corley Dennison, HEPC’s Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, said. “Instead of completely re-teaching a subject to students who may only need a bit of extra help, we are able to enroll them in the credit-bearing class and then pinpoint areas in which their knowledge and skills are lacking. That saves our students time, money and unnecessary frustration — and reduces barriers that may have previously prevented them from earning a degree.”

Dr. Hill said the new model is also a more cost-efficient method of offering classes.

“Previously, our colleges and universities had to dedicate faculty, space and class time for an entire semester to conduct high-school-level courses in order to prepare students for college work,” Dr. Hill said. “Now we are integrating the developmental work into first-year college courses and utilizing existing campus services, such as tutoring and faculty office hours, to offer extra support for the students who need it.”

The CTCS was one of the first higher education systems in the nation to test the co-requisite model of developmental education. The model is now nationally recognized as a best practice in state higher education policy.

Alzheimer’s Disease Was Highlighted On Longest Day Of The Year

The Free Press WV

With the longest day of the year upon us, many are thankful for the extra daylight hours; but for those dealing with Alzheimer’s disease, every day can seem like the longest day of the year.

That is why the West Virginia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and the Alpha Omicron Omega Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority have come together to raise awareness and provide support for those suffering from Alzheimer’s and their families.

“The Longest Day is really an opportunity to shine a light on Alzheimer’s,” said Christy Day, vice president of Alpha Omricon Omega. “We are hoping that people and families suffering from Alzheimer’s can come and share their stories and give a sense of hope to those who may not be as far along on the journey.”

Day said she has a personal history with the disease, as her father suffered from it.

“My father had dementia and when we first realized what was going on it was devastating,” Day said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014 39 percent of residential care community members had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, in nursing homes that number rose to 50 percent. Alzheimer’s disease was responsible for 93,541 deaths in 2014.

West Virginia Alzheimer’s Association member Nikole Kinder said over 37,000 people in West Virginia alone suffer from the disease.

“This disease is truly something that affects your whole family,” Kinder said. “Family members have to reduce work hours, take on extra stress, stretch their finances, and be a caregiver.”

Kinder said the 37,000 people suffering from Alzheimer’s amounts to about 107,000 caregivers, most likely a family member, that are usually unpaid.

Day said the goal of the event is simply to help the community understand that there are resources to support families dealing with this disease, and that they do not have to go on the journey alone.

Day said experiencing the disease for the first time with her father was a terrifying ordeal.

“One of the first signs we experienced was that he didn’t realize my sister had passed,” Day said. “Instead of cowering in our fear, we realized it wasn’t going to get better. Our family worked together to come up with a plan, and that is my advice.”

Day said the situation can be tough, but self-pity will not help anyone.

“You are where you are, whether it be fair or not fair,” Day said. “Get some help and get a plan because you are going to be better off in the long run.”

The event will take place Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Grace Bible Church on Kanawha Boulevard.

Families affected by the disease will have a chance to get together to sing and give personal testimonies and advice. Information about Alzheimer’s disease will also be presented.

Little Kanawha Trail Group Hopes To Shine Big Light on Little Kanawha River

The Free Press WV

The evolution of the kayak and the exploding popularity of the personalized craft for fishing is a perfect fit for West Virginia.  Public interest groups are using the groundswell of kayak activity as a catalyst to spotlight some of West Virginia’s smaller rivers which for years had been hidden and largely neglected.

We’ve reported in recent months on MetroNews about the successful efforts to resurrect the Coal River, the Tug Fork, Tygart, and Cheat Rivers.  Others are following suit with great work happening in places like the Guyandotte and the Little Kanawha.

“I know some of these other river trails have definitely been a huge inspiration to us,” said Kathy Gilbert, Executive Director of the Little Kanawha River Trail. “They have definitely given us great guidelines with their cleanups and some of them have really nice amenities like campgrounds and access.  It’s definitely increased the use of the river.”

Kathy is a native West Virginian and for many years left the state to work.  She’s home now and saw the opportunity to create a tourist attraction in her hometown of Glenville and decided to get involved.

“We formed to increase tourism and usage of boaters on our river,” she said. “From I-79 coming toward Glenville there are four public access points already. We designed a brochure to guide kayakers and boaters down the river.”

The organization formed two years ago with high ambitions.  The group has already started volunteer cleanups of the waterway and is working on a major access point int he town of Glenville.   An old building along the river was purchased and razed by the local Economic Development Authority.   The goal now is to create a major access point in town to draw visitors.

“We wanted a nice place for the boaters to get on the river, rather than just an eyesore of a building,” she said.

The project has become more ambitious with the interest from a growing number of volunteers.  The local economic development authority has put some more money into the access project and the plan is to create not only a walk down access, but also a ramp for motorized craft as well.

Fishing on the Little Kanawha River is strong, the waterway recently produced a new state record musky.  The river also has an added bonus that other volunteer organizations haven’t enjoyed, the water quality is already in good shape.

“We have a nice, healthy river,” Gilbert explained. “Our biology students at Glenville State have partnered with us and done baseline tests on the water quality.  We want to keep the river clean and keep it healthy and open for fishermen and tourists.”

The growing organization started in Gilmer County, but hopes to expand to the entire length of the river from Burnsville to Parkersburg in the coming years.    You can learn more about the Little Kanawha River Trail on their Facebook page. 

~~  Chris Lawrence ~~

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