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WV Legislative Update: Delegate Brent Boggs - Minority House Finance Chairman - 05.18.15

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Next week we will celebrate Memorial Day.  It is a solemn day in which we as a nation call into remembrance the sacrifices of our soldiers, sailors and airmen that made the supreme sacrifice for our nation, past and present and also those that served in the military but now deceased.

Sadly, the majority of Americans focus on calling Memorial Day the beginning of summer; talking about how many people will be on the roads during the holiday weekend; or, the price of gas.  Let’s not diminish the ultimate sacrifice of our service men and women on Memorial Day.  Whether at home this weekend, enjoying the day with friends and family, or on the road, take time to give thanks for those that provided for the freedoms we all cherish and enjoy and remind others of the importance of this day of remembrance.

Saturday gave Jean and me the first chance this spring to drive down to Hurricane to watch grandson Carson play baseball.  At six years old, he’s tall, lanky and really a good hitter and fielder.  Carson, like his twin sister, Kenzie, loves school.  And, while he’s loves baseball, he loves to fish even more, with a patience and skill way beyond his years.  It speaks volumes when he wants to take his fishing pole to the baseball game and stop to fish on the way home.  I could not be more pleased to have all the grandkids that prefer being outside and active.

May is graduation time for our college and university students across West Virginia and the nation.  Years of hard work and dedication – not to mention a major financial investment – has provided a platform to launch new careers and opportunities.  To our recent graduates and their families, please know that you have our congratulations and appreciation for a job well done.

Congratulations to BCHS Senior Lindsey Kiplinger on her selection as one of the prestigious West Virginia University Foundation Scholars for 2015.  While I was unable to attend the formal announcement at WVU with President Gee, I am so proud of Lindsey and her educational and community service accomplishments over the years.  All these factors are considered in the highly competitive selection process for this award.  Congratulations to Lindsey and to her parents and family.  She becomes the fourth BCHS student to win this coveted scholarship.

Also, the week of vacation, we missed two functions that I have rarely missed over the years.  The Prayer Breakfast on the National Day of Prayer and the spring ramp dinner at Frametown Fire Department.  The prayer breakfast, hosted annually by the Braxton Ministerial Association, is one of my favorite and most meaningful events each year.  I’m thankful to the local pastors for their perseverance in keeping God, country and our citizens at the forefront of prayers on a continual basis.

Frametown VFD and their Auxiliary work diligently to raise funds for the department, which is used to provide fire protection services, training and the basic needs beyond the available state funding.  I am so appreciative of their efforts and of all our central WV firefighters as they devote countless time and energy to keep each home and business safe and help keep your fire insurance rates as low as possible.  We look forward to the next opportunity to support our volunteer fire departments.  And remember, you do not have to wait until the next dinner or function.  You can donate to any of our volunteer fire departments at any time.  It’s the right thing to do.

In the interim, send your inquiries to my home office at:  151 Park Street, Gassaway, WV 26624; call 304.364.8411; or fax 304.364.8711.  If you have an interest in any particular bill or issue, please let me know.  For those with Internet access, my legislative e-mail address is:

You may also obtain additional legislative information, including the copies of bills, conference reports, daily summaries, interim highlights, and leave me a message on the Legislature’s web site at www.legis.state.wv.us/.  When leaving a message, please remember to include your phone number with your inquiry and any details you can provide. Additional information, including agency links and the state government phone directory, may be found at www.wv.gov. Also, you may follow me on Facebook at “Brent Boggs”, Twitter at “@DelBrentBoggs” , as well as the WV Legislature’s Facebook page at “West Virginia Legislature” or on Twitter at twitter.com/wvlegislature.

Continue to remember our troops - at home and abroad - and keep them and their families in your thoughts and prayers.  Until next week – take care.

Opportunity or Inequality? That’s No Choice At All

The Gilmer Free Press

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll recently asked the following question:

“Which concerns you more: the income gap between the wealthiest Americans and the rest of the country, or middle and working class Americans not being able to get ahead financially?”

If you understand how the economy works, that isn’t just the wrong question. It’s probably a meaningless one.


Fear and Survival

When asked this question, 68 percent of those surveyed said they were most concerned about the middle and working class not being able to get ahead financially. Only 28 percent were more concerned about the income gap – a major feature of what has come to be known as “wealth inequality.”

As economist Jared Bernstein notes, this isn’t surprising. “To the extent that we share national values,” he writes, “they tend to lean more towards equal opportunities than equal outcomes.”

That’s true. What’s more, we live in a time of economic uncertainty for many Americans. Wages have stagnated and labor-force participation remains low.

As a result, Americans are understandably fearful. In another poll released this week, 65 percent of those polled said the country has “gone off track” while only 28 percent said it was “going in the right direction.” Seventy-three percent said they were either “very” or “somewhat worried” that “the United States will suffer another economic downturn which will negatively affect (their) family.” And nearly seven out of ten respondents indicated that they don’t expect the next generation to do as well as those which preceded it.

The NBC News/Wall Street Journal’s question was asking whether people are more concerned with the “income gap” – a relatively abstract concept – or their current circumstances, which they themselves find frightening. When someone is living in fear, their own survival will always be their first priority.


The Wrong Question

What’s more, it’s a misleading question. We don’t live in a world where policy makers must choose between reducing wealth inequality or helping working-class and middle-class Americans get ahead. In fact, the opposite is true: As a practical matter, it’s impossible to address one without the other. As Bernstein says, “we can’t increase opportunity without reducing inequality.”

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has been discussing this for a long time. “Inequality undermines the strength of our economy and contributes to economic instability,” said Stiglitz in 2012. That was the year Stiglitz’s book on the subject, “The Price of Inequality,” was published.

Stiglitz wrote in 2013 that “Inequality stifles, restrains and holds back our growth,” and pointed to its effect: the “hollowing out” of the middle class. That in turns leads to lack of consumer demand, lower tax receipts (which leads to reductions in needed government investments), and a rise in boom-and-bust economic cycles.

Inequality leads to a weaker economy. That means fewer jobs, stagnant wages – and less opportunity to “get ahead.”


False Debates

So why would anybody commission a poll asking people to choose between the income gap and advancement for the middle class? I can’t speak to this poll’s motives, but the question mirrors a false debate that is consuming politicians and thought leaders in Washington.

Make that two false debates. The first is drawn from the conservative notion that the only way to create opportunity for the middle class is by allowing the ultra-rich to become even richer through tax breaks, deregulation, and other policy contrivances. (“Trickle-down,” anyone?) That belief has been thoroughly discredited by the events of the last two decades, but an idea that benefits so many powerful people has proven understandably hard to kill.

On the Democratic side of the aisle, the debate is between those who want to emphasize inequality and those who want to keep pushing the somewhat blander framing of “opportunity for all.” The “opportunity” approach skirts the topic of redistributive policies, which is thought by some to be more controversial (and which can alienate wealthy donors). A longtime favorite of the right, the “opportunity” trope was adopted by “centrist” Democrats of recent decades.


Democratic Divide

The Democrats have been wrestling with the opportunity/inequality divide for some time now, and sometimes one politician has been on both sides of it. In 2014, for example, the White House let it be known in advance that inequality would be the central theme of the President’s State of the Union address. The President had already described it as “the defining challenge of our time.”

But, for reasons that can only be speculated upon, he changed his mind and chose a new challenge. Inequality was out. “Opportunity is who we are,” Obama now said, “and the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise” (emphasis ours). 

As Zachary Goldfarb noted in The Washington Post, over the following months the President “shifted from income inequality to the more politically palatable theme of lifting the middle class.”

But the false polarity between inequality and opportunity had already become the subject of heated debate in policy-wonk circles. In a widely read piece, Ezra Klein argued that the emphasis was misplaced. “Imagine you were given a choice between reducing income inequality by 50 percent and reducing unemployment by 50 percent,” argued Klein. “Which would you choose?”

Klein chose unemployment.


Mantra

That engendered considerable pushback, from Paul Krugman among others. But Klein’s fundamental mistake wasn’t that he made the wrong choice. His mistake was in choosing at all.

As Krugman noted, “there is a reasonable case for assigning at least partial blame for the economic crisis to rising inequality.” Conversely, as Jared Bernstein noted at the time, “full employment enforces a more equitable distribution of growth.”

In the end, this false debate may be driven by matters of political economy. An increasingly oligarchical system, with ever-concentrated pockets of wealth and a privately financed campaign system, leads inevitably to a political stasis in which taxes won’t be increased for the wealthy – a key aspect of the “inequality” approach – and opportunity-generating jobs and education programs can’t be provided for the middle class, especially without tax revenue to pay for them.

Unless it’s accompanied by some redistributive measures, the call for “opportunity” is likely to become little more than a feel-good mantra that allows this political paralysis to continue.


The Agenda

We need to create jobs, rebuild our infrastructure, strengthen wages, and increase education funding. These are “opportunity” items. But if they are to succeed, they will require some redistributive policies, including higher taxes on the wealthy and greater sharing of productivity gains with workers (using mechanisms like minimum wage increases and increased collective bargaining).

Joseph Stiglitz joined this week with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Sen. Elizabeth Warren to propose a 13-point agenda for restoring the middle class. It was called “The Progressive Agenda to Combat Income Inequality,” but its proposals include both redistributive and opportunity-creating policies.

That’s to be expected, and it’s a good thing. There’s no need to choose between inequality and opportunity. In fact, when it comes right down to it, that’s no choice at all.

~~  Richard Eskow ~~

Nuclear Weapons Protesters’ Sabotage Conviction Overturned ....

The Gilmer Free Press

Nuclear Weapons Protesters’ Sabotage Conviction Overturned
Court Says Jury Verdict Was Not Rational

An Appeals Court has vacated the sabotage convictions of peace activists Greg-Boertje-Obed, of Duluth, Min., and his co-defendants Michael Walli of Washington, DC, and Sr. Megan Rice of New York City. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals found that federal prosecutors failed to prove — and that “no rational jury could find” — that the three had intended to damage “national defense.”
In July 2012, Greg, Michael and Megan clipped through four fences and walked right up to the “Fort Knox” of weapons-grade uranium, the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility inside the Y-12 complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Uranium processed there puts the “H” in our H-bombs. With three hours before they were spotted, the nuclear weapons abolitionists painted “Woe to an Empire of Blood” and other slogans on several structures, strung banners, and celebrated their luck in catching the nuclear weapons system asleep at the wheel. When a guard finally confronted them, they offered him some bread.

They were convicted in May 2013 of damage to property and sabotage and have been imprisoned since then. Boertji-Obed, 59, and Walli, 66, were both sentenced to 62 months on each conviction, to run concurrently; and Sr. Megan, who is 82, was given 35 months on each count, also running concurrently.

Questions about the legal status of nuclear weapons were not on appeal, but rather the issue of whether the Sabotage Act applies to peace protesters who do no damage to weapons. During the appeal’s oral argument, the prosecutor insisted that the three senior citizens had “interfered with defense.” Circuit Judge Raymond Kethledge asked pointedly, “With a loaf of bread?”
The Court’s written opinion, also by Judge Kethledge, ridiculed the idea of depicting peaceful protesters as saboteurs, saying. “It is not enough for the government to speak in terms of cut fences…” The government must prove that the defendant’s actions were “consciously meant or practically certain to” interfere with “the nation’s capacity to wage war or defend against attack.” Greg, Megan and Michael, the court said, “did nothing of the sort,” thus, “the government did not prove the defendants guilty of sabotage.” The opinion went so far as to say, “No rational jury could find that the defendants had that intent when they cut the fences.” The point is shockingly uncharacteristic in its direct implication of prosecutorial over-reach and manipulation of the jury.

Another reason the Appeals Court vacated the sabotage conviction was that the Supreme Court’s legal definition of “national defense” is unclear and imprecise, “a generic concept of broad connotations…” The Court said it needed “a more concrete” definition because, “vague platitudes about a facility’s ‘crucial role in national defense’ are not enough to convict a defendant of sabotage. And that is all the government offers here.” The definition was so general and vague, the Court said, that it barely applies to the Sabotage Act, since, “It is hard to determine what amounts to ‘interference with’ a ‘generic concept’.”


Re-sentencing may result in “time served” and release

The Court took the additional and unusual step of voiding the prison sentences for both the sabotage and the damage-to-property convictions, even though the lesser conviction still stands. This was because the harsh prison terms given for property damage were heavily weighted in view of the (ill-gotten) sabotage conviction. The result is that the three radical pacifists will be re-sentenced and may be released. As the Appeals Court said: “It appears that the [sentencing] … for their [damage to property] conviction will be substantially less than their time already served in federal custody.”

If the federal prosecutor does not challenge the reversal of his overzealousness, and another superior court doesn’t reverse the 6th Circuit’s decision, the three could be freed in July or sooner.
The high-profile nature of uranium enrichment at Oak Ridge, and the vulnerability of the site to senior citizens, brought enormous media attention to the case, which has been featured in lengthy investigations by the Washington Post, The New Yorker and others. The action, known as “Transformation Now Plowshares,” also helped uncover scandalous misconduct and malfeasance among security contractors at Y-12/Oak Ridge complex. Arguably and ironically, these pacifists almost certainly thus strengthened the defense of the country.

What remains unscathed is the White House’s plan to spend $1 trillion on new weapons production facilities over the next 30 years — $35 billion a year for three decades. The role of the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility in this Bomb production — a clear violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — was named with blood by the Plowshares action, but H-bomb business marches on. Protesters will converge on the site again Aug. 6.

For more on Y-12 and the weapons build-up, see the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, OREPA.org.

Iran Nuclear Talks. A Fresh Tone in Washington with a Breath of Oregon

The Gilmer Free Press

It is easy to be a cynic listening to some of the more nonsensical chatter coming out of Congress. Despite the most comprehensive international agreement between the United States and its P5+1 partners (the members of the UN Security Council and Germany) with Iran on its nuclear program, the calls to bomb Iran are still too loud for them to be dismissed. In a less publicized speech last week, informed leadership by Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley points to a simple yet powerful truth: diplomacy works. Merkley argued, without dismissing the absolute need to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons program, that the most effective strategy to achieve this outcome is a verifiable, negotiated process. Almost simultaneously, 150 House Democrats wrote a letter supporting the administration’s negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, urging the exhaustion of every avenue toward a verifiable, enforceable diplomatic solution in order to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

This is more than just Congressional politics and debate. We are experiencing a shift in the larger debate about the effectiveness of diplomacy versus war. We are more secure through diplomacy and negotiated agreements, because they are superior to military intervention and war. Therefore it is crucial that diplomatic efforts continue and that we disregard military options which are guaranteed failures in the short and long-term.

There is a poor track-record of military intervention to achieve the stated outcomes. Or to put it differently – wars don’t work. This is especially true for the more recent wars and military interventions in the Middle East. The voices still claiming success in the two major US-led Middle East wars are increasingly shrinking. The war in Afghanistan was an ill-conceived response to the criminal attack of September 11, 2001. The 2003 invasion of Iraq turned into the Iraq War. Astronomical costs, a violent insurgency, the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, and immense casualties and suffering of civilians sum up the current situation.

Diplomats and negotiators are not acting in uncharted landscapes. There is a body of knowledge on why negotiation and other conflict resolution approaches are superior to military options. Negotiation is not a zero-sum game where one party wins at the expense of the other parties. The possible and expected outcomes are mutually acceptable agreements. In multilateral negotiations – in this case the P5 + 1 framework – the potential for more lasting agreements grows substantially, as more groups and interests are interdependent and have to be reconciled. Negotiation is a critical tool to restore and repair broken relationships as well as creating space for agreements in other areas. Whether we like it or not, Iran is a major player in the Middle East and beyond. Foreign policy issues around Syria, Iraq, Yemen, oil, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be addressed constructively when Iran is an involved participant in creating a path forward.

In a time where people and governments worldwide are calling for nuclear disarmament, there is an understandable fear of a nuclear-armed Iran. Some might argue that swift military air bombardment against Iran is the best option to achieve this goal. This is a purely political statement and out-of-touch with history and expertise of military leaders. Adm. Mike Mullen (Ret.), former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote, “As of today, there is no more credible path of reducing the likelihood of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon than this potential deal. Those who say the risks are too high with the current deal offer no constructive path forward save the high potential for war.” Due to absolute superiority of U.S. conventional military force, even the threat of military intervention would be an incentive for Iran to actually acquire nuclear weapons and create as much secrecy as possible around those efforts. The tone in Washington’s foreign policy and intelligence community has changed. Having personally sat through briefings with officials from the State Department, the intelligence community and other state agencies recently, I can attest that there was a strong consensus that any application of hard military power leads to uncertain and uncontrollable outcomes and that diplomacy and cooperation with partners was the preferred course of action.

The stakes in P5+1 and Iran nuclear negotiations are high. The only path forward is to seek negotiated agreements based on oversight and control. In doing so, we can prevent war and the inevitable human, social, economic and environmental costs. We can avoid putting American men and women in harm’s way, who then would cause harm to Iranian men, women and children – that’s the nature of war. The way we understand and constructively address global conflict and war now has changed. Senator Merkley has shown that he recognizes that negotiation and understanding its environment is the new realpolitik which makes us more secure. The media and the public have a responsibility to protect and emphasize such voices.

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