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Obamacare Repeal No Panacea for Republicans

The Free Press WV

The four Republicans in West Virginia’s Congressional delegation (Senator Shelley Moore Capito and Congressmen David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Evan Jenkins) have all pushed for repealing Obamacare.

House Republicans fulfilled that campaign promise last week by narrowly passing (217-213) The American Health Care Act. However, for some Republicans, the action feels like the barking dog has finally caught the car it was chasing.

For example, 3rd District Representative Jenkins clearly has reservations.  “This was a tough call,” he told me on Talkline last week.  “Is it a perfect solution? No,” he said.  “It goes to the Senate. Work will continue.  Doing nothing wasn’t an option.”

It sounds like Jenkins and a number of his fellow Republicans can scratch “Repeal Obamacare” off their To Do lists, but they are also hoping the Senate will save them from themselves. The issues are particularly sensitive in West Virginia, where the population is older, sicker and poorer.

The Medicaid Expansion program has over 170,000 West Virginians enrolled, with the federal government picking up a larger share of the cost than the typical reimbursement. However, under the Republican plan the federal government will reduce funding for expanded coverage after 2019, leading to an expected decline in coverage.

When supporters of the replacement say no one on Medicaid will lose their coverage they are technically correct.  However, the system has a certain amount of churn, so as the Washington Post Fact Checker reported, “If they try to get back into the system, however, the planned reductions in funding may mean they no longer find themselves eligible for the program, or that their benefits have been scaled back.”

Also, the Kaiser Family Foundation says the AHCA allows for higher out-of-pocket costs for older people. “Generally, people who are older, lower-income, or live in high-premium areas (like Alaska and Arizona) receive less financial assistance under the AHCA,” Kaiser reports.  “Additionally, older people would have higher starting premiums.”

Congressman Jenkins is correct that doing nothing was not an option because the exchanges are flawed. There simply are not enough young healthy people willing to pay skyrocketing premiums and out-of-pocket expenses to subsidize the sickest people or those with pre-existing conditions.

The alternative high-risk pool makes sense, as long as it’s fully funded.  As columnist Holman Jenkins wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “By giving new options to the states, the House bill would make subsidizing pre-existing conditions a general obligation of the taxpayer as it always should have been.”

Republicans banked for years on “Repeal and replace Obamacare” as an instant applause line, but West Virginia has quickly become dependent on Obamacare to provide coverage for a large chunk of the population, and many providers prefer the known of existing law to the unknown of the legislative process.

Controlling Medicaid costs and making premiums more actuarially sound make fiscal sense, but they are going to be a hard sell in West Virginia and elsewhere.  Government benefits build constituencies and expand government power. Those trends are not easily reversed.

~~  Hoppy Kercheval ~~

Study Finds Most Folks Don’t Buy Fake News

The Free Press WV

Despite claims by some politicians, fake news, social media and search algorithms don’t sway public opinion, according to a study by a group of international researchers.

William Dutton, the report’s lead author, says if search engines did help create so-called filter bubbles – where users only get links to information with which they agree – the impacts on the democratic process could be huge.

But he says surveys in seven nations including the U.S. found it’s not as big a problem as recent media coverage suggests.

“On social media and on the Internet generally, they find a lot of viewpoints that their friends and family, that they disagree with,” he states. “And they often go to search to check the reliability, validity of what they hear on social media.“

After Donald Trump’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton, pundits and pollsters struggled to find answers and many tagged social media for hosting numerous posts that were outright lies.

Dutton says while a minority of Internet users are not skilled in vetting facts, most are not so easily fooled.

The research – commissioned and funded by Google – was conducted independently by Oxford University, Michigan State University and the University of Ottawa.

Dutton says fears of social media echo chambers also are overstated. He notes the survey of 14,000 people found users agree and disagree with political posts on platforms such as Facebook.

And Dutton says people also are exposed to a variety of perspectives on television, radio and print outlets. He adds users rarely unfriend or block people with whom they disagree.

“Most people who are very interested in politics are relying on all sorts of sources of information and not simply search, or not simply social media,“ he stresses.

Dutton adds a small percentage of Internet users are not adept at fact checking, and it’s important for schools at all levels to give people the tools they need to navigate the Internet’s resources when it comes to accepting online claims at face value.

“Every effort to create training and education around media literacy in a multimedia digital environment is still valuable,” he stresses. “But it’s not a problem for most users, but it is a problem for some users.“

~~  Dan Heyman ~~

State Budget Impasse. Now What?

The Free Press WV

The special session of the West Virginia Legislature has recessed until May 15. Lawmakers met for two days to consider the latest budget-related proposals, but could not reach a consensus.

The revenue measure agreed to by the Senate and the Governor lowered income tax rates, but raised the consumer sales tax, corporate income tax and added a wealth tax. Separate, but related, is a plan to increase gasoline taxes and DMV fees to fund road repairs and construction.

The House quickly voted down the revenue package along party lines. The Senate took up the bill anyway and passed it 32-1, causing the House to take a second vote where the bill again failed.

Following those votes, the Legislature left town with plans to return in ten days.

It would be overly simplistic to dismiss the two-day special session as a waste. As previously pointed out here, it was important for the lawmakers to get votes on the record. We know for certain now the proposal pushed by Governor Justice and the Senate is not acceptable to a united Republican majority in the House.

I’ll come down on the side of optimism and say that’s progress… sort of. Now it is necessary for the negotiators to seriously contemplate what they are willing to change in their positions. George Bernard Shaw said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

Of course, change is not easy, especially if one’s position is based on a deeply held principle, and we have those among the legislators and the Governor.

Justice is convinced state government cannot make deeper cuts into services and that additional revenue, including a taxpayer-financed road plan, is essential to the state’s recovery. Senate Republicans will abide by higher consumption and business taxes if income taxes are lowered to stimulate growth. House Republicans say they have a responsibility to their constituents to hold the line on spending and higher taxes.

The two day session and the votes have firmly established those positions, so today it is difficult to imagine where change can come from, but change they must. The only alternative is a government shutdown on July 1 which would be a disaster.

Given what has happened so far, it’s time to move away from an approach where an agreement can be reached where all sides are pleased. It does not appear that common ground exists. The fallback position is a budget where none of the principles are satisfied.

Then we will know that they have truly reached a compromise.

Energy Severance Tax Rates Provide Another Hurdle In State Budget Battle

The Free Press WV

One of the many challenges in reaching agreement on a proposed state budget for the new fiscal year beginning July 1 has to do with coal and gas severance taxes.  The current rate is five percent, but at issue during informal budget discussions are proposed sliding severance tax rates, depending on the market price for the resource.

The West Virginia Coal Association has sent a letter to each member of the Legislature in support of the variable rate schedule for steam coal. Those rates range from 2.5 percent when steam coal is selling for less than $42 a ton, up to 10 percent when the price reaches $74 and higher.

Northern Appalachian steam coal market price has been fluctuating from $40-$46 a ton for the last year, meaning under the scale proposed by the Justice administration the severance tax would vary from 2.5 percent to 3.25 percent, well below the current rate.

(At least those are the most recent figures available, but those numbers can and do change rapidly as budget discussions continue.)

While the Coal Association is on board with the severance rates for steam coal, its members are adamantly against a similar sliding scale for metallurgical coal that’s used in making steel.  West Virginia produces from 40 to 50 million tons of coking coal a year and business is very good, at least for the moment.

Several weeks ago, a major cyclone damaged Australia’s key rail lines, interrupting shipments from Queensland which supplies more than half of the world’s coking coal. That caused prices to surge to between $180 and $260 a ton depending on the grade, sending met coal producers here scrambling to meet the demand and take advantage of the higher prices.

Under the Justice administration’s proposed sliding scale severance tax rates, met coal producers would see their tax rate double to ten percent beginning July 1, hitting them with a big expense just as they are getting back on their feet. Additionally, Australia will soon have those repairs completed, putting its coal back in the global market and bringing the price back down.

Meanwhile, the state’s natural gas industry is also worried about the possibility of higher severance taxes. One trade group, the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, did sign off on a Senate-passed bill that included the variable rates, but only because it included co-tenancy and joint development, two provisions that would make it easier for gas companies to conduct horizontal drilling. That bill failed in the House.

Governor Justice’s concept from the beginning has been for the state to give the natural resources industries a break when prices are low, but require them to pay more when times are good. That may sound like a reasonable concept, but it’s a tough sell with the state’s energy sector which has been battered by low prices and regulatory constraints.

Also, commodity prices are notoriously volatile. The sliding scale severance tax rates would make it even more difficult for companies to anticipate their production costs.  As the Coal Association said in its letter to lawmakers, “Certainty is key for sustaining our operations.”

Right now, there is no certainty because there is not yet a budget for next fiscal year, and it remains unclear whether severance tax rates will change significantly just two months from now.

The Long Road to ‘Iowa’

The Free Press WV

At one point during the budget debate last month, Governor Justice recoiled against any budget compromise that included deep budget cuts.  Justice used one of his now famous metaphors to make his point.

“It doesn’t make one hill of beans of sense to me to say ‘you like the desert, and I like Alaska, so we’re going to end up in Iowa.’ Let’s only end up in Iowa if that’s the right place to end up,” he said.

Well, ten days after the end of the regular session of the Legislature (including one additional day to work on the budget), we’re nowhere near a hospitable gathering of the Governor, the Senate and the House in Des Moines.

However, there are at least some road maps that might just lead them there.

The Justice administration and Senate leaders are coalescing around a framework for a budget. The plan, which was unveiled in the final hours of the regular session, includes a lot of what the Governor wants—additional revenue from a sales tax increase, a commercial activities tax and temporary wealth tax, higher fuel taxes and DMV fees to build roads and a pay raise for classroom teachers.

The Senate side of the deal includes a modification of the state income tax, reducing the current five tiers to three and lowering of the rates when certain fiscal benchmarks are met with the possibility of eliminating the tax eventually. Senate supporters believe lowering the income tax will lead to economic growth.

But that route toward a deal doesn’t even show up on the navigation system of House Speaker Tim Armstead. The Kanawha County Republican has told the Justice administration and Senate leaders time and again that higher taxes are a non-starter in the House, even if they are accompanied by possible income tax reductions.

But Justice’s team, while negotiating with Armstead, believes there could be an avenue toward agreement—the House Democrats.  Justice is trying to rally support among the 36 Democrats to get behind the Justice/Senate plan. He’s reportedly going to make his pitch to them today.

The Dems will need some convincing. They don’t want to be out front on tax increases without Republican support, fearing that will be used against them in the next election. The Democrats need assurances of a significant number of Republicans.

So here’s the question: How many House Republicans, if any, would be willing to defy their Speaker and support the Justice/Senate plan?  The Governor said last week that some Republicans called to urge him to veto the Republican-passed budget (he did), suggesting they might be open to another pathway.

We know the House Republican caucus is not unified—the breakdown over medical marijuana demonstrated that—but it’s difficult to predict how many members the Justice administration could pick up by lobbying individuals.

To continue with the Governor’s metaphor, for now Iowa remains a long distance away.  It will be challenging, but not impossible, to get there.

Lawmakers Want Schools To Teach More About Founding Documents

The Free Press WV

Earlier this session, the West Virginia House of Delegates passed legislation and sent it to the Senate requiring public schools to dedicate a week to the specific study of the concepts of freedom and liberty.

West Virginia already has a requirement in code (18-2-9) that the Constitution be taught in civics class, but HB 3080 includes a more detailed prerequisite.

The bill designates “Celebrate Freedom Week” for early September each year, when social studies classes must include “in-depth study of the intent, meaning and importance of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States with an emphasis on the Bill of Rights.”

The bill also requires high school students to take a test that is “the same as or substantially similar to the civics portion of the naturalization test used by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service” to measure their achievement in civics.

This is a growing trend across the country.  The Associated Press reports “Kentucky last week and Arkansas on March 16 became the latest of more than a dozen states since 2015 that have required the high school studies curriculum to include material covered by the 100 questions asked on the naturalization exam.”

It would be presumptuous to assume what the late Senator Robert Byrd would have said about this trend, but we know he revered the Constitution, carried a well-worn copy in his breast pocket and lamented how little many Americans knew about the document.

In his biography “Child of the Appalachian Coalfields,” Byrd referred to a lecture he gave in Morgantown in 1998 where he cited poll numbers showing “only 66 percent (of Americans) recognized that the first ten amendments to the Constitution constitute the Bill of Rights; 85 percent mistakenly believed that the Constitution says, ‘All men are created equal’.”

“They tell us that while our educational system is good at ingraining feelings of respect and reverence for our Constitution, that same system is apparently very poor at teaching just what is actually in the Constitution and just why it is so important,” Byrd said.

It was Senator Byrd who attached an amendment to an omnibus spending bill in 2004 that designates September 17 as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.

It is reasonable, however, to question the extent to which West Virginia’s Legislature should dictate to the public school system what to teach and how to teach it.  The Department of Education maintains considerable autonomy and, in theory at least, is governed by the state Board of Education and local school boards.

If the bill becomes law, there will no doubt be some grousing by civics teachers who already devote considerable time to the founding documents or resent being told by politicians what is best way to teach government and history.

That’s understandable, but the values and principles of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are the bedrock of our country and our culture. Comprehending them is the key to truly knowing what it means to be a citizen of this country.

So, What Exactly Is the Status of Budget Talks?

The Free Press WV

One of the most commonly asked questions at the State Capitol now is, “What’s the latest on the budget?” The answer is complicated, and here’s why.

You cannot narrow the discussion to one particular plan because there isn’t one. There are multiple plans, frameworks, concepts and proposals being floated by Governor Justice and lawmakers.

These concepts sometimes change rapidly during stakeholder meetings. What appears to be on the table going into a meeting may come off the table by the time they break up. In the meantime, a totally new concept may have been introduced.

Not all the stakeholders meet at the same time. The Governor or his representatives may meet with House Republican leaders and that will be followed by a caucus where the leaders take the concepts back to their members.

While that is going on, the administration is meeting with Democratic leaders to take their temperature, and they then report to their caucus.

These caucuses are critical because that’s where the leaders can gauge the support or opposition to particular proposals. It’s also where the whips can do some vote counting to try to determine what can pass and what won’t.

The leaders then have to get back to the Governor’s people with what they have learned, and that can start the process all over again.

Additionally, even the principals involved in the discussions often emerge with very different views of what’s on the table. Numerous times in the last few days I’ve had one primary source tell me one thing and another person in the same meeting give me a very different story.

The kind of “shuttle diplomacy” that is taking place is, by its nature, given to misunderstandings, but that’s why you keep it going. The process, when done in good faith, can weed out discrepancies, while zeroing in on what is and what is not in play.

I hear the frustration in the voices of the players, but I’m actually encouraged. They are talking—frequently—and ideas are popping out like the spring blossoms on the Capitol grounds. The posturing has given way to discussion of specifics on how best to spend the limited resources of the state, whether to raise new revenue and, if so, how best to do that.

Like any such discussions, they could blow up at any moment, but I don’t think they will. Legislative leaders and Governor Justice can agree on one thing: a lengthy special session to get a budget for the second year in a row would be a public relations disaster and failing to get a plan by the start of the new fiscal year July 1 would be a catastrophe.

The federal government has budget tricks it can play to keep operating, but West Virginia would have to turn out the lights.

So, I can’t tell you at this moment exactly where the budget talks stand—it’s like trying to zero in on multiple moving targets shrouded in thick fog—but they are trying to get a budget, and they know time is running out.

The Worsening Toll of Drug Addiction In West Virginia

The Free Press WV

The extent of West Virginia’s drug problem is nearly incomprehensible. As the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s Eric Eyre reported in his award-winning series last December, “wholesale drug distributors shipped 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to West Virginia over six years (between 2007 and 2012).”

What followed was rampant addiction to the powerful painkillers and a rise in the number of people who overdosed and died as a result. When the medical community and authorities clamped down on the prescription opioids, addicts became more dependent on heroin.

That was followed by the introduction of fentanyl and carfentanyl. These synthetic opioids are similar to morphine, but are 50 to 100 times more potent. Dealers mixed the drug with heroin and overdoses skyrocketed.

Eyre reported last week that the latest figures show 844 people died from drug overdoses in West Virginia last year.  That’s already well above the previous year’s number of 731, even before all of the statistics for 2016 are in.  “The drug overdose death toll has climbed 46 percent in four years,” Eyre reported.  A person dies in West Virginia from a drug overdose every 11 hours.

West Virginia’s Secretary of the State Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS), Jeff Sandy, tells MetroNews that drugs are an increasing problem in the state’s correction system.  Nearly half of the 44,000 inmates booked into regional jails last year had to be placed on detox or withdrawal programs.

Locking people up does not necessarily separate them from illegal drugs. Sandy, who took over January 16, says drug use is widespread throughout our jail and prison system. Last month, 35 inmates at the minimum security prison at Pruntytown overdosed inside the jail and 14 had to be sent to Grafton City Hospital.

Sandy says drug-addicted inmates devise creative ways to sneak drugs into prison. One of the most popular methods has been for family and friends to soak writing paper in a liquefied drug and mail the letter or photo to the prisoner.

“It’s disgraceful, and we’re going to do something about it,” Sandy said, and Friday DMAPS announced a shift in the mail policy.

“Inmates in West Virginia’s 10 regional jails now receive photocopies of all mail from family, friends and businesses,” DMAPS announced in a release on Friday.  “The originals are shredded.”  A similar policy will also be implemented at the state’s 16 prisons and work release facilities.

Sandy also pledges to continue to emphasize drug treatment efforts within the prison system so inmates have a chance for a drug-free life when they are released.

West Virginia’s problems are not unique, but they are extremely serious; we have the highest per capita overdose death rate in the country. The drug scourge feels more intimate here because we are such a small state.  Who among us has not been touched personally or know someone who has been impacted by drug addiction?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says, based on scientific research, the basis of any treatment program consists of detoxification, behavioral counseling, medication, evaluation and long-term follow-up to prevent relapse.  Recovery may be a life-long struggle, but as the latest statistics show, the alternative can be fatal.

~~  Hoppy Kercheval ~~

Governor’s Barbs Could Hurt His Bills

The Free Press WV

In the short time Jim Justice has been Governor we have learned this about him: He says what’s on his mind. That’s refreshing at a time when political speak is often carefully calculated (President Trump being a notable exception).

Justice’s lack of a filter makes for “good copy,” as we say in the news business. This is particularly true when the Governor goes after the Legislature.

During one speech at the Capitol, Justice called lawmakers who oppose his road plan “knuckleheads.”  While pitching his plan this week he called opponents “blockheads.” He famously singled out Republican Majority Leader Ryan Ferns (R-Ohio) who had tweeted a criticism of Justice, calling Ferns a “poodle” who might get chewed up by a grizzly bear (Justice).

One could argue that’s Justice being Justice—unscripted, colorful, and oblivious to the impact of his words. Also, as the Governor takes his budget and jobs plan to the people, he knows many hold politicians—in this case the Legislature—in low regard.

I conducted an unscientific on-line poll asking my Twitter followers about Justice’s pejorative comments.  Of the 465 followers who had responded, 37 percent said they were “accurate,” 30 percent said “inappropriate,” 19 percent said “disrespectful” and 14 percent said they were “funny.”  (One e-mailer asked why I did not include an “all of the above” category).

Justice’s folksy taunts play better on the stump than they do at the Capitol.  Republicans, who are the target of the insults, are clearly growing weary of the barbs.  As one Republican staffer told me, “The folksiness has lost its sheen.”

House Finance Committee chairman Eric Nelson (R-Kanawha) was fuming after Justice’s appearance on Talkline last Friday, where the Governor unveiled his new plan to balance this year’s budget by sweeping $120 million from existing state accounts.  Nelson had just met with Justice administration officials the day before to go over the Republican plan for sweeping accounts and he believed the Governor co-opted an idea the GOP has been pushing for two years.  (A Justice official said they did not.)

The slights add up, each one making it just a little less likely Republican leaders will support Justice’s proposals. Even one Justice loyalist conceded privately that “it doesn’t help.”

Granted, Justice was elected in part because he is different, that he does not follow the traditional political script.  For the past several weeks he has been taking his proposals to the people to try to get voters to put pressure on lawmakers to support his plan or come up with an alternative.

But Justice needs to remember two numbers–63 and 22. Republicans hold 63 seats in the 100 member House of Delegates and 22 of the 34 seats in the Senate, significant majorities that can override gubernatorial vetoes with a simple majority and come within a few votes of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto of a budget bill.

Even knuckleheads and blockheads understand the implications of those numbers.

~~  Hoppy Kercheval ~~

Can State Government Be “Rightsized?”

The Free Press WV

As Governor-elect Jim Justice and lawmakers prepare for what is expected to be a challenging session of the Legislature, the term “rightsizing government” is being tossed around.  I’ve been using it a lot myself as a kind of catchall for cutting government to deal with an expected $400 million shortfall in the next budget year.

House Minority Leader Tim Miley (D-Harrison) called me out on that term last week.  “That’s one of those pithy political phrases that people use that if you really press them on what that means, no one could give you an answer.”

Fair enough, especially since it can be a subjective term; I use rightsizing to mean smaller.  Another person might believe the right size is a larger government that would provide more services.

But it did get me thinking, and Miley is right to expect a more specific definition, so here goes: Rightsizing government means determining the core obligations, prioritizing them, and then fulfilling those responsibilities in the most efficient manner.

Start with the state Constitution. Most of the document explains how government is set up, but there are only a few specific obligations. Article I, Section 2 says government has a responsibility “to guard and protect the people of the state.” Article XII, Section 1 requires “for a thorough and efficient system of free schools.”

Those are the big ones, but it gets a little vague after that. The Constitution does empower the Legislature to pass laws, and that’s a sweeping power that has been used to create thousands of government services and responsibilities. Thus we have volumes of state Code filled with good intentions, but how many are actually core responsibilities of government?

Senate Government Organization Committee Chairman Craig Blair (R-Berkeley) says he’s ready to put a practical application to rightsizing. “I’ve prepared (a list) of 30 different things… to right size government.”

Does that mean laying off state workers? Not necessarily. Blair says personnel cutbacks will come through attrition as government prioritizes.

Historically we have had the budget pyramid upside down; here are all the things the state does, so this how much money we need. The cuts during lean times have tended to be across the board, which implies fairness among the agencies, but ignores priorities.

Let’s flip the pyramid with an objective determination of the fundamental responsibilities of government, fund those adequately, and then, if there is any left over, pay for things we would like to do.

We cannot cut our way to prosperity, but we can reprioritize. That would put us on the path toward rightsizing government.

~~  Hoppy Kercheval ~~

Pinocchio Check

The Free Press WV

Hillary Clinton: “Director Comey said my answers were truthful”

If there was any issue that caused Hillary Clinton to narrowly lose an election that many expected she would win, it was the controversy over her private email server. In this statement, Clinton cherry-picked statements by FBI Director James Comey to skirt more disturbing findings about the FBI investigation. He said that there was no evidence that she lied to the FBI, but he declined to say whether she told the truth to the American people. Clinton later admitted that she had “short-circuited” her answer.

Donald Trump: “I won in a landslide – and millions of people voted illegally for Clinton”

Donald Trump has proven to be a sore winner. Rather than tout the fact that he was a dramatic surprise victor, Trump instead has falsely claimed he won an electoral college landslide. He also falsely said that Clinton only won the popular vote because millions of people voted illegally. But neither is true. In terms of electoral college wins, Trump ranks just 46th out of 58 electoral college results. A shift of 40,000 votes in three states would have cost him the presidency. There is also no evidence of massive voter fraud, a notion that Trump apparently obtained from a website that traffics in conspiracy theories.

Donald Trump: “We save $300 billion a year on prescription drugs in Medicare”

Trump claimed he could control the cost of prescription drugs by negotiating prices in the Medicare system – and repeatedly said the savings would be as high as $300 billion. But total spending on prescription drugs in Medicare is just $78 billion. Trump later said he was referring to savings he would get for negotiating a range of products in Medicare. But Medicare spending is $560 billion, so his claim that he would cut 55 percent through better negotiations was still unrealistic.

Barack Obama: “We have fired a whole bunch of people who are in charge of these [VA] facilities.”

President Obama misled the public about the number of people held accountable for the 2014 scandal over manipulated wait-time data at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which contributed to patient deaths. Congress responded by passing a law that sped up disciplinary actions for senior executive service employees. But when Obama made his statement in September, only one senior executive had been removed for a case involving wait time (though the actual firing was for an ethics violation).

Sean Hannity: “Trump sent his own plane to rescue 200 Gulf War marines who had been stranded”

Sean Hannity, the Fox News personality, promoted this story when Trump was under fire for not having fulfilled a pledge to make a $1 million donation to a military charity. But Trump had nothing to do with helping the Marines; the jet was provided by the Trump Shuttle, under contract with the military, at a time when it had been seized by Trump’s bankers for failing to pay loans. Months after we exposed this as a sham, Hannity continues to display this false claim on his website.

Trump Makes It Abundantly Clear He’s No Fan of a Free Press

The Free Press WV

Donald Trump summoned the heads and on-air stars of the major television networks and CNN to his Trump Tower fortress Monday for a verbal beating, one we can only assume will be the first of many for this press-hating president-elect. Acording to the New York Times, Trump spent the meeting berating the press, “[describing] the television networks as dishonest in their reporting and shortsighted in missing the signs of his upset victory. He criticized some in the room by name, including CNN’s president, Jeffrey A. Zucker.“

And that was the restrained version. David Remnick in the New Yorker doesn’t mince words:

“In the presence of television executives and anchors, Trump whined about everything from NBC News reporter Katy Tur’s coverage of him to a photograph the news network has used that shows him with a double chin. Why didn’t they use ‘nicer’ pictures? For more than twenty minutes, Trump railed about ‘outrageous’ and ‘dishonest’ coverage. When he was asked about the sort of ‘fake news’ that now clogs social media, Trump replied that it was the networks that were guilty of spreading fake news. The ‘worst,‘ he said, were CNN (‘liars!‘) and NBC. This is where we are. The President-elect does not care who knows how unforgiving or vain or distracted he is. This is who he is, and this is who will be running the executive branch of the United States government for four years.“

Shell-shocked participants told Remnick that the meeting was “totally inappropriate” and “f*cking outrageous.“ Even the potential news nugget that came out of the event was spoiled by Trump’s narcissistic spin-doctoring. He told attendees, “that Mitt Romney, who had been an unvarnished critic during the campaign, now ‘desperately wants’ to be Secretary of State under Trump. The two men met at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, over the weekend.“

Still reeling after Monday’s meeting, New York Times executives awoke Tuesday morning to news that Trump had canceled their scheduled meeting, because, ‘'They continue to cover me inaccurately and with a nasty tone!“

The Times found out about the cancellation via Twitter. Yes, the upcoming leader of the free world still believes Twitter is the only way to communicate, and feels he does not have to abide by the well-established rules of presidential coverage. Hours later, according to the Washington Post, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks “just casually mentioned that ‘we are going to the New York Times’ meeting — as if nothing had happened.“ As of 11am Tuesday morning, the meeting is back on

Our free press is in for a hell of a fight. 

ETC.

The Free Press WV

  • Just wait until the figures from this year come out. Hate crimes against Muslims rose 67 percent in 2015, according to FBI statistics just released. It was the largest surge since the immediate wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. The total last year was 257 incidents, up from 154 incidents in 2014. Hate crimes overall rose 7 percent. Most of the reported incidents of hate crimes generally were considered crimes against persons rather than property. Nearly 15,000 law enforcement agencies participated in the program to identify and track these crimes. Politico

  • The Fourth Amendment under siege. How President Trump and his allies could abuse Big Data and the surveillance state. TechCrunch

  • And how the Supreme Court should help stop him. New York Review of Books

  • “He thinks all kinds of crazy things about prosecutions.” Even torture law architect John Yoo is worried about what a Donald Trump Justice Department is capable of. Foreign Policy

  • So will Trump fire Comey? NPR

Jim Justice ‘Done Done It’

The Free Press WV

In the end, Jim Justice’s campaign wrapped up about the same way it began, with the candidate sounding a hopeful and optimistic message about West Virginia. That’s what Justice has been selling throughout the campaign and the voters were buying.

Justice captured 49 percent of the vote, compared with 42 percent for Republican Bill Cole and 6 percent for Mountain Party candidate Charlotte Pritt. Justice won 38 of the state’s 55 counties, although he failed to win any of the eastern panhandle.

Justice ran a smart campaign, one focused on his persona more than his politics. He had never run for statewide office before so he avoided the dreaded label of a “politician” and he announced that he would not support Hillary Clinton, or Trump for that matter.

Had Justice been a more entrenched Democratic candidate he probably would have lost, given the popularity of Donald Trump. The Republican presidential candidate captured a stunning 68 percent of the vote here. That likely helped carry some down ballot Republicans across the line.

But based on some of the polling earlier in the campaign, and the outcome of the governor’s race, it’s clear that a good number of voters cast a vote for Trump, crossed over to vote for Justice, then went back over to the Republican side.

All those votes helped carry the GOP to wins in all three Congressional races, four of the five Board of Public Works seats, and expanded the Republicans majority in the Senate by four seats from 18 to 22. In the House, Republicans held their 64-36 advantage.

The outcome more firmly establishes West Virginia as a red state. That could be an issue for the new governor if he were a more traditional Democrat, but he’s not. If you take him at his word, then Justice’s loyalty rests with the people, not a party.

Justice’s campaign was part gospel revival and part medicine show, all delivered with a down-home good ol’ boy style that tempers any suspicions we often have of people with enormous wealth.

He raised expectations, and it’s healthy to expect more from our state and ourselves. But there is also a political risk in setting the bar too high. Justice’s quote about a “rocket ship ride” to more jobs and a better economy stands out. Justice thinks big so he promises a moon shot. That’s not going to be easy.

But West Virginians made clear they wanted someone cut from a different mold, a governor who has a track record in the private sector they believe can be transferred to government. Justice likes to say of his business acumen, “I done done it.”

Well, the state has spoken and said to Mr. Justice, “OK, then go do it.”

~~  Hoppy Kercheval ~~

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