American Politics

Trump Won’t Say It, But We Will: White Terror in Charlottesville

The Free Press WV

Her name was Heather Heyer. She was marching for justice in Charlottesville when she was killed by a white racist. Say her name.

His name was Timothy Caughman. He was walking down the street in New York City when he was killed by a white racist. Say his name.

Their names were Ricky John Best and Taliesen Myrddin Namkai-Meche. They were riding a train in Portland when they saw a Muslim woman and her friend being threatened. They stepped forward to protect them and were killed by a white racist.

Their names were Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Wharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson. They were studying the Bible in a Charleston church when they were killed by a white racist. Say their names.

And say the name of the real murderer, the one who sent agents out to kill: white nationalist terror.

It took real bravery for Heather Heyer to march that day. And it takes bravery just to be black or Muslim or Jewish or gay or trans in the United States, where the threat of violence hangs over every walk down the street, every ride on a train, even a Bible class in a great and historic church.

The Words Donald Trump Won’t Say

Last year, Donald Trump insisted that it was important to name your adversary. “Now, to solve a problem,” Trump said in an October 9, 2016 debate, “you have to be able to state what the problem is or at least say the name. (Hillary Clinton) won’t say the name and President Obama won’t say the name. But the name is there. It’s radical Islamic terror.”

It’s your turn, Mr. President. Say the name: White nationalist terror.

There were nearly twice as many incidents of white nationalist terrorism as Islam-related terror in the United States between 2008 and the end of 2016, according to one analysis. But instead of standing up to the terrorists, Trump has refused to even name the threat. He refused again when he was asked about the violence in Charlottesville and the death of Heather Heyer, making this now-infamous comment instead:

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”

Leaving aside the bizarre “many sides” construction – Trump somehow turned a two-sided confrontation into an ethical hypercube – the meaning of this comment was not lost on most observers: The President of the United States deliberately refused to make a distinction between actual Nazis and other self-proclaimed racists and the people who were opposing them because … well, because they were actual Nazis and self-proclaimed racists.

The Nazis were happy with Trump’s statement. The “Daily Stormer,” an amateurish neo-Nazi website – imagine a student newspaper published by the feral kids from William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies – wrote, “Trump’s comments were good… Nothing specific about us.”

Trump refused to acknowledge the violent death, at the hands of a white supremacist, of the 32-year-old woman who was peacefully exercising her rights of free speech and assembly. He has remained silent as we have learned more about the killer’s openly pro-Nazi statements and his attendance at a fascist rally in Charlottesville before he killed Heather Heyer.

The Nameless Ones

There is one name we will not say today: the killer’s. When you face a pack of wild dogs and one of them goes for your throat, does it really need a name?

The rally the killer attended was organized by a group called Vanguard America. The name, which is undoubtedly meant to be bold and intimidating, sounds more like a midsized insurance brokerage. Its members look like they work in one, too, except for the canine rage on their faces.

Vanguard America is openly fascist in nature and has been actively involved in anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim efforts. Their putative complaint in Charlottesville was the renaming of a park that had been dedicated to Robert E. Lee, the military leader of an armed rebellion that was waged against the United States of America in order to protect and preserve the enslavement of human beings.

Lee’s statue is scheduled to be removed as part of that process. That’s as it should be. Robert E. Lee had no historical connection to Charlottesville, and his statue was not even built until nearly 60 years after the Civil War had ended.

“Historical value”? 35 new Confederate monuments have been built in North Carolina since 2000. That’s not history. It’s hate. These parks and statues aren’t relics of the past. They’re racist declarations in the present.

Names like Robert E. Lee should not be honored in the streets and parks of a free and democratic nation. They represent the violent suppression of an entire people.

They represent white terror.

Will the Real Donald Trump Please Stand Up?

The killer, like his fellow pups, wore a white shirt and carried a shield at the rally. Although they’re clearly trying to look fierce, this sorry-### group of scrofulous child-men looks more like a gaggle of extras waiting to go onstage in an elementary school production about pirates.

But don’t let their nerdy, self-evident inadequacy fool you. It is that very inadequacy that makes them dangerous, as it has made generations of fascists before them dangerous. They have something to prove, which means they need someone to prove it on.

If their doughy, pasty bullying forms remind you of someone, that’s no surprise. They share those traits with the man who now sits in the Oval Office. Did Trump equivocate because he’s too cowardly to confront them? Did it seem like filial disloyalty to condemn the men who walk in his father’s KKK-friendly footsteps? Is he a secret sympathizer?

Trump wouldn’t say the words “white nationalist terror,” even after some of his fellow Republicans spoke out. “Nothing patriotic about #Nazis,the #KKK or #WhiteSupremacists,” tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio. “It’s the direct opposite of what #America seeks to be.”

“We should call evil by its name,” tweeted Sen. Orrin Hatch. “My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.” Sen. Ted Cruz described the racists as “repulsive and evil” and called on the Justice Department to investigate a “this grotesque act of domestic terrorism.”

When you’ve been owned on social justice by Ted Cruz, you’ve really been owned. But then, Donald Trump has been flirting with white nationalism for a long time. He said this in Poland, for example:

Our freedom, our civilization, and our survival depend on these bonds of history, culture, and memory … Just as Poland could not be broken, I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph.

Those “bonds of history, culture, and memory” are the ones that bind white Europeans to each other against the rest of the world. “The West” is white Europe. Everything he describes as “ours” is white and European, including the “civilization” that white supremacists is under attack from black, brown, and non-Christian hordes. It’s no surprise, then, that Trump’s election has caused elation among white racists.

If Not Us, Who?

The fascist Richard Spencer understands what the president is saying, and can say it a little more directly. “We will not be replaced from this park,” Spencer said last May. “We will not be replaced from this world. Whites have a future. We have a future of power, of beauty, of expression.”

Sorry, Dick. We’ve heard the “Horst Wessel Song” and it’s not that beautiful or expressive.

As for that “future of power,” it’s clear that the president has a rhetorical addiction to the language of violence. His apocalyptic words about North Korea came straight from the “Triumph of the Will” playbook. “Fire and Fury” – it sounds like a Leni Riefenstahl movie.  Violent language sets the stage for violent action.

So, how do we resist the fascist impulse? Lady Gaga started a hashtag, #ThisIsNotUS. That’s a nice thought and a way to start a conversation, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Yes, Heather Heyer is “us.” But so is Vanguard America, and so is Donald Trump. So are the Republicans who occupy all three branches of the federal government, along with most of our state houses and governorships. The same Republicans who have used openly racist imagery for more than fifty years, and have actively suppressed black and brown votes to preserve their power.

Mass incarceration is “us,” because most of us have stayed home when it’s protested. Wall Street is “us,” too. It has enjoyed the protection of both parties as it once again engages in racially-biased banking practices. District attorneys from both parties have looked the other way at systematic patterns of police violence against community of color. They’re “us,” because we elected them.

If racism is not “us,” then wet haven’t done enough to bring it down.

Racism is the curse of the majority, and only the majority can end it. It lives in our homes, our houses of worship, and our neighborhoods. The killer’s racism was invisible to his mother, who told a reporter that her son couldn’t be racist because he had a black friend. We need to ask ourselves: What is still invisible to us? What are we blind to: as white people, if we’re white; as straight people, if we’re straight; in all the many ways we are members of the dominant tribe and not the ‘other’?

That blindness creates the dark spaces where hatred grows.

But awareness is only the first step. We must resist it, too — by marching in the streets, by demanding change, by rejecting violent speech whenever we hear it, and by stepping in to defending people when they are under attack.

‘Many sides’? There are only two sides here: Right and wrong. Murderer and victim. Hatred and love. In the clutch, when it really mattered, the president of the United States refused to pick a side. But we can. We can lay down our lives, one by one if necessary, until we have won.

And the next time someone is murdered by white terror, we can say her name.

~~  Richard Eskow ~~

Betsy DeVos’s ‘School Choice’ Is Really Crony Capitalism

The Free Press WV

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos says she supports “great public schools,” but her actions continue to show her hypocrisy on that subject.

Her recent trip to Michigan, her home state, offers yet more proof of the real focus of her leadership – and it isn’t about supporting public schools.

Whose STEM?

During her visit to a Michigan community college, reporters questioned DeVos on her support for public school teacher training and professional development programs.

The school, Grand Rapids Community College, offers an extensive array of education courses to prepare new teachers and help veteran faculty grow their instructional skills. Reporters couldn’t help but point out that President Trump’s budget has proposed massive cuts to teacher training programs, including eliminating $2.4 billion in funding for Title II, the third-largest federal K-12 program in the country.

Nevertheless, DeVos told reporters, “President Trump and I are very big proponents of continuing to support teachers and develop teachers.”

DeVos also pivoted reporters’ questions to talking about her support for the Van Andel Education Institute, which she had visited earlier in the day. The Van Andel Education Institute also provides career development programs for teachers, more specifically on preparing and supporting educators in teaching science, technology, engineering, and math, commonly called STEM education.

Trump’s budget, which DeVos has repeatedly endorsed, proposes huge cuts that would endanger STEM learning in public schools and the training provided by public institutions to support teachers in delivering STEM curricula.

Yet, again, DeVos professed her support for “those kinds of opportunities,” even though the budget she and the president have proposed cuts funding in those areas.

Betsy’s Friends

But here’s a crucial point local reporters didn’t point out: While the community college DeVos visited is a public institution funded primarily by public tax dollars, the Van Andel Institute is a private, nonprofit organization funded principally by friends of Betsy DeVos.

Jay and Betty Van Andel founded the Van Andel Institute after amassing a huge sum of money in creating the Amway corporation with Richard DeVos, Betsy’s father-in-law. “Amway went on to become one of the largest privately held companies in the world, making both of its founders billionaires,” writes a progressive blogger based in Michigan.

So the fact Betsy DeVos would tout the Van Andel Institute at the same time she presides over a federal department that is advocating for deep cuts to teacher training and STEM education should bring up serious questions about her professed allegiance to public education.

Deep Cuts

At the same time private organizations like the Van Andel Institute have been prospering, Michigan has made huge cuts to public institutions like community colleges. In 2011, Michigan lawmakers passed a budget that cut the public institutions most responsible for teacher preparation and career education, community colleges and universities, by 15 percent. Funding levels have never recovered since.

During roughly the same time, enrollments at Michigan community declined 18 percent while the Van Andel Education Institute grew.

DeVos’s preference for private ownership in higher education mirrors her proposals for K-12 schools. The budget she and her boss have proposed essentially cuts direct aid to students, especially those from low-income families, in order to expand the private sector’s financial footprint in education by funding expansions of charter schools and school voucher efforts.

Calling Her Out

This clear favoritism for the private sector prompted American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten to call DeVos “the most ideological anti-public education person to ever be nominated or confirmed to that position.”

Weingarten notes the education budget she and Trump promote is “the worst per-capita budget cuts for kids who are vulnerable or poor that we’ve since Reagan. DeVos also wants the worst budget cuts in raw numbers ever.”

At nearly every turn, DeVos favors private and powerful entities over the public and the least empowered in our society, Weingarten notes, “fighting for the predatory lenders rather than the borrowers in terms of student loan debt,” siding against marginalized students such as transgender children and victims of college campus sexual assaults, and weakening enforcement of federal government anti-discrimination laws in private schools that receive vouchers.

These are all signs of a U.S. secretary of education who just does not get that the federal government’s role in education is about ensuring equitable access to education institutions that guarantee an opportunity to learn.

Betsy’s ‘Real’ Choice

DeVos claims her proposals are intended to provide more “choice” in the education system. If that were true, she would be proposing to raise funding levels for all options. The fact she boosts education options in the private sector at the expense of public options shows her real intention is to tilt the playing field toward the choices she wants – privately owned institutions.

The fact those private options sometimes have personal connections to her family and its fortunes make it look all the more like this isn’t about education at all. It’s about making money.

~~  Jeff Bryant ~~

Uber Democrats: Workers Should Cooperate, Not ‘Compete’

The Free Press WV

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, what’s the value of a single word?

If you’re a Democratic Party leader and the word is “compete,” the answer may be: more than you can afford.

Much of the Democratic Party’s rhetoric has been ‘Uberized’ by a creeping free-market ideology that treats workers as lone competitors in a survival-of-the-toughest economy.

The time has come to reject this language as well as the thinking behind it. The notion that people must compete with each for low-paying jobs undermines worker solidarity and weakens our sense of national community.

Better Than What?

When the Democratic Party rolled out its “Better Deal” language in July, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi each wrote op-eds promoting an agenda whose subtitle is, “Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future.”

An earlier version of that slogan – “Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages” – was roundly criticized when it was leaked to a reporter, and rightly so. That phrase first appeared in an op-ed by Sen. Tim Kaine, who wrote:

Better skills in our people and communities … will make us more competitive in a world where talent is now the most precious resource. We need to double down on retraining people whose jobs are destroyed by shifts in trade.

Those words offer nothing new to the American people. They could have been lifted from a speech Bill Clinton gave in 1993, when he declared that “workers in advanced countries must become ever more productive to deal with competition from low-wage countries on the one hand, and high-skilled, high-tech countries on the other.”

Since those words were spoken more than a quarter-century ago, millions of American jobs have been lost to bad trade deals that shifted work overseas and wealth upward.

Misguided government policies and greedy business practices ended a thirty-year period in which wages kept pace with productivity growth, resulting in soaring inequality and stagnating wages for American workers. Increasingly wealthy individuals in corporations have, in turn, used their money to hijack the political process.

No retraining program on Earth can prepare workers for jobs that don’t exist. And, as long as inequality remains the highest it’s been since the 1920s, “competitive” education strategies will do little to improve wages or social mobility. To beleaguered workers, the phrase “better skills” reinforces the perception that an out-of-touch elite would rather blame the victims of its policies than take responsibility for its actions.

Better jobs, better wages, better luck next time.

Better Than That

The finished slogan was a notable improvement from the beta version. The phrase “better skills” was gone, replaced by the noncommittal “better future.”

It was a welcome surprise to see Democrats taking on corporate monopolies and the rapaciousness of Big Pharma as they rolled out the “Better Deal” platform.

Those fights can energize voters if they’re properly framed and presented – as in,“these corporations are so big they think they can do what they want, but we’re gonna stop ‘em” – especially if they’re complemented by strong stands on labor, trade, Medicare and Social Security expansion, and other populist issues.

But it was disappointing to see both Sen. Schumer and Leader Pelosi echo Kaine’s unsupportable claims for worker retraining in their respective op-eds. Schumer wrote that “millions of unemployed or underemployed people particularly those without a college degree, could be brought back into the labor force or retrained to secure full-time, higher-paying work.”

The only concrete proposal he offers, however, is a training tax credit for businesses that’s unlikely to make a dent in unemployment. It won’t reduce inequality, either. As economist Lawrence Mishel wrote in 2011: “… workers face a wage deficit, not a skills deficit.”

The Ideology of Competition

For her part, Leader Pelosi promises a “fresh vision” from the Democratic leadership before saying, “It is time to ignite a new era of investment in America’s workers, empowering all Americans with the skills they need to compete in the modern economy.”

Compete? Democrats need to reject the idea that workers should “compete” with each other for jobs. That ideologically charged concept gained momentum in the 1990s, as the party’s institutional fundraising shifted its emphasis from unions to corporate donors.

Today we see the logical end-point of that ideology in the “Uberization” of American labor, as increasing numbers of workers are forced to scrabble like crabs in a barrel for low-paying piece work – or worse, as with Uber, are pressured to go into debt for car loans they must assume in order to “compete”

It’s no coincidence that high-ranking Democratic operatives have been associated with both Uber and its major competitor, Lyft.

The ideology of competition owes a great deal to “new economy” popularizers like Thomas Friedman and economists like Tyler Cowen, both of whom proclaim that “average is over.” It’s a cold-blooded ideology.

In his book of the same name, Cowen argues that we will be led by an elite he calls the “hyper-meritocracy” (he seems to use “merit” and “income” interchangeably), while a majority of people miss out on the benefits of the new economy.

Gone are the days when popular culture celebrated the “average Joe” or “average Jane.” In the world of worker-on-worker competition, only those who are exceptionally talented at making money will get ahead. Forget the folks who work for a living, love their kids, and serve their communities.

This ideology demands that we make heroes out of the billionaires who earned their wealth from the Internet, a government-created technology. The merely “average,” those heroes and heroines of mid-twentieth century films and TV, are left to fight over scraps from the “hyper-meritocracy’s” table.

The Language of Community

To be fair, there’s every likelihood that Nancy Pelosi was using the political language of her party without considering its origins or rhetorical baggage. She may not have intended to embrace that language’s ideological overtones. But language shapes thought, and it must be changed when it bends thought in the wrong direction.

“Compete”? Candidates compete when they’re applying for jobs, of course. But once they’re hired the competition should end. The history of organized labor – once the bedrock of the Democratic Party – is founded on the realization that individual workers cannot compete with powerful corporations in the fight for economic justice.

It’s not a perfect history. But it’s no accident that the greatest period of shared prosperity in our nation’s modern history coincided with its highest percentage of unionized workers. Or that, conversely, inequality grew as union membership fell.

Instead of training workers to “compete” for non-existent jobs, Democrats should create those jobs – by investing in infrastructure, by renegotiating bad trade deals, and by making the government the employer of last resort. And they should do more: they should call us together, by working with outside activists to form a broad coalition for economic and social justice.

Americans are a highly individualistic people in many ways. But we are also a nation with strong communitarian values. Those values can be found in our admiration for those who make sacrifices in times of war. They can be found in our willingness to help one another when disaster strikes. They can be seen in Fourth of July parades, or in clothing drives at the local fire station.

There is a yearning in this country – a yearning to belong to something greater than one’s self. Rather than asking workers to “compete” with each other, the new leaders of the American left should ask them to collaborate – in labor negotiations, in new forms of public service, in acts of selfless devotion to one another and the nation as a whole.

The Democrats should fill out the hazy language of the “better deal” with concrete proposals to improve people’s lives. Repeating the phrase like a mantra will hurt, not help, unless there is substance behind it. Voters have been burned by vague promises before. They’ll need clear commitments this time around.

But Democrats should also be brave enough to call Americans together again – as working people, as a movement, and as a community. After all, nobody can really offer us a “better deal” unless they ask us to give our best in return.

~~  Richard Eskow ~~

Big Data Coming To Take Your Health Insurance

The Free Press WV

For all its absurdity, the debate over Obamacare has accomplished something positive: It has educated people who insurance is really about risk pooling – as in, you need healthy and sick people alike to participate if it’s going to be affordable for the sick.

Some believe that universal government health coverage is the only way to guarantee such risk-sharing. They will be all the more right in the age of big data.

Even if one understands the importance of risk pooling, it’s not easy to transform into policy. As Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw notes, there are a lot of obstacles: Sick people are much more likely to seek insurance, and have better information about their health than insurers do; coverage encourages people to use more health care, and makes containing costs harder.

Yet one of the potentially biggest problems is also among the least recognized: The use of big data to separate the healthy from the sick. Algorithms and artificial intelligence are very good at identifying patterns of behavior that predict certain outcomes. This, in turn, can be used to sort people by the expected cost of their health care.

All kinds of incidentally collected data – shopping history, public records, demographic data – can be repurposed for assessing people’s health. For example, LexisNexis offers a product called a “Socioeconomic Health Score” that seeks to predict costs using such information as education, criminal records and personal finances.

Meanwhile, corporate wellness programs and all kinds of startups – backed by a steady stream of venture-capital money – are working to collect more information on doctor-patient interactions as well as ongoing surveillance of patients themselves. Some estimate that healthcare data is growing by 48 percent a year. The more you have, the better your predictive analytics work.

One promise is that artificial intelligence systems, with access to more data than any one doctor can possibly handle, will be able to offer the most appropriate advice or test to a patient with given symptoms or health status. As a bonus, doctors will be able to see many more patients, because their time with each patient will be spent more efficiently.

Just imagine, though, what insurance companies will do with the ability to better predict people’s health care costs. If the law allows, they will increase prices for the riskiest customers to the point where they can’t afford it and drop out, leaving lots of relatively healthy people paying more than they’re expected to cost. This is fine from the perspective of the insurer, but it defeats the risk-pooling purpose of insurance. And in a world of increasingly good predictive tools, it will get progressively worse.

In the context of a free market, the big data healthcare conundrum is this: The better we get at predicting and treating, say, diabetes, the better private insurance companies will get at charging people for their future diabetes care. The asymptotic limit is a subpopulation of poor, sick people who cannot afford insurance and live off Medicaid, and a bunch of healthy people who are well covered but don’t need insurance. As Republicans have learned in recent weeks, high-risk pools are incredibly expensive.

Obamacare took a step toward addressing the conundrum when it forbade insurance companies to charge more for pre-existing conditions. But that’s not enough, because it doesn’t deal with the oncoming tide of “expected health conditions.“

So what to do? One approach would be to handcuff insurance companies in their use of big data technologies, preventing them from using predictive algorithms to assess risks – or even from collecting the data in the first place. If you think that’s utterly inconceivable, I agree.

The other option is universal health insurance, meaning that everyone would be covered by something akin to Medicare. It wouldn’t solve all the problems that Mankiw mentions—particularly the question of which expensive treatments to allow – but it would at least maintain the kind of risk-sharing that insurance was meant to achieve.

Cathy O’Neil is a mathematician who has worked as a professor, hedge-fund analyst and data scientist.

Trump Rally in Huntington, WV Will Lead to Road Closures Thursday Afternoon

The Free Press WV

Several roads and areas will be closed off Thursday, August 03, 2017, as Huntington prepares for the arrival of Donald Trump for a campaign rally at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena.

Roads in the immediate vicinity of the arena will close at Noon Thursday.

There will be additional intermittent road closures during Trump’s visit.

Motorists who need to get to Ohio on Thursday afternoon are strongly encouraged to use the 31st Street Bridge or 17th Street West Bridge rather than the bridge downtown.

Doors to the arena will open at 4 p.m., with the rally starting at 7 p.m.

Attendees are asked to arrive as early as possible to avoid traffic congestion.

Tickets, which are free but required, are available for those who want to attend the rally.

To register, visit

The municipal parking garage at the southwest corner of 8th Street and 3rd Avenue and the two Pullman Square parking garages will be open and available for event parking. However, people will be prohibited from using the parking garages as observation points.

The municipal parking garage will be accessible from 7th and 8th streets.

The Pullman Square parking garage closest to the Big Sandy Superstore Arena will only be accessible from 9th Street via Veterans Memorial Boulevard until 4 p.m. Vehicles will not be able to enter or exit this parking garage from 4 p.m. until after the event. The Pullman Square parking garage farthest from the arena will be accessible from 10th Street or 9th Street via Veterans Memorial Boulevard until 4 p.m.

Harris Riverfront Park will not be available for event parking.

Third Avenue between 9th and 10th streets also will be closed to vehicular traffic beginning at noon Thursday to accommodate protest groups. This area is one block from the arena. Although this area has been designated for protesters, the city will not prohibit the expression of one’s First Amendment rights in any area where the general public is allowed.

A coalition of 13 citizen action groups say they have joined together to protest Trump’s policies. This group worked with the city of Huntington and the Huntington Police Department to secure the area between 9th and 10th streets.

Coalition sponsors include Women’s March West Virginia: Huntington Huddle, For Ohio’s Future, March for Science Huntington, Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, Rise Up WV, Service Employees International Union District 1199, Summers County Huddle, Tri State Indivisible, West Virginia Citizen Action Group, West Virginia Indivisible, West Virginia Progressive Alliance and Wood County Indivisible.

Groups in the coalition represent varied interests, but collectively are opposed to policies that potentially harm residents in West Virginia and the Tri-State region, including repeal of the Affordable Care Act, denial of and inaction on climate change, a lack of inclusion and respect of women and an unfulfilled jobs promise that relies on a shrinking coal industry rather than development of a diverse economic base, according to a press release.

Speakers representing groups participating in the “Stand up for American Rights” protest will begin Facebook Live commentary at 4:30 p.m. at the southeast corner of 3rd Avenue and 9th Street.

The Pullman Square summer concert series scheduled for Thursday has been pushed back to Friday, August 04, 2017.

Manchin, Capito Can Lead Bipartisan Fix to Obamacare

The Free Press WV

The repeal of Obamacare is dead.  The official time of death was 1:29 a.m. last Friday when U.S. Senator John McCain gave the thumbs down and cast the third Republican “no” vote against the so-called “skinny” repeal of the Affordable Care Act.  The bill failed 49-51.

“Repeal-and-replace” had finally reached the end.  The cause of death could be attributed to a series of failures, but in reality the Republicans never took very good care of their prized patient.

They leaned on it for seven years as an example of their opposition to Barack Obama and a symbol of excessive government, but they never nurtured a replacement. The idea that Republicans could do better finally collapsed in a heap last week.  Even some in the GOP were relieved the “do-not-resuscitate” directive was in place.

McCain’s dramatic “no” vote was followed by audible gasps in the Senate chamber.  Minority Leader Charles Shumer wisely shushed his caucus to avoid the impression Democrats were celebrating the Arizona Senator’s controversial vote that doomed repeal and replace.

Schumer then made an emotional appeal to follow the lead set by McCain earlier in the week when he called for a bipartisan fix to Obamacare. Schumer said if the Senate could return to the regular order of business, “the way it had always worked, with both sides to blame for deterioration, we will do a better job for our country.”

Just a few hours later, West Virginia’s two U.S. Senators, Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Shelley Moore Capito, were on the same commercial flight from Washington back to West Virginia.  They talked at length about what could come next and how the troubled healthcare law could be repaired.

Manchin and Capito are in a unique position to help rekindle a modicum of bipartisanship on healthcare.  Both are moderates. They come from a state where the person for whom the Affordable Care Act is named is wildly unpopular, but a state where over 170,000 now have insurance because of expanded Medicaid.

The two have been told over and over by constituents and providers about the most pressing problems—premiums and out-of-pocket costs for people in the individual markets and exchanges are too high, expanded Medicaid with its low reimbursement rate is putting a financial strain on hospitals, prescription drugs are too expensive, to name a few.

These and other problems, however, are the basis for a starting point for meaningful discussions between Republicans and Democrats. Those talks need to start quickly because insurance companies will soon be setting their rates for next year and, without adjustment, even more people will be priced out of the market.

Capito is clearly moving away from her long-standing repeal-and-replace position. “That’s not an option right now,” she said on Talkline Friday.  “So we need to move forward and replace as much as we can and make it work for everybody.”

Manchin agrees that it’s time to find common ground.  “We could lose 20 Democrats and we could lose 20 Republicans and you know something?  That wouldn’t be all bad,” Manchin told me Friday.

Compromise in politics has gotten a bad reputation, but the deep flaws in Obamacare and the inability of the GOP to craft a replacement means bargaining and concessions are essential for progress. Manchin and Capito can be leaders on that front.

Trump’s Scout Speech Was Self-Defeating

The Free Press WV

If you watched all of President Trump’s speech to the Boy Scout Jamboree Monday you would have heard a number of inspiring comments and sound advice.

“As much as you can, do something that you love; work hard and never, ever give up and you are going to be tremendously successful,” Trump told the more than 35,000 Scouts, leaders and volunteers at the Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve.

Trump has credibility on that message because when he launched his candidacy June 16, 2015 few believed he had a chance. That “never-give-up” attitude will carry you a long way in the pursuit of your goals.

The President also praised the Scouts for their commitment and service, citing the 15-million hours of volunteer work by the Scouts last year and the 100,000 hours of community work during the Jamboree.

“Your values are the same values that have always kept America strong, proud and free,” he told the cheering Scouts.

The young men surely already understand the value of their Scouting, but it’s reassuring to hear reinforcement from the President of the United States.  So why then did the President feel compelled to drift off into politics and unsuitable comments considering the venue?

At times, Trump sounded like he was back on the campaign trail, talking about fake news, Hillary Clinton and President Obama.

“Just a question: did President Obama ever come to a Jamboree?” Trump asked, eliciting boos from the crowd.  “And we’ll be back. We’ll be back. The answer is no, but we’ll be back.”  It’s true that Obama never appeared at a Jamboree in person, but he did deliver a video message to the 2010 gathering.

Trump lapsed into a rehash of his win on election night.  “Do we remember our day? Wasn’t that a beautiful day? What a day.”   He then recounted his surprise win over Clinton in Michigan. “My opponent didn’t work hard there,” he said, eliciting more boos from the Scouts.

The President also called out U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito from the podium on the healthcare vote. “You better get Senator Capito to vote for it,” he said.

These and other political statements by Trump broke a long-standing tradition.  The Scouts released a statement that their policy does indeed specify that Scouts in uniform should not appear in places where people “could construe their presence as an endorsement or symbol of support.”

Trump loyalists say he was elected because he is different… not a typical politician, they say. Yet he cannot seem to resist one of the worst characteristics of a hackneyed politician and that is the tendency to self-aggrandize.

Mondays’ off-script riffs were inappropriate considering the audience and they unfortunately overshadowed what was otherwise an inspirational message.

Under Federal Sanctions, West Virginia Colleges Need $245M

The Free Press WV

West Virginia’s public colleges need $245 million in the next month after U.S. education officials put sanctions on them for Title IV programs for federal student grants and loans, according to state higher education officials.

Records obtained by The Charleston Gazette-Mail additionally show state officials knew for months that if they were late submitting an audit of incoming federal money for a third-straight year, West Virginia’s colleges and universities would face sanctions.

State Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Paul Hill said officials may loan from the treasury and return it later. He said larger schools have enough cash to avoid significant problems. West Virginia University and Marshall University officials said they’re still figuring out what to do, since they had just learned of the sanctions.

Higher Education Policy Commission spokeswoman Jessica Kennedy said the U.S. Department of Education usually gives schools the money so they can distribute it to students. Under sanctions, schools pay up front and request federal reimbursement.

The sanctions will last five years. They affect pots of money that include the Pell grant and federally subsidized student loans. U.S. education officials have usually reimbursed institutions in about two weeks when colleges have been under similar sanctions, Hill said.

Gov. Jim Justice has promised to find out who is responsible for the error. Then, “heads will roll,” he said.

West Virginia’s five-member congressional delegation also sent a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Friday, asking her to reconsider the sanctions.

“The people who will be harmed most by these sanctions are the low income students who rely on federal financial assistance to attend colleges,” the letter states.

Hill said he wasn’t worried that this year’s audit would be late again, but then the Consolidated Public Retirement Board didn’t finish putting together retirement liability information until just before Christmas.

Documents show Hill learned in early March the state would be late in sending in its audit information, which was due March 31.

Trump Is No FDR: Public Electricity Proves it

The Free Press WV

Trump is no FDR, no matter what he claims. To see why, we need look no further than his efforts to dismantle one of FDR’s greatest achievements: public investment in electric power.

I live in the Pacific Northwest, where the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) sells electricity from 31 federally owned hydroelectric dams along the Columbia River Basin. This publicly-owned utility also operates three-quarters of the Northwest’s high-voltage transmission lines.

Thanks to the BPA, electric rates for Northwest families and entrepreneurs are more affordable than in many other parts of the country. And like many of the New Deal’s public-sector programs –  which successfully lifted this country out of the Great Depression, and still meet the needs of millions of Americans – the BPA is now under attack by the Trump administration.

The Trump budget specifically singles out the BPA for sale and privatization, reasoning that “Ownership of transmission assets is best carried out by the private sector where there are appropriate market and regulatory incentives.”

Selling off the BPA, the budget says, “would encourage a more efficient allocation of economic resources and mitigate risk to taxpayers.”

The New Deal’s Legacy

The BPA owes its existence to Roosevelt’s commitment to federal investment in publicly owned electric infrastructure, one of the New Deal’s most popular programs. This program contained two key elements that directly improve the lives of rural communities:

Rural Electrification

The Rural Electrification Act created a system of low-cost loans that allowed farmers and rural communities to develop member-owned rural electric cooperatives that would build transmission infrastructure. This was necessary because private energy companies were failing to meet the needs of the more geographically dispersed rural populations.

Generating Additional Supply with Publicly Owned Hydropower

In order to generate additional electricity supply, as well as for “development” of water resources, the Roosevelt Administration facilitated building a network of hydro-driven turbines and dams on many rivers. The dams and generating capacity were also tied to a series of publicly-owned electric delivery lines. This system of electricity production and distribution, known as the Power Marketing Administrations, remains in operation today generating approximately 7 percent of U. S. energy supplies.

Keeping the Power On

With respect to the BPA, a bipartisan coalition of Senators is speaking out against the proposed selloff of the publicly owned Power Marketing Administrations. My Representative in the House, Derek Kilmer (D-WA), also understands that privatizing the BPA is a bad idea, as he wrote in an email to constituents.

For decades, the Bonneville Power Administration has provided affordable and reliable power to over 12 million people and businesses. As a guy who worked professionally in economic development, I’ve seen firsthand what that’s meant to the effort to grow jobs in our region. Dismantling the BPA as the Trump administration has proposed would hike up electric bills for homeowners and local employers, and would hurt jobs in the Northwest. That’s why Democrats and Republicans have said that we intend to work for a smarter budget that isn’t built on the backs of local ratepayers.

Trump’s proposed sell off of the BPA contains some very specific, and odd, numbers. Ted Sickinger, of the Oregonian, reports that the Trump budget undervalues the BPA assets compared with industry experts by a huge number: a sale price of $4.9 billion compared with a value of $15.2 billion on the BPA balance sheet.

Energy economist Robert McCullough of Portland told Sickinger the BPA valuation in the Trump budget is “an unheard of low price” and asked the question:

“Why would they discount it below minimum market price out of the chute?” he asked. “Has the negotiation already happened? If it was any other president I wouldn’t fall into this conspiracy, but given what we’ve seen in the first 100 days, I’m far less trusting in common sense than I was when I started.”

Trump’s Budget

In looking for answers to these valid questions, it’s instructive to dig into the details of the budget proposals to understand where the President and his team are headed. it’s also important to remember that President Trump outsourced his budget to right-wing “experts” that stand behind the principles of privatizing public resources to further bolster the super-rich.

The Republican-allied Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation have long called for privatizing the BPA and other public resources. The Republican Study Committee also lists BPA privatization as one of its key proposals. Given these advisors, selling off the BPA for a fraction of its value is a predictable outcome.

It’s not that the BPA and other public energy developments are perfect. Damming rivers is an environmental mess with serious impacts to fish and riparian ecology. Siting and accessibility of resources has been an historical challenge. The BPA has had an often-contentious relationship with our region’s Native American tribes. Still, despite these challenges, the BPA and other public sector infrastructure projects have successfully met the needs of many Americans.

Learning from Our Grandparents

I grew up in an agricultural family in West Missouri in the 1980s. We farmed and worked in a small-town butcher shop that my grandparents owned. My grandparents had direct interactions with “the government,” as we described it, who operated daily meat inspections. While normally not a problem, the sometimes inconsistent and arbitrary manner in which the regulations were applied was a consistent thorn in my Grandpa’s side.

As this was the 1980s, Grandpa and his sons were solid Reagan Republicans, in the small-business mode.

That said, nearly all of the members of my grandparents’ generation spoke with deep reverence about the Democrats of old. West Missouri is Harry Truman country, after all, and the memory of the New Deal and President Roosevelt’s track record for supporting rural communities was still alive and well.

As we move forward with developing the next generation of energy assets, hopefully from wind and solar production feeding an updated energy transmission system, we’ll learn from our grandparents.

We’ll embrace public infrastructure so that affordable, clean energy becomes a reality. And we’ll reject the Trump administration’s pro-privatization agenda that sells off public resources for a pittance.

~~  Bryce Oates ~~

WV Pastor Plans Hunger Strike Against Health-Care Repeal

The West Virginia minister famous for telling a senator how the Affordable Care Act saved her daughter’s life now says she plans a hunger strike to oppose the ACA’s repeal.

Reverend Janice Hill of Parkersburg met with Senator Shelley Moore Capito to testify against the Senate health-care legislation last month. Video of their meeting drew nationwide attention after Hill credited Obamacare with saving her daughter’s life by making sure she got cancer treatment.

Hill now says if and when she knows the repeal bill is to be up for a vote, she’ll start a water-only fast.

The Free Press WV
A West Virginia minister says she’ll do anything she can
- including going on a hunger strike -
to get senators such as Shelley Moore Capito to vote against healthcare legislation.

“When I know it’s going to go for a vote, then I will make my stand,“ he says. “And this isn’t a stunt for me. These are people’s lives, including my daughters.“

The Senate vote has been delayed. Capito has not clearly said if she will vote for or against the bill. If she votes no, most observers expect the repeal to fail.

The Senate bill’s supporters argue the Affordable Care Act offered too much - that it created unsustainable, generous government health-care promises. But many of the act’s insurance rules have been very popular.

Hill says her daughter has a rare form of cancer that is very expensive to treat. She says before Obamacare, her daughter’s insurance company would likely have cut off her coverage because she hit an annual cost cap or because she had a pre-existing condition.

“So the fact that there wasn’t a cap and the fact that there’s not pre-existing conditions really and truly is what’s keeping her alive,“ she explains.

Hill says Capito should vote no, and negotiate with Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin who want to fix the parts of Obamacare that aren’t working and keep what is.

“Cross that stupid aisle - to be a leader, to be working with Sen. Manchin, and be one West Virginia,“ adds Hill.

Hill and other clergy were to deliver letters and petitions to Capito’s Charleston office Tuesday.

~~  Dan Heyman ~~

Mulvaney’s MAGAnomics Mix of Groundhog Day and Flat Out Lies

The Free Press WV

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney had a Wall Street Journal column highlighting the benefits of “MAGAnomics.” The piece can best be described as a combination of Groundhog Day and outright lies.

In terms of Groundhog Day, we have actually tried MAGAnomics twice before and it didn’t work. We had huge cuts in taxes and regulation under both President Reagan and George W. Bush. In neither case, was there any huge uptick in growth and investment. In fact, the Bush years were striking for the weak growth in the economy and especially the labor market. We saw what was at the time the longest period without net job growth since the Great Depression. And of course, his policy of giving finance free rein gave us the housing bubble and the Great Recession.

The story of the 1980s was somewhat better but hardly follows the MAGAnomics script. The economy did bounce back in 1983, following a steep recession in 1981–1982. That is generally what economies do following steep recessions that were not caused by collapsed asset bubbles. Furthermore, the bounceback was based on increased consumption, not investment as the MAGAnomics folks claim. In fact, investment in the late 1980s fell to extraordinarily low levels. It is also worth pointing out that following both tax cuts, the deficit exploded, just as conventional economics predicts.

By contrast, Clinton raised taxes in 1993 and the economy subsequently soared. It would be silly to attribute the strong growth of the 1990s to the Clinton tax increase; other factors like an IT driven productivity boom and the stock bubble were the key factors, but obviously, the tax increase did not prevent strong growth.

The outright lies part stem from the comparison to prior periods’ growth rates. Mulvaney notes that the 2.0 percent growth rate projected for the next decade is markedly lower than the 3.5 percent rate that we had seen for most of the post-World War II era.This comparison doesn’t make sense.

We are now seeing very slow labor force growth due to the retirement of the baby boom cohort and the fact that the secular rise in the female labor force participation rate is largely at an end. MAGAnomics can do nothing about either of these facts. Slower labor force growth translates into slower overall growth.

Mulvaney also complains about government benefits keeping people from working. The idea that large numbers of people aren’t working because of the generosity of welfare benefits shows a startling degree of ignorance. The United States has the least generous welfare state of any wealthy country, yet we also have among the lowest labor force participation rates. The idea that we will get any substantial boost to the labor force from gutting benefits further is absurd on its face.

Mulvaney apparently missed the fact that energy prices have plummeted in the last three years. Oil had been over $100 a barrel, today it is less than $50. While it is always possible that it could fall still further, any boost to the economy from further declines will be trivial compared to what we have seen already. It would be amazing if Mulvaney was ignorant of the recent path in energy prices.

In short, there is nothing here at all. Mulvaney has given us absolutely zero reason that Trump’s policies will lead to anything other than larger deficits, fewer people with health care, more dangerous workplaces, and a dirtier environment.

~~  Dean Baker ~~

Center for Economic and Policy Research

America Leaves Future Generations with Massive Debts, Obligations

The Free Press WV

The United States is heading down the path to becoming an insurance company with a really big army.

Let’s start with Medicaid.  The most recent report shows that federal and state spending on health care for lower income Americans rose nearly sixteen percent from 2014 to 2016, to $576 billion. Much of the rapid rise is attributable to the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare.

If nothing changes—and we don’t know yet what, if anything, Congress will do—Medicaid spending will approach $1 trillion by 2025.  Congressional Republicans are trying to curb the rise in Medicaid spending, but that’s politically difficult.

Nearly lost in the healthcare debate is a new release on the status of Social Security and Medicare programs. The annual report quantifies the worsening threat to the long-term fiscal soundness of both programs.

“Both Social Security and Medicare will experience cost growth substantially in excess of GDP growth through the mid-2030s due to rapid population aging caused by the large baby-boom generation entering retirement and lower birth rate generations entering employment,” the report said.

That’s the essential problem for all three of the programs; they are growing faster than the economy. If no changes are made, they will swamp the country in debt and generate an even larger drag on the economy.

The report says the combined retirement and disability programs under Social Security are okay for now, but by 2034 the trust funds will be depleted. At that point, benefits will need to be reduced or taxes will have to be raised.

(One additional note: Trust fund is a misnomer. The federal government has already spent that money and replaced it with special treasury bonds that amount to I.O.U.s from Uncle Sam.)

Investor’s Business Daily reports, “Waiting only makes the problem worse.  Putting off fixes would require a payroll tax hike of nearly 4 percentage points or across-the-board benefit cuts of 23 percent.”

Medicare is also in trouble.  The report says the hospital insurance trust fund portion of the program will be depleted in 2029. “At that time, dedicated revenues will be sufficient to pay 88 percent of HI costs.”

Our policy makers have willingly indebted future generations, and Americans have been complicit because we recoil against more taxes, benefit cuts and increases in retirement age—anything we fear will impact our quality of life.

Future generations will not look back fondly on us. They will wonder why, for all the talk from us about wanting a better life for our children and grandchildren, we spent their retirement and burdened them with debt that made it harder for them to achieve their dreams.

What the Gutting of Sears Tells Us About America

The Free Press WV

Sears is fading. Fast. The 124-year-old retailer — the place where all America once shopped — is tumbling into a shopping horror.

At some Sears stores, recent news accounts report, ceilings are collapsing, rats are racing, and toilets aren’t working “for weeks on end.” Job cutbacks and a decade of under-investment have left store shelves bare — and customers on their own.

“You could fire a cannon in any direction and not hit one salesperson,” Michael Looney, a former Sears employee in California, recently told Business Insider.

Lampert’s Way

Meanwhile, the hedge-fund billionaire who’s been running Sears the last dozen years is keeping up a brave front. Eddie Lampert is sticking to his story that Sears is wondrously transforming itself into a “member”-oriented retailer for the online age.

But business analysts have been ridiculing these claims ever since Lampert started making them. They see the Ayn Rand acolyte as an ideologue who’s left Sears “ravaged by infighting.” In 2014, one business media survey found that Lampert had more negative ratings from employees than any other major top exec in America.

By standard bottom-line yardsticks, Lampert’s reign at Sears has been one of the biggest disasters in modern business history. Between 2011 and 2016, the giant retailer’s revenues plummeted by almost half. The company lost $8.2 billion over that span. Over the last decade, meanwhile, Sears stock price has sunk from nearly $200 per share to under $10.

Lampert’s colossal failure at Sears, some observers believe, simply reflects a broader trend, the epochal economic shift from bricks-and-mortar to online retail. Few major enterprises built for success in one business epoch, the argument goes, have ever been able to prosper in another.

But Sears as an enterprise has, ironically, already pulled off an epochal transformation. That epochal shift came in the middle of the 20th century under Robert E. Wood, the West Point-trained, former Army general who led Sears from just before the Great Depression into the 1950s.

What Wood Would Do

Wood understood early on that the automobile had changed the retail landscape. Before the auto age, average Americans had shopped by mail-order catalog, a retail category Sears dominated. With cars a mass phenomenon, Wood realized, shoppers could now drive to shop. The future belonged to general merchandise department stores, and Sears, under Wood, would open up hundreds of them. By Wood’s 1954 retirement, Sears towered over American retail.

Why did Wood succeed where Lampert fails? Sheer genius on Wood’s part? Hardly. The more important factor: Wood understood a basic element of enterprise effectiveness. Successful enterprises share, he believed, both credit and rewards.

Wood didn’t prance about Sears as a self-styled savior. Nor did he tolerate pomposity from anyone else in Sears management. During Wood’s tenure, editors at the Sears employee newspaper regularly ran articles that irreverently teased top Sears execs.

Sears execs would also receive no special perks. Seniority at Sears, not corporate rank, determined benefits like vacation and sick days. General Wood also kept management salaries below their level at other retailers. Wood wanted Sears known as the “workingman’s friend.”

The Sears profit-sharing plan bolstered that reputation. The plan applied to Sears workers who stuck with the company more than a year. Those who worked 15 years would see the company put into the “Savings and Profit Sharing Pension Fund of Sears, Roebuck and Co.” a sum that equaled five times the employee contribution.

These dollars would be invested in various assets, mostly Sears stock, and the assets would pay dividends than went to profit-sharing participants. Veteran employees would routinely receive more from profit-sharing payouts than their wages. Janitors making $40 a week could waltz into retirement with $2,500 in savings.

During Wood’s tenure, current and retired Sears employees would end up holding a third of the company’s shares, the highest employee-share percentage anywhere in Corporate America.

What explains Wood’s readiness to share? Did he grow up in abject poverty? Did he come from a family of progressive political activists? None of the above.

Wood had a conventional, conservative business political outlook. By 1938, he had emerged as a strong critic of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. After World War II, he moved into America’s right-wing fringes.

Unions and Taxes Matter

So why did this right-winger share the wealth at Sears? He had little choice. Robert E. Wood operated in an America where two major institutions — the tax system and the labor market — were combining to make a sharing of sorts the national default.

The federal income tax throughout the mid-century Sears golden years subjected individual income over $200,000 to a tax rate that hovered around 90 percent. That left top executives like Wood with little incentive to feather their own nests. Why bother? They had little personally to gain from squeezing workers or cooking corporate books.

Trade unions, meanwhile, dominated the labor market. In major metro areas outside the South, most private-sector workers carried union cards. But not at Sears. Unions in the mid-century United States represented less than 8 percent of the Sears domestic workforce.

Wood liked things that way. He kept unions away, notes historian James Worthy, by having Sears match the gains unions at other companies were bargaining to win. Sears offered life and health insurance, sick pay, vacations, and separation allowances “long before they became common practice in American industry.”

Sears would be an outlier in the nonunion private sector. Few nonunion concerns worked as hard as Sears to provide economic security to their employees. But most all major nonunion companies — outside the South — made some effort to ratchet up worker pay and benefits. With unions representing such a significant share of the workforce, nonunion concerns had to try to approximate union-level wages and fringes or go without workers.

The result? The bottom 90 percent of American families would see their incomes soar in the post-war years, from a $10,513 average — in current dollars — in 1940 to $20,036 in 1950 to $26,665 in 1960.

Fast Forward

Sears chief Eddie Lampert, by contrast, is operating today in an entirely different economic environment. In huge swatches of the private sector, unions have no presence at all. Lampert has been able to shortchange workers left and right and not worry about any consequences.

And the tax system? The top federal tax rate on income has, over the past three decades, bounced around between 28 and 39.6 percent, less than half the top rate that Wood faced.

In other words, power suits like Lampert can keep, after taxes, the vast bulk of whatever income they can grab. That gives them a powerful incentive to grab, by any means necessary, as much as they can. Lampert has been free, in effect, to run Sears into the ground — and enrich himself in the process.

The most arrogant instance of this enriching? Two years ago, with Sears already on the ropes, Lampert and the hedge fund he also runs created a real-estate investment trust, then engineered a deal that had Sears sell to the trust over 200 of its best brick-and-mortar stores.

Lampert’s real-estate trust then rented space in the stores back to Sears, retaining the right to rent to other retailers as well. The deal guaranteed Lampert’s trust $135 million in rent money the first year and 2 percent annual hikes starting in the second.

Sears does get to cut the lease short on stores that prove “unprofitable,” but only if the Lampert-run retailer pays the Lampert-run trust an extra year’s rent and a year’s worth of operating expenses.

This maneuvering understandably outraged a good many Sears shareholders. They subsequently filed a lawsuit charging that Lampert was stripping Sears of its most valuable assets for his own personal gain.

The Lampert-friendly Sears board of directors vigorously denied that charge, then, this past February, agreed to pay out $40 million to settle the shareholder lawsuit.

Various other shifty moves have left Lampert well-positioned to survive any Sears bankruptcy and continue his lush luxury life. Should Sears go under, Lampert figures to be able to spend more time at his $40-million waterfront getaway on South Florida’s ultra-exclusive Indian Creek Island, a 32-home enclave that has its own mayor and full-time police force.

The Trump Connection

Eddie Lampert, living large at the expense of hard-working men and women of modest means, may just personify almost everything wrong with the modern American economy. He seems like just the kind of “swamp” creature Donald Trump once railed against.

But Eddie Lampert isn’t worrying about anybody draining his particular chunk of swampland, and he has some excellent reasons to feel confident.

Here’s one: Trump Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin didn’t just room with Lampert at Yale and didn’t just get his wheeling and dealing start in life, like Lampert, as a mover and shaker at Goldman Sachs. Mnuchin, before stepping down this past December to join the Trump cabinet, had spent the last 12 years sitting on the Sears board of directors.

~~  Sam Pizzigati ~~

Justice Calls Bullsnot on Politicians for Spending Money on Private Capitol Bathrooms

Governor says state Senate spending on new bathrooms should go to drug treatment

The Free Press WV

Governor Jim Justice is shining a spotlight on the state Senate’s request to spend taxpayer money to upgrade their private bathroom facilities.

Justice says the Senate should use the allocated bathroom money to fund drug treatment centers.

“Based on how poorly the Legislature did this past year, the taxpayers shouldn’t pay them for a new outhouse— much less a new luxury bathroom,” said Governor Justice. “We’ve got schools with bathrooms that don’t work and these politicians want the taxpayers to pay for gold-plated toilets? You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Justice added, “Since the Legislature passed a budget that hurt West Virginia families, there is no way they should reward themselves with new amenities in the Capitol, like a special politicians’ bathroom. When they cut the legs out from underneath our people, they should not be rewarded with a spending spree.”

Justice concluded, “I’m new to the political process, but is this what they mean by ‘live within your means’? If the facilities are so bad for our lawmakers, I’m happy to get them an outhouse delivered to the Capitol grounds.”

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