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The War on Coal Is Over… Sort of

The Free Press WV

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has announced that his agency is beginning the formal process to repeal the Clean Power Plan.  “The war on coal is over,” Pruitt said Monday during a visit to Hazard, Kentucky, to announce the policy change.

Well, not exactly.  It won’t be as easy as it sounds for the agency to abandon the Obama Administration’s plan for putting coal out of business as a way of mitigating climate change.

According to the New York Times, “In order to repeal regulations, federal agencies have to follow the same rule-making system (requiring periods of public notice and comment) used to create regulations, which can take about a year.”

Of course there will be a showdown with the greens who promise court challenges. “But neither the EPA nor President Donald Trump can repeal the Clean Power Plan by fiat, however, much as they might like to pretend they can,” writes Paul Rauber in the Sierra Club magazine.

That’s rich, since the anti-carbon crowd expressed no such outrage when the Obama Administration bypassed Congress and used executive powers to force the draconian rules on the coal industry.

The EPA’s legal rationale for CPP was suspect from the start.  The agency took an element of Section 111 of the Clean Air Act and twisted it to comport with its agenda of remaking the country’s energy portfolio. The stretch was so egregious that when challenged, the U.S. Supreme Court took the unusual step of blocking the rule until it could be adjudicated in a lower federal court.

The agency consistently played fast and loose with the supposed benefits.  As the Wall Street Journal points out, “social costs were compared against global climate benefits,” and even those were minute.  By the EPA’s own models, the CPP would have reduced global temperatures by less than 0.01 degrees Celsius by the year 2100.

Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy tried to sidestep the contention that the rule would make it impossible to build a coal-fired power plant in the future by arguing on behalf of viability of carbon capture technology. “We believe carbon sequestration is actually technically feasible,” she testified before Congress.

But technically feasible and commercially viable are distinctly different.  Mississippi Power Company’s Kemper County power plant was supposed to be the shining example of how the Clean Power Plan could work with carbon sequestration, but that has turned into a boondoggle. The operators have abandoned coal and turned to natural gas.

Natural gas and alternative fuels that are increasingly market-viable are the biggest competitors to coal.  For decades, coal provided cheap, reliable energy for a growing economy.  It still plays a critical role and will for years to come, although the marketplace is much more rigorous and coal will never been what it once was.

But at least now that the Trump Administration is righting the wrong of the previous administration, coal’s chief competitor will no longer be the federal government.

Health Consequences from Carbon Pollution Rollback

The Free Press WV

Doctors are warning that the Trump administration’s intent to roll back the Clean Power Plan will mean more respiratory illness, especially in vulnerable neighborhoods.

In a long expected move pushed by the coal industry, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has announced plans to end Obama-era rules limiting carbon pollution from power plants.

But according to federal projections, by 2030 the Clean Power Plan would prevent 90,000 asthma attacks and 3,600 premature deaths a year.

Dr. Elena Rios, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association, says poor and minority communities are being hit the hardest.

“The children’s data has definitely shown that, in those areas that have more carbon pollution, young people in our communities are really disabled, and our families are spending much more time and money and effort on asthma than ever before,“ she states.

Pruitt predicts ending the Clean Power Plan will be good for mining communities and will mean the so-called war on coal is over.

But Rios points out the real war is on poor children’s health, as coal-burning power plants most often put soot into the air in poor white and minority communities.

She says even if the nation ignores the issue of climate change and the extreme weather it causes, cutting power plant emissions would have total health benefits of $14 billion to $34 billion.

The EPA itself has estimated those health benefits at $54 billion annually.

“The government’s number one responsibility from a public health perspective is to help all people, and that’s why we think President Trump and his administration really should not go backwards in cutting back on environmental health standards,“ Rios stresses.

The Clean Power Plan calls for a one-third reduction in carbon pollution from 2005 levels by 2030, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration says the power sector is already almost there.

When the plan was proposed, Americans filed 8 million favorable comments with the EPA – the highest number ever in support of an EPA proposal.

The agency is now taking comments on the plan to reverse it.

~~  Dan Heyman ~~


10.13.2017
LivingHealthNewsWest VirginiaUnited StatesPolitics | Government | ElectionUSA

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Don’t believe all the Liberal propaganda being printed as facts….fake news from the left is an epidemic…if we cared so much about pollution and respiratory illnesses, we’d have outlawed cigarettes decades ago…don’t kill West Virginia’s economy over a few objectors.

By Truth??  on  10.13.2017

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The Agonizing But Necessary Gun Debate

The Free Press WV

The mass shooting in Las Vegas has rekindled the gun control debate, as happens every time a homicidal maniac targets innocents, but we never get very far with the discussion.

Fox News Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt said the extreme elements demagogue the issue before there’s an opportunity to have a rational conversation.  “So now we know the cycle: Gun control advocates and politicians who seek their support exploit the shock of the moment to rile existing supporters. Gun control opponents, in turn, exploit the gun-grabbing talk to keep their people anxious and angry.”

Stirewalt said the politicians who are supposed to be developing policy “wince their way through an awkward week or so and then, nothing happens… until next time.”

The polarization of the debate, while not conducive to compromise, is reflective of a country divided over gun control.  Pew Research reported in 2017 that “51 percent say it is more important to control gun ownership, while 47 percent say it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns.”

However, those positions do not have to be mutually exclusive, as the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made clear in his 2008 majority opinion in District of Columbia v Heller. The 2nd Amendment does mean an individual has a right to a gun, but Scalia also cautioned that it is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

That clearly left the door open for public policy makers to impose limitations without infringing on the Constitutional protection.  But what should those limitations be and, more importantly, will they be effective in reducing the threat of gun violence and mass killings?

Consider one small example that may be relevant to the Las Vegas shooting: Multiple reports say at a number of Stephen Paddock’s guns was modified with a “bump stock.” That’s a legal accessory that enables a semi-automatic gun to operate like an automatic weapon. That would explain how Paddock was able to fire off hundreds of rounds in a short period of time.

The bump stock-equipped rifle is not classified as an automatic weapon and subject to far more restrictive federal regulations because the trigger is pulled multiple times by way of the modification rather than just once like a machine gun.  However, the effect is the same.

Alex Yablon of The Trace, an independent newsletter that covers the gun issue, wrote in 2015, “Bump fire enthusiasts on YouTube often laugh when they begin shooting, as if to say, ‘Can you believe we’re getting away with this?’”

Yablon says add-ons such as the bump stock are part of the fast-growing “tactical segment” of the gun industry.  Many gun enthusiasts want more military-style weapons and the market is meeting that demand and developing after-market accessories

Is equipment that modifies an AR-15 so it can perform like a machine gun slipping through a loophole in the 1986 law (signed by President Reagan) that basically outlawed the manufacture of new machine guns or is it protected by the 2nd Amendment?

The gun debate is complicated on micro and macro levels, and these are not easy discussions, especially in the emotional aftermath of mass murder. But if not now, when?

~~  Hoppy Kercheval ~~

G-OpEd™: Chaos Theory and Leadership

The Free Press WV
The Free Press WV

A butterfly flaps its wings in New Mexico causing a hurricane in China – so goes “the butterfly effect.” It’s a dramatic example of chaos theory wherein our world goes nonlinear. Sometimes the results are good, sometimes the results are bad.

We are now in the midst of a national chaos moment, and where it stops one can only guess; but indications are, it won’t be good. Colin Kaepernick takes a knee in San Francisco causing a Hurricane Harvey in the National Football League (NFL).

The sad thing is, this one was preventable. The antidote: leadership.

During my Army career, I witnessed two of the most catastrophic butterfly effects the world has known. The first was in 1979 when 52 U.S. diplomats in Tehran were held hostage for 444 days. Then-President Jimmy Carter did not recognize the volatility of the situation, and spent months hand-wringing before authorizing an ill-fated rescue attempt. Ayatollah Khomeini sensed Carter’s paralysis, and exploited the President’s weakness to humiliate the greatest country and military force on the face of the earth. President Ronald Reagan, with a reputation for restoring American greatness, resolved the crisis within hours of taking office. Everyone knew the military option was on the table; Iran released the hostages on Inauguration Day, 1981.

But, the forces of Islamic fundamentalism had been unleashed on the world. Shi’ism had been underground for 1,500 years, surviving under the shadow of its much larger Sunni brother. When a few Shia students “flapped their wings” and stormed the embassy in Tehran, it first seemed but a minor diplomatic annoyance. The students admitted later they intended to hold the hostages for only a few days, but a breakdown in U.S. leadership across the globe led to an emboldened Shia spirit.

Khomeini used the hostage crisis to solidify his grip on Iran, and proclaimed it time for Shias to assume their rightful place at the helm of the Muslim world. Fascinatingly, the whole affair became known as the Islamic Revolution, not the Iranian Revolution. Not only did Ayatollah Khomeini take on the United States, he turned the Islamic world on its head. Within a year, Iraq and Iran were at war, Saudi Arabia faced an existential threat, and the Middle East became a boiling cauldron ready to explode. Today, the cauldron is still boiling and the hurricane is still blowing in the form of ISIS, Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda, Al Quds, and many other terrorist splinter groups. Had Carter acted decisively, we would have a completely different world today.

The second nonlinear catastrophic butterfly effect sprung out of the first. Osama bin Laden watched then-President Reagan – yes, the man elected to restore American greatness – pull out of Lebanon after 241 Marines were killed in Beirut. On October 23, 1983, Islamic Jihad, a front for Iranian Hezbollah, used two trucks loaded with explosives to attack the U.S. Marine and French military barracks housing Multi-National Peacekeeping Forces. Peacekeeping rules of engagement at the time prevented sentries from locking and loading rounds in their chambers, allowing the intruders to drive right past the guards.

But, like Carter before him, Reagan failed to respond in a timely manner; in fact, he cut and ran. While Reagan was hailed at the time for recognizing it was a mistake to enter Lebanon in the first place, the unintended consequence led an unknown son of a Saudi construction millionaire to ponder. Osama soon took up arms in Afghanistan against the Russians, and then witnessed another U.S. President, Bill Clinton, pull out of Somalia when a Blackhawk was shot down in Mogadishu.

Osama saw weakness in the lackluster response to the 1993 World Trade Center (WTC) bombing, and a similar failure to respond to the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000. When questioned about the motivation for taking down the WTC Towers on September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden stated his inspiration was the collapsed towers in Beirut…1983. He saw what Americans dying in bombed buildings on Palestinian soil could do, and he wondered what would happen if Americans felt that same pain at home. He saw a “paper tiger” across the sea. The wings fluttered in Beirut, and the WTC collapsed 18 years later in NYC.

The connection in all this to a flap over taking a knee in the NFL? Vision and leadership. Chaos theory from student antics in 1979 led to terrorists emboldened around the world, releasing an evil genie that now cannot be put back in its bottle. Had Carter taken quick, decisive action, the Islamic Revolution would have probably never occurred. Had Reagan not cut and run, Osama bin Laden may have never harbored a vision of collapsed buildings on U.S. soil. Failed U.S. leadership led to unintended consequences far beyond where linear thinking would take us.

Today, we are in the midst of our own storm. While the apparent stakes seem comparatively inconsequential – sports franchises’ profit margins or declining ratings – chaos theory tells us to expect the unexpected, especially given today’s deep political divide and tinderbox-like international relations.

Until now, sports fields have been places to exhibit talent, teamwork, and dedication. Athletics have mostly been places free from politics and other distractions, a relief valve for like-minded sports enthusiasts, irrespective of political, religious, economic or other affiliations. It is the role of leaders to keep them that way, or lose the base on which they thrive. America loves football, and the NFL has been the epitome of all sports. If there had been any doubt, the 1994 Major League Baseball strike (its own butterfly effect and chaos moment) solidified the NFL as America’s premier sport and league.

Vision is the ability to recognize potential, and leadership is charting a course to maximize that potential. For most of its existence, the NFL has had vision and leadership. The NFL’s very logo is a take on the American flag with a field of blue with white stars and red NFL letters on a white background. They built their brand on Americana: hard work, professionalism, heritage, and patriotism. Virtually nothing appeared to be more American than the NFL, complete with strong leadership that developed the League into a business juggernaut with the best players at the top level of the Nation’s favorite game. Kids and grown-ups alike have looked to the NFL for their heroes. Until now.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had his “Carter moment” back when Colin Kaepernick first took a knee before the election in 2016. The League has policies dictating what socks players can wear to what they should do during the National Anthem. Goodell should have directed owners to enforce League policies, and never let the anti-patriotism genie out of the bottle. Now, the NFL’s soft underpinning and disrespect to the very flag that symbolizes American values, freedoms, and opportunity has been revealed. The NFL will never be the same.

Knee-taking advocates claim, “This isn’t about disrespecting troops or the flag, it’s about social injustice.” Even if this were true of every protester, it is certainly not the message being received. Instead, the cumulative argument is one of feelings and emotions, two things with which logic and truth cannot contend. This is true on both sides. Those who have fought for the flag; whose family members’ coffins have been draped by the flag; who have risked life and limb to come from third-world countries to start a new life under the flag…collectively view our Star Spangled Banner as the greatest symbol of hope and freedom our world has ever seen. And while there is no definitive way to say whose feelings or emotions on what the flag represents are right and whose are wrong, I have a lifetime of experience around the globe that affirms our flag represents far more good than not. Disrespecting our flag at any time, regardless of intent, spits directly in the face of those who have sacrificed to uphold that goodness, our veterans in particular.

In fact, veterans are the common thread between the first two butterflies and the current tempest. The American soldier, disrespected by today’s NFL, is the one thing standing between the Islamic terrorists unleashed by ineffective leadership in 1979 and the American public. A recent internet post noted that today’s American soldiers are progeny from Valley Forge, Fort McHenry, Buena Vista, Gettysburg, San Juan Hill, Belleau Wood, the Bulge, Pork Chop Hill, Ia Drang Valley, The Fulda Gap, Falluja, and Helmand Province. Thomas Jefferson declared “all men are created equal,” but it was American soldiers who fought from 1775 to 1783 to establish a government based on that vision; it was American soldiers in 1814 who sacrificed their very lives to hold our Star-Spangled Banner aloft so it could be seen o’er the ramparts at Fort McHenry; and it was an African-American soldier who held “Old Glory” high in July 1863 at the battle of Fort Wagner, SC.

Sergeant William Carney, a black man born into slavery, earned our nation’s highest award for protecting our flag. After witnessing the Color Guard mortally wounded, Sgt. Carney retrieved the Colors before they hit the ground and held them aloft – reminiscent of what happened at Fort McHenry that inspired our National Anthem. Carney himself was struck twice by bullets, but he never let the Colors touch the ground. His heroics led him to become the first African-American to receive the Medal of Honor. Such gallantry is why American soldiers’ caskets are draped with the American flag, a tribute to the fallen and all those throughout history who have given the last full measure of devotion to our country.

The flag still represents the greatest hope for freedom the world has ever seen, and our diverse military is the strongest in the world, in large part due to that diversity. Sgt. Carney knew all the rights and privileges he was fighting for did not yet exist, but he saw enough promise in our experiment in democracy that the Star Spangled Banner represented, that he was willing to die to see it fly. Sgt. Carney’s sacrifice still stands today as a positive call to action to witness and fight for the good in our country.

G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Soldiers don’t fight because they hate what’s in front of them; they fight because they love what’s behind them.“ A mind-twisting double irony is at play: 1) soldiers are what give people the independence to take a knee in safety, the liberty to protest, and the freedom to speak their mind, while 2) the protesters doing so during the National Anthem, directing their ire at the Star Spangled Banner, are disrespectful to those soldiers regardless of the protesters’ intent. The very soldiers and the flag that represent the country that allows the NFL to flourish have become the target. It’s nonsensical.

The butterfly has flapped its wings. Commissioner Goodell, team owners, coaches, and players have failed to stand at the moment of decision. They lack vision, and the Good Book tells us that without vision, people perish. They have also failed at leadership. A warning to the NFL and our country: without leadership, declining ratings and revenues will be the least of our worries. The NFL’s unraveling and devaluation may portend a disintegration of our social contract, and a reversal of E Pluribus Unum (from many, one). Let’s pray American leadership regains its foothold, and this hurricane veers off coast.

Mac Warner is West Virginia’s Secretary of State. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy West Point and the WVU College of Law. He also earned a Masters Degree in International Law from the University of Virginia. Prior to being elected to public office, he retired as a Lt. Colonel with 23 years of service in the United States Army.

Manchin Letter Urges for Patient Access to Non-Opioid Painkillers

The Free Press WV

In response to a New York Times report, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., sent a letter to Anthem and UnitedHealth Group imploring them to make less addictive, alternative pain management drugs and physical therapy readily available and affordable immediately, while also increasing coverage of substance abuse treatment.

Manchin specifically urged them to reduce or eliminate the barriers that beneficiaries face to access non-opioid pain medications and physical therapy for pain management and to ensure that every beneficiary that needs substance use disorder treatment, including behavioral health counseling, is able to affordably access it.

Manchin’s letter to Dave Wichmann of UnitedHealth Group or Joseph Swedish of Anthem is as follows:

“Prescription opioid abuse has destroyed communities throughout the United States and has been particularly devastating to my state of West Virginia. As the senior Senator from West Virginia, I have seen firsthand the social and economic damage that it has caused and heard from countless families in my state who have lost loved ones. We lost 33,000 Americans to opioid overdoses in 2015 alone, and in 2016, we lost more than 700 West Virginians.

“That is why I was so disappointed to see the article ‘Amid Opioid Crisis, Insurers Restrict Pricey, Less Addictive Painkillers’ in the New York Times on September 17th. This article highlighted the fact that, despite the deadly epidemic, insurance companies were more likely to cover inexpensive, common opioid pain relievers than safer, though more expensive, alternatives. It also noted that while it is generally easy to get an opioid medication covered, patients are required to jump through hoops to receive alternative pain management treatment like physical therapy, and it is much easier for them to get an opioid than to access opioid addiction treatment.

“It is clear that the overprescribing of opioid medications is a primary cause of this crisis and that the lack of access to treatment is perpetuating it. It is time now for every person in the medical field to take responsibility and take action to reduce unnecessary opioid prescriptions. The practices detailed in the article are the exact opposite of what we need and will only serve to worsen the opioid epidemic, putting more people at risk of opioid addiction and overdose death.

“While you have taken steps to address this crisis, I urge you to immediately strengthen your policies by taking concrete actions to ensure that patients have access to non-opioid pain management alternatives and to the treatment that they need. Specifically, I ask you to reduce or eliminate the barriers that your beneficiaries face to access non-opioid pain medications and physical therapy for pain management. Just as importantly, I urge you to ensure that every beneficiary that you serve that needs substance use disorder treatment, including behavioral health counseling, is able to affordably access it.

“I ask that you provide me with details about your plan to take these steps to protect your beneficiaries, stop the opioid epidemic, and save lives.

“We have lost too many Americans to the opioid epidemic. I hope that your company will be a part of the solution.”


09.29.2017
NewsWest VirginiaUnited StatesPolitics | Government | ElectionState-WVUSA

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Nice letter and thought Senator Manchin.

Maybe now a letter to Milan corp, requesting Heather Bresch requesting a epi-pen price roll back?

By How About it Mr. Manchin?  on  09.29.2017

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Can Centrism Be a Movement? The Answer May Surprise You

The Free Press WV

Astronomers tell us the stars we see in the night sky died many millennia ago. Their light has spent eons crossing the emptiness of space. To us, they still seem to glitter and shine, but were extinguished long ago.

Last week, the Washington Post ran an op-ed about the political framework known as “centrism.” The name is derived from the from the fact that its ideology draws equally from leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties. The Post’s headline in the Washington Post last week asked the question, “Can centrism be a movement?”

The answer may surprise you.


Whose Centrism?

The kind of “centrism” described in the Post’s op-ed has been peddled to the American people for decades, by members of a political and media class – some undoubtedly well-intentioned, others less so – who believe that the center lies in their own midst.

They want decisions about the nation’s future to be made in quiet convocations of the powerful, far from the messy and contentious disturbances of the popular psyche that give rise to memes, demonstrations, and voter insurrections.

You know: democracy.

This brand of “centrism” brought us “responsible” plans to cut Social Security, a rhetorical fixation on deficit reduction, an unwillingness to prosecute crooked bankers or break up too-big-to-fail banks, and at the same time a drive to involve ourselves in military misadventures across the globe.

It’s a global phenomenon, taking in the liberal leaders of social democratic parties in Western Europe, as well as U.S. Democrats with last names like Clinton and Obama. It gave us Obama’s Deficit Commission fiasco, his misguided attempts at a grand bargain, and Congressional Democrats’ fixation on “pay-go” programs.

This kind of centrism has been rejected by the voters over and over again. Obama was forced to retreat from it, at least rhetorically, in order to win re-election. But it contributed to the Democrats’ loss of the Senate, the House, two-thirds of governorships, and some 900 state legislature seats.

This brand of centrism also played a major role in Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss. Even after attempting to adopt a more populist pose, Clinton could not resist return to her old ways.

“I get accused of being kind of moderate and center,” she said at an Ohio campaign event. “I plead guilty.”  Ohio, like many swing states, had already been decimated by job-killing, “centrist” trade deals. Clinton’s record, along with comments like these, made her vulnerable to her pitchman/opponent’s phony promises.

This brand of centrism gave us Trump.


The Light of Dead Suns

There have been many attempts to keep this vision of centrism alive, all funded by Wall Street tycoons and corporate CEOs. Still it shines, burning as bright as so many dead suns, fueled by the incineration of Wall Street money.

Not that I don’t understand its appeal, especially if you travel in certain circles. Political debate is messy and angry and frequently rude;. Members of Congress don’t beat each other senseless with canes as in days of old, but that could be making a comeback.

Wouldn’t it be better if we could get together and talk things through in a courteous manner?

Or, as a baffled John Pierpont Morgan once told progressive populist Teddy Roosevelt upon being hit with an antitrust suit: “If we have done anything wrong, send your man to my man and they can fix it up.”

“We don’t want to fix it up,” Roosevelt replied. “We want to stop it.”


No Labels?

The event described in the Washington Post was hoste by a group that calls itself “No Labels.” And what is “No Labels”? As we first reported in 2012, the group adopts an anti-insider pose, but was founded by longtime political operatives from the corporate-funded wings of both parties and seeks funding from big donors.

The only concrete idea mentioned in this most recent op-ed “combines tax reform with infrastructure,” and sounds very much like the corporate-backed “compromise” idea that’s been kicking around Washington for a while now. It would give corporations a major or complete break on the $600 billion in offshore taxes they’re currently withholding from the U.S. government in return for vague commitments and/or the creation of a bank to rebuild this country’s crumbling infrastructure through the well-worn “public/private partnership” route.


Voices From the Past

The gathering began with a dialogue between two of this well-funded operation’s leading lights: former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and ex-Sen. Joe Lieberman. Lieberman is an oleaginous and self-serving cynic, whose lurch to the right earned him the emnity of his own party and the contempt of suspicious Republicans, who refused to allow John McCain to pick him as his vice presidential running mate.

In someone else, the fact that both parties dislike you might reflect an admirable independent streak. But Lieberman’s endorsement of Donald Trump – which included some some pretty smarmy, sexist jokes – was more likely motivated by his current law firm’s close relationship with Trump and his own hopes for an administration position. Lieberman is driven by ambition and vanity.

Blair led his party to the right and befriended financial and other corporate interests, much as Bill Clinton had before him. Under both leaders, personality replaced policy as the party’s driving force, while each declared the policies of their predecessors – the New Deal and Great Society of Clinton’s party, and the postwar socialism of Blair’s – to be relics of a dead past.

As we have learned in 2016 and 2017, both were wrong.

In Great Britain, Blair’s longtime left nemesis Jeremy Corbyn surpassed him in popularity way back in May 2017, as Corbyn was beginning his meteoric rise. Blair’s mendacity over the Iraq War has left deep wounds. A 2016 poll showed that more than half of British voters agreed with this statement: “I can never forgive Tony Blair for what I think he did wrong.”

Meanwhile, in the United States, Bernie Sanders remains the most popular politician in the country. But  “centrism” marches on.


The Centrism Movement

About that question: Can centrism be a movement? The answer is yes. Only not this form of centrism. Voters have rejected it over and over. But real centrism, based on the needs and ideals of most voters, could very well become a movement.

60 percent of U.S. voters believe that the government should guarantee healthcare as a right for all people, and a growing number want a single-payer system. Polls have shown that voters want Social Security expanded, not cut. Most voters want to see taxes raised on the wealthy and corporations, and there is bipartisan support for breaking up the big banks.

Pundits have tended to label those kinds of proposals “left,” “extreme, and even “marginal.” A better word would be “centrist” – based on the center of public opinion, not that of people in Washington.

Voter-based centrism could become the movement of the future. But insider centrism, the kind that brings leaders of both parties together with their corporate funders, will always be the plaything of the elite. If the Democrats don’t turn their backs on it, their party will be as dead as the stars that shine in the autumn sky over Washington.

~~  Richard Eskow ~~

Trump and The NFL: A Second Take

The Free Press WV

The protests by NFL players in week one of the season were inconsequential. A rough count shows four players remained seated during the National Anthem, three raised a fist and one knelt.

The demonstrations had kind of settled in and the NFL, along with its legions of fans, seemed more interested in football than politics.  That all changed when President Trump called for the firing of kneeling “SOB” athletes for disrespecting the National Anthem and the flag.

That set off massive protests by NFL players and owners last weekend and the controversy has dominated the news cycle, social media and water cooler discussions.

Trump thrives on this kind of conflict. When things get dull Trump sharpens his stick and looks for an eye to poke.

Conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro writes in National Review that Trump’s provocations, the outraged responses and the media’s breathless coverage of the maelstrom are all part of the “culture-war political-entertainment complex.”

This complex “marries the power of those who gain from the culture war in political terms with those who gain from it in the ratings; both the politicians who engage in the cultural battles and the media who pump those battles for increased revenue have a stake in the continued fracturing of the republic.”

The rest of us are drawn into the fray. The debate is reduced to the lowest common denominator and we have to choose: To kneel or not to kneel? Be careful because your choice will determine how you will be brutalized by the other side.  Are you a flag-hating commie or a jingoistic Neanderthal?

Fox News Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt said politicians and political activists traffic in the culture wars because they know it is fertile ground.  “As normal Americans in increasing numbers try more desperately to escape a politics of brutal stupidity, the more aggressively the political world must assault those institutions,” Stirewalt writes. “You may not be interested in politics, but politics is surely interested in you.”

If true, that makes us bit players in this Greek tragedy of today’s political landscape.  You just know it’s not going to end well.  Instead of emerging from these politics-driven culture war controversies with better understanding and enlightenment, we are left angry and confused.

New York Times columnist David Brooks believes today’s culture conflicts rival the turbulence of 50 years ago.  “He (Trump) is so destructive because his enemies help him.  He ramps up the aggression. His enemies ramp it up more, to preserve their own dignity. But the ensuing cultural violence only serves Trump’s long-term destructive purpose. America is seeing nearly as much cultural conflict as it did in the late 1960s.”

Trump’s core supporters are reveling in the turbulence because they elected him to do just what he is doing, to give voice to Americans who saw their country slipping away from them.  He promised to drain the swamp and “make America great again.”

However, there is a difference between draining the swamp and charging the enemy with guns blazing. The latter is catching many Americans in the crossfire, and some of them just wanted to watch the football game.

Cassidy-Graham Would Cripple WV Opioid Treatment, Medicaid

The health care bill Senate Republicans are rushing to finish would cripple West Virginia opioid treatment and end Medicaid expansion, according to an analysis that also says the bill could end coverage of pre-exisiting conditions.

Sean O’Leary, senior policy analyst for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said the last-ditch attempt to get a GOP-only Obamacare repeal though the Senate would cut Medicaid funding so much that the state would have to roll back expansion. In addition, he said, while Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV, negotiated added funding for opioid treatment in previous Affordable Care Act repeal bills, there is none in this legislation.

“There is no extra money for opioids. There’s nothing,“ O’Leary said. “So it could really, really have a really devastating impact on the state’s battle against opioid addiction.“

The Free Press WV
Under the Cassidy-Graham plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, federal funding for Medicaid to the states would fall sharply, especially in 2027.


Supporters of what’s known as the Cassidy-Graham bill have said changing Medicaid funding to a block-grant system would give the states flexibility to do more with less. O’Leary said that would be impossible, given the low level of block-grant funding.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Cassidy-Graham would cut $2 billion out of West Virginia Medicaid funding over 10 years. O’Leary said a state such as West Virginia that already has budget problems couldn’t make up for block grants that would be hundreds of millions of dollars below current levels. Then, he said, even those grants would be eliminated - and with it, coverage for the 10 percent of the state’s population in Medicaid expansion.

“After 2026, that block grant just goes away and we’re on the hook for 100 percent,“ O’Leary said, “and it would essentially end, and that 180,000 people would just lose their health-care coverage.“

O’Leary said the legislation also would allow states to get rid of regulations on insurance companies that require policies to cover a set of essential services outlined in Obamacare. He said that could include the rule that says they couldn’t charge more for - or drop folks with - pre-existing conditions.

“And that’s a big deal. In West Virginia,“ he said. “There are about 392,000 people who have some type of pre-exisiting condition that would be declineable.“

The bill’s only hearing is set for Monday. Capito, a key vote, has not said if she will support or oppose it.

More information is online at wvpolicy.org.

We Can Stop the Politician’s Dash to Destroy Health Care

Republican leaders in the Senate are hurtling toward a repeal vote that will shred federal protections in the Affordable Care Act, kill the ACA’s subsidies and Medicaid expansion, and suffocate the fifty-year Medicaid program that benefits everyone from newborns to seniors in nursing homes.

That’s the bad news. The good news is we can stop them, if we act now.

This bill is even worse than Jimmy Kimmel is saying, which means there are plenty of reasons for us all to heed his call and tell our senators to vote NO! on Cassidy-Graham.

It’s the most heartless bid to repeal health care we’ve seen from the GOP so far. But it’s not a done deal; there’s still no guarantee they’ll get the fifty votes they need, if we make our voices heard in time.

Here are three more reasons to call your senators.


Cassidy-Graham Gives Insurance Companies a Green Light to Profiteer

The lifting of protections for people with pre-existing conditions you’ve heard about? That would happen through waivers – waivers lifting the ban on lifetime and annual caps, the ban on charging people more based on health status, and the requirement that insurers cover essential health benefits.

On top of that, states could ask for waivers of the ACA requirement that insurers spend a minimum amount of each premium dollar on health care, rather than profit and administrative costs, like executive pay.

More than $2.4 billion has been returned to customers in rebates since that rule came into effect in 2011. Without this requirement, insurance companies could skim more than 20 percent of each premium dollar for profit and overhead.

Don’t think these waivers – any of them – are hypothetical. This health care repeal will throw insurance markets into chaos.

Once that happens, insurance corporations will take their ball and go home, and they’ll use their power and lobbying dollars to demand concessions for coming back into the game. They’re already telling us this is what they plan to do. They’re betting that desperate state lawmakers, seeing they hold all the cards, will fold.

All this has happened before. Take the case of Washington state, where right-wing lawmakers rolled back key pieces of state health reform, the individual market imploded, and insurers demanded permission to reject people with pre-existing conditions before they’d re-enter the market.

The result? Segregation of the sickest into a high-risk pool that came with premiums of up to almost $2,000 a month before the ACA was passed. Many people were shut out when they needed health care the most.


Cassidy-Graham Excludes Immigrants

Our health care laws discriminate against people based on where they were born. If we believe health care is a human right, the distinction between documented and undocumented, or citizen and non-citizen, shouldn’t matter. Everyone should be able to get health care.

That said, it’s not just undocumented people who are excluded from health coverage programs like Medicaid. Many people with legal status – including many green-card holders, or permanent residents – were rendered ineligible for Medicaid by legislation passed in 1996.

The ACA did not fix that discrimination, and most of the restrictions on Medicaid eligibility since 1996 remain in place. However, the ACA’s subsidies for private coverage do not follow the same rules, and subsidies are available to people with legal status even in cases where they’d be shut out of Medicaid. Eliminating these subsidies would strip many immigrants of the only option they have for coverage.


Cassidy-Graham Is Payback for Billionaire Donors

Rich donors have been putting the screws on GOP electeds, demanding “progress” on their priorities of health care repeal and tax cuts. After all, that’s why they gave them money in the first place.

These senators and House members have promised for years to get rid of Obamacare. They are now being told they have to make good on their promise and clear the path for tax cuts to the rich – constituents be damned.

At this point, any GOP electeds who are still holding out or showing signs of having a moral compass are being subjected to incredible arm-twisting by party bosses.

This isn’t a fact about the legislation, but it does help explain why we’re here yet again, pleading for our lives. Let your senators know this kind of payback is absolutely unacceptable.


We Can Still Win

The GOP lawmakers who demand repeal, and the rich donors who back them, don’t seem to mind bulldozing our health care to make way for their tax cuts and market-based dystopia.

In fact, smashing everything to bits is one of their strategies for heading off a public system of health coverage that serves every person in our country.

“Break it now or it will be too late” seems to have become their top marketing pitch.

But it’s not too late. An unprecedented national solidarity has blossomed around the repeal proposal – in opposition to it.

That opposition includes medical and hospital groups. Patient organizations. Republican and Democratic governors. The health secretary for the home state of the bill’s top sponsor. Veterans. People who simply believe every person in our country deserves, and should get, health care. 

Over the next few days, we’re going to fight like hell to keep saving the lives of everyone in our communities. We even stand a chance of winning.

And, no matter the outcome in this round, we’ll keep the fight alive. We’ve seen how many people in our country believe in health care for all, and we know that time – and momentum – are on our side.

So, call, call, call – not just to your senators, but to your representatives in the House, too. (Here’s the number for the Capitol switchboard: (202) 224-3121. But call local offices, too!

Tell your friends to call. Drop in on your electeds’ local offices. Join a protest near you and let lawmakers know we won’t forget, won’t forgive, and above all else, will never give up.

~~  Julie Chinitz ~~

Betsy DeVos’s Back-To-School Message At Odds With What Parents Want

The Free Press WV

While the vast majority of American parents are addressing Back to School season by buying supplies, readying their children, and joining with other families in preparing for a hopefully successful new year, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is traveling cross-country in a bus to spread a very different message completely at odds with the hope, anticipation, and resolve parents and their communities feel about public education.

Just how far at odds DeVos’s views about public education are with the average American parent’s views became apparent in a new survey released during her bus tour.

DeVos, who says she fully supports “great public schools,” christened her bus tour with the theme “Rethinking Schools,” which somewhat assumes there’s something wrong with public schools to begin with. Her stated purpose for the tour is to promote “innovation” in our education system, which seems fine itself.

But in the first stop of the tour in Wyoming, DeVos’s strongest comments were aimed at the the negative message  she’s been spreading about public schools ever since she was nominated.

As education journalist Valerie Strauss reports on her at the Washington Post, DeVos’s remarks to an audience of  public school school children were anything but an upbeat message. Instead of raising their hopes for the year, she said “most students” are starting the new year at schools that are “a mundane malaise that dampens dreams, dims horizons, and denies futures.”

She contrasted an idealized version of the pioneering spirit that settled the West to the “education system” she rejects – “There’s no such thing,” she said – despite the historic role of public schools in settling the West.

In Colorado, DeVos visited a private school known for specializing in educating children with autism. As a state based media outlet reports, DeVos’s tour chose the school because of its “role in the landmark Supreme Court case” that led to raising the standard schools must meet to educate students with disabilities.

“During her comments,” the reporter writes, “DeVos did criticize ‘artificial barriers schools create to meet the needs of students.’ She did not identify those barriers.”

A barrier DeVos could have identified is the fact that the federal government has never lived up to its legal obligation to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. While Congress authorized the federal government to pay 40 percent of each state’s obligations to educate children with disabilities, current levels of federal spending are less than half that. And the budget President Trump and DeVos have proposed in no way addresses for this chronic shortfall.

Then in Nebraska, DeVos chose to visit more private schools – one supported by a local wealthy foundation, and the other a Catholic school – which seems to suggest her notion of rethinking schools is to reconceive them as private schools.

While DeVos’s bus tour paints a bleak and failing portrait of our nation’s public schools, a new survey reveals that parents’ attitudes toward public education are very different

As Education Week reports, the national poll, conducted by Hart Research Associates, finds, “Most parents like their public school and want to support teachers, whom they trust more than anyone else to make choices for education.” The survey was conducted for the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers’ union.

Contrasting to DeVos’s message about public schools as being “a mundane malaise,” 73 percent of parents responding to the poll “said their public school was ‘excellent or good,’ 20 percent said it was ‘adequate,’ and just 7 percent said their public school was ‘not so good or poor.‘”

In contrast to DeVos’s promoting more expansions of private schools and charter schools, the poll found, “Over 70 percent of parents said they would prefer a good quality neighborhood public school for their children over the ability to have more choice of what schools they can send their children to.”

In contrast to DeVos’s proposals to keep our schools inadequately funded, “most parents” responding to the survey “disapprove of reducing spending on traditional public schools and using the funds to increase spending on charter schools.”

Given the results of the survey, there’s little surprise members of Congress are not exactly rallying around the DeVos agenda for public education. Even Republicans on Capitol Hill are generally rejecting most of her budget cuts and her plans to send more public funding to private schools. Yet, at the same time, Congress seems to have no plans to enact the stronger support for neighborhood public schools parents prefer.

What’s not at all clear is where we go now from this place where we have a presidential administration horribly out of step with the people, a population which seems fairly unified on its priorities, and a Congress in a “mundane malaise” about  the conflicted agenda.

~~  Jeff Bryant ~~

Let’s Make America Free Again: 230 Years After the Constitution, We’re Walking a Dangerous Road

The Free Press WV

“I tell you, freedom and human rights in America are doomed. The U.S. government will lead the American people in — and the West in general — into an unbearable hell and a choking life.”—Osama bin Laden (October 2001)

Ironically, during the same week that we mark the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we find ourselves commemorating the 230th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution.

While there has been much to mourn about the loss of our freedoms in the years since 9/11, there has been very little to celebrate. Indeed, we have gone from being a nation that took great pride in serving as a model of a representative democracy to being a model of how to persuade a freedom-loving people to march in lockstep with a police state.

What began with the passage of the USA Patriot Act in the wake of the 9/11 attacks has snowballed into the eradication of every vital safeguard against government overreach, corruption and abuse.

Since then, we have been terrorized, traumatized, and tricked into a semi-permanent state of compliance. The bogeyman’s names and faces change over time, but the end result remains the same: our unquestioning acquiescence to anything the government wants to do in exchange for the phantom promise of safety and security.

All the while, the Constitution has been steadily chipped away at, undermined, eroded, whittled down, and generally discarded to such an extent that what we are left with today is but a shadow of the robust document adopted more than two centuries ago. Most of the damage, however, has been inflicted upon the Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the Constitution—which historically served as the bulwark from government abuse.

Set against a backdrop of government surveillance, militarized police, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, eminent domain, overcriminalization, armed surveillance drones, whole body scanners, stop and frisk searches, roving VIPR raids and the like—all sanctioned by Congress, the White House, the courts and the like—a recitation of the Bill of Rights would understandably sound more like a eulogy to freedoms lost than an affirmation of rights we truly possess.

We can pretend that the Constitution, which was written to hold the government accountable, is still our governing document. However, the reality we must come to terms with is that in the America we live in today, the government does whatever it wants, freedom be damned.

Here is what it means to live under the Constitution today.

The First Amendment is supposed to protect the freedom to speak your mind, assemble and protest nonviolently without being bridled by the government. It also protects the freedom of the media, as well as the right to worship and pray without interference. In other words, Americans should not be silenced by the government. To the founders, all of America was a free speech zone.

Despite the clear protections found in the First Amendment, the freedoms described therein are under constant assault. Increasingly, Americans are being arrested and charged with bogus “contempt of cop” charges such as “disrupting the peace” or “resisting arrest” for daring to film police officers engaged in harassment or abusive practices. Journalists are being prosecuted for reporting on whistleblowers. States are passing legislation to muzzle reporting on cruel and abusive corporate practices. Religious ministries are being fined for attempting to feed and house the homeless. Protesters are being tear-gassed, beaten, arrested and forced into “free speech zones.” And under the guise of “government speech,” the courts have reasoned that the government can discriminate freely against any First Amendment activity that takes place within a government forum.

The Second Amendment was intended to guarantee “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” Essentially, this amendment was intended to give the citizenry the means to resist tyrannical government. Yet while gun ownership has been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as an individual citizen right, Americans remain powerless to defend themselves against SWAT team raids and government agents armed to the teeth with military weapons better suited for the battlefield. As such, this amendment has been rendered null and void.

The Third Amendment reinforces the principle that civilian-elected officials are superior to the military by prohibiting the military from entering any citizen’s home without “the consent of the owner.” With the police increasingly training like the military, acting like the military, and posing as military forces—complete with military weapons, assault vehicles, etc.—it is clear that we now have what the founders feared most—a standing army on American soil.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits the government from conducting surveillance on you or touching you or invading you, unless they have some evidence that you’re up to something criminal. In other words, the Fourth Amendment ensures privacy and bodily integrity. Unfortunately, the Fourth Amendment has suffered the greatest damage in recent years and has been all but eviscerated by an unwarranted expansion of police powers that include strip searches and even anal and vaginal searches of citizens, surveillance and intrusions justified in the name of fighting terrorism, as well as the outsourcing of otherwise illegal activities to private contractors.

The Fifth Amendment and the Sixth Amendment work in tandem. These amendments supposedly ensure that you are innocent until proven guilty, and government authorities cannot deprive you of your life, your liberty or your property without the right to an attorney and a fair trial before a civilian judge. However, in the new suspect society in which we live, where surveillance is the norm, these fundamental principles have been upended. Certainly, if the government can arbitrarily freeze, seize or lay claim to your property (money, land or possessions) under government asset forfeiture schemes, you have no true rights.

The Seventh Amendment guarantees citizens the right to a jury trial. Yet when the populace has no idea of what’s in the Constitution—civic education has virtually disappeared from most school curriculums—that inevitably translates to an ignorant jury incapable of distinguishing justice and the law from their own preconceived notions and fears. However, as a growing number of citizens are coming to realize, the power of the jury to nullify the government’s actions—and thereby help balance the scales of justice—is not to be underestimated. Jury nullification reminds the government that “we the people” retain the power to ultimately determine what laws are just.

The Eighth Amendment is similar to the Sixth in that it is supposed to protect the rights of the accused and forbid the use of cruel and unusual punishment. However, the Supreme Court’s determination that what constitutes “cruel and unusual” should be dependent on the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society” leaves us with little protection in the face of a society lacking in morals altogether.

The Ninth Amendment provides that other rights not enumerated in the Constitution are nonetheless retained by the people. Popular sovereignty—the belief that the power to govern flows upward from the people rather than downward from the rulers—is clearly evident in this amendment. However, it has since been turned on its head by a centralized federal government that sees itself as supreme and which continues to pass more and more laws that restrict our freedoms under the pretext that it has an “important government interest” in doing so.

As for the Tenth Amendment’s reminder that the people and the states retain every authority that is not otherwise mentioned in the Constitution, that assurance of a system of government in which power is divided among local, state and national entities has long since been rendered moot by the centralized Washington, DC, power elite—the president, Congress and the courts. Indeed, the federal governmental bureaucracy has grown so large that it has made local and state legislatures relatively irrelevant. Through its many agencies and regulations, the federal government has stripped states of the right to regulate countless issues that were originally governed at the local level.

If there is any sense to be made from this recitation of freedoms lost, it is simply this: our individual freedoms have been eviscerated so that the government’s powers could be expanded.

Yet those who gave us the Constitution and the Bill of Rights believed that the government exists at the behest of its citizens. It is there to protect, defend and even enhance our freedoms, not violate them.

It was no idle happenstance that the Constitution opens with these three powerful words: “We the people.” As the Preamble proclaims:

We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this CONSTITUTION for the United States of America.

In other words, we have the power to make and break the government. We are the masters and they are the servants. We the American people—the citizenry—are the arbiters and ultimate guardians of America’s welfare, defense, liberty, laws and prosperity.

Still, it’s hard to be a good citizen if you don’t know anything about your rights or how the government is supposed to operate.

As the National Review rightly asks, “How can Americans possibly make intelligent and informed political choices if they don’t understand the fundamental structure of their government? American citizens have the right to self-government, but it seems that we increasingly lack the capacity for it.”

Americans are constitutionally illiterate.

Most citizens have little, if any, knowledge about their basic rights. And our educational system does a poor job of teaching the basic freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For instance, when Newsweek asked 1,000 adult U.S. citizens to take America’s official citizenship test, 44% were unable to define the Bill of Rights.

A survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that a little more than one-third of respondents (36 percent) could name all three branches of the U.S. government, while another one-third (35 percent) could not name a single one. Only a quarter of Americans (27 percent) know it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto. One in five Americans (21 percent) incorrectly thinks that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is sent back to Congress for reconsideration. And more than half of Americans do not know which party controls the House and Senate.

A 2006 survey by the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum found that only one out of a thousand adults could identify the five rights protected by the First Amendment. On the other hand, more than half (52%) of the respondents could name at least two of the characters in the animated Simpsons television family, and 20% could name all five. And although half could name none of the freedoms in the First Amendment, a majority (54%) could name at least one of the three judges on the TV program American Idol, 41% could name two and one-fourth could name all three.

It gets worse.

Many who responded to the survey had a strange conception of what was in the First Amendment. For example, 21% said the “right to own a pet” was listed someplace between “Congress shall make no law” and “redress of grievances.” Some 17% said that the First Amendment contained the “right to drive a car,” and 38% believed that “taking the Fifth” was part of the First Amendment.

Teachers and school administrators do not fare much better. A study conducted by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis found that one educator in five was unable to name any of the freedoms in the First Amendment.

In fact, while some educators want students to learn about freedom, they do not necessarily want them to exercise their freedoms in school. As the researchers conclude, “Most educators think that students already have enough freedom, and that restrictions on freedom in the school are necessary. Many support filtering the Internet, censoring T-shirts, disallowing student distribution of political or religious material, and conducting prior review of school newspapers.”

Government leaders and politicians are also ill-informed. Although they take an oath to uphold, support and defend the Constitution against “enemies foreign and domestic,” their lack of education about our fundamental rights often causes them to be enemies of the Bill of Rights.

So what’s the solution?

Thomas Jefferson recognized that a citizenry educated on “their rights, interests, and duties”  is the only real assurance that freedom will survive.

As Jefferson wrote in 1820: “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of our society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

From the President on down, anyone taking public office should have a working knowledge of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and should be held accountable for upholding their precepts. One way to ensure this would be to require government leaders to take a course on the Constitution and pass a thorough examination thereof before being allowed to take office.

Some critics are advocating that students pass the United States citizenship exam in order to graduate from high school. Others recommend that it must be a prerequisite for attending college. I’d go so far as to argue that students should have to pass the citizenship exam before graduating from grade school.

Here’s an idea to get educated and take a stand for freedom: anyone who signs up to become a member of The Rutherford Institute gets a wallet-sized Bill of Rights card and a Know Your Rights card.

If this constitutional illiteracy is not remedied and soon, freedom in America will be doomed.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we have managed to keep the wolf at bay so far. Barely.

Our national priorities need to be re-prioritized. For instance, Donald Trump wants to make America great again. I, for one, would prefer to make America free again.

As actor-turned-activist Richard Dreyfuss warned:

Unless we teach the ideas that make America a miracle of government, it will go away in your kids’ lifetimes, and we will be a fable. You have to find the time and creativity to teach it in schools, and if you don’t, you will lose it. You will lose it to the darkness, and what this country represents is a tiny twinkle of light in a history of oppression and darkness and cruelty. If it lasts for more than our lifetime, for more than our kids’ lifetime, it is only because we put some effort into teaching what it is, the ideas of America: the idea of opportunity, mobility, freedom of thought, freedom of assembly.”

~~  John W. Whitehead ~~

What Matters Is What Happens Next, Not ‘What Happened’

“Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.”

The Free Press WV

Remember when Bill Clinton used this Fleetwood Mac nugget as a theme in his 1992 campaign? Today, as Hillary Clinton’s campaign memoir goes on sale, the Democratic Party Clinton and his fellow “centrists” remade in their image seems unable to stop thinking about yesterday.

Can the Democratic Party truly reject its past mistakes and look to the future?


Don’t Look Back

The past shouldn’t be off limits, of course. We’re supposed to learn from our mistakes. Nevertheless, Democratic Party operative Paul Begala tweeted, “New rule: Nobody is allowed to comment on Hillary’s book until… they have read the book.”

Why does it seem like Democratic insiders are always trying to police the discourse? Politics is public property. People can talk about whatever they want. Still, when it comes to political debate, it’s wise to actually follow Fleetwood Mac’s advice, and not just hum along:

Don’t stop thinking about you-know-what.

So, are the controversies Hillary Clinton’s campaign memoir stirs up useful, or a waste of time?

It cuts both ways. Clinton says she’s done running for political office. If that’s true, it’s unproductive to argue about her personal merits. But her contentious and inaccurate statements in published excerpts from the memoir seem designed to influence the future of the party.

If she seeks influence, these statements should be challenged, in a forward-looking way.


Settling Scores

Begala’s comment was a response to Twitter comments by MSNBC host Chris Hayes, who called the book “compelling and candid and written with a pretty remarkable intimacy” and said that “the ‘juicy’ newsy tidbits give the impression it’s some kind score-settling rant, which it is not.”

Calling the book “compelling,” “candid” and “intimate” is not the same as saying it is “reflective,” “courageous,” “brave,” or “insightful.”

The excerpts already released have given us some stark statements – for example, that Clinton’s disappointed her campaign didn’t channel the kind of energy and enthusiasm that the Women’s March engendered, and that she blames both Bernie Sanders and his followers for contributing to her defeat.

These aren’t just personal beefs. They speak to the future of the progressive movement. That means they deserve a response.


The Blame Game

“I couldn’t help but ask,” Clinton reportedly writes of the Women’s March, “where those feelings of solidarity, outrage, and passion had been during the election.” That question should inspire some self-reflection on her part. The Democratic Party’s leaders need to ask itself how a spontaneously organized demonstration generated worldwide enthusiasm and support, even as their party continues to decline at all electoral levels.

Republican cheating has a lot to do with it. So does the corrupting effect of money in politics, which elevates Republicans while weakening Democrats – perhaps most of all when they are its recipients.

A Democratic Party that depends on big-donor money will always struggle to craft a coherent message. Clinton’s campaign was merely the latest and most vivid example of that.

The party faces a turning point. It can devote itself to economic populism and find new sources of both funding and energy, as the Sanders campaign did. Or, it can rededicate itself to the Wall Street centrism of its last three decades and continue to fail.


Bashing the Future

Hillary’s bashing of Bernie and his supporters in the book is both unwise and unfair. In a CBS News interview ahead of the book’s release, Clinton mischaracterized both Sanders’ campaign and his supporters’ behavior.

Clinton was more divisive toward Obama in 2008 than Sanders was toward her in 2016, and it showed in the results: Only 12 percent of Sanders supporters voted for Trump, while more than twice as many Clinton supporters voted for McCain.

This bashing is also politically suicidal for Clinton’s party. Bernie Sanders remains the most popular politician in the country. In fact, he’s the only politician most voters actually like. Meanwhile, Clinton’s popularity has fallen below even Trump’s. Demographically, Sanders enjoys his strongest support among African Americans and the younger voters who will shape this country’s political future. It’s madness to alienate them.

It’s even worse to stigmatize them. Clinton repeats the falsehood that Sanders supporters were overwhelmingly young males – millennial Bernie supporters were mostly female. She also repeats the unfounded slur that Bernie supporters were unusually vicious online. A 2016 survey showed that, compared to Sanders backers, nearly twice as many people considered Clinton supporters “aggressive and/or threatening” in social media interactions.


PACs and Propaganda

Clinton isn’t just settling scores. She’s trying to marginalize her opponents in order to weaken their influence. She doubled down on that effort last week by supporting one of her most hyperbolic online supporters, Peter Daou, in a clumsy and bellicose online propaganda venture called “Verrit” – a blog, essentially, he founded with his wife Leela.

More importantly, Clinton has formed a PAC to raise money for candidates she finds ideologically suitable. Clinton’s PAC is structured as a so-called “social welfare nonprofit.” These entities, as the New York Times notes, “are often cited for a rise in dark money in politics because of their ability to protect donor anonymity.”

She must not succeed. Clinton, together with her allies and supporters, represents both an outmoded ideology and a troubling set of values. That ideology, while progressive in some ways, clings to an outmoded faith in free markets and corporations while seeking to manipulate them for constructive purposes.

“I want to really marry the public and the private sector,” Clinton has said.


Whose Values?

Clinton’s values are best expressed in the book excerpt where she dismisses the Sanders agenda as a “pony” and “no-minute abs.” These awkward attempts at humor trivialize programs Bernie supports like Medicare For All, which could save an estimated 320,000 lives over ten years.

That Clinton dismisses  vital and potentially life-saving programs with contempt speaks volumes. So does her assertion that they are unattainable “ponies,” when they have been attained, and are pillars of society, in other developed democracies.

Clinton’s distorted values are shared by an entire cohort of Democratic politicians, consultants, and followers. This value system thinks it’s perfectly fine to form a dark-money PAC. It celebrates being part of the governing elite, so much so that the ostensibly progressive Clinton could proudly claim the execrable Henry Kissinger as a “friend.”

This value system says this country can’t do big things like Medicare anymore, and shouldn’t bother trying. It says you can take six-figure speaking fees from Goldman Sachs and still believe you have answers for the public’s “anger” toward Wall Street. Clinton opposed a 21st century Glass-Steagall Act, and tried to deflect the debate over big banks with a false “either/or” approach toward shadow banking, as if it were impossible to address both problems.

These aren’t my values. I doubt they’re yours.


Don’t Stop, It’ll Soon Be Here

Dems would be wise to pay attention to the next line of Fleetwood Mac’s song, too. The Democratic Party has been failing its constituents for years. If it doesn’t change, the party will fail again.

Economic inequality has skyrocketed under both Democratic and Republican governments, and voters know this. Runaway fossil-fuel consumption is ravaging the planet. Mass incarceration has become a social plague. Each of these problems is approaching an irreversible tipping point. To solve them, we’ll need braver and bolder solutions than their stagnant ideology permits.

Fighting about Hillary Clinton’s personality is a waste of time. But it’s important to debate values. It’s even more important to offer constructive alternatives.

Case in point: As these words are being written, Bernie Sanders is about to introduce a Medicare For All bill in the Senate, with the support of Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and other leading Democrats.


What Do We Stand For?

“People don’t really know what we stand for,” historian Michael Kazin said recently of his fellow Democrats. That’s clearly true. But the real problem is that Democrats don’t know what Democrats stand for. They need to choose, once and for all.

It’s no wonder some Democrats want to police the discourse. That’s part of a larger goal: policing the limits of the possible. But the old ideas of the politically possible aren’t just wrong. They’re disastrous. If we don’t do big things there’s a good chance we won’t make it as a civilization.

Yes I’ll read Clinton’s book, cover to cover. I’ll argue about it too, if that helps shape the future in some small way. Otherwise, I’ll let it pass. This is a time of emergency, with more urgent issues at hand. There’s no point fighting about the failures of the past, unless it clears the way for the successes of the future.

~~  Richard Eskow ~~

West Virginia Submits ESSA Plan To U.S. Department of Education

The Free Press WV

The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) submitted its plan today to the United States Department of Education (USDE) to comply with the federal law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The plan was submitted one week ahead of the September 18 deadline.

“I am extremely proud of the extraordinary amount of work put into developing this plan and for the valuable input we received from various stakeholders including teachers, parents, administrators, community members and elected officials,” said West Virginia Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Steven Paine. “I feel confident that West Virginia’s plan outlines a foundation that is best for all Mountain State students and know we will ultimately see results surrounding student achievement.”

West Virginia’s plan details the foundational pieces of its public education system including content standards, the statewide assessment, the school accountability system and support for struggling schools. The plan also details how federal funds will be distributed to counties.

Several changes were incorporated into the final version of the plan as a result of stakeholder input. Within the state’s accountability system, the five-year graduation cohort was included to accommodate those students who require additional time to graduate. The English Language Proficiency indicator was incorporated into the English language arts measure within the Academic Achievement indicator. The Student Success indicator, which considers attendance and behavior, now includes an exemption for all absences due to out-of-school suspensions and level three behavior violations are exempt from accountable suspensions. Summer School courses will be included within the high school Student Progress indicator, which considers credits earned toward graduation.

The USDE has 120 days to review the plan and provide feedback. To review West Virginia’s plan, visit: http://wvde.state.wv.us/essa/review/

Disaster Recovery Should Heal, Not Divide, Our Communities

The Free Press WV

Houston has barely begun to recover from Hurricane Harvey, as Irma devastates the Caribbean and heads towards Puerto Rico and Florida. Its hard to imagine all the grief, effort, and cost it will take to rebuild from one of these thousand-year storms, much less two.

But we better get used to it. Climate science tells us more superstorms are coming. We should learn how to recover from them in a smart, humane way – one that promotes economic and social justice, so people, families and communities can truly heal.

Trump and the Republicans are about to do it the other way.


Money From Misery

The devastation of Houston was made worse by poor planning and deregulation. That wasn’t an accident: it was greed. Wealthy individuals and corporations want to keep their taxes low, so they blocked government spending for preparedness and recovery.

After Hurricane Sandy devastated New York and New Jersey in 2012, one of the most vocal cheerleaders for this brand of ghoulish selfishness was Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who dismissed disaster mitigation efforts as “pork” and joined most of his fellow Texas Republicans in voting against aid to Sandy’s victims.

Today, it’s Cruz’s own constituents who are paying the price for this selfish, short-sighted philosophy.

The greed of oil companies like ExxonMobil and Valero led them to lobby against the EPA’s regulation of benzene. As David Sirota and Jay Cassano report, this will probably allow them to escape punishment for leaking this highly carcinogenic solvent, a common element in gasoline, into the atmosphere around Houston in the hurricane’s aftermath.

Why spend money to prevent deadly leaks, these corporations reason, when you can get the rules changed in your favor for a fistful of lobbyist dollars?

In a just world, the politicians and special interests responsible for so much suffering would be forced to step aside so that saner, more ethical people could clean up their damage and make sure we don’t make the same mistakes again next time. But we don’t live in that world… yet.


Target: Houston

As Thomas Jessen Adams and Cedric Johnson write about Houston, “the race to capitalize on the disaster, to redistribute wealth upward, and to transform the region has already begun.” The Trump administration, together with the right wing extremists who currently govern Texas, will direct recovery efforts. They are likely to roll back environmental protections – which will make future disasters worse – and further weaken worker protections like the Davis-Bacon Act.

This playbook is familiar to anyone who followed what happened to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

It’s disaster capitalism, straight out of Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine: every catastrophe is an opportunity to consolidate wealth and power for the elites, and undermine the public institutions that serve the majority.

If our current leaders have their way, working people will be driven even further from the desirable parts of the city, making them more dependent on cars and forcing them to give up even more of their lives to difficult and lengthy commutes.

Recovery money will be channeled toward contractors and projects that further enrich the already wealthy, building high-end housing and luxury retail outlets instead of the affordable housing in transit that most people. The Department of Education under Betsy DeVos will try to privatize Houston schools, a move that would increase segregation, reduce social mobility, and make economic inequality even worse.


Ethical Recovery

It doesn’t have to be that way. Disaster recovery could be based on some fundamental ethical principles, including:

1. Disasters are going to happen more often now, so we better get good at recovering from them.

The science is settled. Hurricanes are getting more severe because of climate change. Even as we fight to minimize the harm we’re doing to the environment, we need to accept the fact that disasters like Katrina, Harvey, and Irma are going to shape our world for the foreseeable future.

2. We must never again allow the powerful to use disasters to exploit the powerless.

The recovery from Hurricane Katrina was a national disgrace, thanks to an economically and racially biased plan of action. The city lost 96,000 black residents, nearly one-third of its African-American population, after rebuilding efforts that were slow to help the mostly black Lower Ninth Ward.

Gary Rivlin notes New Orleans no longer has a public hospital. Affordable housing was bulldozed, not repaired.

The city’s 7,500 teachers were fired and charter schools replaced the traditional system. The city’s most disadvantaged children suffered as a result. As Jeff Bryant writes, “here’s no evidence anywhere that the NOLA model of school reform has ‘improved education.’” Borrowing a phrase from TV’s The Wire, Bryant also characterized the charterized school district’s test scores as a case of “juking the stats.”

Hurricane Katrina was a tragedy. The response was a crime.

3. Rebuilding, like all government aid, must respect those most in need.

Our current system of mass incarceration targets people of color, who make up more than half (59 percent) of the nation’s prison population. Although black and white Americans sell and use drugs at roughly the same percentages, the African-American imprisonment rate for illegal drugs is nearly six times higher than the white rate.

Maybe that’s why prison inmates in New Orleans were abandoned, potentially to drown, during Hurricane Katrina, enduring days of horrifying neglect before being rescued.

Prisons must be rebuilt as humane institutions, and plans must be put in place to keep inmates safe.

But prisons are only the tip of the iceberg. Rebuilding efforts provide an opportunity to ensure that affordable housing is available to all those who need it. A recent report from the Urban Institute shows that there is an affordable housing crisis, and that it has reached every single county in the United States. “Without the support of federal rental assistance,” the report concludes, “not one county in the United States has enough affordable housing for all its (extremely low income) renters.”

This is a catastrophe, too, a slow-motion disaster playing out all around us. Its victims deserve to be rescued too. Communities must be affordable, safe, and secure for all of their residents.

4. We need to get smarter about transportation.

Hurricane Harvey destroyed several hundred thousand cars – as many as 1 million, according to some estimates. Insurance companies will bear the multibillion-dollar cost of replacing them, but that cost will then be borne by the economy as a whole in the form of higher premiums.

Most residents will also have to pay an insurance deductible, and lower-income people are more likely to have a high deductible. Given the fact that many Americans say they don’t have $400 for an unanticipated emergency, this means that many Houstonians will suffer another hardship as they replace their cars.

And they will have to replace them, just to survive. Houston is geographically broad, and it’s difficult to live or work there without an automobile. That’s why the car ownership rate there is 94.4 percent, second only to Dallas. By contrast, supposedly car-crazy Los Angeles has an ownership rate of only 86.5 percent.

An estimated 15 percent of Houston residents don’t have car insurance, which is likely to mean they can’t replace them at all. That could doom them to joblessness and poverty, which raises the question: can car ownership ever be considered a fundamental right?

Replacement cars are already making their way to Houston. They will make climate change worse, and so will help lay the groundwork for future disastrous hurricanes. Cars are part of the problem in the long run, not part of the solution.

Houston, like other cities that lack effective public transportation, force their residents to rely on cars. This is like imposing a regressive kind of “life tax” that imposes a disproportionate burden on lower-income people.

Future rebuilding efforts need to concentrate, not just on replacing what was there before, but in replacing it with something better. That means public transportation, and government investment in cheaper and more energy-efficient vehicles.

5. Rebuilding efforts must repair the planet, as well as the city.

We have been repairing the damage caused by climate change by rebuilding infrastructure that makes climate change worse. That is, very literally, insane. We should replace destroyed homes with ones that are energy-efficient, repair highways and bridges so that they impose less wear and tear on vehicles, and (as mentioned above) build or upgrade mass transit wherever possible.

Disaster recovery efforts should also include mitigation of future disasters. In Houston’s case that means slowing or stopping development on nearby wetlands, a reckless undertaking that makes flooding more severe.

Rebuilding efforts must consider the planet, as well as the city.

6. Safe, well-governed communities are a human right.

Lastly, it needs to be recognized that we’ve taken a reckless and shortsighted approach toward urban planning and regulation over the last several decades. Whether it is the deregulation that has contributed to Harvey’s environmental and human toll, or the lack of foresight that is exacerbated our housing and transportation crises, we’ve allowed our cities to become unsafe spaces. That needs to stop.

Every human being has the right to be safe. Every human being has the right to expect that their government will protect them, from human greed as well as natural disasters. Under the sway of the cult of privatization, our municipal, state and national governments have been falling down on the job. That has to change.


Conclusion

As this is being written, Hurricane Irma has devastated much of the Caribbean and is bearing down on Puerto Rico and Florida. Scientists say that its record winds and “epic” size is being fueled by climate change. There will be more storms like it in the future – and very possibly worse.

We need to be ready for disaster – with our satellites, our rescue teams, with our earth movers and cranes. But we also need to be ready with our values and our ideals. It’s time to redefine disaster recovery – not as an opportunity for exploitation, and not even to restore the status quo, but as a way to heal from the rapid and slow-moving disasters happening all around us.

~~  Richard Eskow ~~

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