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Right-to-Work Withstands Legal Challenge

The Free Press WV

Last week I wrote about the ongoing legal battle over West Virginia’s right-to-work law. The headline was, “Right-to-work arguments in WV go on… and on.”

I was wrong… because that was before the state Supreme Court issued its decision overturning the lower court’s preliminary injunction preventing the right-to-work law from taking effect.

The majority opinion by Justice Menis Ketchum and the concurrence by Chief Justice Allen Loughry left no avenue for a possible appeal and no room to suggest they might be convinced that the right-to-work law is unconstitutional.

First, Ketchum established this is a legislative matter not a judicial one. “Whether a law is fair or unfair is not a question for the judicial branch of government,” he wrote.  But then he went on to make clear his belief about the union argument.

“Twenty-seven other states have adopted right-to-work laws similar to West Virginia’s, and the unions have not shown a single one that has been struck down by an appellate court,” Ketchum wrote.

Chief Justice Loughry was even more direct.  “In absence of any legal authority supporting its constitutional challenge and in the face of United States Supreme Court holdings undermining their (the unions’) position, the respondents’ (the unions’) action fails on all fronts.”

Justice Robin Davis dissented and will issue a separate opinion and Justice Margaret Workman concurs in part and dissents in part and also reserves the right to issue her opinion.  However, the lean of the majority of the court—Loughry, Ketchum and Beth Walker—is clear.

The case is now remanded back to Kanawha Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Bailey for a final hearing.  It would be wise for her to heed the not-so-subtle criticism from the court.

Justice Ketchum wrote in a footnote, “Because of the far-reaching effect of Senate Bill 1 (the right-to-work bill) and its potentially substantial impact upon the public interests, in the future, we encourage the circuit court to act with greater celerity in bringing this case to a resolution.”

Chief Justice Loughry was again a little more direct. He called Judge Bailey’s issuance of the injunction “inexplicable” and added, “I further encourage the circuit court to assiduously avoid further delay and grant this matter its foremost attention.”

The unions may continue their legal challenge, and Judge Bailey may even make an ill-advised ruling contrary to the strong message from the high court, but from a legal perspective this issue is settled.  Right-to-work opponents should put their efforts into changing the make-up of the Legislature or the Supreme Court if they hope to prevail on this issue.

Beware Back-to-School Stories Celebrating Online Education

The Free Press WV

This year, there’s a certain type of “back-to-school” news story you’re bound to see in local newspapers.

The stories typically start with: “[Student A] goes to school in her pajamas, and [student B] often does her lessons with a pet dog or cat on her lap.” Instead of attending “typical schools,” these students get their education via a computer connected to the internet.

The internet-based schools have different names – cyber, virtual, online – but the gist of these stories is that “thousands of students head back to class without leaving their homes,” and it’s all good.

“It’s the first day of school for Sophia Riella, but the 8-year-old never had to change out of her pajamas. All she had to do was log on to her computer at her Northwest Reno home,” a Nevada news outlet gushes. The instruction, via computer, is really much more “personalized” than being in a classroom with a live teacher and other students, Sophia’s mom enthuses, and the curriculum is more “customized,” (despite the fact it’s created by a multinational education conglomerate headquartered in the United Kingdom).

These stories often spotlight the benefits to individual students, like an Arizona student whose flexible online school schedule allowed him to pursue a career as a professional dancer, or a California online school student operating a cooking blog and perfecting her yoga, or a Oklahoma student becoming the youngest member of the U.S. competitive kayaking team while attending an online school.

These stories rarely consider how well these online schools serve the needs of most students and families, however, especially whether they are the best use of precious tax dollars devoted to education.

In situations like the stories cited above, for example, parents must have time, flexibility, and resources to provide the guidance and support their children would normally receive at a traditional public school.

And startlingly absent is any objective evidence of the academic performance of these online schools. A 2012 study of the nation’s largest online school operation, K12 Inc., found its students “lag behind their counterparts on federal and state measures of math and reading proficiency.”

And rarely do reporters seem to even bother looking for “another side” to online schools’ “success” stories. If they did, the would be richly rewarded with reams of negative press.

An eight-month investigation by Education Week found, a Colorado cyber charter school with a 19 percent graduation rate; an Ohio cyber that inflated student attendance by nearly 500 percent; a Pennsylvania cyber founder who siphoned $8 million in public money (including $300,000 to buy himself an airplane); and a Hawaii cyber founder who hired her nephew as the athletic director—for a school with no sports teams.

There are exceptions to the one-sided reporting. A Pennsylvania reporter interviewed an assistant professor of education policy at the University of Alabama who explained that, “every time they do a study that looks purely at academics, the cyber charter schools underperform compared to the traditional public schools.” The reporter also cited a well-known national study from Stanford that found, “compared to similar students at traditional schools, cyber students were 72 days behind in reading, on average. They fell 180 days, or a full school year, behind in math. In Pennsylvania, cyber charters consistently perform worse than brick-and-mortar schools on state accountability measures.”

An Ohio journalist revealed that nine online schools in the state have been “ordered to refund money to the Ohio Department of Education for overstating their enrollment.” One virtual school isn’t opening this school year, “after being ordered to repay $4.2 million for students who weren’t logging on.” Another, the state’s largest online charter school, “is on the hook for $60 million, and has laid off hundreds of staff members.”

But these caution signs are invariably buried at the bottom of these articles, under all the hype about “innovation” and “customization.”

A likely source for the rash of online school puff pieces is the online education industry itself, which uses well-oiled public relations machinery to bombard time-strapped, under-resourced local reporters with glowing publicity. There are numerous examples of this PR at work in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Virginia, and Minnesota.

Cherry picking feel-good stories about individual students who have benefited from a particular circumstance is part of a reporter’s job. It’s all well and good that an online school can be a good fit for a student here and there. But to bury evidence that, on balance, these schools are not for the vast majority of families, and often provide loopholes for bad actors to make a buck off the public taxpayer, is a disservice to local communities.

~~  Jeff Bryant ~~

How We Are Failing the Founders

The Free Press WV

Opinion polls consistently show that we hold the institutions occupied by our elected officials in low regard.  The latest Gallup Poll shows Congress with just a 16 percent approval rating.  President Trump’s approval rating hovers at around 40 percent.

Gallup finds the U.S. Supreme Court fares better with 40 percent of Americans saying they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the institution, but 56 percent says they have only some or very little confidence.

We grouse and ask what our government leaders are doing wrong, and that’s fair. We need to hold our public officials accountable.  We are less willing to hold the mirror up to ourselves, but that would be a worthwhile exercise.

A new survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center finds that for all the complaining we do, many of us don’t know much at all about the targets of our discontent.  For example:

–More than a third of those surveyed (37 percent) can’t name any of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.  About half do know that freedom of speech is included, but only 15 percent could identify freedom of religion and just 14 percent could identify freedom of the press (10 percent could name right of assembly and 3 percent knew right to petition.)

–Only 26 percent of those surveyed can name all three branches of government. One third could not name any of the three branches.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, said the findings do not bode well for us.  “Protecting our rights guaranteed by the Constitution presupposes that we know what they are. The fact that many don’t is worrisome.”

So often we hear the clatter of, “I know my rights,” but as it turns out, most Americans really don’t.

Chris Stirewalt, Fox News Political Editor, writes that after reviewing the poll, “you cease to wonder why things are so bad and begin to wonder why they are not already worse.”

We witness the animosity toward the so-called “elites,” but as Stirewalt concludes, “it’s easy to be an intellectual elite in a nation where not even half of the people know what kind of government they have… This should be cause for deepening alarm.”

If Senator Byrd were alive today, he might be shedding a tear for us.  After all, it was Byrd who so revered the Constitution that he always carried a dog-eared copy in his breast pocket and successfully convinced Congress to make September 17th Constitution Day.

(The day is being marked today this year because the 17th fell on a Sunday and one of the purposes of Constitution Day is to study the document in public schools.)

Byrd, writing in his autobiography said, “Only with a citizenry that understands its responsibilities in a republic such as ours can we ever expect to elect office-holders with the intelligence to represent the people well, the honesty to deal with people truthfully, and the determination to effectively promote the people’s interests and preserve their liberties, no matter what the personal political consequences.”

This is our charge, not only on Constitution Day, but every day.

Who Is Ignoring The Science On Climate Change Now?

The Free Press WV

There’s hardly time for the winds to die down and the flood waters to recede before the “climate change” mantra is repeated.  CNN and MSNBC seemed particularly whetted to linking climate change to the storms.  Anchors wondered when the hurricanes would prompt President Trump to take the threat more seriously.

The Charleston Gazette editorial page rarely misses an opportunity to link bad weather to global warming.  “These evils (hurricanes and drought-fueled wildfires) fit precisely scientific warnings of what to expect from global warming.”

Well, not exactly. Climate alarmists are always saying they are relying on science, so what does the science say about these hurricanes?

A report released August 30 by the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says it’s too soon to make the connection between rising global temperatures and the storms.

“It is premature to conclude that human activities—and particularly greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming—have already had a detectable impact on Atlantic hurricane or global cyclone activity,” according to the researchers.

The report does say there is a possible linkage between Atlantic hurricane activity and Atlantic sea surface temperatures, but it’s inconclusive. They do warn that if the connection does exist there could be a significant increase in big storms. But NOAA adds that there is little statistical evidence to suggest that will actually happen.

NOAA researchers say that if greenhouse warming does cause an increase in Atlantic hurricane activity then we should have had an increase in the number and intensity of storms starting in the late 1800’s, but that hasn’t happened.

“We find that… there is a small nominally positive upward trend in tropical storm occurrence from 1878-2006. But statistical tests reveal that this trend is so small, relative to variable in the series, that it is not significantly distinguishable from zero,” according to the study.

The ongoing study of the impact of human activity on the climate is critical.  It’s illogical to think that the activities of 7.5 billion people are not having an effect on the planet. However, it’s also important to de-politicize the debate and consider the science.

NOAA’s researchers asked this specific question: “Have humans already caused a detectable increase in Atlantic hurricane activity or global tropical cyclone activity?”  The answer, for now at least, is that it is premature to conclude that.

That conclusion is not a denial of climate change; it’s just the opposite. It’s an acknowledgment of what the science does actually say about human activity and hurricanes.

Never Say Tax Reform, Say Fairness

The Free Press WV

We are about to embark on a nationwide debate over taxes. Newspapers want to call this a debate over “tax reform.” It is not.

Progressives should never say “tax reform” and never accept this phrase as the basis for debate. Whether it’s a matter before federal, state or local governments, progressives champion tax “fairness,” not “reform.” The one word sets us up for victory and the other for defeat.

The word “reform” is a value that telegraphs that it refers to something positive. “Reform” means to make changes in something – typically a social, political, or economic institution or practice – in order to improve it.

The word “fairness” is an entirely different value and one that is more specific. It announces that something is unjust and that our intention is to address the injustice.

Let’s apply this to the Trump/GOP tax legislation that we expect to see. It will mostly benefit millionaires and billionaires, as well as wealthy corporations. Conservatives would pay for these tax giveaways by cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, and other programs that are essential to American families. For more about the substance of the federal legislation, see HERE .

This is a very direct exercise in taking away money from some people (us) and giving it to others (the rich). It is simply not intended to “improve” our tax system, so it is not “reform.”

Some reporter might babble about lowering rates or “tax simplification,” but that is all irrelevant to fairness. Any tax bill either makes the system more or less fair and this one is clearly a massive tax giveaway to the rich—that’s the whole purpose of it.

The other important point in debating taxes is – don’t defend the status quo.

Both the right wing and mainstream media want to turn this into a debate between progressives who are for the current tax system and conservatives who are against. Forcefully argue against the status quo. Say that the present system is unfair, it is rigged to benefit the rich, and that we would change the rules in order to stop current tax loopholes, giveaways and boondoggles that benefit the rich over the rest of us.

Do this and you are in agreement with persuadable voters. By 2-to-1 margins, Americans believe that upper-income people and corporations are paying too little and that we should increase “taxes on wealthy Americans and large corporations.” Keep in mind, however, that the desire to tax the rich is heavily affected by partisanship. While 84 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of Independents would increase taxes on wealthy individuals and large corporations, only 38 percent of Republicans would do so.

In short, start in agreement with your audience. Turn the matter into a debate over fairness and do not defend the status quo. Here’s a very short version:

Our tax system is unfair. Working families are under more and more stress while rich people and large corporations pocket massive tax giveaways, and that’s wrong. The Trump tax legislation makes the system worse by giving away trillions of dollars to the rich. Instead, we need to create a system where everyone pays their fair share—a system that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few.

Bernie Horn is the Senior Director for Policy and Communication at the Public Leadership Institute.

Medicare For All Can Reshape the ‘Art of the Possible’

The Free Press WV

Bernie Sanders unveiled his Medicare for All bill this week, and 16 Democratic senators signed on as cosponsors. The last time he introduced a bill like it, not one senator was willing to join him. They considered the idea impossible, utopian.

Times have changed.

The senators who shared a podium with Sanders understand this bill won’t pass in today’s Republican-dominated Congress. They signed on because it’s a good idea, and because they recognize that by doing so they can both reflect and reshape a shifting political landscape.

They’re aware that Sanders’ presidential campaign triggered a wave of energy and activism that continues today. They recognize that this nascent political movement is a powerful political engine, and its diverse millennial base makes it the Democratic engine of the future.

They understand how change happens: as an ongoing dance between street-level activism and electoral politics.


A Declaration of Principles

With this bill, 17 senators – nearly one-third of the Senate’s Democrats, including several presidential prospects – are saying health care is a human right and a public good. That’s a declaration of principle.

They are also defending the principle of progressive taxation. The program would be funded through higher taxes on the wealthy, eliminating special tax breaks, a one-time tax on offshore profits, and a fee levied against big banks.

Their cosponsorship is a declaration of principle in another way, too. Not one of the bill’s 16 cosponsors describes her- or himself as a “democratic socialist,” as Sanders does. But this bill shows us how government can make our lives better, as it already does through programs like Medicare and Social Security.

Democrats have too often been reluctant to proclaim the value of government in recent years. They’ve kept government at an embarrassed arm’s length, like a parent at a junior high dance. These Democrats, on the other hand, are embracing an unabashedly pro-government idea. No embarrassment, just pride.


The Flag

The bill has no chance of passage in the current Congress. In that sense it’s symbolic, a flag. But flags have value. They give people something to rally around, and they can be used to point the way forward.

Democrats could use a few more flags these days.

For too long, “centrist” Dems made the mistake of elevating process over principle. Process is important, of course. But elections are won and lost on principle, on flags. Democrats who speak of “the art of the possible” in the context of a Republican-dominated Congress are on a fool’s errand. They’ll accomplish little or nothing of value.

The goal must be to take over Congress, not surrender to a hostile one, so that the “possible” is redefined. This bill can help make that happen.

These senators are being active rather than reactive. Instead of complaining about Donald Trump, they’ve provoked Trump into complaining about them. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the president thinks this bill is a “horrible idea.”

That’s how you win elections – by framing the terms of the debate. Let the Republicans tell the American people why they don’t think healthcare is a human right. Let them tell voters why they’re defending the runaway greed of insurance companies and Big Pharma.


Dollar By Dollar, Life By Life

The bill includes a transitional phase-in period. That’s important. Healthcare in the United States is a $3.4 trillion economy, so it will take some time to ensure a smooth transition. And, as Harold Meyerson notes, the bill’s gradualism is also “designed to make it progressively easier for legislators to support and progressively more difficult for such entrenched interests as the insurance and pharmaceutical industries to defeat.”

There is entrenched resistance to single-payer healthcare. It’s easier for a politician to defend a healthcare program for a defined population – children under 19, for example – than it is to defend something that can be abstracted away as “socialized medicine.”

It should also be noted that somewhere between one-third and one-fourth of all U.S. health spending is already government-funded. In that sense, any new government healthcare proposal should be considered “gradualist.”

This bill lays out the long-term goal, but its phased-in approach gives breathing space for other forms of health-related activism in the meantime. They include the fight to defend current government healthcare programs, and the battle for Medicaid expansion in states like Texas and Florida.

Medicare For All can be the flag for all of these health activism fronts, and all of them can be pursued with a single, unifying goal in mind: Dollar by dollar, life by life, public health insurance must be defended and expanded until it is available to everyone.

~~  Richard Eskow ~~

Right-to-Work Arguments in WV Go On… and On

The Free Press WV

The West Virginia legislature passed a bill during the 2016 regular session making West Virginia a right-to-work state. Governor Tomblin vetoed the bill, but the House and Senate overrode the veto and the law went into effect July 01, 2016.

However, nearly 15 months later West Virginia is still not a right-to-work-state.

The state AFL-CIO challenged the law in court and in August 2016, Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Bailey issued a temporary injunction prohibiting the law from being enforced.  State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey challenged the court order and finally last week the state Supreme Court heard arguments in the case.

The high court should rule soon, but that won’t be the end of it.  The issue before the court is whether the circuit judge’s temporary order blocking the law should stand.  Regardless of how the Justices rule, it’s likely that a court fight over the merits of the right-to-work law is ahead.

Labor argues the law is unconstitutional because it is tantamount to an illegal taking since a union may have to represent a worker even if that worker does not join their organization or pay dues.  “Our contention remains as strong as it was the day we filed this lawsuit in 2016 that this law is an unconstitutional taking of property rights from local unions and their members,” said AFL-CIO President Josh Sword.

Sword is right that the union will have to represent all employees at a workplace whether or not they join and pay dues, but only if the union acts as the exclusive bargaining agent.  If the union chooses to have that exclusive representation–which carries with it a considerable amount of power and benefits–then under federal law it must represent all employees.

If the union does not wish to be the exclusive bargaining agent, then it can operate with a “members only” arrangement where it represents only dues-paying workers who willingly join the union.

These and related issues have already been adjudicated a number of times in many of the 28 states that have adopted right-to-work laws. West Virginia’s law is not substantially different from these other cases to warrant it being tossed out, unless a judge or a court here makes that call for political reasons.

For years, West Virginia was not a right-to-work state because Democrats controlled the legislature. That has changed and the Republicans wasted no time passing the bill and even overriding a gubernatorial veto.

Whether or not West Virginia is a right-to-work state is a public policy decision to be debated and voted upon by the people’s representatives.  That process was followed and the courts should recognize that while the unions are upset, their arguments do not justify overturning the legislature’s will.

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 ~~

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 ~~

Opinion: Oil and Natural Gas: A West Virginia Solution

The Free Press WV

West Virginia history shows the success of the tried and true custom of leveraging our abundant natural resources to not only generate revenue statewide, but to lower unemployment and boost the quality of life for our residents.

West Virginia needs to take a stand and increase its recognition of the potential to once again be the leader within the oil and natural gas industry. West Virginia currently ranks 8th nationally in both the number of workers supported by the industry and in total natural gas production, coming in behind Ohio and Pennsylvania. 

So how do we put West Virginia at the forefront and leverage every advantage to not only put more residents to work, but increase funding to our local communities and create a better future? And, how do we decrease out-migration of both the young and old due to lack of hope for gainful employment?

PricewaterhouseCoopers recently released a report identifying that the West Virginia oil and natural gas industry supported 70,900 jobs and added $8 billion to the state economy in 2015.  However, we still are experiencing an unemployment rate higher than the national average and an inability to compete with the policies and regulations of neighboring states. What is the solution?

The answer lies in reasonable regulations and progressive legislation. The industry currently has restrictions that are hindering its ability to remain competitive with Pennsylvania and Ohio. West Virginia is not growing at the same pace due to its non-competitive drilling laws. By comparison, last year West Virginia natural gas production increased by 4.3 percent while Pennsylvania saw a 9.37 percent increase. This five percent deficit represents the loss of opportunity for West Virginia to realize tremendous investments in wells and accompanying infrastructure and in the creation of much needed, high-paying new jobs.

We must embrace the potential we have before us, which creates a larger impact through the expansion of downstream opportunities and a dramatic increase of jobs in West Virginia and across the entire Appalachian Basin. 

West Virginia’s legislators must recognize that natural gas development represents the single best hope for resolving the issues which plague our state and allow the economic activity it spawns to give hope to West Virginians. Policy reforms must be made to allow the natural gas industry to reach its fullest potential and create jobs.

~~  Charlie Burd - Executive Director, IOGA WV ~~

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

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The 9/11 anniversary that calls into remembrance the tragic terrorist attack in New York City, the Pentagon and plane crash in rural Pennsylvania is etched in our national memory.  However, we, as a nation, have been following violent and deadly storms in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean for nearly three weeks.  As I write on Sunday night, the concerns for the safety and well-being of those affected by the most recent hurricane are at the forefront.  As the damage reports will start to roll in this week, the monetary costs to citizens, insurance companies and state and federal government will certainly be reported in the multiple billions of dollars.  This, stacked on the devastating hurricane flooding last a couple weeks ago, and the amounts are staggering.  All this and we’re only half way through the hurricane season.

The real toll – the factor that cannot be calculated in monetary terms – will be in lives lost.  After that, the lasting effects on those that lost homes; the flooding and wind damage; lost income; utility disruptions that may last for days or weeks.  This storm necessitated the largest mass evacuation in the nation’s history.

One thing is certain:  despite the high technology, computer modeling, satellite imagery and every scientific and meteorological tool at our disposal, we have no control or certainty of where these storms will ultimately hit and the damage that will result.  I am thankful that first responders and law enforcement made the proactive decisions to evacuate residents from areas that were thought to be in danger.  Lives were saved as a result.

To conclude on a much different note, the Legislative interim schedule for September 17 – 20 is included from the Legislative Manager’s office. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Convene Adjourn Committee Location
01:00 PM 02:00 PM Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority House Gov. Org.
01:00 PM 02:00 PM Post Audits Subcommittee Senate Finance
02:00 PM 03:00 PM Commission on Special Investigations Senate Finance
02:00 PM 03:00 PM Select Committee on Infrastructure Senate Judiciary
03:00 PM 04:00 PM Joint Standing Committee on Education House Gov. Org.
03:00 PM 05:00 PM Joint Committee on Government Operations - JOINT MEETING House Chamber
03:00 PM 05:00 PM Joint Standing Committee on Government Organization - JOINT MEETING House Chamber
04:00 PM 06:00 PM Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability House Gov. Org.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Convene Adjourn Committee Location
08:00 AM 10:00 AM Joint Government Accountability, Transparency and Efficiency Committee Senate Judiciary
09:00 AM 10:00 AM Agriculture and Rural Development Senate Finance
10:00 AM 12:00 PM Joint Standing Committee on Finance House Chamber
10:00 AM 12:00 PM Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary House Gov. Org.
12:00 PM 02:00 PM Joint Committee on Health House Chamber
12:00 PM 02:00 PM Joint Standing Committee on Energy House Gov. Org.
02:00 PM 03:00 PM Commerce Secretary Presentation House Chamber
03:00 PM 04:00 PM Joint Standing Committee on Education House Chamber
03:00 PM 05:00 PM Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability House Gov. Org
05:00 PM 06:00 PM Commission on Interstate Cooperation Senate Finance


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Convene Adjourn Committee Location
08:00 AM 09:00 AM Joint Commission on Economic Development - JOINT MEETING House Gov. Org.
08:00 AM 09:00 AM Legislative Oversight Commission on Workforce Investment for Economic Development - JOINT MEETING House Gov. Org.
08:00 AM 09:00 AM Legislative Intern Committee Senate Finance
09:00 AM 10:00 AM Select Committee on Veterans’ Affairs House Gov. Org.
09:00 AM 11:00 AM Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on Dept of Transportation Accountability Senate Judiciary
10:00 AM 11:00 AM Joint Committee on Government Operations - JOINT MEETING House Chamber
10:00 AM 11:00 AM Joint Standing Committee on Government Organization - JOINT MEETING House Chamber
11:00 AM 12:00 PM Joint Committee on Children and Families House Finance
11:00 AM 12:00 PM Joint Committee on Government and Finance Senate Finance
12:00 PM 01:00 PM Joint Standing Committee on Pensions and Retirement Senate Finance
12:00 PM 01:00 PM Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Subcommittee Senate Judiciary
01:00 PM 03:00 PM Joint Committee on Volunteer Fire Departments & Emergency Medical Services House Gov. Org.
01:00 PM 03:00 PM Joint Committee on Natural Gas Development Senate Judiciary
03:00 PM 05:00 PM Select Committee on PEIA, Seniors and Long Term Care Senate Finance
03:00 PM 05:00 PM Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding Senate Judiciary


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Convene Adjourn Committee Location
09:00 AM 12:00 PM Legislative Rule-Making Review Committee Senate Judiciary


Please send your inquiries to the Capitol office:  Building 1, Room 258-M, Charleston, WV 25305.  My home number is 304.364.8411; the Capitol office number is 304.340.3142.  If you have an interest in any particular bill or issue, please let me know.  For those with Internet access, my legislative e-mail address is:

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

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

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