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Veterans On the March - Memorial Day Actions in DC

The Free Press WV

The United States is the most militarized and jingoistic nation on earth. Its foreign policy is guided by imperialist militarism, neoliberal capitalism and racial xenophobia. For more than sixteen years now, three presidential administrations have carried out a so-called “War on Terror” (GWOT), a perpetual state of war that is waged globally, under the depraved reasoning that “the world is a battlefield,” to quote investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill. As demonstrated by the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the GWOT is conducted through conventional warfare. More often, however, it is executed through covert or “dirty” wars, against groups and individuals in many other nations.

The U.S. has the financial and logistical capacity to wage these illegal wars. Its bloated military budget is larger than the next seven countries combined. It is by far the largest operator of military installations abroad, maintaining nearly 800 bases in around 70 countries. The ever-growing military-industrial complex, which President Eisenhower warned about in his farewell address, permeates every facet of our society – from an economy largely dependent on the war industry, to military recruiting in our public schools, to police militarization. This toxic culture of war is underscored on different national holidays, particularly Memorial Day.

Memorial Day – a day originating in 1868 (Decoration Day), on which the gravesites of the Civil War dead were decorated with flowers – has morphed into a day that conflates the memorialization of killed soldiers with the glorification of war. The perennial flag-waving, ultra-nationalist speeches, garish street parades and hyper-consumerism of Memorial Day do not honor these soldiers. What might, however, is working to prevent future war and nurture peace – honoring their memory by not sending more men and women into harm’s way and to kill and maim in wars based on lies. To have any chance at being effective, however, this work must include efforts aimed at increasing public awareness about the many causes and costs of war.

Long-time consumer advocate, lawyer, and author Ralph Nader affirms in the essay, “Strengthening Memorial Day,” honoring our war casualties should be about more than their loss. According to Nader, “waging strong peace initiatives is also a way to remember those human beings, soldiers and civilians, who never returned to their homes. “Never again” should be our tribute and promise to them.”

Referring to the post-9/11 invasions, in “Remember This on Memorial Day: They Didn’t Fall, They Were Pushed,” Ray McGovern, former Army officer and senior CIA analyst, tenders a hypophoric question: what constitutes a show of respect for the U.S. troops killed in these wars and for the family members on Memorial Day? To which McGovern responds, “Simple: Avoid euphemisms like “the fallen” and expose the lies about what a great idea it was to start those wars and then to “surge” tens of thousands of more troops into those fools’ errands.”

Bill Quigley, law professor at Loyola University New Orleans, writes in “Memorial Day: Praying for Peace While Waging Permanent War?” that “Memorial Day is, by federal law, a day of prayer for permanent peace.” This is a contradiction, though—based on the conduct of our government. Quigley asks: “is it possible to honestly pray for peace while our country is far and away number one in the world in waging war, military presence, military spending and the sale of weapons around the world?” He offers five suggestions for how we might alter this reality, the first two being, “learn the facts and face the truth that the US is the biggest war maker in the world” and “commit ourselves and organize others to a true revolution of values and confront the corporations and politicians who continue to push our nation into war and inflate the military budget with the hot air of permanent fear mongering.” Quigley emphasizes that, “Only when we work for the day when the US is no longer the world leader in war will we have the right to pray for peace on Memorial Day.”

In an article published in The Boston Globe (1976), the people’s historian Howard Zinn urged readers to rethink Memorial Day, who we honor that day, and our national priorities. Dr. Zinn wrote: “Memorial Day will be celebrated … by the usual betrayal of the dead, by the hypocritical patriotism of the politicians and contractors preparing for more wars, more graves to receive more flowers on future Memorial Days. The memory of the dead deserves a different dedication. To peace, to defiance of governments.”... “Memorial Day should be a day for putting flowers on graves and planting trees. Also, for destroying the weapons of death that endanger us more than they protect us, that waste our resources and threaten our children and grandchildren.”

Each Memorial Day, members of Veterans For Peace (VFP), an international nonprofit that works to abolish war and promote peace, participates in a wide range of nonviolent protest actions in cities and towns nationwide. This year is no different. A major VFP action will be held in Washington, DC, through a series of events termed “Veterans On the March! Stop Endless War, Build for Peace,” May 29 and 30, 2017. VFP’s military veterans, military family members and allies will converge in DC in solidarity to end war as instrument of national policy; build a culture of peace; expose the true costs of war; and, heal the wounds of war.

On Memorial Day, VFP and its friends will gather on this solemn and respectful occasion to deliver letters at the Vietnam Memorial Wall, intended as a commemoration of all combatants and civilians who died in Vietnam and all wars. VFP will mourn the tragic and preventable loss of life, and call for people to strive to abolish war, in the name of those who have died and for the sake of all those who live today. The “Letters at the Wall” remembrance is an activity of the Vietnam Full Disclosure Campaign, a national project of VFP. In her essay, “Preparing for the Next Memorial Day,” CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin shares the story of one of the veterans who partakes in the Project: “As Vietnam vet Dan Shea said when he reflected on the names etched and not etched on the Vietnam Memorial, including the missing names of the Vietnamese and all the victims of Agent Orange, including his own son: “Why Vietnam? Why Afghanistan? Why Iraq? Why any war? .…May the mighty roar of the victims of this violence silence the drums that beat for war.”

On Tuesday, May 30, VFP will host a mass rally at the Lincoln Memorial, where speakers will boldly and loudly call for an end to war, to the assault on our planet, and to the abuse and oppression of all people. Calls will also be made for people to stand for peace and justice, at home and abroad. Following the rally, participants will march to the White House to present a list of demands to the President stipulating that the systemic state violence which is preventing a just, peaceful and sustainable way of life for current and future generations must stop immediately. Planning for this rally/march started in response to VFP’s galvanizing statement about Trump’s Military Budget and the desire and responsibility of veterans, citizens and human beings to express strong resistance to Trump’s racist and antagonistic policies and commit to find a better way to peace.

In addition to these actions, VFP will once again fill a void in the National Memorial space by offering people an opportunity to bear witness on a touring memorial to all the costs of war on all sides. Not only do we lack a memorial to the American combat dead in Iraq and Afghanistan and other post-Vietnam wars, but we lack a monument to the many suicide deaths and families torn by the traumas of exposure to war. The Swords to Plowshares Memorial Belltower, a 24-foot tall tower covered with silver wind-blown ‘bricks’ made from recycled cans, provides an opportunity for tribute to these war victims. Initiated by VFP’s Eisenhower Chapter, the Belltower is dedicated to stopping the cycle of war and violence, healing the wounds of war that is caused on both sides of conflict, and providing a forum for all victims to start the healing process caused by wars.

Join VFP in Washington, DC on May 29 and 30 to stop hegemonic thinking, dismantle the military-industrial complex, and demand a transformation of national priorities from death and destruction to social uplift and peace. These shared goals can be achieved if enough people come together and engage in nonviolent social change for a better tomorrow.

Brian Trautman is a U.S. Army veteran, a national board member of Veterans For Peace, and a peace educator/activist.

Opinion: Natural Gas —  A Solution for WV

The Free Press WV

As a lawyer and lobbyist for IOGA of WV I read with interest the text of a recent article on the WV Metronews website discussing the state’s revenue and budget posture.  As a past president of IOGA of WV years ago when my career was more exclusively grounded in oil and gas law, I took note of comments therein regarding potential new or increased taxation of oil and gas production activities.

Any analysis of the impact of new or increased taxation must begin with the fundamental appreciation that there is an oversupply of natural gas waiting on pipeline construction to move at least some of that gas to waiting markets nationally and to international export outlets.  That oversupply factor has resulted in a very low commodity price for natural gas.  This has worked a severe hardship on West Virginia producers.

Without going into detail, the fact is that most producers in our state are realizing a very minimal net revenue on a per unit basis for the natural gas they are producing.  Due to the market dynamics of having a price per unit established at an indexing point in Louisiana and the distant location of the prolific shale gas fields of our region of the country (which are now the dominant force in supplying the nation with natural gas), there is something called negative basis applied to the price realized at the wellhead in West Virginia which very significantly reduces the price at the West Virginia wellhead.  Additionally, there are very significant natural gas gathering and transportation charges associated with moving gas from the wellhead to market, which a WV producer is obligated to pay to owners and operators of those interstate pipelines. As a result, most producers realize far less than $1 per unit of gas produced, and in many cases not even $0.25, from which they must pay their operational costs. Operating costs many times far exceed the revenue realized by the operator.

In other words, they are upside down from the get go, yet due to the pipeline transportation contracts under which they are obligated, they have no logical choice other than to continue to produce and generate as much revenue as they can, if for no other reason than to avoid paying for pipeline transportation they must pay, regardless of whether they actually transport any gas or not.

It is for this reason that an increase in the severance tax under any format – tiered severance tax or otherwise – or for that matter any tax increase imposed on natural gas producers is an impediment to future natural gas drilling and industry investment in West Virginia.  In fact, any additional cost burden to natural gas producers at this time is an anti-competitive force in terms of attracting drilling capital to West Virginia.  Our state need not make it more difficult from a financial perspective to conduct business at a time when we need all the investment and legitimate, high wage jobs we can get.

Natural gas can be a solution. The capacity to generate revenue for West Virginia through the efforts of the natural gas industry should not be bypassed.  There are other ways of achieving revenue and value from the industry which do not involve increased costs to producers.  There can be progressive policies which foster the development of the industry and thereby stimulate investment and job creation.  Actually, these ways are fairly simple and not difficult to understand.

First, we must recognize natural gas as a solution and not a problem.  It is the only reliable energy source for electric power generation with a very recognizable reduction in carbon emissions as our nation transitions from coal as a fuel to natural gas as a fuel for electric power generation.  It is the lowest cost new baseload fuel source for electric generation we have in our country.  This translates into lower power costs for American manufacturers and helps keep America competitive.  For those who prefer wind and solar power – which are intermittent sources of power – natural gas balances very well and assures us of a reliable source of electric power with a reduced carbon emission level.

One should note that there are no new coal fueled electric power plants which have been permitted and being readied for construction in the U.S. at this time.  Economically, it does not make sense to utilize coal as a base fuel for power generation.  With natural gas being so cheap, generating substantially less carbon emissions and with an abundant long term supply available for many decades, it only makes sense.  Moreover, gas fueled power generation facilities also enjoy the lowest cost of operation.

Next, we need to recognize that with the shale gas revolution has come considerable and evolving technology to make natural gas more cost efficient to develop.  Unfortunately, West Virginia has not accepted this proposition and denied modern policies which reflect the use of such technologies to maximize investment and production.  Extended lateral drilling, consisting of drilling horizontally for 3 or more miles, and utilizing a technology known as “geo-steering” to modify the direction of the horizontal lateral from time to time to keep the lateral line in the “sweet spot” of the geologic formation, enables enhanced cost efficient production.  This allows for increased production creating more investment dollars, jobs and severance tax revenue for West Virginia.

Adoption of policies to facilitate contemporary drilling and production of natural gas in West Virginia to produce clean burning, cost efficient natural gas, taking advantage of the riches of the shale gas formations underlying our state is just one answer to help stimulate the investment essential to help revitalize our economy and produce additional revenues for our state.  Increasing taxes on an industry that is in a daily fight for survival is a counterproductive response to those objectives.

West Virginia, unfortunately, does not have a plethora of industries with known growth potential.  However, natural gas is one which does and we need to focus on building value rather than diminishing value.

~~  Phil Reale - Attorney Charleston, WV ~~


05.18.2017
Financial & Economy | G-Fin™ | GrantsBusinessNewsWest VirginiaOpinions | Commentary | G-LtE™ | G-Comm™ | G-OpEd™(1) Comments

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~~~ Readers' Comments ~~~

Mr. Reale.  Nice reading, but little substance.  I understand those writing your paycheck want something in return.

On one hand you claim producers cannot make a profit and on the other, there is enough money to save West Virginia?  Which?

You say increasing taxes on an industry that is in a daily fight for survival makes oil and gas lobbying a lost cause?  Or is a new lobby needed?

By Harold W.  on  05.18.2017

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JUSTICE: Remember Who Brung You To This Terrible Dance

A column by Governor Justice

The Free Press WV

The special session will resume on Monday, May 15. The goal remains the same: pass a budget that will put West Virginia on a pathway to prosperity.

But what we have to understand is there is something that is being terribly forgotten here. The political class is missing the point. I don’t want West Virginians missing the point. We need to quit being so preoccupied with a proposal and first remember how disastrous today’s condition is in our state. We must remember that we’re 50th in way too many areas. We need to remember how bad things truly are.

The budget that was sent to me last month that was passed by the House and the Senate did these things:

  • Eliminated a 2% pay raise for teachers
  • Cut the budgets for our State Police and Corrections
  • Denied a tax break for our veterans
  • Hampered our institutions of higher learning—forcing them into a position to make hurtful cuts and dramatically increase tuition
  • Cut our K-12 public schools
  • Reduced funding for the sick and disabled
  • Provided no real funding to address the drug epidemic
  • Walked away from our unions and building trades and 48,000 immediate, new jobs
  • Didn’t help coal by tiering the severance tax that boosts the industry when times are bad but greatly would help the state when times are good
  • Provided no funds for tourism and marketing our state
  • Blocked an opportunity to have our income tax lowered
  • Stopped West Virginians from driving on our toll roads for free

A budget was passed that was horrible beyond belief.

When I took office in January, I inherited a $500 million dollar budget deficit. That was the result of the same old political gimmicks that just kick the can so politicians won’t have to make a tough decision— or any decision at all. It’s the same playbook that’s left us 50th in everything. What the Legislature’s been doing for years and years just hasn’t worked— just look around.

So sure, we can debate the proposal that the Senate and I completely endorse, but it is totally unfair to forget the magnitude of the hole and how bleak it really is.

We are in a heck of a mess and a catastrophe for West Virginia is about to happen. I’m trying to stop it.

I’ve worked with both sides to put forward a plan that will create 48,000 jobs, reform the state tax code, protect our schools and most vulnerable citizens from devastating cuts, give our veterans a tax cut, fix all of our potholes, and give our teachers a pay raise. It will not require ONE penny from the Rainy Day fund.

We need jobs, yet I read in the newspaper where one journalist says that there will be so many jobs created through our plan that West Virginians won’t be able to fill them all and workers from out of state will have to be brought in.

Really? Too many jobs versus no jobs? Bad roads versus good roads? Do we want the jobs and the opportunity to employ people or do we want to just keep watching West Virginians move away from our state to find jobs elsewhere? That’s crazy thinking!

The plan I’ve put forward has been fine-tuned by working with both sides of the aisle. It’s not a Democratic plan or a Republican plan; it’s a West Virginia plan. It will save our state, cut taxes, control spending, balance the budget, and put our people to work. I’ve spoken privately with many Republicans in the House and Senate and I’m confident these people want to do the right thing. The Democrats have courageously and overwhelming supported our plan to bring opportunity and prosperity.

However, just last week I found myself totally baffled by what took place when the Legislature was in session. On one end of the hall, 100 percent of the Republicans in the Senate were in support of our plan and voted that way. When the legislation went to the other end of the hall, without even reading it, all but two of the House Republicans said no.

History is being made by the Legislature and it’s not something I think they want West Virginians to remember them for—again, crazy.

The choice before the Legislature in the special session is either recovery or death for our state. There was a good bipartisan plan on the table, and it’s past time for us all to work together for the good of all West Virginians to deliver a great budget, an opportunity for all.

The special session costs taxpayers $35,000 per day. I sent up legislation that provided no pay if we went beyond five days in a special session. It never got out of committee.
It’s now up to the House and Senate to move quickly. The longer they wait, the longer it will take to bring new jobs here.

West Virginians are hurting and can’t afford to wait. We need a responsible budget passed ASAP so our people can go to work.

Never forget who BRUNG YOU TO THIS TERRIBLE DANCE. It wasn’t Governor Jim Justice. In fact he just got here, and in fact he’s trying with everything in him to fix it.

If this fails, our state is doomed.


Jim Justice
The 36th Governor of West Virginia

G-OpEd™: Painkiller Alternatives May Reduce Risk of Prescription Opioid Abuse

The Free Press WV

Opioid abuse is devastating our state, and too often it starts with something as seemingly harmless as the prescription of an opioid-based pain medication.

Powerful painkillers, such as oxycodone or hydrocodone, are prescribed to provide temporary relief, but do nothing to address the source of pain.

Long-term prescription opioid use creates a tremendous problem where patients develop a tolerance and dependence for pills that share characteristics similar to heroin. This ultimately turns one’s search for temporary relief into addiction, accidental overdose, coma and death.

West Virginia tops the list for overdose deaths in the nation, and this cycle must change. The answer lies with patients and prescribers choosing safer, non-narcotic alternatives.

That’s why my office created the first substance abuse fighting unit by an Attorney General in West Virginia. It promotes a focused effort on enforcement, prevention through education and the pursuit of alternative treatments for injury or pain.

The process must begin with a thorough physical examination and the prescriber considering every available alternative to opioid medication. The price of anything less is potential addiction, overdose and death.

Patients must feel empowered to ask for non-opioid based medication and treatment.  These options include physical and occupational therapy, chiropractic medicine, massage therapy, acupuncture and over-the-counter medication.

Such a strategy follows our office’s best practices for prescribing and dispensing opioid drugs. This initiative garnered support from more than 25 national and state stakeholders. It also laid the foundation to cut prescription opioid use by more than 25 percent.

But the key to achieving that goal is use of non-opioid alternatives. Highly addictive pills can no longer be the first choice in treating aches and pain.

Physical and occupational therapy, non-medication approaches to physical rehabilitation and improving functionality, offers an interdisciplinary approach to pain management that focuses on physical, social and emotional health. In some cases, the technique has been shown to improve a patient’s overall health by assessing performance issues in everyday living.

Chiropractic care and doctor-initiated osteopathic manipulation therapy have been shown to be as effective as exercise therapy or standard medical care for pain, particularly for lower back pain. This type of treatment also improves functionality in the case of injury.

Massage therapy has proven effective in the short-term management of pain, particularly pain isolated to one area of the body such as the lower back or neck. One clinical study found few adverse effects resulting from massage as a pain management technique.

Acupuncture offers short-term comfort as well as increased functionality of the injured body part, according to some studies. One study found patients undergoing total joint replacements reported feeling a 45 percent reduction in pain after receiving acupuncture treatments.

Over-the-counter pain medications are shown often to be more effective in treating pain than medications that can lead to addiction or death. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen or a combination of the two readily-available pain relievers can reduce pain without the risk of addiction and can be prescribed in larger doses as needed.

These non-opioid alternatives provide West Virginians a much safer option. They also cut down on the selling or sharing of pills, and prevent medications from accidentally falling into the wrong hands – such as those of a child.

Our goal is to reduce misuse of prescription medication while preserving legitimate patient access to necessary treatment, such as active cancer treatments or palliative and end-of-life care.

My office will not relent in working toward a healthier, drug-free West Virginia.

Our state has a great deal of potential, but drugs decimate our workforce, shatter ambitions born in adolescence, rip families apart and leave too many to mourn the passing of those who overdosed one too many times.

With caution, education – and a sensible approach to pain management – I have faith that West Virginia can curb its opioid epidemic and we can build a safer, brighter future for our state.

Patrick Morrisey is the Attorney General of West Virginia.

What’s At Stake When We Talk About Healthcare

All across the country, citizens at town hall meetings are asking hard questions to the 217 Republicans like New York’s John Faso and Elise Stefanik who voted in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid.

On May 04, Congress passed a health care repeal that will push 24 million people off health care and make health care more expensive for many millions more. The Senate will soon start writing its own legislation to take our health care away.

We’ve beat this repeal back before. Let’s do it again. Help keep our firestorm going by talking with family, friends, and neighbors about how health care repeal will hurt us and our hometowns.


Talk About Our Values

Most of us believe the only decent thing is for everyone to get the health care they need. We believe our government should make sure we all can get health care – not take health care away. We don’t think people should die or suffer because they don’t have a lot of money.

But members of Congress who voted for this health repeal don’t share these values. If they’re like Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, they think we’re to blame for our illnesses. Some, like Rep. Raul Labrador, refuse to understand that, yes, people do die if they can’t afford health care. They really don’t think our government should protect and promote access to health care. We do.


Stick to the Real Fundamentals of What the Health Repeal Does

Some members of Congress are plain lying about what their health care repeal bill does. So, let’s make sure people in our hometowns know the fundamentals:


Talk About How Health Repeal Hurts Everyone

No matter where we live, people will be kicked off coverage – here are estimates by congressional district. Some people may see premiums go up because of health conditions: here are estimates of pre-existing condition surcharges and the number of people affected, also by congressional district.

This means more people cutting treatment short or not getting it at all, skipping medications, going without exams that catch cancer early, or being sent to collections. It means families having to take care of aging relatives instead of getting professional care (most people receiving long-term care are covered by Medicaid). It means stress and worry.

And lots of people will die.

Some people – mainly those who are younger and have higher incomes – may get more money for premiums. But their deductibles will spike, going up by about $1,550. And we all may be hit with those dollar caps on care – including people with employer plans.

But the bigger point is this: you just can’t take health care away from this many people without dire consequences for entire communities. Hospitals and clinics may shutter, especially in rural areas. People will lose jobs in health care and related industries.

And small businesses – part of the fabric of our communities – will be hit by a double-whammy: no coverage for their employees (or themselves), and a customer base that’s struggling under the weight of higher health care prices.


Say What You’ll Do to Protect Healthcare in Your Hometown, and Invite People to Help!

Tell friends and family you’re not going to let your member of Congress of the hook for their disastrous, reprehensible vote. You’re going to call and let that congressperson know how outraged you are and your plans for holding them responsible. They should do the same.

Invite people to events in your hometown – rallies, town hall meetings, and other events where people are gathering to call for health care for everyone.

Now more than ever, we need to take democracy into our own hands. That means spreading the word and letting politicians know we’re organized and committed – and we’re not going away!

~~  Julie Chinitz ~~


05.12.2017
NewsUnited StatesOpinions | Commentary | G-LtE™ | G-Comm™ | G-OpEd™Politics | Government | ElectionUSA(2) Comments

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~~~ Readers' Comments ~~~

Obamacare is failing.  It is going to crash and burn whether or not it is repealed & replaced. 

Liberal/progressive leftists can get on board with conservatives and help find health care policy that works, or they can obstruct progress, but nothing they can do will save Obamacare.

Sincerely

Pat McGroyne

By Pat McGroyne  on  05.12.2017

Enough talk about hypotheticals and blame game of previous administrations. If it were bad, is it fixed yet? You guys need to talk about what you got to deliver and the joke and chaos our country has been put in. Are you proud of it? Or are you trying to change the subject?

By I am ashamed  on  05.12.2017

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Obamacare Repeal No Panacea for Republicans

The Free Press WV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~  Hoppy Kercheval ~~

State Budget Impasse. Now What?

The Free Press WV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Energy Severance Tax Rates Provide Another Hurdle In State Budget Battle

The Free Press WV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

G-LtE™: GILMER COUNTY BOE BLOCKED SCHOOL RIFFS AND TRANSFERS

The Free Press WV

There has been considerable angst in the County because of proposed riffs and transfers of school system employees by the Superintendent and Personnel Director.

It is understood that ten employees were on a riff list and ten were slated for transfers.

At a special meeting at 4:00 PM, Monday evening, April 24, 2017, the Gilmer County Board Of Education refused to approve any riffs and transfers, and jobs believed to have been lost were restored.

Members of the school board made it evident that with full authority restored they will watch out for the County’s children and school system employees too.

Thank you GCBOE members.

You gave a highly-needed morale boost to employees after all we have suffered through during the long years of the State’s intervention.

It is a proven fact that high morale is one of the most important ingredients for having high performance schools, and that is what the County’s children deserve.

Employees at all levels will continue to look to the GCBOE to set exemplary leadership standards as demonstrated at the special meeting.

With all of us working together as a dedicated team, from the GCBOE on down, Gilmer County can be a trend setter to have one of the best school systems in WV.

~~  An Observer in the Meeting (Identity on File)  ~~

G-OpEd™: Legislature & Secretary of State

Legislature Addresses Elections, Business Filings and Efficiencies for Secretary of State’s Office
The Free Press WV

The day I took office we began meeting with legislators to swiftly draft proposed bills to deal with the difficulties encountered in this office. I asked our employees to tell me the problems they confront on a daily basis while doing their work for the companies and voters we serve. We reached out to county clerks and business leaders to find solutions to issues they face.

I was astonished by the input we received and the coalitions we ultimately formed to work toward common goals. During the legislative session, we closely monitored and participated in the progress of legislation shaping our state. I would like to specifically highlight key legislation passed to assist in streamlining the office and eliminating waste of taxpayer’s money:


Cutting the red tape for businesses:

The Legislature required the Secretary of State to create a “One-Stop” call center, website and tax collection mechanism for businesses of the state. I am very encouraged to move this project forward.

The Legislature has allowed our office to create uniformity in the fees charged to corporations and limited liability companies. It also enables our office to provide a fee for expedited services rendered through “One-Stop.“ These voluntary fees for expedited services are currently in place in 31 states, and will allow us to move at the speed of business.


Increasing transparency and eliminating waste:

In the first days of taking office, our Business and Licensing experts presented to me a burdensome procedure for repackaging and re-mailing undeliverable Service of Process filings to circuit courts, which resulted in our office spending around $27,000 in added costs to taxpayers. We developed a change in code streamlining the inefficient process.

House Bill 2767 was drafted by our office, introduced by lead sponsor Delegate John O’Neal, and passed the House of Delegates 98-0 and the Senate 34-0 to eliminate this inefficient process. In discussions with parties involved in the June 2017 flood recovery, our office was made aware of issues of sole proprietors operating under “fictitious names” that do not get registered in a searchable public location. This created problems for flood victims that were looking for reliable help in a hurry, but could not verify a business name.

In conjunction with the county Clerks Association, we drafted legislation that would have all sole proprietors file in the Secretary of State’s Office and we would create a uniform database to search all registered sole proprietors in West Virginia. State Senator Craig Blair took the lead on the bill and it passed 34-0 in the Senate and 96-0 in the House of Delegates.


Elections updates:

  • For elections held past the beginning of July in 2017, the electioneering prohibition near a polling location will exist for election day voting locations and now also for early voting locations;
  • Legislators now have additional disclosure requirements on fundraising activities during legislative session;
  • Judicial races will be placed on the ballot along with their respective districts of state and county elections

We accomplished a great deal of work in a 60-day session. Of course, there is much to be done in perfecting a fair elections process, to do the work of our state and to grow our economy by lifting the bureaucracies from business. I am looking forward to taking on these tasks to move West Virginia forward.

Mac Warner
WV Secretary of State

The Long Road to ‘Iowa’

The Free Press WV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

G-OpEd™: Tremendous Victories Require Continued Vigilance

An op-ed by WV Attorney General Patrick Morrisey

The Free Press WV

Over the past few months, West Virginia has experienced a tremendous amount of success in beating back years of federal overreach that have devastated many in our state.

One of the greatest victories involved my office leading a coalition of 27 states and state agencies against the so-called Clean Power Plan, put in place by the Obama Administration to effectively kill coal – the lifeblood of so many families and communities in our state.

Together, we stopped the Power Plan in its tracks with a historic and unprecedented victory at the U.S. Supreme Court. We also mounted a vigorous challenge to the job-killing Obama regulations that attempted to kill new power plants, stymie oil and natural gas production and regulate a property owner’s roadside ditch as a “water of the United States.”

The Constitution and the laws of the United States provide no authority for unelected bureaucrats to enact this type of control over states and citizens. That’s why our office joined with like-minded attorneys general from across the nation. We successfully stopped these regulations and our efforts built a bridge to a better day.

We applaud President Trump’s swift action to unravel this mess of federal overreach, however, now is not the time to rest on our laurels.

I fully expect the opposition to fight back, but this battle won’t be fought any longer by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – it will be waged by states such as California, New York and Massachusetts.  They will try to replicate our success in suing the federal government and undo the good we have done.

Our batting average taking on federal overreach is strong. My office led the way to stop the Power Plan, which amounted to a radical transformation of the EPA from serving as an environmental regulator into a central energy planning authority aimed at devastating coal communities and those who depend upon coal’s future.

We also stopped the Waters of the United States rule that gave the federal government unprecedented control over small streams, farms and private property in a land grab focused on areas where water may flow once every 100 years. In addition, we forced reconsideration of a methane emissions regulation for natural gas producers, which places oil and natural gas in the federal government’s crosshairs under the guise of environmental protection.

There will continue to be naysayers and people who disagree – people who would call these successes failures or say we are going in the wrong direction, but West Virginians know better.

We are winning, but we need to remain in a position to move forward, aggressively marching on and into the next battle – whatever it may be. At a minimum, we need to stop our opponents from preventing the successful repeal or reconsideration of these onerous rules.

But to continue to prevail, we need adequate funding to fix the mess the Obama Administration left behind. We won’t keep winning unless we are fully equipped and prepared to continue advocating for West Virginia’s interests.

With President Trump in office, I have faith that we can stop the federal bureaucracy from running roughshod over our state as it has in recent years. But that alone is not enough.

We must keep the faith, press forward and continue to do everything in our power to help West Virginia reach her full potential.

G-LtE™: Lesbian Couple Suing Over Harassment While Obtaining Marriage License

The Free Press WV

When marriage equality became law in their hometown in 2014 following the federal court decision in Bostic v. Schaefer, Samantha Brookover and Amanda Abramovich sought out a marriage license in Gilmer County, West Virginia. They were met with derision, harassment and hatred and refused an application by the county clerk’s office. Sixteen months later (following the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v Hodges that made marriage equality law of the land nationwide), they tried again and were met with the same level of vitriol and harassment.

Despite that discrimination, they successfully filed for a marriage license application. That success didn’t come without long-lasting repercussions. That’s why Brookover and Abramovich just filed a lawsuit against Gilmer County and several officials that either engaged in or condoned the religion-based harassment they endured throughout the process.

The Free Press WV

Writing at Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) – the organization helping file the lawsuit – the couple described the level of harassment they endured at the hands of Gilmer County officials:

Sixteen months later – well after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld marriage equality – we went to the courthouse again for a marriage license. This time, we brought family members with us who were excited to take part in our special day.

When we arrived, the same clerk was on duty. When we asked her for a marriage license, she began shouting at us that we are “an abomination.” She yelled that our desire to marry was wrong and that she believed that God would “deal” with us in time. We asked her to stop, and she told us that she has a religious right to talk this way to us.

In the end, she processed our marriage application – but not before we were left shaking and in tears.

When we complained to the county clerk about this abusive behavior, she defended it and said that any future same-sex couples seeking to marry would receive the same treatment – or worse.

No one should be forced to endure the pain and humiliation Brookover and Abramovich experienced in merely attempting to obtain a government-maintained service in their hometown. Religious proselytization has no place in government services. Moreover, using personal religious belief to deny service and harass taxpayers using a taxpayer-funded government role constitutes a serious breach of constitutional duties.

Discussing the lawsuit against Deputy Clerk Debbie Allen, County Clerk Jean Butcher, and Gilmer County, AU executive director Rev. Barry Lynn argued, “Same-sex couples shouldn’t have to run a gauntlet of harassment, religious condemnation and discrimination in order to realize their dreams of marriage.” Lynn added, “Government officials must apply the law fairly to everyone, regardless of religious beliefs. If these clerks are unable to fulfill their duties, they shouldn’t work in a government office.”

Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, echoed that sentiment in a statement saying, “West Virginia is a place that’s known for its hospitality and its adherence to the Golden Rule, to treat others as you’d like to be treated. The behavior of the Gilmer County clerks violates those values by perpetuating fear and intimidation in our community.” Schneider added, “LGBT couples in Gilmer County, and across West Virginia, should be free to be themselves when encountering government officials.”

Fairness West Virginia will be serving as co-counsel with AU presenting Brookover and Abramovich’s lawsuit.

In that lawsuit, the two organizations argue in part:

Here, same-sex couples are not afforded the right to marry on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples because officials at the Gilmer County Clerk’s Office intimidate, humiliate, and harass them when they exercise their legal right to apply for and obtain a marriage license. And when a deputy clerk demeans, insults, or chastises a same-sex couple attempting to obtain a marriage license, County Clerk Jean Butcher defends their behavior because it is consistent with her personal religious convictions.

When Deputy Clerk Debbie Allen saw that a same-sex couple was applying for a marriage license, she did not provide the license on the same terms as for opposite-sex couples. Instead, Allen launched into a tirade of harassment and disparagement. She slammed her paperwork down on her desk, screaming that the couple was an “abomination” to God and that God would “deal” with them. Her rant continued for several minutes. Another clerk joined in, encouraging Allen’s attack on Amanda and Samantha by shouting “it’s [Allen’s] religious right” to harass same-sex couples while performing the official state duties of the Clerk’s office.

Throughout the attack, Amanda remained silent and shaking; Samantha was brought to tears.

When Samantha’s mother later called County Clerk Butcher to report the abusive attack on her daughter and her daughter’s fiancée, Butcher said that the couple deserved it and that the next same-sex couple who attempted to get a marriage license in Gilmer County would get the same or worse.

That’s not all.

After issuing the marriage license, and in a further attempt to deter the couple from marrying, Allen told Amanda and Samantha that officials in Gilmer County had stopped performing marriages after the County had become legally required to recognize same-sex marriages and that no one in Gilmer County would marry the couple.

The lawsuit summarizes the harassment and discrimination concluding:

Amanda and Samantha were made to wait some sixteen months after their initial, lawful application for a marriage license because they were improperly turned away by Defendant Allen. Not only did they suffer emotional distress because of the wrongful denial, but during the intervening period they were denied all the legal (as well as emotional) benefits of marriage, including benefits and privileges under federal and state law; legal rights to make healthcare decisions rights for one’s spouse; legal rights and presumptions concerning the ability to hold real property, bank accounts, and other property in common; important and valuable rights under West Virginia’s estate and intestacy laws; and a host of other privileges under West Virginia family law.

Moreover, the Clerk’s Office is located in the Gilmer County Courthouse, where other government services are provided.

Amanda and Samantha must visit the Courthouse every year to pay property taxes on their automobiles.

Amanda and Samantha are in the process of looking for a house to purchase and, should they do so, will need to visit the Courthouse every year to pay property taxes.

Samantha wishes to register to vote in Gilmer County but fears that she will be harassed once again by Allen at the Courthouse.

Amanda and Samantha reasonably fear that, because of the unconstitutional policies of the Gilmer County Clerk, they will be deprived of equal access to government services in the Gilmer County Courthouse. And they reasonably fear that, when they are forced to enter the Courthouse, they will again be harangued and mistreated by Clerk’s Office personnel.

You can read the full complaint HERE .

Using personal religion to discriminate and harass others using a government position is unconstitutional. It not only violates the Establishment Clause, but also deprives victims their Equal Protection and Due Process rights.

That county officials admitted publicly they would treat all same-sex couples similarly strengthens the case – particularly since federal courts have repeatedly ruled that LGBTQ status cannot be singled out as reasoning for offering differential treatment in government services.

While this should be an open and shut case, given the current federal administration it could become a drawn out affair if the Sessions Justice Department decides to weigh in on the county’s behalf.

~~  Tim Peacock ~~

G-LtE™: WVDEP Requests Comments, Deadline 04.28.17

The Free Press WV
The Free Press WV

Sincerely and Seriously,

Lauren D. Ragland
PO Box 311
Green Bank, WV 24944

304.704.2894

‘ldragland@wvmatters.com’

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