December 30, 2014

A better way to stop a bullet

Today a friend of mine shared an interesting item from the Washington Post that reinforces what quite a few people believe: sometimes a job is the best way to stop a bullet.

A few years back, the city created an eight week jobs program for students in high crime/low income areas. The jobs involved placement in government agencies or nonprofits. Some students worked 25 hours a week, while others worked 15 hours a week and participated in social and educational programs the other 10 hours. A control group did neither.

The University of Chicago Crime Lab tracked the results, which were amazing. As the Post's Wonkblog reports, students int he program had a 43 percent decrease in arrests for violent crimes over 16 months compared with those in the control group. The thing that is truly striking is that the results were most pronounced months after the jobs program was over.

It's hard to say just why that happened, but Wonkblog has some suggestions:

A lot of things could be going on here. Teenagers who might have committed crime to get money would no longer need to when they have a job. If their added income allowed parents to work less, they may also have gotten more adult supervision. It's also possible that students who were busy working simply didn't have idle time over the summer to commit crime — but that theory doesn't explain the long-term declines in violent arrests that occurred well after the summer program was over.... 
 That long-term benefit suggests that students who had access to jobs may have then found crime a less attractive alternative to work. Or perhaps their time on the job taught them how the labor market values education. Or maybe the work experience may have given them skills that enabled them to be more successful — and less prone to getting in trouble — back in school.
The bottom line is that positive prevention programs like these are a relatively inexpensive intervention that can provide a big payoff for everyone.

December 27, 2014

Two Christmas--ish items

Christmas Day is past, but we're still in the twelve day range, so I thought these two Christmas related stories might be worth sharing.

The first involves my favorite target, Ayn Rand. No doubt tens of thousands of Americans watched the classic film "It's a Wonderful Life" this holiday season. It turns out that Rand and her orcs buddies warned the FBI that the film was commie propaganda. I mean, obviously compassion and community are subversive ideas that have no place in Rand land. Sadly, they don't seem to have much of a place in today's America either.

Finally, I have been following the story of a person in an Ohio suburb who stirred up a bit of controversy with a zombie nativity scene. He was ordered to take it down, supposedly for reasons of zoning rather than content, but at last word defied the order.

There you have it.

December 24, 2014

Annual Christmas Hamlet quote

That's right, it's that time of year again, which means it's time to quote the sentry Marcellus as he stands on the battlements of the castle of Elsinore in Act 1 Scene 1 of Hamlet.

The tone of the scene is pretty ominous. Marcellus and Bernardo have invited the student Horatio to join them in their lonely night vigil where for some nights past a ghost has appeared resembling the late King Hamlet, father of the prince who is the main character of the story.

Horatio represents a prototype of modernity, an intellectual familiar with the tradition but skeptical of it. Yet even he must concede the power of the unknown after witnessing the phantom, which he takes as a portent of bad things to come.

Marcellus then points out that there are also sometimes portents of good, particularly at this season of the year:

Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.
At this point, all I can do is say with Horatio, "So have I heard and do in part believe it."

Would that it were so this holiday season and beyond.

December 22, 2014

Just for fun

Over at the New Yorker website, there is a funny piece that imagines how Ayn Rand might review popular children's movies. It's worth a look. Here's a sample review of Lady and the Tramp:

A ridiculous movie. What could a restaurant owner possibly have to gain by giving away a perfectly good meal to dogs, when he could sell it at a reasonable price to human beings? A dog cannot pay for spaghetti, and payment is the only honest way to express appreciation for value. —One star.

December 18, 2014

Two WV bright spots (really)

I've been very impressed by US Attorney Booth Goodwin. He made headlines last month with the indictment of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship. This week, it was for the indictment of six owners and managers of Freedom Industries, the company that poisoned the water of 300,000 West Virginians last January. It's nice to see corporate crimes treated as real crimes.

Another WV bright spot is Charleston Gazette reporter and Coal Tattoo blogger Ken Ward, who really shines the light where it needs to go. If you click here, you can hear what he had to say  on NPR today about the chemical spill, the Blankenship indictment and more.

Last year, the WV legislature passed some pretty strong water protection legislation. Word is that incoming Republican leaders want to weaken that legislation in the 2015 session. That should be an interesting fight.

Maybe they should start by poisoning their own water.

December 17, 2014

Laying it out

Earlier this week, I had the chance to participate in a press conference held by Our Children Our Future, the campaign to end child poverty in West Virginia. At the conference, we laid out our legislative goals for the coming year.

Among the top five priorities are:

*securing funding for key family support programs. Over the last few years, funding for these has been cut and then restored after a major hassle. We're hoping for a better solution this time.

*expanding access to early childhood education. A little invested here can yield and save a lot down the road.

*reforming WV's juvenile justice system. I mean really, how much sense does it make to lock up truants at a cost of over $100,000 per year compared to dealing with the problem in the community.

*protecting Medicaid and CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program) at the state and federal level and expanding access to mental health coverage.

*protecting WV's drinking water. Despite last year's Freedom Industries chemical spill that poisoned the water of 300,000 West Virginians, some in the legislature want to gut last year's water safety bill. We are not amused.

It's going to be a changed landscape next year politically, but we're hoping to find bipartisan support for these key issues.

You can read more here, here, and here.

December 14, 2014

Finally, an important news story

I was a bit surprised today when surfing the web to find a news story on NPR about how to tell whether one's goats are happy. According to the report, goats are in these days, with global population increasing from 600 million to 900 million since 1990.

Apparently, someone has actually studied how to tell whether goats are happy or unhappy. With ours, it's pretty easy to tell, but I'm guessing there may be a big difference between goats as productive livestock and goats as spoiled lawn ornaments who think their humans are stupid waiters.

ON A MORE SOMBER NOTE, it looks like WV's new political majority is planning anti-labor legislation for the 2015 session. That's no surprise.

December 12, 2014

December 11, 2014

Room to improve

Back in 2013, West Virginia took a long overdue step towards addressing prison overcrowding--and it's paid off. The state's juvenile justice system, meanwhile, is a mess.

That's the bad news .The good news is that an intergovernmental task force has been studying the issue with the help of folks from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Their major findings were released today at a press conference chaired by Gov. Tomblin.

Legislation will be introduced in the 2015 session aimed at reducing the number of juveniles now placed in residential facilities, particularly those held for status offenses, which are actions only considered to be offenses  by non-adults.

This is one area child advocates will be pushing in the coming session. I'm hopeful we can make a dent in this problem.

December 09, 2014

On possibly detecting a member of the order Rodentia by olfactory means, metaphorically speaking

Maybe El Cabrero is just uncommonly cynical, but does anyone else find anything fishy about the post-election miraculous recovery of Alpha Natural Resources? Back in July, they filed a WARN notice warning 1,100 workers of imminent job loss, a move industry supporters and some politicians attributed to President Obama's "war on coal." Now, a month after the elections, it looks like 750 will keep their jobs.

That's funny. I thought Obama was still president.

If memory serves something different but similarly fishy happened with Murray Energy after the 2012.

Things that make you go hmmmm.

December 08, 2014

Thought for the day

Here's a great quote from someone in my neighboring state of Kentucky, i.e. Wendell Berry. It speaks to my condition:

"it may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings."

December 07, 2014

There is a debt owed

This article focuses on tough times in Kentucky's coal country, but the story is also true for WV. Especially worth a look are these comments by Jason Bailey with the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy:

"Government has found ways to help tobacco farmers and redwood loggers transition away from those industries, says Bailey. This region must be compensated for the cost it has borne “in providing the cheap power that built the modern American economy.”
“The region has paid it in spoiled water and degraded land and black lung disease, broken backs, torn-up roads, blasted mountains,” he says, noting these issues make it harder to diversify.
“I think there is a debt owed.”
WELCOME TO HELL, PART ONE. Here's a look at the link between right wing state attorneys general and energy companies. Including WV's current specimen.

WELCOME TO HELL, PART TWO. And here's a look at the fun and games that await in next year's legislative session.

Good times...

December 03, 2014

Speaking some truth: WV poet on "Appalachian Blackface"

Crystal Good is an outstanding West Virginia Affrilachian (that would be African American Appalachian) poet, thinker and creative spirit. At the recent Race Matters in Appalachia Summit, she read an original poem that told the total truth about the 2014 elections. It's really worth a look. Fast forward about 20 minutes into this link to see her performance.

Sad to say, but she nailed it.

December 02, 2014

Kids these days

Probably ever since the days of Adam and Eve, or Australopithecus anyhow, people or semi-people have been complaining about the coming generation and how bad they are. However, this Washington Post op-ed suggests that it's actually the other way around.

In fact, there is a great deal of evidence, much of which was summarized in Steven Pinker's book The Better Angels of our Nature, that people now are actually much nicer than we were, both in the short range and the long range view.

Of course, it does make me think that if this is nice, think how bad we were when we were nasty...

December 01, 2014

In case you missed it

The Sunday New York Times had a good piece about the indictment of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship on federal charges in the wake of the 2010 Upper Big Branch disaster that killed 29 West Virginia coal miners. 

I especially like the first three paragraphs, which lay out just how historical this really is:

 On a memorial to West Virginia’s most recent mining disaster, the silhouettes of 29 figures are etched into black granite, men posed with arms around each another like teammates.
On the back of the solemn slab, the disaster is put in the context of the state’s long history of coal tragedies, including a 1968 explosion that killed scores, and a dozen other deadly events earlier in the century.
In not one of those cases did a coal mine owner face criminal charges for the loss of life. That history ended in November, with the indictment of Donald L. Blankenship, the chief executive whose company owned the Upper Big Branch mine near here, where an explosion of methane gas in 2010 spread like a fireball through more than two miles of tunnels, feeding on illegally high levels of coal dust.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: whatever happens, this sends a message to future CEOs that there are limits to the games they can play with the lives of other people in their search for profit.

November 29, 2014

The watery part of the world

For a bit of a change, the Spousal Unit and I spent Thanksgiving week on the Florida Gulf Coast. It's been nice renewing my pretty shallow acquaintance with salt water. Among the things I've seen that aren't usually part of a West Virginia November are dolphins, an alligator, pelicans, lizards and any number of seabirds. It's been good to verify that saying of Melville's from Moby-Dick about the link between water and meditation:

Say you are in the country; in some high land of lakes. Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries- stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region. Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor. Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.

The salt mines of Appalachia await...

November 26, 2014

Annual Thanksgiving possum recipe...with a bonus

It has been the custom at Goat Rope from time immemorial, or at least the last 8 years or so, to post a link to a possum recipe every Thanksgiving.

(For the record, I have never eaten a possum nor do I have intentions of doing so, but traditions are traditions.)

Here's one for this year.

And here's a bonus. At this moment, I happen to be in Florida. So, in the spirit of when in Rome, here's a link to alligator recipes.

(Also for the record, I have never eaten an alligator nor do I have intentions of doing so, but I think I'd rather eat one of them than a possum. Just saying.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 25, 2014


Robert Reich had this to say on Facebook about the situation in Ferguson after last night's announcement that there would be no indictment in the Michael Brown killing:
When St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch announced last night that no charges will be brought against Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, McCulloch lashed out at the media for the unrest in Ferguson, blaming its “24-hour-news cycle.” He’s wrong. The real culprit is the 24-hour racism that still pervades our system of criminal justice. Wilson shot Brown six times. Witness reports differed as to whether and when Brown had his hands raised and whether he was moving toward Wilson when the final shots were fired. Why shouldn’t these questions and inconsistencies be aired at a trial?  
The New York Times had a pretty insightful editorial as well. Check it out here.

Meanwhile, a number of civil rights groups had these recommendations to prevent more tragedies like this.

November 24, 2014

What she said

I want to give some props to a WV poet and artist I respect immensely, Crytal Good, a self-described Affralachian (African American Appalachian). She totally nailed it in this WV Public Broadcasting story on the 2014 elections. Title: "Appalachian Blackface."

I plan on giving her some backup, but I need to warm my metaphorical pen up in hell first.

November 22, 2014

One to watch

The latest legal developments in the case of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship are interesting. First, the gag order will make events a little hard to follow. The accused pleaded not guilty, which wasn't a surprise. I was a bit surprised to learn about the requirement for him to post a $5 million bond.

A friend of mine suggested that the judge might have been afraid of another Marc Rich incident. Rich was a financial speculator who fled abroad to avoid prosecution until pardoned by President Clinton for some ungodly reason during the final moments of his presidency. Ken Ward reports that the federal magistrate seems to be concerned about Blankenship's financial affairs as well.

The irony in all this is that Blankenship's legal troubles are occurring just as his political dreams for West Virginia have come true in the wake of the last election.

November 19, 2014

In case you needed some more depressing news...'s something about the assault on labor unions.

WHAT WAS HIS FIRST CLUE? It seems that economist and Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson may have gotten the memo that some people may not be all that happy with the current state of the economy.

ONE WV BRIGHT SPOT is progress on child nutrition, especially in schools. This article features my friend Rick Goff, director of the state Office of Child Nutrition. The good news is that breakfast participation is going up in the wake of the passage of the 2013 innovative Feed to Achieve Act.

SPEAKING OF FRIENDS, another pal, the Rev. Jim Lewis, was featured in a nice spot on WV Public Radio yesterday. It's worth a look.


November 18, 2014

Light reading

If you are curious about the 43 page indictment of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship, you can read the whole thing here. There are 108 numbered sections, although I may not be using the right term.

THIS SHOULD BE EASY TO FIX. There's a lot of talk here and elsewhere about the need for economic transition in West Virginia. One thing that could easily help is more state investment in promoting WV tourism. Oh yeah, and it might help if we stop trashing and poisoning the place.

BIG DOGS TAKE AIM AT A GOOD POLICY. One policy idea long advocated here is the creation of a system of Voluntary Employee Retirement Accounts for workers without pensions. The financial industry, which so far hasn't stepped up to do squat for these people, is gunning to kill the idea.


November 17, 2014

Sad but true

This article from the Washington Examiner takes a look at how Logan County, WV has been coping with the decline of coal. Short version: not too well. I'd only add that I think they leaned a little too hard on regulations and not hard enough on market forces when talking about what brought on the hard times. Still, it's hard to say that the situation is anything but bad.

This is an example of why Congress needs to put up or shut up on coal. Places like Logan desperately need some kinds of transitional assistance.

NO SHOCK HERE. Inequality is getting way worse.

November 16, 2014

Will justice be done?

The news of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship's indictment on federal charges related to the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster has made national news. The show starts this week, but it looks like we won't see a lot of it unwind due to a gag order by the judge.

Meanwhile, as my friend Ken Ward reports, it looks like Blankenship's tendency to micromanage Massey operations provided an opening for prosecutors.

This NY Times editorial on the subject is worth a look. It both commends the investigation and condemns Congress for its failure to act in the wake of the deaths of 29 miners. Final paragraph:

The investigation is praiseworthy for seeking accountability for miners who should not have died. But the question of industrywide reform has been shamefully neglected by Congress in general and by industry allies in the Republican Party, like Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the incoming majority leader, in particular. The Upper Big Branch disaster continues to expose the need for stronger federal fines and for the authority to shut mines that are repeat offenders of safety rules and threaten the lives of their employees.
While we're at it, you can find my two cents near the bottom of this item from

“I think the fact that these indictments have gone this far up the corporate ladder is truly historic,” said Rick Wilson, of the American Friends Service Committee's West Virginia Economic Justice Project, “and will send a message to future CEOs in coal and other industries that there are limits to the liberties that can be taken with the lives of other people.”

November 14, 2014

Hail, Caesar, we who are about to die (or at least be really miserable) salute you!

So like my daughter, yes, that would be the over-educated one who believes a zombie outbreak is possible, told me a year or so ago about this cool train run called The Canary in the Cave. As I recall, she said it involved running down and then up West Virginia's New River Gorge.

I thought that sounded cool, except for the up part. So as a birthday present she signed me up for it. It was only after I was registered that I learned it was a 25K+ course, as in somewhere past 15.5 miles, with the hill coming near the end.

As if that wasn't extreme enough, thanks to a polar inversion, the temperature is going to be in the 20s when we start.

Now, part of the charm of endurance events is the voluntary misery. But this Saturday morning promises to be off the charts.

The Spousal Unit has already requesed that if I die, I not do so at the bottom of the gorge in order to spare others the ordeal of bringing me up.

I'll try to comply, but if it does come to that, someone could just roll me into the New River.

It's as good a way as I can think of to celebrate birthday #56.

Maybe a little justice

These days, as the late great Lou Reed said, you need a busload of faith to get by. I got a bit of a boost yesterday when word came the former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship had finally been indicted on federal charges.  Federal prosecutor Booth Goodwin has been saying for a long time that more indictments were coming, but I'd almost given up hope of seeing this day. Not surprisingly, this news brought a measure of comfort to the families of the 29 miners who died in the April 5 2010 Upper Big Branch disaster.

When that disaster happened, I was in Okinawa at a karate seminar. It felt strange to be so far from home at a time like that, not that I could have done anything about it. What I did at the time was post this blog entry about the disaster and about my musings on the ancient Greek goddess Nemesis, she who renders what is due and punishes human hubris.

Looks like she stepped up.

November 13, 2014

What's next?

As you may know, West Virginia went through a bit of a political earthquake recently. Here's one take on what may happen from my friend Ted Boettner, aka Debbie Downer, at the WV Center on Budget and Policy. The good news is that it looks like Medicaid expansion may be relatively safe here, for the time being anyway.

November 12, 2014

Race matters

I've been running around too much lately and this blog has been a casualty of all that. However, I had a pretty good excuse for at least part of the time. That would be the Race Matters in Appalachia that my organization, the American Friends Service Committee, was proud to sponsor, help plan, and participate in.

(Sorry about ending that last sentence with a preposition.)

Race in Appalachia is a timely topic, especially given the racial dog whistling that helped flip WV in the last election. Here is some of the coverage from the Charleston Gazette, the Charleston Daily Mail, and WV Public Broadcasting. For good measure, here's an op-ed by my friend the Rev. Ron English.

This event was meant to be a conversation starter and just the beginning of a whole lot of needed work.

November 06, 2014

Two for the road

 This explains a lot: a Princeton study suggests that the USA is no longer a democracy but rather an oligarchy, as in rule by the wealthy few. To some that might be a radical assertion; to others, it is stating the obvious. I tend to fall into the latter camp.

And then here are the post-election reflections of my friend Ken Ward at Coal Tattoo.


November 05, 2014

Apropos of nothing

"The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."-Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

November 04, 2014

Election Day Blues

My friend Ken Ward over at Coal Tattoo has some words of wisdom on this election day. He notes that while lots of politicians rattle on about the so-called "war on coal,"

The list of things that coalfield candidates don’t want to talk seriously about is long and important: Mine disasters, black lung disease, global climate change, the environmental and human health costs of mountaintop removal, and — probably most significantly — what Southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky will do for jobs and an economy as the region’s coal production continues to decline.
 In particular, candidates from both parties have tended to vie with one another on who can bash Obama the most. Ward blames the media as much as the campaigns for going along with oversimplified soundbites.

He nails it with his conclusion:

Because elections do matter. And regardless of who controls the U.S. Senate or the W.Va. House, coalfield residents will wake up on Wednesday facing the same set of serious challenges: Natural gas will still be cheap. The best coal reserves in Central Appalachia will still be mined out. Carbon dioxide in our planet’s atmosphere will still be climbing to levels we should all be afraid of. The coal-mining jobs that are left will will be too dangerous, putting workers at risk of dying suddenly in a roof fall or slowly from black lung.
When all the votes are counted, our region will still face too much drug abuse and too little education, too much pollution and not nearly enough quality health care, too many WARN notices and too few jobs — too much fear and far, far too little hope. And mostly all the election will have done with its endless television ads, sound bites and attacks is the one thing that coalfield residents can least afford: Torn us further apart, instead of bringing us closer together.
The whole piece is worth a look and has tons of links.

November 03, 2014

Two on health care...and the legacy of racism

One of the reasons it took the US nearly 100 years to have something like a nationwide health insurance program is pretty stark and ugly: racism. The idea was initially raised in Theodore Roosevelt's 1912 run for the presidency on the Bull Moose or Progressive Republican ticket. His distant cousin Franklin talked about it but couldn't quite get there.

Neither could his successor Harry Truman, thanks largely to the opposition of southern senators who feared that health care reform would benefit African Americans and undermine the segregated hospital system.

It took the election of Barack Obama in 2008, a House Democratic majority, and a (brief) Democratic supermajority in the Senate to make the Affordable Care Act possible, as limited as it is.

While the ACA survived a challenge in the US Supreme Court, the majority of justices dealt it a major blow by making Medicaid expansion a state option rather than a mandate. And, surprise, many of the states that have so far not chosen to expand Medicaid under the ACA are former Confederate slave states.

Ironically, many if not most of southerners who would benefit from the expansion are white. That's just another example of how racism hurts everyone, not just the obvious targets.

You can read more about the politics of ACA in Mississippi here and look at how many Americans are or could have been covered by Medicaid expansion here.

Once again, I'm grateful that WV's Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin did the right thing in 2013. Since his decision to expand Medicaid, around 155,000 working West Virginians have gained coverage.

Oh, yeah, and I'm glad WV left the southern Confederacy 151 years ago. Otherwise, and among other things, that expansion of health care might never have happened.

October 30, 2014

Case in point

The Charleston Gazette gave nice editorial support to an upcoming conference on race in Appalachia that I've been working on with quite a few other people. One example of why such a topic might be relevant is the recent controversial  personal blog post by Charleston Daily Mail editorialist Don Surber in which he referred to Michael Brown as an animal who had to be put down. The blog post has since been taken down, but that's a bell that will be hard to unring.

October 28, 2014

A little good news

According to longtime WV statehouse reporter Tom Miller, 

The idea of housing West Virginia's state prisoners at a private, for-profit prison in neighboring Kentucky has been shelved and is no longer a priority, Commissioner Jim Rubenstein of the state Division of Corrections told state legislators last week at one of the interim committee meetings.
Rubenstein said the idea has now "been put way back on the back burner" because of the current decrease that his agency has been seeing "within the total (inmate) population." This seems to put to rest this earlier proposal that called for the state to possibly house up to 400 inmates at a prison in eastern Kentucky that would be operated by the Corrections Corporation of America.
This is welcome news for all kinds of reasons. I was proud to work with WV allies to keep this from happening. The main reason it didn't was the success of a 2013 bill addressing prison overcrowding.

RACE MATTERS IN APPALACHIA. If you get a chance, please consider attending this conference or race on Nov. 10 and 11.

October 26, 2014

Worth a look

This will be short post but one with a link to lots of good information. Click here to see how the NY Times answers the question "Is the Affordable Care Act working?"

TO CLEAR THE PALATE, here's something about ancient giant sharks and whales.

October 25, 2014

To use a movie cliche...'s a look at WV today:

Cliche: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. In that order.

THE GOOD. One WV bright spot is state Senate President Jeff Kessler's initiative to promote economic diversity and revival in the southern coalfields. Here's a supportive editorial from the Beckley WV newspaper.

THE BAD. God (and the gas industry) only know what kind of toxic crap is being generously shared in WV's northern gas lands. We owe our lack of knowledge of such things to that universally beloved benefactor of the human race, to wit, former vice president Dick Cheney.

THE UGLY. That's easy: WV elections, where truth is the first casualty.

October 24, 2014

It's not just WV

Some readers of this blog may recall the campaign to which I am now dedicated, to wit, to change the state motto of WV from "Mountaineers are always free" to "You can't make this **** up."

By a strange coincidence, two friends from different states have sent me bizarre stories from their own states that suggest WV isn't the only one where the rules of Whack apply.

Here's one from Rhode Island (which, incidentally, isn't an island) and one from Maryland (which bears little obvious resemblance to the Blessed Virgin for which it is named.

Here's the take home lesson I got: Whack has no borders.

October 21, 2014

A mess that needs fixing

It's no secret that West Virginia's juvenile justice system is a hot mess. It's even gotten national attention. The latest example of that is from PRI. The opening lines say it all:

The United States has been rethinking its juvenile justice system since the late 1990s. As a result, the national youth incarcreation rate has dropped dramatically in almost every state over the last 15 years--except in West Virginia.
While the US has cut its juvenile incarceration rate by half, West Virginia's rate is 42 percent higher than the rest of the country. The Mountain State has also seen the largest increase in youth incarceration since 2001.
 Fortunately, there is a good chance of things getting better on that front since Gov. Tomblin has convened a task force on the issue and solicited the help of folks from the Pew Charitable Trusts. It's gotten so bad that SOMETHING has to be done.

SPEAKING OF BAD WV SITUATIONS, here's another look at WV's economic future.

URGENT EXTINCT GIANT KANGAROO UPDATE here. Word is they didn't hop.

October 16, 2014

More on the southern coalfields

Lots of people even beyond WV are starting to track the situation in the southern coalfields, where mining jobs have been dramatically declining. Something about this piece by environmental writer David Roberts in Grist rubbed me the wrong way, at least a little.

It looks like I'm not the only one. Two people I think highly of responded at some length, Ken Ward at Coal Tattoo and WV native Jeremy Richardson with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

On a more positive note, WV Senate President Jeff Kessler announced the formation of a 13 member senate task force on the southern coalfields going by the acronym SCORE (Southern Coalfields Organizing and Revitalizing the Economy), which will hold listening sessions with coalfield residents and develop legislative proposals to assist the region. SCORE is modeled in part on Kentucky's SOAR (Save Our Appalachian Region) program.

Some ideas the group will explore include
Increase funding for tourism advertising and development.
Education and workforce development and retraining initiatives.
Dedicating monies for viable redevelopment projects.
Agribusiness and rural development opportunities.
Increase Broadband access.
Expanding and supporting intermodal transportation.
          Explore development of coalbed methane reserves.
Support clean coal research and development.
Kessler and his fellow senators deserve a lot of credit for taking this on. You can find more about SCORE here and here.

October 15, 2014

Coalfield blues

There's no doubt about it. These are hard times in the southern WV coalfields. Unfortunately, while the rhetoric is white hot (accent on white, by the way), straight talk is hard to find, especially in an election year. Here's a glum assessment of the current state of political debate here from my friend Ken Ward at Coal Tattoo.

On the positive side, some state leaders want to actually do something about it. State Senate President Jeff Kessler is holding a press conference tomorrow announcing the creation of a coalfield revitalization initiative. Obviously, it's way too soon to even guess how this will go but I think it's a big step forward just to create a task force to talk about the issues.

Meanwhile, people are starting to talk about the idea of some kind of federal assistance for displaced miners. Here's a piece from Grist titled "Should the feds bail out coal miners?" My short answer to that is, yes, as in programs modeled on other efforts to help workers displaced by trade agreements.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Republican WV Congressman David McKinley introduced a bill with a Democratic co-sponsor from Vermont to do something like that. The odds of it making it through congress any time soon don't look good, but it's another step in the right direction.

Another positive step that I've mentioned before is the What's Next, WV? effort, which is going to hold deliberative forums all over the state about our economic future.

None of this, however, is a big help right away to the over 5,000 miners who have lost jobs in southern WV over the last few years due mostly to shifting market forces.

October 13, 2014

A meme is born

For someone who has been blogging for several years, I'm pretty behind on social media. One thing I have recently resolved to do is to learn to make memes for Facebook and such. I mean hard hitting social justice memes. But today, just to see if I could make one at all, I resorted to a gratuitous animal picture of Edith and her toys. Hard hitting social meme content to come. Just probably not today.

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMM. Here's more on possible conflicts of interest involving drug companies and WV's attorney general.

ANNALS OF URBAN AGRICULTURE. A while back the city of Charleston WV passed an ordnance allowing city residents to own chickens and such. Here's one nice success story. Meanwhile, the hens at Goat Rope Farm have either permanently retired from egg production or have gone on strike.

October 12, 2014

Punch, parry, kick

I've mentioned more than once that I recommend Ian Haney Lopez's bew book Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class. I was drawn to the book after the dog whistling in WV politics became audible as the 2014 election approaches.

Dog whistling refers to  the art of making coded and often oblique and indirect but loaded references to race that stop short of expressions of personal hatred. The purpose of dog whistling isn't to express personal bigotry but to gain power, wealth and status. These messages convey a warning to white voters about presumed threats from non-whites aimed at building support for a reactionary agenda.

Example: Reagan building support among resentful white voters over the allegedly extravagant lifestyle or a mythical (nonwhite) "welfare queen." And using that support to undermine the middle class, attack the New Deal legacy and distribute wealth upward.

It's not personal...

Lopez has a great analysis for how the game is played. Here are the basic moves:
(1) punch racism into the conversation through references to culture, behavior, and class; (2) parry claims of race-baiting by insisting that absent a direct reference to biology or the use of a racial epithet, there can be no racism; (3) kick up the racial attack by calling any critics the real racists for mentioning race and thereby "playing the race card."
Sadly, it seems to have worked pretty well for some folks for more than 30 years.

October 10, 2014

Who knew? Three thoughts on WV and marriage equality

1. Let yesterday's WV marriage equality reversal be a lesson to everyone, including me, that things that are impossible are impossible until they aren't. It's another reminder that we live in an open universe where all kinds of wild and unexpected stuff that we didn't see coming can and will happen.

2. Deja vu. Yesterday, I spoke on the phone with a friend about WV Governor Tomblin's statement on the issue, which I thought was short, to the point, and hit just the right notes. We both agreed that it reminded us of a statement of another WV governor, one of our heroes, at a similar moment, i.e. when the US Supreme court ruled on school desegregation in the 1954.

While many southern politicians used the decision as an opportunity to demonstrate their bigotry, Gov. William C. Marland basically said that we would comply with the law of the land. At a press conference that included the state superintendent of schools and representatives of WV's African American community, he pledged that the state would do "whatever is right and proper under the Supreme Court's decree," adding that "I rather think the people of West Virginia will accept the decision and carry on the best they can."

(Marland, by the way, had some reversals in his time. He tried to get the coal industry to...horrors! its fair share in severance taxes and was hounded for it. After his controversial term and struggles with alcoholism, he was discovered to be working as a taxi driver in Chicago. His fortunes later improved, although he died prematurely of cancer in 1965.)

3. It's only fair to recognize another state leader, WV Senate President Jeff Kessler, who for years has been a true leader in advocating for equality and an end to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Kessler issued this statement yesterday.

October 09, 2014

Wasn't expecting this

This has been an interesting news day. WV's right wing attorney general announced that he would not try to defend the state's ban on same sex marriages. It looks like marriage equality is coming to the Mountain State.

I also appreciate Gov. Tomblin's statement on these developments:

“As the attorney general stated today, recent rulings by several federal courts, combined with the refusal of the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this issue, make it clear that laws banning same-sex marriage have been declared unconstitutional. I do not plan to take any actions that would seek to overturn the courts’ decisions. West Virginia will uphold the law according to these rulings, and I have directed state agencies to take appropriate action to make that possible.

Our state is known for its kindness and hospitality to residents and visitors alike. I encourage all West Virginians—regardless of their personal beliefs—to uphold our statewide tradition of treating one another with dignity and respect.”


October 08, 2014

Good question

This Slate article asks a good question, to wit, why is West Virginia locking up so many juveniles?
The good news is that that is likely to change in the next year or so. Gov. Tomblin has appointed a task force to look at the problem that includes legislators, experts, community leaders and others to look at the system and recommend changes. They have also brought in folks from the Pew Charitable Trusts to help in the process. But it will take plenty of pushing by ordinary folks to make sure some real changes come out of it.

DO YOU EVER TALK TO YOURSELF? Apparently, how you do it matters.

GOT ART? Cave painting and other forms of art may be lots older than previously believed.


October 07, 2014

The line cuts through the heart

I've read a lot over the years about the atrocities committed in Stalinist Russia, but I'm only just now getting around to reading (really listening to an unabridged recording of) Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago.

This morning, while walking the dogs in the rain, I came across this nugget that says a lot about human nature:
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good t flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn't change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.

Socrates taught us: "Know thyself."

Confronted by the pit into which we are about to toss those who have done us harm, we halt, striken dumb; it is after all only because of the way things worked out that they were the executioners and we weren't.

From good to evil is one quaver, says the proverb.
And correspondingly, from evil to good.

October 06, 2014

Coal and the market

If you are anywhere near West Virginia, you have heard a lot about the so-called "war on coal." According to this narrative, all the ills the industry and its workers are experiencing can be laid at the feet of the Obama administration and the EPA. I have often argued here and elsewhere that plenty of other factors are at stake, most of which have to do with market conditions. Here's a look at some of those.

THE HONORED DEAD. Here's a shoutout by yours truly to one of my favorite writers, Albert Camus.

GOOD PIGS GONE BAD. Feral pigs like beer too. Some like it a bit too much.

October 03, 2014

This one's for the wild old man

I'm not sure what I was thinking, but I signed up to do a marathon tomorrow. Not just any marathon, but rather Freedom's Run, which goes over the ground of John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry as well as the battlefield at Antietam, which was the Union victory Lincoln was waiting for before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.

I have a thing for John Brown and Harpers Ferry. Brown was like a monkey wrench thrown by God into the machinery of American slavery. His raid was a disaster in every detail even though in a way it succeeded on a grand scale. Similarly, Brown seems to have failed at pretty much every undertaking in life except the big one. It reminds me of some lines by Dylan about a lone soldier who won the war in the end "after losing every battle."

Then there's Antietam. That battle provided was is still the single bloodiest day in American history, with around 23,000 casualties. It was probably Union General George McClellan's best moment, even though he didn't follow through. By a weird coincidence, the Union army gained knowledge of Lee's planned Confederate advance into northern territory by sheer coincidence when the orders were found in an abandoned campsite wrapped around cigars.The Battle has been called "the crossroads of freedom."

Aside from geeking John Brown and the Civil War, the whole ancient Greek connection speaks to me as well. The name comes from the fields where the ancient Athenians defeated a much larger invading Persian army. By tradition, the runner who brought the news back to Athens 25 or so miles away said "Rejoice, we conquer" when he got there--and then dropped dead. (There's more to the story, but that will do for now.")

I thought my marathon days were over. My last as 12 years ago and I figured quadruple bypass surgery in 2004 put the kibosh on it. But I could never put the idea completely out of my mind. After the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the itch came back. I decided to shoot for Freedom's Run if I remained injury free, slow as I may be.

I'm not sure I'll make it to the finish line, what with a bad heart and a host of knee and foot injuries. I'd give 50/50 odds if I was into betting. I was a little discouraged to learn that the course becomes very hilly between miles 15 and 22--the point in the race where the major misery kick in. But then suffering is part of what you look for in a marathon and plenty of better guys than me met a worse fate at the same spot.

Game on. But don't wait up. This is going to take a while.

October 02, 2014

The broken link

I mentioned in  yesterday's post that I worked with friends from the WV Center on Budget and Policy on a report about The State of Working West Virginia, something we've done every year for the last seven or so.

Anyhow, I'd like to point out some interesting things from the report that my friend Sean O'Leary dug up. It's all about one thing that is messed up with today's economy. According to conventional wisdom, "a rising tide lifts all boats." And sometimes it does. Just not so much around here lately.

People used to assume that if the economy was growing, jobs would too. And that if productivity went up, so would wages. Here's what Sean pointed out on GDP and jobs:
West Virginia ranked 3rd highest among the 50 states in real GDP growth from 2012 to 2013, at 5.1 percent. But the state ranked dead last in job growth, actually losing almost 7,000 jobs. West Virginia actually lost jobs even as the economy grew. In fact, the link between the growth of the economy (real GDP) and job growth has been weak for much of the past decade. While real GDP grew by 17.2 percent since 2002, job growth has been an anemic 3 percent 
Ditto the wages and productivity thing:

 West Virginia’s productivity, or economic output per worker, increased by 5.8 percent from 2012 to 2013, the third biggest increase among the 50 states. But just as growing GDP has not translated into more jobs, even though West Virginia’s workers are producing more, their pay has not reflected their production.
Since 1979, West Virginia’s worker productivity has increased by more than 50 percent, while median compensation, the wages and other benefits earned by the worker in the middle of the distribution, has only increased by 4.5 percent,,.Workers are benefiting little from both economic and productivity growth.
Holy surplus value extorted from the toiling masses, Batman! Just kidding. Mostly. But clearly something is out of whack.  One symptom of that is rising inequality. Sean again:

West Virginia’s economic growth and productivity gains of the past three decades have not resulted in widespread broad prosperity. Instead, more and more of the state’s wealth and income are flowing to the top, benefiting the wealthiest.
Between 1979 and 2011 the state’s average real income grew just 3.9 percent, but over that time period, all of that growth was captured by the top one percent of richest West Virginians. The average real income for the top one percent grew by nearly 71 percent, while the average real income for the bottom 99 percent fell by almost three percent.
Because of that lopsided income growth, the share of income held by the top 1% in West Virginia has steadily grown since 1979, and is reaching historically high levels (Figure 2.4). And as the West Virginia’s economy grows more top heavy, the income gap widens. In 1979 the average income of the top 1% was 10.1 times higher than the average income of the bottom 99%. By 2011, that ratio had grown to 17.7 times higher.
The average income of the bottom 99 percent in West Virginia would be 12.3 percent higher if they still earned the same share of income they earned in 1979. That is equal to about $5,200 per person. Instead, those income gains were collected by wealthiest in the state.
Short summary: once upon a time in the USA, we grew together. Now, we're growing apart. And we will continue to do so at great cost to our democracy unless things change. Which means unless people change things.

October 01, 2014

Working for a living

You can be the first kid on your block to read a copy of the latest edition of The State of Working West Virginia, a publication of the American Friends Service Committee and the WV Center on Budget and Policy.

Come to think of it, you'll probably be the only kid on your block to read it...

Anyhow, the report covers:

*how WV recovered from the Great Recession. (Short answer: unevenly and we never got back many of the best jobs);

*the link between growing GDP (gross domestic product) and productivity and more jobs and higher wages. (Short answer: sadly, there isn't one around here these days);

*the northern gas boom and the southern coal bust. (Short answer: both are problems in different ways);

*how policy decisions can impact working families (Short answer: Medicaid expansion, good; corporate tax cuts that help drive up the cost of higher ed, not so much);

and finally some policy recommendations that might promote shared prosperity.

September 30, 2014

Strategic racism

Yesterday I gave a shoutout to a new book titled Dog Whistle Politics by Ian Haney Lopez. The book's subtitle is How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class.

Here's the opening paragraph:

Two themes dominate American politics today: at the forefront is declining economic opportunity; coursing underneath is race. This book connects the two. It explains popular enthusiasm for policies injuring the middle class in terms of "dog whistle politics": coded racial appeals that carefully manipulate hostility towards nonwhites. Examples of dog whistling include repeated blasts about criminals and welfare cheats, illegal aliens, and sharia law in the heartland. Superficially, these provocations have nothing to do with race, yet they nevertheless powerfully communicate messages about threatening nonwhites. In the last 50 years, dog whistle politics has driven broad swaths of white voters to adopt a self-defeating hostility toward government, and in the process has remade the very nature of race and racism. American politics today--and the crisis of the middle class--simply cannot be understood without recognizing racism's evolution and the power of pernicious demagoguery.

Holy Obama's war on coal, Batman! In this case, the decline of an industry largely driven by market forces gets conveniently dumped onto a convenient scapegoat who just so happens to be...from Chicago, sort of.

The book also usefully talks about strategic racism, which "refers to purposeful efforts to use racial animus as leverage to gain material wealth, political power, or heightened social standing." Precisely because it is strategic, the author argues that "it is not fundamentally about race. The driving force behind strategic racism is not racial animus for its own sake or brutalizing nonwhites out of hate; it is the pursuit of power, money, and/or status." People of color are certainly damaged by it. Ironically, so are many white members of the working and squeezed middle class who fall for it.

This kind of dog whistling has long been a part of American politics, but it has been played masterfully by politicians from George Wallace, Nixon and Reagan up to the present day, sadly with considerable success.

September 29, 2014

Dog whistling in our time

I'd like to give a shoutout to Ian Haney Lopez's new book, Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class. The title gives a pretty good hint of what the book is about. I'm working my way through the book now and I keep thinking about how WV's political climate today is a classic example of dog whistling.  Anyhow, you can learn more about the book here.

SPEAKING OF WRECKING THE MIDDLE CLASS, check out this post from Robert Reich.

MIGHT AS WELL check out this one from Krugman while we're at it.

September 28, 2014

I would so do this too

A friend of mine send me a link this weekend to this Washington Post story about some scientists who contrived to sneak as many Bob Dylan lyrics as they could into papers they wrote for serious journals. If I were a scientist, no doubt I'd do the same. The sad part is that I can't think of an appropriate Dylan quote to use right now.

(Maybe it's because I'm burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail, poisoned in the bushes and blown out on the trail...)

THIS IS SAD. It's about how schools in the coalfields are coping with declining enrollment as families move in search of work.

SO IS THIS. Scientists are trying to think of modern day Noah's arks to save species threatened by climate change.

September 26, 2014

Two from the Times

Here are two items from the NY Times the growing gap between the very wealthy and everyone else: one on how out of whack we are and the other on how some folks are getting better at conspicuous consumption.

September 24, 2014

One that the grows well these days

The recent release of Census data showed that child poverty grew in West Virginia. That wasn't the only thing: so did the share of income going to the wealthiest state residents. That seems to be part of a national trend, one that's been growing since (surprise!) the 1980s.

September 22, 2014

Not to worry

NPR had a feature on the website today about the importance of not stressing out about things.

According to some of our good friends on the far right, here are a few more things not to worry about:

*Unemployment. John Boehner says unemployed people are just lazy.

*Racism. Bill O'Reilly said last month that white privilege doesn't exist. A rich white guy would know, right? and...

*Climate change. The American Spectator says it's "A false alert."

And here's a bonus item: a WV radio personality says poverty isn't really a problem because lots of people have cars, video games and air conditioning.

Now all that is a relief. I feel better already.

September 21, 2014

This is what I'm talking about

As I've mentioned before here, in another lifetime, I used to referee karate tournaments. (This was before I went to Okinawa and saw the real thing and realized it should never have been turned into a sport, but I digress.) Anyhow, I really tried to call em like I saw em regardless of what I thought of the competitors, their style, teacher or uniform.

So, in that spirit of fair play, I'm calling "Ippon!" (Japanese for full point) to WV Republican congressman David McKinley. He cosponsored a bill, with Democrat Peter Welch from Vermont, that would provide transitional assistance to coal miners who lose their jobs. The legislation was modeled in part on the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act, which was designed to help workers who lost employment due to trade policies. As I argued in this op-ed, there is plenty of precedence for this kind of thing.

Welch is concerned about climate change. McKinley is a denier. Both may have different views on what is causing distress in the coalfields, as in the market or federal policies. But they did find something important to agree on

I think this is a put up or shut up moment for any Appalachian politician who holds or aspires to federal office. If you pretend to care about miners, then do all you can to push for policies to help those who are losing their jobs. Or else shut up about the so-called "war on coal." Because even if Obama and the EPA would go away today, the market wouldn't.

September 19, 2014

In fairness to chimps...

In yesterday's post, I said some unflattering things about our cousins the chimpanzees (not that I don't say worse things about humans most days). Here's the other side of the coin. If we inherited our capacity for intra-species violence from our chimplike common ancestor, it looks like we also got a sense of fairness from them too. It's always a mixed bag.

SCISSORBILL was a term used by the Industrial Workers of the World back in the day to describe workers who just didn't get it. The term refers to the bill of a duck, as in cutting off your nose to spite your face. As in low income workers who finally get health care from the Affordable Care Act but support politicians who want to repeal it. Earlier this week, I linked a NY Times article about that. Here's another take on the subject.

CHILD POVERTY. Despite some progress, it got worse in WV in 2013, according to the latest Census data..

September 18, 2014

War before people

For a long time, there has been a prejudice in the social sciences which tended to view early humans as peaceful noble savages and blame human violence on more recent social structures like capitalism, imperialism and all that. Short version: we used to be cool but now we're crap.

I'm no cheerleader for predatory capitalism or imperialism, but that view turned out to be pretty much perfectly wrong. More and more evidence indicates that the rate of violence as it affects a portion of the human population has actually decreased throughout human history. By a lot. In other words, we may be crappy now, but we were a whole lot more crappy and violent in hunter gatherer societies.

It is also now pretty well established that something like war has long existed in chimpanzee societies and that this is unrelated to human intervention.

You could view that as a downer, but I don't. It shows that we really can make progress and control our historical end evolutionary baggage to some degree. Of course, we're not there yet!

September 17, 2014

Three on health care

It has been fascinating to watch the rollout of the Affordable Care Act and all the dramas and subplots involved. Three items about it recently caught my eye.

First, government-sponsored health care is making it easier for some people to become entrepreneurs.

Second, this item from Politico suggests that the ACA has moved from being an election game changer to background noise.

Third, some people who have benefited most from the ACA seem to have a bit of trouble putting 2 and 2 together.

No doubt there will be more drama to come.

September 16, 2014

We're on it

Sometimes El Cabrero is a little slow on the uptake. No, really. One example of that is how long it took me to get the importance of early childhood education as a way of promoting economic justice. I've worked with child advocates for years and try to play nicely, but I really didn't feel it until fairly recently, when I stopped and looked at the overwhelming evidence that this is the place to make a real difference.

Fortunately, West Virginia is kind of a leader in early childhood education and the folks I work with are committed to taking it to the next level. I'm especially a fan of voluntary home visiting programs for pregnant women and parents of young children.

In this NY Times op-ed Nicholas Kristof  and Sheryl WuDunn lay out the case for early childhood education. Here's a sample:

One reason the United States has not made more progress against poverty is that our interventions come too late. If there’s one overarching lesson from the past few decades of research about how to break the cycles of poverty in the United States, it’s the power of parenting — and of intervening early, ideally in the first year or two of life or even before a child is born.
I'm hoping we can make real progress on that in the coming year.

September 15, 2014

No surprise

This isn't exactly the most surprising news in the world, but it's still worth mentioning. A new study by the Urban Institute found that helping parents get health care helps kids as well.You can read more here. Part of the context for the study is the decision of states whether to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. I'm very proud of how WV has handled that--well over 141,000 people covered under Medicaid expansion since Jan. 1.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE has been in the news quite a bit lately. Here are some ideas about how to stop it.

MORE OF THE SAME. Here's Ken Ward at Coal Tattoo on business as usual in WV.


September 11, 2014

Blog neglect

If blog neglect was a crime like child neglect, I would be in big trouble. I do have an excuse though. This week I've been consumed with the Our Children Our Future Campaign to End Child Poverty in WV's highly successful policy symposium.

In lieu of a real post, check it out here.

September 05, 2014

No surprise

West Virginia has taken several steps in a positive direction in the last couple of years, but we're still at the bottom on some indicators. Women in the state rank last in terms of earnings and workforce participation. And we're tied with our old pal Mississippi on obesity, which is one reason why efforts like Try This West Virginia are kind of important.

Along that line, the New York Times ran this item, which calls for putting the physical in education.One of several victories last years was the adoption of a state school board policy that mandates 30 minutes of physical activity per day in schools.We can beat this.

WE MAY BE CHUNKY, but at least we're not as big as this guy. Yet.

A LITTLE WIN. The Affordable Care Act got a boost in court yesterday.

September 04, 2014

Let's talk

I've often said that one thing that West Virginia needs right away is a series of grown-up conversations (that include young people) about West Virginia's economic future. One promising step in that direction is What's Next, West Virginia?, which is gearing up to hold dozens of such conversations statewide. You can read more about that here.

THIS COULD BE INTERESTING.Fast food workers in 150 cities may be acting up for higher wages today. I wish em all the best.

ANOTHER RIPPLE FROM THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT. This NPR item about how the Affordable Care Act is changing companies like CVS is worth a look.


September 02, 2014

Up in smoke

West Virginia has made some strides in the direction of reason in its criminal justice system, but there is still huge room for improvement. The Charleston Gazette recently reported that marijuana arrests accounted for over half of the drug busts in the state.

For the record, El Cabrero is no stoner. I figure if alcohol was good enough for my old man and my hillbillly and Scotch Irish ancestors, it's good enough for me. But still...there's got to be a better way.

THE CRISIS THAT WASN'T. For years, deficit scolds like Paul Ryan have been warning that Medicare costs, like those of Social Security and Medicaid, are growing at an unsustainable rate. That turns out to be BS too, thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act.

ANOTHER CIVILIZED STATE? Could it be that even a state like Tennessee is considering expanding Medicaid?

ANOTHER GAP BETWEEN RICH AND POOR is in the quality of food.


September 01, 2014

Room for hope?

Here's a semi-optimistic Labor Day assessment of the outlook for working people, or at least of changing attitudes about it.

And here's an all too realistic assessment of racial disparities in the US today.

August 31, 2014

Good news heading into Labor Day: another state joins the civilized world

There is some good news for over half a million working people in the neighboring state of Pennsylvania. That state, currently governed by Republican Tom Corbett, recently received federal approval for his version of Medicaid expansion.

It's not a straight-up expansion of Medicaid such as what was done in WV by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. It's more convoluted than it needs to be and it probably will cost more and be less effective, but still it's a huge step forward.

If you're keeping score, this means that 26 states and the District of Columbia have shown a modicum of humanity. These days, I'll take whatever good news I can get.

CALLING BS. Here's my take on the whole "war on coal."

August 29, 2014

Two liner

Yesterday, the Spousal Unit and I hiked a bit around the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail in Vermont. Along the way, I found a two line poem I had previously missed called "The Secret Sits." Here goes:

We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows
I think he might have been right about that one.

ONE LINK FOR THE ROAD: It looks like the Affordable Care Act is reducing the deficit.

August 28, 2014

Trouble in the heartland

One of my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs, which I nominated here as an alternative state song for West Virginia, opens with the lines "Lights out tonight/trouble in the heartland." Here's another look at the trouble in the coalfield part of the heartland by way of WV Public Broadcasting and the Washington Post. Sad to say, I think they got it right.


RANDOM LINK OF THE DAY. Here's a look at Freemasonry today by way of NPR.

August 27, 2014

Beyond vile

Over 30 years ago, the sociologist Herbert Gans cataloged the various ways predatory capitalism feeds on the poor. You can find his influential essay "The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay All" here. The latest twist on this kind of parasitism can be found in privatized programs that pretend to be community-based corrections systems and alternatives to incarceration but in fact might as well just attach suction pumps to suck the life out of those who fall into their clutches. Here's a good take on the subject from the NY Times.

MORE ON COAL'S DECLINE--and West Virginia's resource curse here, by way of the Washington Post..

August 26, 2014

A little progress

In keeping with the occasional theme of positive things about West Virginia, today's Charleston Gazette included an article about a report on prisons given by Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein to an interim legislative committee. According to Rubenstein, the results of prison overcrowding legislation passed in 2013 are already promising, with a drop from 1,700 to 900 inmates who should be in state correctional institutions backlogged in regional jails.

The overall population has dropped by 3.5 percent between July 1 2013 and June 30 2014, even though the effects of the reforms would take a few years to start working. The Division of Corrections is also implementing other policies aimed at reducing recidivism.

Next stop: the juvenile justice system.

NOW, go take a walk.

August 25, 2014

More good

I've been blogging lately about positive things going on in West Virginia. The latest example is close to home: Cabell County Schools, a true innovator in all things food-related, is not only feeding kids more local food, but some of its own kids are getting paid for growing it.

If you watched Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution show a few years back about his time in the Huntington area, Cabell's county seat, you probably will remember a lot of manufactured drama. In fact, the county has been way out front for years in this field, no pun intended.

It's been estimated that West Virginians spend over $7 billion on food per year annually, yet produce less than $1 billion of that. No wonder the head of the state Department of Agriculture likes to talk about a $6 billion opportunity.

August 21, 2014

Another plus

Believe it or not, there are a lot of good things going on in West Virginia (he said, to reassure himself). One of them is the growth of the local food movement and the spread of community gardens and farmers' markets.

Disclosure: we have a garden and I actually planted a good bit of it and it actually grew, but working in it is not my favorite thing, I'm sad to say. I like them better conceptually than when you have to do weeding.

Anyhow, this story from WV Public Broadcasting tells how some folks in Charleston are using community gardens built on vacant lots on the West Side to build their entrepreneurial skills.

I'm all for that and wish them well. But based on my experience at Goat Rope Farm, I wouldn't advise anybody to quit their day job.

YOU KNOW IT. If there's a news story about Neanderthals, you'll find it here.

August 20, 2014

How cool is this?...or cheap is the new green

It has been my practice at Goat Rope these days whenever possible to blog about positive things in West Virginia (and, yes, here are some). The latest such example is a recent gathering on sustainability, health and environmental education in Charleston.

The Charleston Gazette reports that Mark Swiger, a school official from Marshall County, could boast of an estimated savings of $7 million since 2000 due to reducing energy and water use and improving other environmental practices.

Swiger, the  sustainability contact for Marshall County Schools, says his 13-school district has saved an estimated $7 million since 2000 through limiting energy and water use and improving environmental sustainability in other ways.

“With 55 counties doing this, think of those savings,” Swiger said. “ ... Sustainability should have no ideology. It is conservative, it is progressive, it is everything. When you’re saving that kind of money, everyone wants that.”

Roger that.

August 19, 2014

Sad but true

A friend of mine just send me this link from the NY Times about declining membership in volunteer fire departments (VFDs)  around the country. If you live in a big city you may not realize this, but in a huge chunk of the country if things catch on fire or a disaster of any kind happens, volunteer fire fighters will be the ones to deal with it.

The Spousal Unit and I had a short but happy career in our volunteer fire department and the Times piece rings all too true. Running a VFD takes a lot of money and there is constant pressure to raise money. In our case, that meant weekly bingo games, regular boot drives, and grant writing. All that can pile up on an already strained pool of volunteers.

The decline of VFDs shows two sad features of contemporary American life: the decline of social capital and the nation's unwillingness to invest sufficiently in public goods.

WHAT'S NEXT, WV?  If coal jobs keep declining, what is going to take their place?


THERE ARE TONS OF STEREOTYPES ABOUT WEST VIRGINIANS. Some of them, however, may not be too far amiss.

August 18, 2014

An unkind god

Back in 1999, the theologian Harvey Cox wrote an influential essay about the newish idolatry that was sweeping the world. The title was The Market as God: Living in the New Dispensation.

Here's a sample paragraph:

At the apex of any theological system, of course, is its doctrine of God. In the new theology this celestial pinnacle is occupied by The Market, which I capitalize to signify both the mystery that enshrouds it and the reverence it inspires in business folk. Different faiths have, of course, different views of the divine attributes. In Christianity, God has sometimes been defined as omnipotent (possessing all power), omniscient (having all knowledge), and omnipresent (existing everywhere). Most Christian theologies, it is true, hedge a bit. They teach that these qualities of the divinity are indeed there, but are hidden from human eyes both by human sin and by the transcendence of the divine itself. In "light inaccessible" they are, as the old hymn puts it, "hid from our eyes." Likewise, although The Market, we are assured, possesses these divine attributes, they are not always completely evident to mortals but must be trusted and affirmed by faith. "Further along," as another old gospel song says, "we'll understand why."
The market god hasn't been very kind to the coal industry in West Virginia, which faces competition from cheap and abundant natural gas and other energy sources, including coal from the western US and elsewhere. The latest slap from the market god comes from international competition.

According to the Charleston Daily Mail, "...while coal mines across Central Appalachia are announcing closures, U.S. coal imports are rising sharply." One such source of cheaper coal is the nation of Colombia.

Here again, the two archangels of the market god, supply and demand, seem to be at work. While labor costs in Colombia are lower, another factor is transportation. Shipping coal from South American apparently seems to many buyers to be a better alternative for some buyers as domestic competition for rail car space goes up.

The Daily Mail cites a Wall Street Journal article which reports that "it’s $11 a ton cheaper for Florida power plants to have coal shipped from Colombia than Central Appalachia. It costs $26 a ton to ship from Central Appalachia compared to $15 a ton from Colombia."

It's hard for true believers to be angry at their god. Maybe that's why they like to blame the black guy with the unusual name and the EPA.

August 17, 2014

More on a bright spot

Whenever possible, I've blogged here about good things that are happening or have happened in West Virginia (there really are some). One to watch is the new effort to reform the state's juvenile justice system, which is a hot mess.

With the help of the Pew Charitable Trusts, a state task force composed of people from many sectors will study the system and look for ways to reduce incarceration and recidivism and promote community corrections. Something like this has already been done with the adult prison system via legislation passed in 2013.

WHAT'S THE WORLD COMING TO? I was pleasantly surprised to read this editorial in the conservative Charleston Daily Mail last week calling on people to recognize that coal is declining for whatever reason and that we need to start talking seriously about West Virginia's future and working to diversity the economy.