August 15, 2017

A blast (and warning) from the past

Since the tragic events of the last weekend in Charlottesville, a long forgotten video produced by the US War Department during WWII has gone viral over the internet. I think most of what's gone out over the interwebs has been excerpts from the full version, which lasted about 17 minutes.

The uncut version of the film "Don't Be a Sucker" is available here. It was first produced in 1943 and re-released in 1947. I highly recommend giving it a look. It's an eerily contemporary warning to Americans to resist the temptations of fascism and authoritarianism.

Too bad it's not just a curious relic of another time.

August 13, 2017

WV Council of Churches statement on Charlottesville

CHARLESTON, W.V. — West Virginia Council of Churches Condemns Violence in Charlottesville, VA

For many years, as stated in our Public Policy Issues Booklet “the West Virginia Council of Churches laments the deterioration of political debate in our society as it is expressed through the demonization of political adversaries, falsehood masquerading as truth for political gain, and the corrosive effect of anonymous money.  All of these have a negative influence on public trust and the participation of citizens in the political process.  We call for civility, mutual respect, financial transparency, disclosure, and truth telling in campaigning and other forms of political activity”  (WVCC Public Policy Issues Booklet, p. 7).

Today, in Charlottesville, Virginia, we have seen the end result of the failure to attend to those things that nurture civil society and of the failure to see one another as sisters and brothers.  We whole-heartedly condemn the violence and the hate that was displayed in Charlottesville, Virginia.  We unequivocally reaffirm our belief that Black lives do matter and that our country must come to terms with the racism endemic in our society.  We pray for peace and healing in Charlottesville and in our country.  It is our hope that all people of good will, politicians and citizens alike, will condemn this violence, begin to heal the wounds in our country, and “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5: 24).

The West Virginia Council of Churches (WVCC) represents 14 Christian denominations in West Virginia. Its mission is to make visible the unity of Christ's church, and to provide a Christian witness on public issues, as well as to engage in cooperative mission and service for all West Virginians.

August 10, 2017

Getting real about fixing health care

A lot of great quotes have been attributed to Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister during the World War II era. Too bad he didn’t actually say some of them.

That’s probably true of one of my favorites, although I’m not going to let that stop me now.

The nonquote I have in mind goes like this: “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.”

(He really should have said that.)

That line came to mind after the latest health care roller coaster ride that ended with Arizona Sen. John McCain’s movie-moment no vote.

In his statement, McCain had this to say:

“We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of aisle, heed the recommendations of nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people. We must do the hard work our citizens expect of us and deserve.”

To paraphrase, we’ve already tried everything else. Maybe it’s time to do the right thing, which would consist of keeping what’s working and fixing what isn’t.

Maybe it’s a pipedream in this moment of extremism, but it would be the best solution for the American people.

While I’ve spilt a lot of ink (or pixels) defending parts of the Affordable Care Act, I’ve never been an uncritical supporter. At best, it’s an extremely indirect way of getting part way to where we should be, i.e. covering all Americans. It works really well for millions of people — including around 225,000 in West Virginia — but not much or even not at all for others.

Recently, my co-worker, Lida Shepherd, with help from Andy White, interviewed several people impacted by the ACA who received care from Cabin Creek Health Systems. Some purchased health care on the exchange and some were covered by Medicaid expansion. A former coal miner received additional help for black lung due to ACA amendments pushed through by the late great Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va.

Nearly all of those we interviewed had pre-existing conditions, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, thyroid disorders, Hashimoto’s syndrome, sleep apnea, addiction, anemia, arthritis, endometriosis and more

We didn’t talk to enough people to get a scientific sample, but it gave us a pretty good sense of where people were.

Generally, those who received care through Medicaid expansion were very enthusiastic about it. Others, who received care through the exchange, were glad to have coverage, but some were more critical, especially those experiencing rising premiums, co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses.

For those in recovery, addiction treatment through Medicaid expansion was a godsend. One woman put it this way: “I wouldn’t be here without it, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t have a job. I wouldn’t have a home. It’s affected my whole life. Before I came here, I didn’t have a job. Now I’m an assistant manager. I’m healthy. I’m happy. My son has a great life. He’s happy.”

Another woman echoed that sentiment: “You literally wake up one day after you’ve had nine months or more of sobriety and you’re like — OK, I didn’t realize it but my house is clean every day. My daughter always has clean clothes and food. Her hair is always done.”

In some cases, the ACA was a mixed blessing, but still a blessing. The former miner related how he and his wife purchased coverage on the exchange for her, only to find out that she had a potentially fatal heart condition. He said that news “just took the bottom out of my world.”

Thanks to the coverage, she could get lifesaving but expensive surgery. He said, “Obamacare, although I paid a severe co-pay and a severe out-of-pocket pay, which was roughly $15,000 combination of the two, they picked up the rest of the bill. In that perspective, I got a bargain, though it was a large amount of money.”

A woman struggling with several pre-existing conditions and buried in out-of-pocket costs was frustrated with the ACA but said, “You tell me how I’m going to get insurance coverage by anybody else if this does completely go away, because I have pre-existing conditions. I can’t not have health care. I’m terrified. What am I going to do?”

If I had to sum up what everyone had to say in one sentence, it would be something like, “Make it better if you can, but don’t take it away!”

Otherwise, as one gentleman put it, “You might as well dig some graves, ’cause you’re going to be burying them.”

In a less-irrational world, the fits and starts (mostly fits) of repeal would give way to basic problem-solving on issues such as bucking up the individual market. According to the Commonwealth Fund, a private, nonpartisan health foundation, “The immediate concern is stabilizing marketplaces to ensure that the 17 million to 18 million people getting coverage through the individual market will be able to successfully re-enroll during this fall’s open enrollment period.”

Other basic steps would include ensuring that basic plans are offered in areas currently “bare” or without a plan available, and dealing with the issue of reinsurance, which causes problems for patients when one insurance firm acquires another.

West Virginia’s senators, Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, are uniquely positioned to move the discussion in a more productive direction if they seize the moment.

In any case, I hope all members of Congress and the current administration will consider what one person had to say about it: “Take away your own health care and see how you like it.”

(This appeared as an op-ed of mine in yesterday's Gazette-Mail.)

August 08, 2017

A moment in the sun (literally)

As you may have heard, a certain elected official of the United States paid a visit to Huntington, WV last week. When I heard that the ACLU was sending people there to be legal observers, I tagged along as an unofficial volunteer.

The job for the day was not to participate in any of the rallies or protests, but to monitor conditions with the goal of ensuring that people of whatever viewpoint were able to exercise their First Amendment rights, documenting things as necessary.

I think the subtext  for me anyhow was to pay attention in case the situation started to get out of hand.

Mostly, I walked around in the heat for five hours getting my brain baked. And fortunately things didn't get out of hand. The police were generally very professional. There was some screaming back and forth from supporters and protesters but I only saw one person being escorted out by police and no serious violence, even though the potential was definitely there.

There were people across the spectrum who seemed intent on stirring things up. There was even a group of armed militia-type people standing where the protesters were. Fortunately, they were fairly laid back.

The thing that struck me the most was that, although the lines were clearly drawn, most people walked past each other without incident when it was over. There was some give and take, sometimes heated. And at times people seemed to be honestly baffled with how people on the opposite side could think and feel the way they did. Then they went home.

In the end, I found all that to be oddly reassuring.

August 06, 2017

Three for the road

If you're trying to make sense of WV Governor Jim Justice's high profile party switch and what that means for WV, good luck--and you're in good company. Here's some basic reporting by Brad McEllhenny of WV MetroNews. And I think the Gazette-Mail's Phil Kabler hit most of the right notes with his column.

If you are up for some more amusing WV related news, check out this item from Vanity Fair that talks about the WV ACLU's hilarious brief about coal baron Bob Murray,  who made good on his threat to sue Comedy Central's John Oliver after somewhat less than reverent treatment on the tube. Giant Squirrel fans, you're going to love it.

Finally, it looks like Christianity minus the whole Jesus thing is alive and well in the USA. Sad.

August 05, 2017


I just finished listening to the ancient Roman poet Ovid's Metamorphoses, in which all kinds of things change form. Little did I know that he could have written a post script on WV's governor Jim Justice, who switched parties publicly during a certain visit to WV earlier this week. We talked about it on a special edition the Front Porch, but I can't remember what I said or if I even agree with myself.

August 01, 2017

Could this be real?

I may be dreaming, but I think I just saw an article in the NY Times about how some in Congress are working in a bipartisan way to fix the parts of the ACA that most need fixing, i.e. the individual markets. Some ideas about how to do this are laid out by the non-partisan Commonwealth Fund, a health care foundation. This approach is in stark contrast to certain screeching tweet threats, which some lawmakers from both parties fear will totally destabilize individual coverage for millions of Americans.

I'm not sure how realistic this is, but it would be nice if we could keep the parts that work and actually do some problem solving on the rest.

July 28, 2017


Looks like I inadvertently picked an eventful weekend for a family road trip. At the time we planned it, nobody could have known that the latest round in the health care fight would come to a climax while we were traveling.

I tried as best I could to follow events by peeking at Twitter, but by bedtime it looked like curtains for the Affordable Care Act...which would mean curtains for real for some who would lose coverage.

I was blown away to learn this morning that John McCain earned Uber-Maverick status by his vote, which effectively killed this attempt to repeal (and maybe replace) the ACA.

I did not see this coming. In fact, when he came back from his hospital stay and voted for the Motion to Proceed, I was feeling pretty snarky. It seemed to me that he came back from receiving health care to a vote to take it away from others.

I was SOOOO wrong and I apologize to Senator McCain for even thinking this.

Instead, he chose that dramatic moment to act with the all too rare courage of a statesman. A longtime opponent of the ACA, he wants whatever happens with health care to be an improvement for the American people done in an open and transparent way.

Here's his statement:

"From the beginning, I have believed that Obamacare should be repealed and replaced with a solution that increases competition, lowers costs, and improves care for the American people. The so-called ‘skinny repeal’ amendment the Senate voted on today would not accomplish those goals. While the amendment would have repealed some of Obamacare’s most burdensome regulations, it offered no replacement to actually reform our health care system and deliver affordable, quality health care to our citizens. The Speaker’s statement that the House would be ‘willing’ to go to conference does not ease my concern that this shell of a bill could be taken up and passed at any time.

“I’ve stated time and time again that one of the major failures of Obamacare was that it was rammed through Congress by Democrats on a strict-party line basis without a single Republican vote. We should not make the mistakes of the past that has led to Obamacare’s collapse, including in my home state of Arizona where premiums are skyrocketing and health care providers are fleeing the marketplace. We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of aisle, heed the recommendations of nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people. We must do the hard work our citizens expect of us and deserve."

Talk about a profile in courage. I hope his stand will help bring about a ration effort to fix what's broken with the ACA while keeping what works, one that follows the oath of Hippocrates: "First do no harm."

Talk about a movie ending--one that I'd like to see.

Thank you, Senator McCain! I wish there was more of this kind of courage closer to home.

July 24, 2017

Last chance?

Not to be too dramatic about it, but this could be the last chance to try to preserve health care for millions of Americans, including kids, seniors and working people. In WV alone nearly 300,000 kids are covered by Medicaid, which also pays for over half of births and around 70 percent of long term care. Medicaid expansion as of today covers around 171,000 West Virginians.

Last week, Senator Capito seemed to be standing strong. Today it's hard to tell. And tomorrow is show time.

What can you do? You probably saw this coming, but keep calling Senator Capito's offices (the more the  merrier) and say something like "Stay strong. Vote no on taking away health care from WV."

DC office:  202-224-6472
Beckley: 304-347-5372
Charleston: 304-347-5372
Martinsburg:  304-262-9285
Morgantown: 304-292-2310

July 23, 2017

Lotta ins, lotta outs

The ongoing health care controversy reminds me of a line from The Big Lebowski. But then, almost everything reminds me of a line from that move. The line is question is "This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you's." Some of those are laid out in this story from WV Public Broadcasting.

In the latest Front Porch podcast, I gave some props to WV Senator Shelley Moore Capito for her statement on preserving coverage for her constituents in the state. I'm hoping that wasn't a case of speaking too soon. It's a bit hard to interpret her latest statement on the subject.

Worst case interpretation: she votes for a bad bill after some cosmetic changes are made to the old ones. Better case is that she really does hold out until there are guaranteed protection for things like traditional Medicaid, Medicaid expansion, CHIP and opioid treatment.

In a rational world, not that one exists anywhere near this one, there would be some bipartisan problem solving to fix the parts of the Affordable Care Act that need fixing, such as the individual market, while keeping what is working.

Recently, we interviewed several people affected by the ACA in Kanawha County WV. Some loved the coverage they had. Some hated it. All seemed to agree on this core message: "Make it better but don't take anything away."

July 18, 2017

Good news for and from WV

As Joe Biden might say, "Golly, this could be a significant development" in the ongoing fight over the fate of the Affordable Care Act and the millions who gained coverage through it.

Let's review the last week or so. First, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was hell bent on pushing through another bad version of ACA repeal and replacement. See my latest rant about that here. Then, Republican defections effectively took that off the agenda. Then McConnell, along with Prince Joffrey President Trump, called for repeal without replacement, another really bad idea. Now, that possibility just got a good bit more remote after WV Senator Shelley Moore Capito issued a strong statement opposing repeal without replacement.

She's not the only one but her decision is crucial. Here's her statement:

“As I have said before, I did not come to Washington to hurt people. For months, I have expressed reservations about the direction of the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. I have serious concerns about how we continue to provide affordable care to those who have benefited from West Virginia’s decision to expand Medicaid, especially in light of the growing opioid crisis. All of the Senate health care discussion drafts have failed to address these concerns adequately. 
“My position on this issue is driven by its impact on West Virginians. With that in mind, I cannot vote to repeal Obamacare without a replacement plan that addresses my concerns and the needs of West Virginians.” 
The fight isn't over...but this latest round might be. Congratulations to everyone in WV who worked so hard to make this happen.

I strongly encourage any and all from WV to pick up the phone and call both her local and DC offices and say a big "Thank you!" Here's the link. I'm about to pick up the phone myself.

July 14, 2017

Still bad

The new version of the US Senate's bill to replace the Affordable Care Act is out. Previous incarnations of the bill were bad. This one is too, although in slightly different ways. Here's just a bit of what the DC-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has to say about it:
In broad outline, the bill continues to do to the following:
  • End the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s expansion of Medicaid to low-income adults.
  • Cap and cut federal Medicaid funding for seniors, people with disabilities, and families with children.
  • Increase premiums and deductibles for millions of moderate-income people who buy health insurance through the ACA marketplaces.
  • Undermine the ACA’s individual market reforms by weakening key consumer protections for people with pre-existing conditions and eliminating the ACA’s individual mandate, which helps ensure a balanced individual market risk pool.
  • Provide hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for high-income households, drug companies, and other corporations.
You probably didn't see this coming, but this means West Virginians need to keep contacting the offices of Senator Shelley Moore Capito and urging her to hold the line and vote no on any measure advancing the bill.

July 11, 2017

Not there yet

It's too soon to pop any corks yet, but it is at least encouraging that WV Senator Shelley Moore Capito has come out strongly against the senate version for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

According to an article published in The Hill,

“I only see it through the lens of a vulnerable population who needs help, who I care about very deeply,” she said during an interview with Politico that was published Sunday. “So that gives me strength. If I have to be that one person, I will be it.”
Between now and whatever happens next, it will be important to continue to contact her office first to say thanks for this stand and second to encourage her to hold the line. We need to provide as much political cover as possible for her to do this.

Here are some more reasons why this is important and here are some ideas for immediate action.

July 09, 2017

Once to every soul and nation

When I was growing up, my mother used to drag me to church nearly every week, often with considerable resistance on my part.

Once there, I didn’t always pay a lot of attention. Since we were Episcopal, we at least got up and down a good bit, which was better than just sitting.

(Not to mention the whole bread and wine thing ...)

But you never know what’s going to stick.

I remember one time when a hymn hit me like a thunderbolt. It was “Once to Every Man and Nation,” written by the New England poet and abolitionist James R. Lowell (1819-1891). Nowadays, in the spirit of gender inclusiveness, people often sing it as “Once to every soul and nation.” But its point is as stark and sharp as ever.

The message is that, sometimes, we have to make a huge decision, one that will affect ourselves and others and will define us for as long as memory lasts.

Here’s one version of the opening verse:

“Once to every soul and nation, comes the moment to decide,

In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;

Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,

And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.”

(Some well-meaning idiot later took it out of the Episcopal hymn book on the bogus theory that we always get more than one chance. In real life, however, that’s not the case.)

Later, I thought of this hymn when I learned about French existential philosophy with its emphasis on the need to choose.

That movement was shaped during the Nazi occupation of France, when people’s decisions really mattered — and often came just once. Should one collaborate with the occupation forces? Should one resist? If so, how might this impact loved ones? Should one try to be neutral? Was that even possible?

Closer to home, the classic Appalachian labor song “Which side are you on?” makes the same point.

Fortunately, most of us don’t have to make big decisions like that very often. But sometimes we do.

West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito is in that difficult position. She’s one of a handful of senators who will be critical in deciding whether millions of Americans lose health care they gained with the Affordable Care Act to help pay for yet more tax cuts for the rich.

She’ll also be deciding whether to make deep cuts to the Medicaid system, a 52-year-old federal/state program that provides care to around 70 million Americans, including children, seniors and people with disabilities.

In West Virginia, the traditional Medicaid program covers around 208,000 children, which is one out of every two. It also covers the births of around 10,600 babies each year, or 52 percent of the total. It covers 44,000 seniors, including in-home and nursing home care, as well as 124,000 people with disabilities who need critical care. The expanded Medicaid coverage covers around 175,000 adults, most of whom come from working families.

Aside from saving lives and helping people fight illnesses and addiction, that translates into thousands of jobs in the health care field and brings hundreds of millions of dollars to West Virginia’s economy — far more than coal or other extractive industries.

Capito and other Republican moderates are under immense pressure to pull the plug on millions of Americans to please Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, not to mention other powerful politicians and the big-money individuals and groups that pull the strings. Not going along could affect their political careers in Washington.

But Senator Capito has also expressed concerns about undermining Medicaid, taking away health care from ordinary West Virginians and making it harder for people to get help with addiction. She’s been a champion of covering kids since she supported enacting the Children’s Health Insurance Program in the state legislature in the 90s. Her father voted for the passage of Medicare and Medicaid when he served in Congress in the 1960s.

So far, she’s stood with the people of West Virginia and rejected the initial Senate bill, which would have taken care away from 22 million Americans, according to the Congressional Budget Office. In a recent statement, she said the bill, as drafted, “will not ensure access to affordable health care in West Virginia, does not do enough to combat the opioid epidemic that is devastating my state, cuts traditional Medicaid too deeply and harms rural health care providers.”

But it’s not over yet, and pressure on her and other moderates will continue to mount, especially if a few cosmetic changes are made to the proposed legislation.

I don’t envy their position. But in this once-in-a-lifetime decision, I hope Sen. Capito and her colleagues continue to think of all the people here who will be affected.

I’m reminded of these words of Abraham Lincoln at another critical time: “in times like the present, men [and women] should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity.”

(This appeared as an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.)

July 03, 2017

Independence Day

Here's one of my favorite poems by Langston Hughes (1902-1967). It's a totally different take on making America great. I've used it here before here, but it seems more timely than ever now.

Let America be American again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

June 30, 2017

Justice calls for justice

Here's another big "thank you!" to WV Governor Jim Justice for standing up for West Virginians and opposing the senate "health care" bill in the strongest terms. Here's part of what he wrote in a letter to Senators Capito and Manchin:

While the impacts outlined in the Congressional Budget Office report are cause for serious concern, the reality is things are worse than they seem. I want you to be fully aware of the impact the current legislation would have on the state we both love.
Since so many of our people count on Medicaid, any cut to Medicaid would destroy families in West Virginia. We can't put the 175,000 West Virginians who benefit it from the Medicaid expansion at the risk of losing coverage. The consequences would be beyond catastrophic.
In the face of our drug epidemic, fewer people would have access to drug treatment programs under the current proposal. As the  debate moves forward, I hope you and your colleagues will consider the fact that it will only make it harder to combat e the drug problem that's ravaging West Virginia.
And that's no BS...and you know this governor knows a thing or two about that.

The whole letter is here.

Happy 4th!

June 27, 2017

In the spirit of fair play: a big "Thank you!" to Senator Capito

Here's a big "Thank you!" to WV Senator Shelley Moore Capito, who just came out against the American Health Care Act.  

From her statement:

“I came to Washington to make the lives of West Virginians better. Throughout this debate, I have said that I will only support a bill that provides access to affordable health care coverage for West Virginians, including those on Medicaid and those struggling with drug addiction. In West Virginia, Obamacare has led to skyrocketing premiums, co-pays, and deductibles for families and small businesses. Patients have fewer choices in doctors and hospitals as networks shrink and plans become more restrictive.” 
“I have consistently looked for opportunities to improve this broken law, including co-sponsoring the Patient Freedom Act of 2017 earlier this year. I continue to believe we must repair what can be fixed, scrap what is not working, and create a better health care reality for West Virginians. At the same time, West Virginia has the largest Medicaid population in the country. I recognize that many West Virginians rely on health coverage and access to substance abuse treatment because of my state’s decision to expand coverage through Medicaid. I have studied the draft legislation and CBO analysis to understand its impact on West Virginians. As drafted, this bill will not ensure access to affordable health care in West Virginia, does not do enough to combat the opioid epidemic that is devastating my state, cuts traditional Medicaid too deeply, and harms rural health care providers.”
“As drafted, the Senate health care bill is not the right fix for West Virginia, and I cannot support it. My concerns will need to be addressed going forward.”
This is the time we need to say "Thanks" as loudly as we said "Don't vote for it." Click here. I just called her Charleston and DC offices. Please consider doing the same.

A bad deal all the way around

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the "kinder, gentler" senate non-health care bill will cut off 22 million people from coverage. According to the NY Times, the CBO...

 ...found that next year, 15 million more people would be uninsured compared with current law. Premiums and out-of-pocket expenses could shoot skyward for some low-income people and for people nearing retirement, it said.

You can check out the CBO report here.

This bill would also be devastating to tens of thousands of people in WV, not to mention the whole country, who are getting help for addiction thanks to the Affordable Care Act. (You can read more about real people who could be impacted by ACA repeal here.)

Meanwhile, WV Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito continues to straddle the fence. Yesterday, six West Virginians were arrested for sitting in at her Charleston office. That action came one day after around 2,000 West Virginians attended a rally there that featured local people as well as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

As Bob Dylan sang, you gotta serve somebody. The question is, will Capito choose to serve Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or the people of West Virginia? I wish I felt better about how that might turn out

June 22, 2017

High water everywhere?

It's kind of a creepy coincidence that we might get more heavy rains on the anniversary of the storm that flooded parts of West Virginia last year  and killed 24 people. What's left of Tropical Storm Cindy is going to be plowing north from the gulf and parts of the state could get hit pretty hard.

I remember being in southern WV the day the storms hit. The sky got really weird and then it was on. We just dodged the bullet on the farm because of dumb luck. Others weren't so lucky.

No doubt about it, the skies are getting scarier. Good thing climate change is a hoax, right? Otherwise we'd be up the (flooded) creek.

Stay dry!

June 20, 2017

Happy birthday, West Virginia

I've used this poem before to celebrate the day, but it still seems to fit:

By Muriel Miller Dressler
I am Appalachia. In my veins
Runs fierce mountain pride; the hill-fed streams
Of passion; and, stranger, you don’t know me!
You’ve analyzed my every move–you still
Go away shaking your head. I remain
Enigmatic. How can you find rapport with me–
You, who never stood in the bowels of hell,
Never felt a mountain shake and open its jaws
To partake of human sacrifice?
You, who never stood on a high mountain
Watching the sun unwind its spiral rays:
Who never searched the glens for wild flowers,
Never picked mayapples or black walnuts; never ran
Wildly through the woods in pure delight,
Nor dangled your feet in a lazy creek?
You, who never danced to wild sweet notes,
Outpouring of nimble-fingered fiddlers;
Who never just “sat a spell,” on a porch,
Chewing and whittling; or hearing in pastime
The deep-throated bay of chasing hounds
And hunters shouting with joy, “He’s treed!”
You, who never once carried a coffin
To a family plot high up on a ridge
Because mountain folk know it’s best to lie
Where breezes from the hills whisper, “You’re home”;
You, who never saw from the valley that graves on a hill
Bring easement of pain to those below?
I tell you, stranger, hill folk know
What life is all about; they don’t need pills
To tranquilize the sorrow and joy of living.
I am Appalachia: and, stranger,
Though you’ve studied me, you still don’t know.

June 19, 2017

Bare bones

Well, West Virginia finally has a state budget, assuming the governor doesn't veto it, which I doubt will happen. It's pretty bare bones.

Most disturbing is the $16 million cut in higher education in a state that desperately needs to raise its educational attainment level, which will raise costs for students. After spending half a mill on the special session.

Here are some facts about higher ed and the state budget from the WV Center on Budget and Policy:

*Average tuition at West Virginia’s public colleges and universities has increased by $4,200 since 2002, a 147 percent increase, and far outpacing inflation.
*Tuition increases, in large part, have been fueled by falling public support for higher education. Since 2008, state spending in higher education has declined by $130 million, adjusting for inflation.
*As tuitions have increased, so has student debt. The average debt of a college graduate in West Virginia has increased by 70 percent since 2005. West Virginia also has the second highest student loan default rate in the country.
*Tuition increases have eroded the value of the state’s financial aid programs. The share of tuition covered by the PROMISE scholarship has fallen from 100 percent to 70 percent.

This was the second year in a row the state skated to the edge of a government shutdown. Back in what I didn't realize were the good old days, the legislative session was 60 days with maybe a  mostly drama-free week right after to nail down the budget. I'm hoping this doesn't turn into Groundhog Day.

On the bright side, the budget doesn't include tax changes that would make the bottom 80 percent pay more while giving a big break to the wealthy, a measure that would have also cost the state hundreds of millions in lost revenue in future years. One bad year is betting than signing up for a bunch of them.

Here are two views on the budget process by two veteran reporters, Phil Kabler from the Gazette-Mail and Brad McElhenny from WV Metro-News.

June 14, 2017

A polite word for crash

West Virginia is a state that benefited more than just about any other from the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Thanks largely to it, our rate of uninsured West Virginians has plummeted. By 2016, it fell from 14 to 6 percent.

In a 12-month period, it covers 200,000 West Virginians. At any given moment, it covers around 175,000, nearly one in 10.

According to DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch, it made treatment for opioid addiction available to 50,000 people in desperate need of recovery.

It’s also been a boon to rural health care providers and helped preserve and create thousands of jobs in the health care sector.

In 2014, its first year of implementation alone, it reduced the cost of uncompensated care at 24 West Virginia hospitals by $264,829,374. Those are costs that weren’t be passed on to consumers in the form of higher costs.

The Republican-supported American Health Care Act, which passed the U.S. House in May, would phase out Medicaid expansion and mean a loss of Medicaid coverage to around 14 million Americans by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The Economic Policy Institute estimates that these cuts would be a severe blow to our economy and could result in the loss of 23,000 jobs in West Virginia by 2022.

Given all this, it’s been a good thing that a few moderate Republicans in the U.S. Senate, including West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito, have spoken up in support of preserving Medicaid expansion.

Unfortunately, that might be changing.

According to The Hill, “GOP moderates in the Senate are open to ending federal funding for ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion, but want a longer deadline for ending the additional funding than their leadership has proposed.”

These senators say they want “a significant glidepath” to end the coverage.

With all respect, I think glidepath is a polite way of saying plane crash.

Aviva Avon-Dine, of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, argues, “That approach would not preserve anyone’s coverage in the long run. It also would do next to nothing to preserve Medicaid expansion in the short run.”

According to one May poll, the House version is a little more popular than bubonic plague, with about one in five Americans supporting it. A more recent poll found that only 8 percent think the Senate should pass the House version.

But even a slower Senate version isn’t much more likely to receive public support.

According to the Kaiser Family Fund, “The vast majority of the public — including a majority of Democrats (93 percent), independents (83 percent), and Republicans (71 percent) — say it is important that states that received federal funds to expand Medicaid continue to receive those funds.”

The fate of a lot of people here and around the country is going to rest in the hands of a very small group of people. I hope that the lives and well-being of millions of Americans will outweigh political pressures and ideology.

(This ran as an op-ed in today's Gazette-Mail.)

June 09, 2017

G(r)eeking out

The ancient Greek writer Herodotus has been called “the father of history.” And “the father of lies.”

He is remembered today for his Histories, a sprawling account of the origins and outcome of the clash between the Greek city-states and the mighty Persian Empire in the fifth-century B.C.

It’s also stuffed with moral instruction, folklore, palace gossip, wild speculations and incredible tales of floating islands, giant gold-digging ants and flying serpents.

It also has some dark wisdom about happiness and the changeability of human fortunes.

One story involves two people whose names have become words, Solon and Croesus. Solon was an Athenian lawgiver who laid the foundation for that city’s democracy, while Croesus was the wealthy king of Lydia, in what is now Turkey.

A solon is a wise legislator, although you don’t hear the term around West Virginia much these days for some reason. Someone who is fabulously wealthy can be said to be “as rich as Croesus.”

The story goes that after Solon reformed Athenian laws, he left the city for 10 years after making the citizens swear an oath to abide by his measures for that period of time.

He visited Lydia, said to be the first country to mint coins, and stayed with Croesus. Eager to impress his guest, who was reputed to be wise, Croesus showed Solon his many treasures and asked him who he thought was the happiest man.

As my wife would say, he was fishing for a compliment.

He didn’t get one.

To Croesus’ surprise, Solon’s answer was someone he’d never heard of, an apparent Athenian nobody named Tellus, who had a decent life, a good family and who died fighting for his city and was honored with a funeral at public expense.

Croesus then asked who was next happiest. Once again, the answer wasn’t what he was looking for. Solon gave the names of two brothers from Argos named Kleobus and Biton.

They were the sons of a priestess of the goddess Hera. When the time came for her to go to the temple, the oxen who drew the cart had wandered off. Her sons put the yoke around themselves and pulled her several miles to the temple, where they were praised for their devotion to their mother and the gods who protected their city.

When the exhausted boys fell asleep, their proud mother prayed that they would receive whatever was best.

They never woke up. Let’s just say they went out on a high note.

Solon went on to explain to an angry Croesus that, since human life is subject to major reversals, he made it a practice not to say a person had a happy one until he saw how it ended. He said, “Until he is dead, keep the word ‘happy’ in reserve. Till then, he is not happy, but only lucky.”

Croesus wasn’t having it. Solon soon left, while he continued to pursue wealth and power. He sent fabulous gifts to the major temples and oracles, including the famous oracle of the god Apollo, at Delphi.

As if you could buy the favor of the gods.

Croesus became concerned about the rise to power on his eastern frontier of the Medo- Persians under Cyrus. He asked the oracle at Delphi if he should go to war with Cyrus.

He was told that, if he did, a mighty empire would fall. Another oracle told him that he had nothing to fear until a mule, a cross between a donkey and a horse, ruled over the Medes and Persians empire.

He did go to war with Cyrus, but the empire that fell was his own. The mule, it turned out, was Cyrus himself, whose mother was a Mede and father was a Persian.

Apollo’s oracle was pretty funny that way, but the blame for the disaster belonged to Croesus and not the god.

After losing everything, Croesus was about to be burned alive as Cyrus watched. He cried out “Solon, Solon, Solon” as the flames burned higher. Cyrus, who was a pretty nice guy as world conquerors go, asked through an interpreter what he was saying and spared his life when Croesus told the story.

As he put it later, “Human life is like a revolving wheel and never allows the same man to continue long in prosperity.”

The point Herodotus and the Greek tragic poets were trying to make was that power, wealth and pride can lead to arrogance (Hubris) and moral blindness (Ate), which, in turn, can invite disaster, often personified as the vengeance of Nemesis, goddess of justice and retribution, who renders that which is due.

The biblical Book of Proverbs makes a similar point, “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Meanwhile, the wheel still turns.

(This appeared as an op-ed in today's Gazette-Mail.)

June 08, 2017

A close one

According to The Hill, WV Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, who has previously supported retaining Medicaid expansion, is now open to phasing it out. This would be a disaster to the Mountain State, where 175,000 people have gained coverage. According to WV DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch, that includes 50,000 people getting treatment for opioid addiction in a state that leads the nation in overdose deaths.

The House plan, according to the CBO, would over time cut Medicaid coverage for 14 million people. Even a kinder, gentler, slower Senate phaseout could end coverage for millions.

Just another reason why it's important for West Virginians to contact Senator Capito's office and urge her to preserve this lifeline for so many West Virginians. To find out how to do that, click here.

June 05, 2017

Nothing like the real thing

During the worst crisis in American history, President Abraham Lincoln made time regularly to talk with and listen to all varieties of ordinary citizens. He understood that success in leading a democracy required an understanding of public opinion and the only way to get that was unfiltered contact with the public.

That meant spending time with uninvited visitors, singly or in groups and ranging from office seekers to petitioners to ordinary people to cranks. Lincoln called these occasions his "public-opinion baths" and viewed them as critical to his ability to govern.

As he told a Union officer, "I feel, though the tax on my time is heavy, no hours of my day are better employed than those which thus bring me again within the direct contact and atmosphere of our whole people. Men moving only in an official circle are apt to become merely official, not to say arbitrary, in their ideas, and are apter and apter, with each passing day, to forget that they only hold power in a representative capacity."

Lincoln admitted that many of the concerns brought to him were utterly frivolous and others were more or less important, but he believed that "all serve to renew in me a clearer and more vivid image of that great popular assemblage, out of which I sprang, and to which I must return."

It was his way of keeping it real.

Unfortunately in today's political climate it's all too easy for political leaders to insulate themselves from their constituents, just as it's easy for us ordinary citizens to live in media bubbles where we stay in our political comfort zones.

For a democracy to work well, there's no substitute for direct contact. That's the only way that real connections can be made between citizens and their representatives. And it's the only way for representatives to understand the concerns of real people. And there's no more direct way for that to happen than by open and unscripted public meetings.

In this day and age, that may take a little political courage. But that's what leadership is all about.

There's no partisan monopoly on this. In March, after some occasionally tense pressure from citizens, Sen. Joe Manchin held four wide-open events from the eastern panhandle to Huntington. It wasn't always a love feast. He took heat from those who disagreed with some of his votes, but there was also a chance for honest give and take on the issues.

New Jersey Republican Congressman Tom MacArthur recently endured a mostly hostile five hour meeting with constituents, many of whom were angered by his vote to replace the Affordable Care Act with the Trump supported replacement.

Love him or not, at least he had the courage to show up and take it.

These days, you get points for showing up.

Whatever their political views, West Virginians deserve representatives and candidates who have the willingness and courage to show up for face-to-face meetings with those they represent.

Everybody needs a good bath every now and then.

(This appeared as an op-ed in Sunday's Huntington Herald-Dispatch.)

June 01, 2017

The quality of mercy

A suspect has been detained in the case of the murder of Mama-san and six of her chicks, whose story was celebrated here before the crime took place.

I seriously considered the ultimate penalty against the offender, although I guess technically by the rules of evidence I would need further proof that it was this raccoon and not another one who did the crime.

At this point, I'm leaning towards telling it to "go (far away) and sin no more."

However, none of this would have happened if Arpad the Magnificent was still alive.

It's a sad fact that when the good guys go, the predators move in.

May 31, 2017

It's still on

I hate to say it but it's still on. If you live in WV and care about things like schools, teachers, school service personnel, parks, higher education and such now and for years to come, please let your legislators know about it. Here's a quick link to help you do just that. It helps if you personalize your message.

Time is running out on avoiding a state shutdown, which could affect health, public safety, education, and basic services. We need a fair and simple solution to the budget woes, and one that won't come back to haunt us in the years to come.

Believe me, I'm as tired of all this as anyone is and want the mess to be over, but over in a way we can live with.

May 27, 2017

How to pick up (literal) chicks

A great deal of time spent on the farm has to do with what I call animal politics, which is the intricate web of relationships between the (four legged or feathered) animals and between animals and humans.

One example is the Darwin game which we play with the indeterminate number of chickens. In this game, the humans want the eggs to eat them, while the hens hide them to reproduce. I'm not sure how much of that is conscious on either of our parts.

The latest winner of the Darwin game is a gray hen who laid her eggs in a niche in our garage. She sat on them long enough for them to be viable, which meant I couldn't use the punching bag in the garage for three weeks so as not to disturb her.

The eggs hatched night before last, which meant I had to get Mama-san and chicks into a safe chicken tractor. I tried shutting them up in the garage but the little Houdinis got out. Then I looked for them to no avail with a flashlight after dark.

In the morning I found Mama-san sitting on the babies. I thought I'd put a box over the lot and then get them in the tractor somehow. She did not concur.

Instead, she flew at my face several times while the chicks scattered. Which led to plan B. I put the chicks I could find into the tractor and waited for their peeps to attract the mother. Then I rounded up the stragglers.

All but one. I heard some peeping underneath a huge BMT (big metal thing) in the garage. Too heavy to lift and not enough space underneath

That's when my long past fire department training kicked in. I remembered when we were practicing auto extrication how we used pieces of wood for cribbing to stabilize the vehicle so you could get the people out. A pry bar and some scraps of 2x4 later and the mother and child reunion had occurred.

I think there are eight of the little buggers now with Mama-san in a fairly safe place. Haven't gotten a lot of gratitude from her though.

I realize that crows and other tool-using animals perform more complicated feats every day, but this was pretty good for me.

May 25, 2017

Messing with Medicaid could hurt veterans

With the fate of America’s health care system up in the air, it might be prudent to think about how changes to it might impact different sectors of the population. This is especially true of the Medicaid program, which in any given month provides coverage to nearly 75 million Americans of all stripes.

Among that population are children, the elderly, people with disabilities, workers, people in recovery and one group you may not have expected: veterans.

This is a big deal in a state with one of the highest percentages of veterans in the population. According to Ballotopedia, veterans make up slightly over 9 percent of our population. I can’t figure out how to do the math, but I’m pretty sure that most families in the state, including my own, have members who served in the military.

According to a new report by FamiliesUSA and, 1.75 million veterans — around one in 10 — receive Medicaid coverage. This includes but isn’t limited to 340,000 who gained coverage due to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act and who may lose care if it is repealed.

Contrary to popular belief, not all veterans receive care from the VA. According to the Congressional Research Service, in 2014 only about 42 percent of the total veteran population was enrolled by the VA.

Eligibility for VA programs can depend on a number of factors, such as minimum service requirements and disability and discharge status.

In addition, not all eligible veterans can take advantage of VA services. For example, one-third of enrolled veterans didn’t use VA services in 2014. Transportation issues and distance from VA facilities can be a bar to access.

Finally, the VA isn’t set up to provide for the health care needs of veteran’s families.

By contrast, Medicaid provides care that can fill gaps not covered by other programs or complement the services they offer. In some cases, Medicaid is a supplement for VA or Medicare for veterans over age 65.

However, the report notes that about half of veterans covered by Medicaid were between 18-64 years of age and were ineligible for Medicare. Of these, 40 percent had no other form of coverage than Medicaid. In 2015, Medicaid provided coverage for 660,000 veteran’s spouses.

The number of veterans receiving health care has gone up since passage of the Affordable Care Act. In West Virginia, the total number of veterans covered by Medicaid was around 15,000, not counting family members in 2015. The number of veterans aged 18-64 enrolled in Medicaid increased by 45 percent here between 2013 and 2015.

Undoing the Affordable Care Act isn’t the only threat to veteran’s health care. Some in Congress have proposed structural changes to the traditional program, such as block granting, budget cutting and capping benefits.

As the report notes that veterans are at a higher risk than most other people for “unique and sometimes serious or complicated health care issues as a result of their service. These health conditions might include musculoskeletal conditions, traumatic brain injuries, and posttraumatic stress disorder.”

It concludes that “Congress should be taking steps to make it easier, not harder, for veterans to access the health care they need when they need it. Voting to end the Medicaid expansion or to cap or cut Medicaid is a vote against veterans and their families.”

(This ran as an op-ed in today's Gazette-Mail.)

May 24, 2017

Happy 76, Bob!

Image by way of Wikipedia.

In case you didn't notice, today is Bob Dylan's birthday. His 76th to be exact. If I had to pick one person who provided the soundtrack of my life it would him. My favorite Dylan isn't the young idealistic one singing political songs. It's the inspired vessel of the Muses with the power of the word. I really  wonder sometimes if even he knows where his songs come from.

I remember being at an Arlo Guthrie concert where Arlo explained his theory about where the songs came from. He said that writing songs was like catching fish and that Bob just fished upstream of everybody else. Sounds about right to me.

Anyhow, I hope he doesn't start knocking on Heaven's door anytime soon.

May 23, 2017

"Slash and burn"

When people outside West Virginia ask me about Senator Joe Manchin, I usually say that some days are better than others. (My wife says that about me most days.) Today is one of his better days.

In response to the Trump administration's proposed budget, which slashes programs that help working people and hits Appalachia the hardest while cutting taxes for the very rich, Manchin criticized a "slash and burn" approach that "lacks compassion."

From MetroNews,

“It’s just very demoralizing to see this type of budget being out,” Manchin said. “Every state is going to be affected, there’s not one state that’s going to be spared on this.”
West Virginia, he said, would take an especially hard hit since so many Mountain State residents depend on federal programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women-Infants-Children (WIC), Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF), Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and student loans...
 “You name it and, by golly, we get hit because there’s so much of this that affects every part of our state,” Manchin said.
The budget would also zero out funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission, which has had a huge positive impact on the region, as independent research by WVU and others have shown. Given its record of accomplishment, it's no surprise that the ARC has some pretty powerful Republican supporters, including senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.

Some other reactions to the proposed federal budget have warned that, if implemented, it would increase hunger, poverty and ill-health and lead to a new gilded age.

Considering the support candidate Trump received from this region, there doesn't seem to be a lot of gratitude in evidence.

May 19, 2017

Groundhog Day, WV style

In Bill Murray’s classic movie, “Groundhog Day,” the main character winds up having to live through the same day over and over.

West Virginia’s ongoing budget crisis and standoff is starting to remind me of that ... minus the personal growth, romance and happy ending.

The twisted path to our current mess goes back several years, beginning with hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts first enacted around 10 years ago. We were told that the business tax cuts “would pay for themselves,” something which has never happened anywhere.

They didn’t.

We were also told the cuts would lead to the creation of many new jobs.

They didn’t.

We have several thousand fewer private sector jobs in the state now than 10 years ago.

Take those ingredients, shake, and throw in market-driven declines in the coal and gas industries, and that’s the recipe for how we got here.

Over the past several years, around $600 million has been cut from the state budget, including higher-education spending, which has declined in absolute and relative terms. There’s not a lot of fat left to trim. Further cuts would likely harm kids, college students of all ages, seniors, veterans and working people, not to mention everyone else.

Many of the current crop of legislators are opposed to tax increases to make up the difference. Last year, the budget controversy nearly led to a partial state shutdown. And things aren’t all that rosy this year.

One idea for a resolution to this problem is a “compromise” proposal supported by the Senate and Gov. Jim Justice, all for the best of reasons.

On the positive side, the compromise would avoid the possibility of a partial shutdown and would provide a temporary increase in revenue.

On the downside, proposed cuts to the state income tax would cost the state more over time than any increases in revenue from consumption taxes.

This would mean an ongoing budget crisis every year, with more and more painful cuts to things we need, like schools, higher and vocation education, public safety, health care, etc.

That would be the bad “Groundhog Day” part.

On top of that, the kinds of taxes that would increase are regressive, meaning they would hit people with low incomes hardest. Those with higher incomes would get a big break, since income taxes are progressive, in that they are the only state tax actually based on ability to pay: The rate goes up a bit as income grows.

It’s been argued that this shift from income to consumption taxes would be the biggest tax cut for the rich in West Virginia history, which is saying something.

Think Robin Hood in reverse.

There is a better way. A number of citizen groups, as well as political leaders, have proposed a simple solution to the mess that would avoid cuts to education, public broadcasting, higher ed, the Promise Scholarship, health and human services, etc. It would avert a shutdown. It would not blow a huge hole into future state budgets. It would also avoid the “Groundhog Day” effect of repeated annual crises.

The proposal:

1. A modest increase in the sales tax from 6 percent to 6.5 percent.

2. Expand sales taxes to cover services and industries that have so far avoided taxation.

3. Enact a fair-share tax of 1 percent on incomes over $200,000.

4. Offset the impact of higher sales taxes on low income families by enacting a 5 percent Earned Income Tax Credit.

Taken together, these measures would provide around $270 million in revenue.

It’s not a silver bullet, but it could point the way to a fair solution, or at least shift the conversation to a more productive direction.

If we don’t come up with a better solution, on the order of this one, West Virginia is likely to share the fate of Kansas, where ill-advised tax cuts once again failed to deliver and left things in shambles.

In baseball, that would be called an unforced error.

You could also call it a series of really bad Groundhog Days.

(Note: this appeared in today's Charleston Gazette-Mail.)

May 16, 2017

A better way to deal with WV's budget woes

There's a lot at stake in the current debate over the state budget. It could affect kids, seniors, students, veterans and working families for years to come. Below, by way of friends at the WV Center on Budget and Policy and other allies, are some simple suggestions for fixing the problem and easy action steps you can take:

The state budget fight is a complicated mess. It's time to simplify.

Right now, we have no actual bill, but the last version we saw would have included the greatest tax cut for the rich in recent West Virginia history. To pay for it, lawmakers are talking about a wide range of bad ideas: a $94 million cut to public education, complicated tax increases, and even a food tax. Even with all these maneuvers, one lawmaker told us that we should still expect to see a deficit of over $200 million as soon as next year.

There is another way. We call it the Better Budget Framework for West Virginia. For the last 3 weeks, we have been talking to citizen leaders and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle - including members of Democratic and Republican leadership.  The budget framework below represents a simple way to get out of this mess.

It includes just 4 steps:

Increase the sales tax from 6 percent to 6.5 percent.

Do what other states have done and close sales tax loopholes, by expanding the sales tax to industries that have been exempt (telecommunications, digital downloads, personal services, electronic data processing,  personalized health fitness, contracting services, technical evaluations).

Institute a fair share tax of 1 percent on income over $200,000.

Institute a refundable 5 percent Earned Income Tax Credit, for working families - to incentivize work and make the plan less regressive.

This plan would generate roughly $270 million in revenue, on par with the targets set by other plans. Here are 10 benefits of the simple, better budget plan:

1. No cuts to K-12 education.
2. No tax cuts for the rich.
3. Fewer tax increases on working families, then the latest "compromise" plan.
4. No cuts to the Promise scholarship, and no new cuts to Higher Education.
5. No cuts to public broadcasting, the Women's Commission, or the arts.
6. No government shutdown.
7. No big new deficit in 2019.
8. No complicated triggers.
9. No food tax increase or other complicated tax increases.
10. No cuts to hospitals and health care.

To be clear, this budget framework is not perfect.  It's pragmatic. When we talked with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, these were the priorities they listed. Like any good compromise, everyone will find something not to like in it -- including our own organizations and partners. We call it a framework, because some of the details could be tweaked (for instance, we'd be happy to see a sugar-sweetened beverage tax in exchange for a lower sales tax) and you would still get the same 10 core benefits.

Please click here to ask your lawmakers to sign-on to the Better Budget Framework, and help stop us from going the way of Kansas. Now is not the time for the greatest tax cut for the rich in West Virginia history.  It is not the time for complicated maneuvers.  It is not the time to subject ourselves to a decade of budget deficits.

Please encourage lawmakers to sign on to the Simple Plan.

It is up to us to Protect West Virginia!

Protect West Virginia is a grassroots coalition of more than 300 individuals and 30 organizations who oppose further budget cuts that harm our communities and who want to connect West Virginia values to state budget priorities.

May 15, 2017

Lucky for us that would never happen

At least the one in mythology was harmless.

All kinds of things wind up in my inbox, most of which are unsolicited and quickly deleted. Still, I take a look every now and then. This weekend, I received a post from writer and public speaker Linda Arnold titled "You Just Can’t Reason With Some People – Here’s Why."

Among other things, she discusses narcissistic personality disorder, a mental disorder identified in the DSM-5 manual of the American Psychiatric Association. 

Arnold presents the following checklist and asks if it rings any bells with anyone in our lives:

Has a grandiose sense of self importance
Is unwilling to identify with the needs and feelings of others
Has a sense of entitlement – unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment
or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
Believes he or she is unique and special
Requires excessive admiration
Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love
Takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
Often acts in an arrogant fashion
After checking that list, I thought, golly gee, wouldn't it be unfortunate if such a person were in a position of global responsibility? Like, you know....sad!

May 11, 2017

Mother's Day action to protect health care

With the fate of millions up in the air with the attempted repeal of the Affordable  Care Act, West Virginians for Affordable Health Care and allies are organizing Mother's Day Medicaid Awareness events around the state:

Facebook Event Pages:



There are also postcards (here and here) addressed to Senator Capito (R-WV. If you can't make it, feel free to print and send to these office locations (DC and local recommended) or just send an email.

Senator Capito's vote and influence will be critical to preserving and protecting Medicaid and other health care gains. Please be respectful but clear about your opposition to efforts to weaken health care coverage for West Virginians.

(Note: it's fitting that WV should act at this time since the Mother's Day holiday was born right here.)

May 09, 2017

A birthday to remember

I have long been fascinated by the life and death of John Brown, who was like a monkey wrench thrown by God into the machinery of a sinful slave-holding society. He was a man who lost every battle and major effort of his life yet succeeded after his death in his greatest objective.

I've blogged about Brown here over and over through the years, usually around the time of his raid (October) or his hanging (December).

How's this for historical irony: his trial and execution took part in a part of the state of Virginia that would soon become West Virginia, in large part as a result of a chain of events Brown started.

Thanks to the wonders of Twitter, I realized that he was born on this date 217 years ago.

So once again, here's an excerpt from his last speech, given while on trial for his life:

Had I interfered in the manner which I behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, — either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class, — and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.
This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all thing whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me further, to “remember them that are in bonds as bound with them.” I endeavored to act upon that instruction. I say, I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done — as I have always freely admitted I have done — in behalf of his despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, — I submit; so let it be done!