February 19, 2014

Annals of bad tactics

Lots of people in West Virginia are understandably enraged over the Freedom Industries chemical spill and the way it's been handled by everyone from the water company and the governor's office. And this surely has not been Governor Tomblin's finest hour.

Still, when a friend told me that a small group was planning on marching on his office and demanding his resignation, my initial reaction, which still holds, was that this approaches the level of the Platonic Form of Bad Tactics.

One, what do you reckon would really happen? Would the governor say "OK, you're right. I'm outta here"?

Two, nothing is more pathetic than a show of force where there isn't any.

Three, issuing demands is generally useless unless one has the power to enforce them, in which case it isn't necessary.

Four, as my beloved Niccolo Machiavelli observed nearly 500 years ago, insulting or threatening someone doesn't actually do them any harm but it puts them on guard against you and makes it harder if not impossible to deal productively with the person in the future.

He said it much better:
"I hold it to be proof of great prudence for men to abstain from threats and insulting words towards anyone, for neither the one nor the other in any way diminishes the strength of the enemy; but the one makes him cautious, and the other increases his hatred of you, and makes him more persevering in his efforts to injure you."
I think people who want to influence public policy would do well to memorize that verse. While it's not necessarily true that people who are insulted or threatened will hate or try to injure us, it's a sure bet they will be less likely to cooperate at some future point. And in places like WV, people tend to stick around for a good while and they have long memories. It's hard to unburn a bridge.

February 17, 2014

With the old breed

The title of this post comes from a great World War II memoir by Eugene Sledge, who told his story of horrific battles in the Pacific Theater of that war, which was where my father and two uncles served. It came to mind today when I met a veteran of a different kind of struggle, although he was probably a military veteran as well.

The occasion was a small community forum on ending child poverty in a coal mining community in southern West Virginia. I was privileged to meet and talk briefly with one of the Old Breed of West Virginia coal miners, union men (they were mostly men) who know what it means not only to work hard in a dangerous calling but to stand together in solidarity and fight back against corporate greed.

In these sad days, when union membership has declined and CEOs pose as protectors of the workers (like weasels claiming to  protect chickens), such voices are hard to find and are all too seldom heard. I was glad to hear it again. I can't say how much I've missed hearing it. If only such voices were as common today as in the past...

Fittingly, the meeting took place near Cabin Creek, the site of a major episode in the WV mine wars of 100 years ago.

THERE'S STILL HOPE for more prosecutions in the wake of the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster. May the goddess Nemesis be swift to render that which is due. And if she isn't swift, may she at least be sure.

A POSITIVE TREND. I mentioned in yesterday's post the WV is getting smarter about how it approaches criminal justice and prison issues. Here's an item that shows similar progress in dealing with school discipline problems.

ONE MORE THING. The Future Fund cleared another hurdle in the state senate. Now it heads to the floor. I want this one bad.


February 16, 2014

A small step in the direction of sanity

One encouraging trend in West Virginia these days--and there actually are a few, believe it or not--is a move away from the mindless tendency to lock people up whether there's a compelling reason to do so or not. Last year, the legislature passed Gov. Tomblin's prison overcrowding bill, which took some modest steps in that direction.

Thanks to a Republican-introduced amendment, the bill actually was strengthened by mandating drug courts in all counties by 2016. The decision to expand Medicaid will also mean that tens of thousands of people will have access now to treatment for substance abuse. Substance abuse, one way or another, is a factor in most prison sentences in the state.

The WV Senate last week passed another small but significant bill that could address the overcrowding issue. It would allow for pre-trial release for low-risk offenders. This would reduce crowding in regional jails, which are already filled to overflowing with inmates who should be held in the state's prison system, which offers more of the programs needed for parole.

Last year, a similar bill passed the Senate but was killed in the House after a public hearing dominated by the bail bond "industry." Fortunately, the WV House is under new management this year and I hope they concur with the Senate in this common sense step.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO WE? Here's Robert Reich on a certain American problem.

MOVE TO IMPROVE. Here's yours truly in support of proposed WV legislation that would mandate physical activity for the state's schoolchildren.