September 30, 2016

Weekend sendoff, including good news, evil clowns and bees

Here's a potpourri to finish up the work week.

First, did you know that creepy clown threats are a thing now? I was not aware of that. It turns out that even Kanawha County schools in WV have beefed up security because of it.

(I attribute a lot of this to the evil clown in Stephen King's It book and movie. It was, groan, disarming.)

On the bright side, Medicaid expansion is working well in Louisiana, where over 305,000 people have gained coverage in the last few months. Families USA also reports that:

*Nearly 12,000 of these newly enrolled adults have already started receiving screening and treatment for chronic conditions and illnesses including breast cancer, colon cancer, and diabetes.
*More than 1,000 women have received mammograms or other diagnostic breast imaging and 24 of these women are currently being treated for breast cancer. 
*Nearly 700 adults have received colonoscopies and more than 100 had polyps, an early sign of colon cancer, removed during the procedure. 
*160 adults have been newly diagnosed with diabetes and have started receiving necessary care to help them manage their condition. 
You can find more from them on the benefits of Medicaid expansion here.

Finally, here's an interesting look at what might be the emotional life of bees. Who knew?

September 29, 2016

Reclaiming Appalachia

A Republican-leaning public opinion research recently released a multi-state coal country survey on attitudes on the RECLAIM Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation that has generated some buzz in the US House. The group, Public Opinion Strategies, found overwhelming support for the Act across the region and across political lines.

Here's some of what the proposed legislation would do:

“A proposal in Congress would release one billion dollars in existing money from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund which was collected from coal producers over the last forty years. The proposal, known as the RECLAIM Act, would release this money to affected states to help revitalize coal communities hit hardest by the downturn in the coal industry. Communities could apply for grants to restore abandoned mine lands, invest in economic development projects to put people to work, and tackle infrastructure needs such as ensuring clean drinking water."
This legislation is different from the Miners Protection Act, which has gained traction in the US Senate. That legislation would use AML money to protect promised health care benefits to over 20,000 miners.

The United Mine Workers supports both, but the latter is its top priority and the union has said its support for RECLAIM hinges on passage of the Miners Protection Act first. The AML currently has a budget of $2.5 billion.

I'd like to see both pass, but at this point I'd be glad to see either--and I hope the bills don't kill each other. It is nice that despite political polarization and overheated rhetoric these days, politicians from both major parties have agreed on the need to come to the help of those harmed by the downturn in the coal industry.

September 28, 2016

You get what you pay for

West Virginia is dry as a bone right now, although it may rain tomorrow inshallah. It's so dry that dust springs up when our dogs walk across the field. The creek is dry except for a few holdout holes for the first time since 2012. Oh yeah, and fire season is  approaching.

Fall brush fires around here are not as catastrophic (for now) as those in California and other places, but they can be pretty scary. I remember one year when you could see long lines of fire snaking along the mountains of Logan County. In fact, the one on-duty injury I sustained in my short, happy and inglorious career as a volunteer fire fighter happened during a brush fire.

(Actually, it was a burn from a flare, but the flare started it.)

Anyhow, fire season and managing woodlands has gotten a bit harder lately, since the state had to lay off 37 foresters due to legislative inaction. Come to think of it, those guys might have been useful in reducing the impact of severe flooding in the future by monitoring the damage done by corporate clear cutters.

Holy hashtag failed state, Batman!

Meanwhile, the state's opioid crisis keeps rippling out. This WV Public Broadcasting story explores how it's impacting the foster care system in the state.

And, while we're at it, here's an op-ed by my friend the Rev. Matthew J. Watts about what might happen politically if all of the state's convicted felons voted. They can in WV, but many don't vote or even realize that it's legal here.

Finally, a little over a year ago I was part of an AFSC delegation to Palestine. I have many grim and sad memories of the trip. However, I have nothing but fondness when I think back on hanging with comrades and drinking Taybeh, a primo Palestinian beer.

September 27, 2016

Another passing

West Virginia lost another good guy this week in the person of journalist Tom Miller, who died at the age of 78. Miller spent much of his career at the Huntington newspapers (there used to be two) and after his "retirement" he wrote a statehouse column called "Under the Dome" which was widely carried around the state.

Among his many accomplishments, aside from being a genuinely nice person, was the groundbreaking reporting series "Who Owns West Virginia?" in 1974. The short answer, by the way, is not West Virginians.

Millers findings were later echoed by the Appalachian Land Study in the 1980s. A few years back, my organization, the American Friends Service Committee, partnered with the WV Center on Budget and Policy to revisit the question in a report inspired by Miller's research and titled "Who Owns West Virginia in the 21st Century?"

Some things have changed since Miller's groundbreaking work, but the big things haven't. And the short answer to his question remains the same.

Thanks, Tom, for pointing the way. And for being a light shining in darkness all these years.