Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 2)

Shock for Republicans, and a Strike for the Schools, as Teachers Refuse to Sell Out Students

There’s nothing worse for a corrupt politician than meeting someone who can’t be bought. It’s like watching a cat fall in a bathtub: you see first shock, and then anger, as though the world itself has betrayed him. A sellout simply assumes that everyone else is also selling and he bristles at a world where money is not the only currency.

The Republicans designed Senate Bill 451 as straightforwardly as any protection racket. A five-percent raise for West Virginia’s educators, inextricably linked to a series of proposals to weaken her public schools. The text of the bill explicitly stated that if any part of its “omnibus” provisions were found unconstitutional or illegal, the raise would be taken away.

“That’s a nice paycheck you’re getting, teach. Be a shame if something happened to it. . . .”

It must have seemed like a sure thing for Senate President Mitch Carmichael and the GOP. “We’ll make them an offer they can’t refuse.” But it turns out that West Virginia’s teachers and school service personnel weren’t selling. On Tuesday, February 19th, they went on strike for the second time in as many years.

They had every reason to do so. Republicans filled the omnibus bill with poison pills. It contained provisions weakening the right of teachers to unionize and negotiate in the future.  It diverted public money into private hands in the form of so-called charter schools that have allowed private businesses to walk away with hundreds of millions in tax dollars leaving students and communities with nothing. It sought to deprive veteran teachers of benefits they had earned over years of service.

It’s not hard to figure out what this is all about. The three largest pots of money in state government are the roads, the schools, and Medicaid. That’s why your typical Republican idea involves taking money from one of these three pots out of the public’s hands and transferring it to some private businessman. Charters and other privatization schemes are the chief method for doing this in the education arena.

Privatization of public schools yields predictable results. Wealthy families take full advantage, and concentrate their kids in schools with vast resources. Middle class families have to go into debt just to get a whiff of the middle-of-the-road schools. What little public money is left is what the poor kids get: the worst facilities, locations, lowest-paid staff, and then they are concentrated away from the lucky winners. And charters have ways of weeding out the kinds considered “undesirable” by the architects of these cash grabs.

The Republicans thought they could buy all this hardship for West Virginia’s kids with a raise for the state’s educators, but the teachers and school service personnel declared on Monday evening that the kids and their schools were not for sale. The out-of-state organizations, like ALEC, that run these bills on a river of special interest money must be stunned to find a group of people they can’t pay off to get what they want.

It’s pretty clear that part of Carmichael’s motivation to push this without the governor has to do with payback from last year’s strike. That’s why his version of the bill included the anti-union and anti-strike provisions. Republicans proposed those changes as a way of saying “we’ll negotiate in good faith as soon as you lay down your arms.” Agreeing to terms like that would be an unconditional surrender – accepting not only the plundering of the education budget this year, but in every year to come.

Now that the strike has begun, West Virginians need to come together and understand the stakes. Killing the bad bill is not enough. The Legislature needs to reform education the right way, with students put first instead of private business. West Virginia’s teachers remain some of the lowest paid in the country and that needs to change. The raise must go through without the poison pills. Moreover, the PEIA system needs to fixed once and for all to guarantee its future solvency with adequate revenue. Even if the oil and gas drillers have to pay another point or two on their millions and billions, West Virginia’s kids deserve that money to fund their educations.

The opioid epidemic and the poverty in West Virginia have made social workers and psychologists out of educators. New funds need to be appropriated to add counselors and trained professionals to help kids with drug issues in their homes cope at school so they can learn when they’re in class. The current ratio of students to counselors should be cut in half by adding enough new personnel so that every child can get the special help they require.

Funding must also be increased for students with disabilities. It is a persistent injustice that children with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities are often left behind because politicians will not adequately fund the equipment needed to integrate those kids into regular classrooms. Research shows they can succeed if accommodations are made. Every student is a precious resource and our political leadership needs to treat each child as equally deserving and worthy of education.

Before anyone says “well, how are we going to pay for all that,” remember that hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts for wealthy businesses are always at the top of the Republican agenda. They say we have the millions and millions to do that, so it stands to reason we have the money to do what’s right for West Virginia’s children. The kids have waited long enough for their priorities to be the top priorities.

The educators and their strike represent the overwhelming majority of West Virginians’ interests. If teachers can’t strike to do what’s right for the schools and the children, how can any working people hope to stand up for better wages, decent hours, or affordable medical care? Everyone who works benefits when a strike succeeds.

Let everyone in this state who earns a wage come together to support this strike for as long as it takes to secure the reforms we need. Some school days will be missed. But solidarity in the face of injustice and unity in support of what is right will be the best lesson West Virginia’s children ever learn.

West Virginia Democrats Should Not Help Don Blankenship

“You can’t shake hands with the devil, and say you’re only kidding.” That’s the line that came to mind when I read about an effort by West Virginia Democrats to help Don Blankenship become the Republican nominee for US Senate by running ads attacking his competition. The scheme has awful risks, and a huge downside even if it “succeeds.”

The idea is that the state will not elect Blankenship in the fall, so by helping him in the primary, the “Duty and Country PAC” will have won the general election for Joe Manchin before it even begins. The ads go negative mainly against Jenkins, and put in a few bad words against Patrick Morrisey. Polls have differed about the race, but Blankenship has made good showings in all of them and is a serious threat to win.

It shouldn’t need to be said, but here it is: if you are a Democrat in West Virginia, you don’t do Don Blankenship any favors, and you sure as heck don’t do anything that gets him closer to becoming a United States Senator. Blankenship is a criminal with blood on his hands. His election would be a catastrophe for West Virginia and it is immoral to help it happen, even indirectly.

But the hard truth is that West Virginia remains a plus-40 State for Donald Trump. Trump will campaign extremely hard for every Senate seat he thinks he can win this fall, as his political life will be at stake. A Republican has an excellent chance to win the race no matter which one wins the primary. If it is Blankenship, he will have unlimited money to spend and the team of consultants that won the state for Republicans in 2014.

Blankenship has done more to hand the Republicans control of West Virginia than any other single person. People thought he was wasting his money (and his company’s) when West Virginia went heavily blue in 2006 and 2008, but the loser then was later to win. His massive spending on Republican candidates over more than a decade finally bore fruit in 2014 when Republicans took over the Legislature, and again in 2016, when they won practically everything.

Now Blankenship plans to cut out the middleman and take power directly. If you think it is impossible for him to become a Senator, ask yourself if you thought Donald Trump would surely be President in April, 2016. Alabama nearly made Roy Moore a Senator last year, and he was credibly accused of fondling a fourteen-year-old girl when he was a district attorney. Moore lost by half of one percent. Is Blankenship as tarnished as Moore? Are you sure?

We are about to see most vicious national campaign in memory as Trump fights to hold onto the Congress. The amount of air cover the Republican nominee will have in West Virginia is going to be staggering. Moreover, Republicans have already begun to air video of Senator Manchin endorsing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, two figures who remain reviled in West Virginia. Even if you think he can survive that, you can hardly be certain of it.

In 2016, Doug Reynolds ran an excellent campaign for attorney general and found himself in a dead heat with Patrick Morrisey a few weeks out from election day. Morrisey’s campaign then ran an ad linking Reynolds to Hillary as many times as there were commercial slots to buy, right up until election day. The connection was tenuous, relying on an alleged 2007 campaign contribution, and there was certainly no video, but the ad worked, and Morrisey won by ten points. Manchin has a much bigger Hillary problem than Reynolds ever did.

So far, over half a million dollars has been spent by Democrats to try to pick the opponent Manchin wants. With a few weeks to go, another half million may well be sunk into this effort to put Blankenship within an arm’s length of the US Senate. That is a large sum in West Virginia politics and it makes me think about what Democrats are not doing with it, because the things we are not doing are the very reason we have “Don Blankenship for US Senate” to worry about in the first place.

The Republicans didn’t take over the state by intervening in Democratic primaries and making us choose unpalatable candidates. Republicans won West Virginia by convincing the voters that Republican policies would be good for them. West Virginia Democrats need a statewide campaign based on what they are going to do to help West Virginia, not a tricky strategy to pick the worst opponents they can find through anonymous advertising. This scheme of putting the words in the mouth of some PAC might seem clever now, but what happens when people don’t trust you later?

With a million dollars, West Virginia Democrats could make it clear that Republicans would have taken health insurance away from hundreds of thousands of West Virginians if they had even one more vote. With a million dollars West Virginia Democrats could make it known they will not only protect Medicare for our seniors, they will expand it to every American who doesn’t have health insurance. With a million dollars in ads, West Virginia Democrats could make sure every West Virginian knows which party supported our school teachers in their fight for decent pay, and which one forced them to strike just to receive a modest and overdue raise.

Cutting taxes on corporations and the rich as a solution to everything hasn’t helped West Virginia and even Republicans know it. People are ready to listen to a new vision. There’s a new generation waiting for a chance to rebuild West Virginia. But even an inspirational message needs a way to make itself heard, and a credible messenger to deliver it. In other words, you can spread the gospel, or shake hands with the devil, but you can’t do both.

Washington DC, 2017, and the War on Christmas

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. . . .”

Two thousand and seventeen years later, in Colorado, pregnant women due in February were told they may lose their insurance before their babies are born. In Virginia, the parents of 68,000 children received notice that those children would likewise soon be on their own.

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”

In our country, nearly two million children are homeless. In West Virginia, one in every four children lives below the federal poverty line, an amount that itself represents only about half of what is needed to meet basic needs.

“. . . the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt.”

In July, the U.S. government deported a father of four young Ohio children. He worked packing cookies for Peppridge Farm. 34,000 of his fellow citizens and a U.S. Senator begged to let him stay, but he was taken from his family, and ordered to go to Mexico.

“And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”

That was long ago, in Galilee. But here in America, a young man died for lack of insulin he could not afford. He had raised a good deal of money via “GoFundMe,” but in the end, he came up $50 short and died of ketoacidosis. Life expectancy is actually falling as the prescription drug crisis kills more Americans in a year than Vietnam did in ten.

You probably heard that the stock market is up. It is indeed way up. Its five-thousand-point gain on the year represents trillions of dollars — and each trillion is a million million dollars. Almost 40% of that money went to just the richest 1% of us and 80% of it went to the richest 10%. Nearly half of Americans are no longer in the market and got nothing at all.

It has been a wonderful year for wealthy people. Good for them.

But now it is Christmas. Who needs help, this Christmas? Could it really be the companies and people who were rich when the year started, and got even richer in the 2017 stock market boom? You may think the question answers itself, but then again, you are probably not in control of the US Congress.

This Christmas, our Congress passed, and the President signed, a one-and-a-half trillion dollar law that mainly lowered taxes on the wealthiest corporations and people.

The drug company Pfizer received a tax cut estimated at 38.8 billion dollars. Citigroup and Goldman Sachs — two companies that combined to create the 2007 financial crisis and then got bailed out, will net 15.2 billion. That’s on top of their stock market gains for this wonderful year.

All the corporate tax cuts are permanent. The tax cuts for working people are temporary, and turn into increases a few years down the road. “In the long run, most Americans will see no tax cut or a tax hike.” Needless to say, thirteen million Americans will lose their health insurance altogether.

And He said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

The money being showered on fabulously rich corporations could make sure that mothers and their newborns have health insurance, medicine. Congress could afford to make sure that every child can see a doctor regularly. It chose otherwise.

When people die for want of costly medicine the drug companies always seem to be pricing a little higher, that’s a choice the Congress has made. They decided that people who already have a billion dollars in the bank need another billion more than sick people need to go on living at all. Our country has the resources to heal people, but often does not, citing their lack of money.

Children don’t have to live in poverty in America. It is a choice to allow that, and not all that unconscious a choice, either. There are thousands of rooms in our inn sitting empty — kept that way deliberately, until a sufficiently monied customer comes along.

Parents are afraid to send their children to school because those children might be American citizens, but their parents are not. Our government chose to make that so. Jesus and his family were refugees in Egypt. How would they be treated here, if they could get here?

There is a war on Christmas. Some people say it isn’t real, but it is. It has absolutely nothing to do with what’s printed on your coffee cup, or how we greet one another this time of year. The war on Christmas rages all year long. It is a war on the weak, the poor, the sick, and the stranger. It is always a war on children. 

The war on Christmas is the war on Christ, the child – penniless, hunted and helpless. It is waged by the richest of the rich, who claim ever more for themselves, while children suffer for want of just a little. In Washington DC, two thousand and seventeen years later, it is as though the “wise men from the east” brought their gifts for Herod, instead of for the child.

Jesus wept.

Coal Executives Take Millions Before Bankruptcies

Amid the news of Alpha Coal’s bankruptcy, attention is rightly given to the communities and miners affected. The bankruptcy will be used to take away promised benefits from miners who earned them. But there are some people who won’t be harmed at all by what happened, and it’s important to know who they are.

Kevin S. Crutchfield, “Chairman and Chief Executive Officer” of Alpha, just picked up a $2,000,000.00 bonus this spring, as he led the company into bankruptcy. While Alpha’s stock has plunged over the last several years, he picked up over $6,000,000.00 in cash payouts in 2011 and 2012.

“President” Paul Vining walked away with almost $8,000,000.00 for just two years of work as these executives marched Alpha off a cliff. Vining then got away while the getting was good. As “Former President,” he still gets $4,500,000.00!

Peabody Energy, another company on the verge of bankruptcy, thought its corporate leadership so effective it awarded top suit Gregory Boyce well over $10,000,000.00 in 2014. The “President and Chief Operating Officer” got about $5,500,000.00.

Arch Coal was doing so well it rewarded the boss with a $7,300,000.00 payday in 2014. He got paid this stupendous sum while the company lost almost half a billion dollars — “Arch reported a loss of $558.4 million in 2014. In 2014, Arch common stock fell almost 62% and was recently trading at about $1.24 per share” — Imagine what he’d have got if it made money!

Of course, that’s just chump change compared to the tens of millions executives paid themselves just a few years ago. Coal executives, including, yes, Don Blankenship, have extracted hundreds of millions to pad their wallets even as miners have lost their jobs and communities have been devastated.

Don’t forget Consol, which hands over at least $8,300,000.00 annually to Rich DiIuliis. Remember that number as these guys go to the public talking about the “tough times” for coal. Tough for some, pretty clean sailing for others. Follow those links and you’ll find out that Consol calls the eight million plus a “savings” because they paid the last guy over $15,000,000.00 per year. What for? So the company can go down, down, down . . .

Lesser-known Cloud Peak Coal pays a raft of executives million dollar salaries, but the top two rake in over $4,000,000.00 per year and for the big man at the head of the table, there is somehow $10,000,000.00 available to “invest” in his services. All of this while miners for CPC get laid off and left out of the financial bonanza reaped by the corporate big-wigs.

All of this occurred despite the key factors in coal’s decline being business factors and things people could see coming miles and miles away. If it doesn’t make sense for these savvy businessmen to have borrowed so much and spent so much in what everyone knew was a tough environment for coal, you’re not thinking about it right. The point was never to save the companies — it was to jack up their paychecks and make sure they cleared a bundle before the inevitable crash.

Same story, different day: the risks of capitalism are only for the workers and their families and communities. It’s win-win for the corporate leadership that always gets paid in advance. Oh, and even though the companies are “bankrupt,” they’ve got plenty of money left over to influence politics.

America’s CEO Culture

UPDATE, from August 19th plea hearing:

West Virginians are going to remember WVCHS8’s iconic photo of Gary Southern swigging ice-cold bottled water as he walked away from reporters in Charleston, citing a “very long day” that he had after depriving hundreds of thousands of West Virginians of usable water. The “Freedom Industries” CEO is not all that different from British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward, who famously “wanted his life back” after questions from reporters put him out, just because BP had dumped over a 100,000,000 gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. These men don’t understand our lack of sympathy for their plights, when they are “unfortunately” caught red-handed doing the things they do every day.

Now Gary Southern has waltzed into court to get his luxury Bentley automobile and millions of dollars back to spend on himself, while people harmed by the Freedom Industry spill are told there is “no money left” to pay their claims. When is enough finally going to be enough?

These lamentations from the multi-millionaire or even billionaire class are becoming more and more common. West Virginia’s own Don Blankenship famously complained of the “indignity” he felt subjected to as his mines violated state and federal laws and safety standards, ultimately resulting in numerous unnecessary deaths of coal miners. Former Bloomberg CEO and billionaire mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg recently took time out from his busy schedule to tell us that homeless people are homeless because “that’s how God works.”

Meanwhile, we recently learned that while coal corporations in West Virginia lay of workers and claim they are “bankrupt” to avoid paying benefits and wages miners earned, that coal CEOs have been looting the companies taking seven and eight figure salaries to run them into the ground. There is always enough money to pay the CEOs. There is always plenty of money to lobby politicians like Bill Cole and Patrick Morrisey to protect their wealth. It’s only the working people that there’s never enough money for in “bankruptcy.”

You could do a whole story just on our friends at AIG – current CEO Robert Benmosche recently complained that when his titanic bonuses of tens of millions of dollars are criticized, he feels like he’s being lynched in the Jim Crow south. His predecessor, Hank Greenberg, having received over 180,000,000,000 in public money, is now suing us, the taxpayers, for not being generous enough to him.

Each of these super-wealthy leaders displays the same fundamental attitude towards the rest of us – that of the narcissistic personality disorder. American corporate culture excels at producing these individuals who have outsized notions of their own importance, an inability to empathize with others, a penchant for exploiting others and “a very strong sense of entitlement.” And so, whether they are in the midst of polluting Charleston’s water supply, or the Gulf of Mexico, whether they are getting men killed underground in the mines, leaving the homeless on the street in New York City or simply destroying America’s economy for their own financial gain, these folks repeatedly see themselves as victims, even

These folks have come to believe, because of their wealth, that they are simply above the rest of the people in this country. A certain number of them have swallowed the notion that they are the “job-creators” and that the rest of us are just oh, so lucky to have them in our lives. They may be devotees of Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged – believing, truly believing – that without them, the world would simply fall apart.poison

The facts tell a different story. In this most recent disaster, Southern’s company not only failed to report the disaster immediately, they actually knew ahead of time the leaking tank was bad, but failed to act. When the EPA inspectors arrived “no measures” had been taken to contain the spill. These don’t appear to be the acts of elite talent managing a company “better than government.” Nonetheless, these same individuals believe that any regulation of their work is “job-killing” and “burdensome.” In fact, we come to find out that getting “government out of the way” of Freedom Industries is what paved the way for the spill in the first place as the company appears to have been covered by loopholes [immediately] that prevented inspections at the site to make sure the company was acting safely.

southernMr. Blankenship has tried to hold himself out as an advocate for mine safety, but his internal memoranda sing a different tune: “If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal (i.e. build overcasts, do construction jobs, or whatever), you need to ignore them and run coal. This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that the coal pays the bills.” A lot of good West Virginians died underground to cash the checks written by one CEOs outsized ego. This collection of “great men,” earning unbelievable salaries and bonuses, paid by the taxpayers of this country, just can’t seem to get its own basic job done right.

We needn’t bother reciting how our best-paid CEOs in the financial industry brought down the economy in 2008. What we should wonder is why we paid them so well to do it, and why do we reward them with even more afterwards? We have underfunded agencies trying to keep up with unsafe workplaces, toxic releases and financial frauds. Dedicated public servants work for modest pay at OSHA, EPA and the SEC, for example. But all they get is heat from the anti-government crowd and the next thing you know, there’s no clean water to drink in Charleston for a month1403654b-3f2b-4c42-b015-2226289bb69e_l.

Meanwhile, it only gets tougher for ordinary people. With the largest unemployment figures since the great depression, unemployment benefits are not just cut, they’re terminated (they should be raised). Somehow, opinion makers seem to think that America’s deficit is due to the poor and nearly poor collecting too much in the way of benefits. Each time lawmakers meet in Washington DC, more punishment for the poor and the unemployed tops the list of topics. Maybe it’s time to start punishing the people who are actually responsible for what’s happening in this country. Maybe they need more rules, more regulations, and more oversight and maybe it’s time they started actually paying for the trouble they’ve caused out of their bursting bank accounts.

Here’s what it comes down to: While no one in Charleston had clean water to use this past week, you can bet Gary Southern did. While the BP oil spill crushed livelihoods in the Gulf, Tony Hayward was planning his next sailing adventure. When our miners died underground, Don Blankenship was safe and snug at home. Mike Bloomberg doesn’t sleep on the street because unemployment and poverty are God’s decision, as far as he’s concerned. And when millions of ordinary Americans lost their pensions and investments in 2008, the billionaire bankers only got richer on the taxpayer’s dime. It’s no wonder they think so well of themselves – we always give them what they want.

It’s ordinary Americans that pay the price for our CEO culture, over and over again. It’s ordinary Americans who take the blame for what a privileged few do wrong, over and over again. These CEOs eat the big dinners while we pick up the checks.

How about next time we stiff ’em?

The Flag, the Medal of Honor, and the President

During the Civil War, flags on the battlefield had enormous tactical and strategic importance. Regimental flags allowed soldiers to know the position of their units, and which direction they should be moving to keep up with it. Flag bearers carried them at enormous risk to their lives. Since the entire point of carrying them was to be highly visible, and because the flags were of great use in directing the battle, flag bearers were easily and frequently targeted with gunfire and by artillery.

At the battle of Gettysburg, the United States awarded some sixty-four Medals of Honor. Fully half of those medals were for conspicuous gallantry directly related to the carrying, or capture, of flags on the battlefield. As an example, Sergeant Major William Hincks’ (14th Connecticut) Medal of Honor citation reads as follows:

During the high water mark of Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd. the colors of the 14th Tennessee Infantry C.S.A. were planted 50 yards in front of the center of Sgt. Maj. Hincks’ regiment. There were no Confederates standing near it but several were lying down around it. Upon a call for volunteers by Major Ellis to capture this flag, this soldier and two others leaped the wall. One companion was instantly shot. Sgt. Maj. Hincks outran his remaining companion running straight and swift for the colors amid a storm of shot. Swinging his saber over the prostrate Confederates and uttering a terrific yell, he seized the flag and hastily returned to his lines. The 14th Tennessee carried twelve battle honors on its flag. The devotion to duty shown by Sgt. Maj. Hincks gave encouragement to many of his comrades at a crucial moment of the battle.

Hincks’ heroism could not have come at a more important moment. Pickett’s Charge is by most accounts the turning point of the Civil War, and its failure portended the ultimate defeat of the confederate rebellion against the United States. It is fitting that the next sunrise came on the Fourth of July.

Charles Veale (4th U.S. Colored Infantry) saw two of his fellow soldiers killed before his eyes carrying the star-spangled banner, so he charged into harm’s way to pick it up. His citation reads simply: “[s]eized the national colors after 2 color bearers had been shot down close to the enemy’s works, and bore them through the remainder of the battle.” It sounds easy when you say it like that, but just imagine.

Modern military tactics have made actions like Hincks and Veale’s less common and less necessary, but the tradition of reverence for our flag doesn’t come out of thin air. Many American soldiers have died for our flag, not just in the figurative sense of dying in the service of their country, but literally died displaying it, carrying it, or rescuing it from danger.

How shall we honor them?

It has become commonplace to observe that since the Civil War itself, the country has never been more divided. Last weekend, widespread protests occurred among NFL teams, with players kneeling, locking arms, or skipping the anthem altogether and waiting in the locker room for the game to begin. While we’ve had protests all year long – millions marched in the Women’s March back in January – these latest protests seem to have struck the rawest nerves.

With fewer and fewer ways to escape from politics, it caught up with all of us on a football Sunday and embroiled the NFL in national controversy. The President has said that “the only way out for them is to set a rule that you can’t kneel during our National Anthem.” With all the respect that is due the President, that would not be the American way.

We do not compel displays of patriotism in this country. Forcing people to pledge allegiance or loyalty has always been a feature of the despotic regimes we have opposed around the world. In North Korea, you pledge allegiance or go to prison. In Mao’s China, your unquestioned loyalty to the government was the price of staying alive. Hitler likewise executed civil servants who did not swear fealty to his government.

The United States does things a different way. In 1943, the Supreme Court of the United States held that schools could not expel children who declined to stand for, or say, the Pledge of Allegiance. Doing so violated their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States’ Constitution. Justice Jackson explained:

The case is made difficult not because the principles of its decision are obscure, but because the flag involved is our own. Nevertheless, we apply the limitations of the Constitution with no fear that freedom to be intellectually and spiritually diverse or even contrary will disintegrate the social organization. To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous, instead of a compulsory routine, is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds.

No one has to salute the flag in America, and that is why we know that it is worth saluting. The right to protest the government and resist injustices is a right we founded the country to preserve. Of course, no one is required agree with anyone else’s protest, or like it, or like them. Boo if you want and burn the jerseys if they are your own. We cherish those freedoms too.

Nothing would disgrace our flag more than forcing anyone to honor it. We could not heap any greater insult on our honored dead than to use their sacrifice to justify tyrannical behavior, loyalty oaths, or compulsory displays of what could only then be a false patriotism. In the Battle Hymn of the Republic, union soldiers carrying our flag sang “as He died to make us holy, let us die to make men free.”

It’s still a free country. Whatever else we do, let’s keep it that way.


What Happened to Home Yesterday?

There has struck a catastrophe, and the Home Yesterday Blog lies now in waste.

Please bear with us while we slowly recoup our favorite articles for permanent preservation at our new home.

Bringing Washington DC Politics to Charleston

Public approval of the US Congress has been declining for many years. The public’s opinion of our national legislature currently sits at an all-time low of just 14%. Ineffectiveness, partisan bickering and being out of touch with everyday Americans drive those low ratings.

State legislatures were a different story, until recently. Americans generally approve of their state government and their state legislators. There are several reasons.

While the federal government seems to reach out into every area of life in this country and around the world, state budgets are dominated by schools, medical care, and public safety — three things that people like and want. State government is also much cheaper — federal income tax rates reach as high as 40%, as an example, while state rates top out at 6.5.%. So state government tends to offer more of what we want and for less money — making it a lot more popular than Washington DC.

Our state governments have a much smaller scale — the federal budget is something like 300 times the size of West Virginia’s, for example. Most state legislatures, including ours, are part-time, meaning the elected leaders have real jobs and spent most of their time in their own communities. Moreover, while state legislatures can borrow money, they cannot print it like the federal government, so they have to pass and balance a budget. State government is therefore more realistic and more effective. State governments can’t afford Washington DC gridlock.

But some politicians don’t like it that way. A determined group has brought DC-style politics to Charleston over the past two years. For them, gridlock is the goal.

West Virginia has over 200,000 current and former teachers, correctional officers, police and firefighters in a program called PEIA. These folks are working people — friends, neighbors, and importantly, taxpayers in this state. Sadly, our schoolteachers rank as some of the very lowest-paid in the country. In the past, though, when they did not get a raise, they were at least able to say they had a promise that their health insurance was covered.

The gridlock gang has what you can only call a hatred for government. They make no distinction between the wild world in DC and the practical, service-oriented leadership we formerly had in Charleston. They compare the funding of our schools and teachers to “holding a gun to the heads” of people. To this group, every tax dollar is somehow “stolen.” The sole allegiance in the gridlock gang is to corporate America — only billionaires and CEOs can operate “efficiently,” we are told, so we should hand our people over to their tender mercies.

This philosophy, if you can call it that, defined this recent legislative session. Radical Republicans took over and began handing out state money to corporations and billionaires, and refusing to honor our promises to schoolteachers and other public servants. Measures to fix the deplorable condition of our roads were defeated. Higher premiums were laid onto schoolteachers — an effective pay cut for them— to finance tax breaks to rich corporations. It’s a philosophy of self-service instead of public service.

It appears now that for the first time in many years, the Legislature will fail to agree on a budget. Keep in mind that the Republicans have full control of both Chambers — a 64-36 margin the House and an 18-16 margin in the Senate. But the two GOP-controlled bodies could not agree with each other on how much to soak the middle class to pay for what corporate America wanted from them. In other words, Republicans can’t get along and work productively with other Republicans, never mind Democrats. As a result, the People’s business doesn’t get done.

When budget problems hit DC, we’re used to it, and we don’t feel it very acutely here. But the disaster in Charleston will begin hurting West Virginia this year. Construction workers have lost their prevailing wages, and that will mean pay cuts throughout the construction business, and jobs being moved out of state. Union workers have lost their rights to bargain collectively on major issues, which also means pay cuts. PEIA members will be paying more and earning less as well. These wage cuts don’t just hurt the workers and their families. They hurt all the local businesses whose customers are being squeezed by the radicals in Charleston.

The corporate world that wants to control our politics thrives when wages are pushed down. That’s why even the minimum wage falls under attack from Republicans in thrall to corporate America. Workers don’t deserve a minimum wage, they tell us, while handing out corporate welfare by the millions.

Incorrect. Good workers deserve raises, which employers can’t afford to give when minimum wage props up bad workers
— Michael Ihle (@MayorIhle) March 11, 2016

Republicans like to say government should be “run like a business.” Let’s say they are right about that. If you are hiring someone to run your business, do you want someone who hates your business in charge?

West Virginia has enough problems. We cannot afford to hand the state government over to people who don’t want government to work. We need good schools, and good higher education to attract and retain talented young people. We need roads, bridges, and other infrastructure in good repair so that new businesses will be able to locate here. If the gridlock gang wants to go on right wing radio and say that raising money to pay for our schools, roads, and police is “tyranny,” let them. Or let them run for Congress and join the never-ending food fight in DC.

But we can’t have them in our legislature. Washington DC can print money to pay for its mistakes, and we all know it does. West Virginia can’t do that. We can’t afford Washington DC in Charleston. The gridlock gang has got to go.

The Road to Nowhere

West Virginia needs an advanced, forward-thinking legislature that can tackle the complex problems we face. Unfortunately, we have a legislature that cannot even do the basic work of maintaining our state. Virtually everyone recognizes that the condition of our roads cannot be tolerated, but the hard-right wingers in the legislature have killed the bill to fix it.

House Finance Committee takes highway improvement bill off the agenda. Chair Nelson says support not there.
— Hoppy Kercheval (@HoppyKercheval) March 8, 2016

Ideologically motivated and religiously zealous, the Republican majority in the House of Delegates has simply abdicated the most fundamental responsibility of government – maintaining the basic infrastructure our state runs on. Governor Tomblin’s blue-ribbon commission developed a plan, and Senator Plymale (D-Cabell) pushed a bill through the Senate to fund repairs to the roads. We have to get this done, but Speaker Tim Armstead’s House has blocked the revenue measures needed for the project.

Every West Virginian suffers the effects of this inexcusable conduct. We pay high auto repair bills, for one thing. But worse than that, we lose the businesses we need to build the economy. Businesses will not locate in places with inadequate transportation infrastructure. The Republicans are killing West Virginia’s chance to create jobs, by refusing to do theirs. If we want to fix this place up, we have to pay for it, but Republican Eric Nelson’s finance committee, in thrall to the hard right wing started by “taking out the major funding component in the [road] bill.” Ludicrous.

If we will not invest in our own state, why would anyone else? Out-of-state ownership of our land and mineral rights drains the budget. But in the midst of the worst budget crisis in decades, Republicans are offering up big giveaways to coal and gas corporations. These handouts ship money out of state to owners and investors on Wall Street and give nothing to struggling families here in West Virginia.

Corp execs vote highways as most important site selection factor.
— Sean O’Leary (@OLearySW) March 8, 2016

We’re talking about the most elemental possible failure of government here: the radical right will not take care of the people who live here, or do anything to protect their interests. Instead, they are taking what little we’ve got and giving it away to sources of campaign money, and corporations that are flush compared to the average West Virginian. The only word that fairly describes what they are doing is “plunder.”

While the budget crisis played out, the legislature occupied itself with social issues that didn’t require any attention because they were covered by existing laws. Day after day of legislative time went to “guns, God, and gays,” while the roads continued to crumble, and paychecks people need to get by got ignored (except when they were lowered, as by the deplorable repeal of prevailing wage). In other words, when the Republican legislators aren’t doing their job badly, they aren’t doing it at all.

West Virginians weren’t happy with Democratic control of the legislature in 2014, and made that clear with how they voted. But the people could not have anticipated what a disaster Republican rule would be. Radical right wingers said they were “conservative,” but turned out to be destroyers and looters, grabbing all the goodies they could for their corporate backers, in their first two legislative sessions. Like other states that fell into their hands, we are being bankrupted by the right wing.

Last week, they voted down the tobacco tax bill that would have funded PEIA to protect our teachers, police and retirees. They said taxes on tobacco would drive customers away from “border shops selling cigarettes.” So this is what it has come to in West Virginia under Republican rule – we won’t build schools, so people can educate their children here. We won’t fix our roads, so commerce can thrive here.  We won’t allow our construction workers a prevailing wage, so they can support their families. There are plans being drawn to lay off state troopers and close wings of hospitals.

But at least we’ve got cheap smokes. If we don’t end this madness soon, that’s all we’ll have left.

Speak No Evil: Education by Ideologues

We all did it when we were little. No place to hide? Just cover your eyes and pretend they can’t see you if you can’t see them. Don’t like what you’re hearing? Put your fingers in your ears and yell, “LA-LA-LA-LA-LA.” But children outgrow that kind of thing.

Some of them, anyway. Others live that way all their lives and unfortunately, a number of them seem to have gone into politics. Worse yet, we’ve actually elected them, and they are implementing the it’s-not-real-if-I-don’t-look-at-it theory.

A Republican bill in Charleston recently blocked the implementation of a national science curriculum because the curriculum “mention[s] climate change.” So in forty-nine states around the country, kids will learn about that, but in West Virginia, it will be against the law to mention it, because, as Delegate Jim Butler pointed out, we are “in an energy producing state.” Science is just different here. Another Republican, Frank Deem, said the curriculum “upset” him. Cover your eyes, honey.

Almost 100 years ago, the state of Tennessee put John Scopes on trial for teaching evolution. The jury convicted him, but we got the play, and film, Inherit the Wind out of it, so the $100 fine he paid was well worth it. My favorite part of the movie was the protester outside the courthouse, holding a sign that said “you can’t make a monkey out of me!”

That protester was really on to something. Monkeys are good at politics but terrible at science. People are supposed to be able to do both. So we should know that we can’t teach “our own science” for political reasons. It’s the same with other subjects. Last session, the majority wanted to dictate what parts of history students could be taught. Some politicians think they would be better served by an electorate that only knows what they want us to know.

Delegate Mike Azinger — who wants to become a Senator so he can impose religious government in West Virginia, goes even further. Not satisfied with letting us know only what he wants us to know, he’s gunning for government that prescribes what we believe. So first we cannot say what certain politicians don’t want to hear. Soon after, we have to say what they do want to hear.

The constant monkeying with our curriculum by ideologically-motivated legislators holds our students back and displays disrespect for our teachers. Re-writing our textbooks to suit the politics of an election year won’t improve our schools, or brighten the futures of our children. Success in school starts with respecting the teachers, not tying their hands with a politically-motivated curricula. Politicians should get out of our classrooms (unless they are actual, trained teachers).

One job our lawmakers are supposed to do in the education arena is pay the bills. West Virginia has tens of thousands of teachers, among other public servants, in the PEIA program that provides for their health benefits and retirement. But there is a major shortfall in the program’s finances, and it’s been another case of “speak no evil.” The legislature seems to have time to do everything but its job. There have been bills this year to allow youngsters to carry concealed pistols without a permit, bills to make English the “official language” of West Virginia, bills to authorize workplace and housing  discrimination, and loads of other nonsense.

But fixing the PEIA problem has been ignored. Raising our teachers’ pay above last place in the country hasn’t been addressed. The legislature is too busy telling teachers what to do to bother about, you know, paying them. A West Virginia teacher can get a five-to-ten-thousand-dollar raise by moving across the border into Maryland or Virginia. What’s next? A law to prevent the teaching of math, so our next generation of teachers won’t know how badly they are being treated?

One particularly nasty politician, Eric Householder of Berkeley County, told a schoolteacher facing the gutting of her retirement plans to cancel her internet service and take a second job. She already had a second job. Maybe manners and common decency need to become part of the curriculum in Charleston.

The time has come to face our real problems, and find new ways to solve them. Refusing to join the modern world, or even to learn about it, sets us back when we can least afford it. West Virginians are hurting. Meanwhile, Tim Armstead, Eric Nelson, Paul Espinosa, Butler, Deem, and the rest of the new Republican majority are proving that protester from Inherit the Wind wrong — they are making monkeys out of all of us.

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