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EXPOSED!  Republicans Cut Back Room Deal to Raise Your Taxes

UPDATE: Thanks to publicity from West Virginia Democrats, the WV House Dems, and here at Home Yesterday, Republicans voted against the bill, after they voted for it. That’s a flip-flop, but at least it’s a flip flop in favor of the people for a change. We’ll need to stay vigilant. It’s likely the idea will be resurrected when we least expect it. Thanks for reading, sharing, and making your voices heard.

House Democrats moved to kill tax bill HB2704 and lost on a 46 to 53 vote.
— Del. Stephen Skinner (@delegateskinner) February 29, 2016

But one hour later, the Republicans reconsidered:

Following a ruckus today in the House of Delegates, HB2704, the tax bill, died a quick death. Thanks for the calls, emails and posts.
— Del. Stephen Skinner (@delegateskinner) February 29, 2016

Original Article:

We’ve known for a while that Republicans could not spend the whole session delivering handouts and goodies to their corporate cronies without taxpayers getting the bill. Still, the West Virginia Republicans waited until the last possible moment to spring a bigger tax hike on workers than even I ever imagined.

West Virginia’s Republican Tax Increase Plan, will add dozens of new taxes on West Virginia’s working families. Speaker of the House Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha) and his finance team, Eric Nelson (R-Kanawha) and Eric Householder (R-Berkeley), hijacked a bill on the last day to pass bills out of committee and filled it up with brand new taxes on middle class people.

UPDATE: Republicans defeated a Democratic attempt to table this bill and stop these taxes from being raised:

House Democrats moved to kill tax bill HB2704 and lost on a 46 to 53 vote.

— Del. Stephen Skinner (@delegateskinner) February 29, 2016

These new taxes include:

DEATH TAXES: The Republican plan taxes your estate planning with a brand new tax on making out a will. Further, it will tax you after your die with a new funeral tax.

ANIMAL TAXES: New taxes on your furry friends and their trips to the Vet are included in the GOP package.

NURSING HOME TAXES: A new nursing home tax that will hurt our vulnerable seniors the most when they have already paid their fair share and can no longer earn income to offset the new taxes.

TAXES ON NEWS: The GOP plan puts new taxes on television, radio, and newspapers (probably so fewer people can learn about how harmful Republican rule at the legislature really is).

HOUSE TAXES: The House GOP’s proposal puts a slew of new taxes on building, buying and renovating, financing and refinancing houses. This hurts construction business and workers who already got hit when the Republicans took away West Virginia’s prevailing wage.

CONSTRUCTION TAXES: New taxes on designing and surveying will hinder construction projects West Virginia needs to grow.

TAXES ON TAXES: The secret Republican plan makes you pay a tax for getting help filing your taxes.

NEW CAR TAXES: With a new advertising tax on car dealers, the dealers will have have to pass on this tax to car buyers.

TAXES ON RAPE & ABUSE VICTIMS: With a new tax on counselors, anyone who receives help for abuse, rape or even smoking cessation with have to pay new taxes.

So what do the Republicans call this new batch of taxes? “The Tax Decrease Act,” of course. Just like Republican wage bills lower wages, and Republican freedom bills reduce freedom, Republican “tax lowering bills” raise taxes. And what’s it all for? So Koch Brothers cronies like Armstead, Nelson, Householder, and others like Bill Cole and JB Mccluskey, can take junkets to Palm Springs and deliver massive payouts to their elite donors.

Remember, when Republicans take over, the budget disaster comes with them and who pays up? Not their rich friends, that’s for sure. It’s the ordinary working person that shoulders the burdens when the party of the rich gets control. Republicans are raising taxes on everyone, and still haven’t fixed PEIA for our teachers, police, firefighters and retirees. You just can’t trust them.

PS: Think I’m biased because I’m no fan of Republicans? Check out this article from the non-partisan press association.

For comparison’s sake, hear how the PEIA crisis is being ignored while Republicans raise your taxes, and cut them on corporations, as explained by Delegate Issac Sponaugle.

Seriously, What Century is it in West Virginia?

Republicans are marching West Virginia into the darkest corners of the past. Here are nine examples:

  1. The last time unions did not have the right to bargain for a union shop was 1947. In 2016, West Virginia Republicans brought that back.
    When Delegate Justin Marcum spoke up against union busting, you can hear how working people responded, and how the Republican Speaker of the House tried to shout them down.
  2. At least as far back as 1891, reasonable regulations of concealed weapons were allowed. We got rid of those last week.
  3. West Virginia currently has the lowest voter turnout in the nation. Republicans are passing bills to make it harder to vote.
  4. West Virginia workers have been entitled to prevailing wages on public projects since 1961. Not anymore — working people are now considered “free riders.”
    Senator Bob Beach spoke out about giving our jobs away to other states to please big business, but the Republicans did it anyway.
  5. Vaccinations have saved hundreds of millions of lives worldwide. Republicans tried to weaken West Virginia’s vaccination program.
  6. Equal rights for all people regardless of sexual orientation is standard 21st century practice. West Virginia Republicans have moved to reverse that too.
  7. The basic principle that a landowner owns his land dates back to the Magna Carta amendments in the 14th and 15th centuries. Republicans are taking that away to give the power to gas companies to take land.
  8. Our constitution prohibits the government from imposing religion on the citizens. But the West Virginia GOP is calling for theocratic government from the House floor.
  9. In fact, the radical new majority plans to reconsider the United States Constitution and take us back to absolute rule by wealth and power.

West Virginia needs leaders with ideas about the future, not a dismal forced march into the past. We’re going to have to jump through extra hoops, “qualify” for our right to vote, and turn out in record numbers, or we’ll all be looking for another place to live.

Two for the Show in West Virginia

West Virginia has had it up to here with both political parties. On the Democratic side, the President has historically-low approval ratings. On the Republican side, West Virginia has rejected a train of establishment candidates in favor of Donald Trump. Research suggests that West Virginians are more pessimistic about the economy and more concerned with family finances that just about any other state in the union.

Record levels of unhappiness with the political establishment can mean only one thing for the Presidential race in West Virginia: Whatever the rest of the country may do, West Virginians will look to Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as the candidates who promise a major change of direction for the country. Establishment politics simply won’t get it done this year in West Virginia.

Let’s start on the Republican side. I am not a Trump supporter myself, as you might expect, but as Chris Rock put it twenty years ago, “I understand.” The long history of establishment Republicans who simply don’t deliver what they promise created the allure of Trump. Voters, particularly here in West Virginia, who lean Republican have woken up to how the GOP campaigns on one set of issues and delivers something else, time and time again.

Candidates like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio represent the same old same old Republican plan – tell social conservatives you’re the “moral party,” blue-collar people you’re the “opportunity party,” and above all tell them you’re against “Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama.” It’s been a winning formula at some times and in some places.

But then what do these establishment Republicans deliver for their voters? Amnesty and open-borders that kill middle class jobs. Huge tax cuts for the wealthy that never “trickle down.” And Republicans have been promising to overturn Roe v. Wade for over forty years, but never seem to get around to actually doing it. Voting for the Republican establishment always gets you a classic bait-and-switch. The campaign is nice, but what they do when they get in office leaves folks thinking: “that’s not what I voted for.”

Trump is different. Trump isn’t funded by Wall Street billionaires and doesn’t plan to cut their taxes at all. He isn’t beholden to the unfair free trade policies that enrich big corporations while they send our factory jobs to Mexico and China. He agrees health care should be a guaranteed right (at least, he says so now). The Republican establishment hates him for all of this, but they can’t stop him, and don’t control him. Right-leaning voters can see that and they like it.

On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has generated tremendous enthusiasm in states that are like West Virginia demographically. His message that money has taken over our politics, that disastrous trade deals have left blue-collar families out in the cold, and that our children need to be able to get a college education without taking on crippling debt, has energized millions of Americans. But Sanders has also found himself in some trouble with his own side’s “political establishment.”

There have been accusations (overblown, I think, but out there) that the Democratic Party wanted to provide a “coronation” to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. If that was ever going to happen, it’s on hold now that Sanders won a resounding, 20-point victory in the New Hampshire primary and narrow defeats in Nevada and Iowa. While I personally am an exception, “superdelegates” – party leaders with a convention vote in the nomination race – have backed Hillary Clinton by a 20-1 margin.

Of particular interest in West Virginia, the most recent Democratic debate featured Secretary Clinton pointing out that Sanders did not agree with President Obama on several issues, using that as a criticism of Sanders. That may be a generally good national strategy, but here in West Virginia, the candidate who differs with President Obama on some things probably has a leg up. There is overwhelming recognition here, of course, that the President’s policies have not been favorable to West Virginia’s economy, and the rest of the country has yet to make that up to us.

Of course, there are major differences between Sanders and Trump. Donald Trump has made a habit of lurching from position to position on many issues. He’s said some truly vicious, racist, and sexist things, from mocking John McCain’s wartime service to our country, to insulting entire nationalities and ethnic groups, all the way to a series of profane remarks about women’s bodily functions. He’s not what you would call “qualified” for the job.

Bernie Sanders, by contrast, has been saying the same things about protecting a right to health care and education for everyone, protecting good wages and American jobs, and ending Wall Street’s malign influence on our politics for as long as he’s been around. While Trump is known for being short on details (“we’re going to do great things!”), Sanders has been around long enough to actually lay out plans to rebuild and grow the middle class in this country. There is a reason he is the only candidate in either party with a net-favorable rating from the public at large.

Now I should mention that West Virginia has a native son in the race, Paul Farrell from Huntington, but it’ll be Farrell against two more nationally organized candidates who have very different demeanors, and very different plans, but who each speak to the mood in West Virginia. Neither party’s “establishment” has served West Virginia well, as far as people here are concerned. Any candidate who comes into West Virginia representing politics as usual – Democratic or Republican – won’t be coming out of here a winner in 2016.

Looting of WV Continues with Gas Company Giveaways, Budget Cuts

There’s a budget crisis in West Virginia, to be sure, but it appears that it is a budget crisis for certain people and not for others. While working West Virginia families are suffering, the new Republican leadership is busy handing out expensive goodies to all their pals in corporate America. The party of the rich is having a party in Charleston, and you are not invited, but you will be paying the tab.

Look at these bills for gas companies as an example. They take away property rights for landowners, allowing drillers to do and take what they want, even in residential areas, and ordinary people will have no recourse. Ordinarily, the companies would have to pay landowners for the rights to do these things, but now they just take at will. Forced pooling legislation that takes your mineral rights and hands them over the gas company involuntarily has also been introduced.

At the same time, the Republicans are considering tax cuts for billionaires, like Bob Murray, who came down to tell the majority he financed with campaign contributions that he’s the one who is hard up. Last year, Bill Cole detailed plans to cut taxes on his own corporations. All of these giveaways will have to be paid for by regular people who are already suffering. But those are the orders the Republican Senators received in Palm Springs, California, from the billionaires who finance their campaigns.

How are we supposed to pay for all the handouts to the Republicans’ rich friends? We’re starting to find out this week. The powerful Republican Finance Chair, Eric Nelson, solicited reports on how many ways there were to take the money Bill Cole and Bob Murray demand for themselves out of ordinary people’s basic services. Now we’re contemplating closing down wings of hospitals, laying off dozens of state troopers in the middle of the drug crisis, slashing funding for education, child care, and other things people desperately need.

So while you’ll hear a lot about “West Virginia feeling the pain,” that means YOU, not them. As we’ve seen in states around the country, time and time again, Republicans promise jobs and a better “business climate,” and so on. But when they get their hands on the keys, the looting of the state starts and it might not end until West Virginia is completely bankrupt. It’s happened before and now it is happening right here. You might not like Democrats, but you simply can’t trust Republicans. They do the same thing every time.

When the Republicans in Charleston aren’t picking our pockets, they’re hiding the ball with total distractions and time-wasters. Pro-discrimination bills, unnecessary gun bills, and calling for religious government all make the list of things the lawmakers are focused on, when what the state needs is to focus on increasing paychecks, job security, and fighting the drug problem. The behavior of the GOP majority has now become a national disgrace. It can’t end soon enough.

We can stop the looting of West Virginia, if we remember in November.

The Right-Wing Coal Con

UPDATE: The coal billionaire demanding a tax cut while schools literally crumble in Fayette County, and while West Virginia has a 300-400 million dollar deficit responds — and he sounds pretty mad. Let it not be said I won’t give him equal time. His response is here, original article below.

Mitch McConnell finally gave away the game. After years of pretending to be a friend of coal miners, he got caught red-handed and made national news. The right-wing coal con has begun to unravel.

Tens of thousands of retired coal miners depend for their health care benefits and retirement money on the United Mine Worker pension. That is to say, they depend on it for their very lives. Given the chance to protect it, as the Washington Post reported, McConnell’s decision was clear: helping the miners “was a no-go issue.”

The reason? Saving those miners lives offers no political benefit to him (the UMW didn’t support him last election), and there’s no benefit to the owners he relies on for campaign funds either. To McConnell and his ilk, coal miners are just props — wedged there beside them to keep the roof from caving in on their massive decade-long con job.

We’ve seen this pattern over and over again. As coal ownership and senior management line one set of pockets with multi-million dollar bonuses, they turn another set inside out, and cry poverty when it is time to pay miners and retirees. Accomplices like McConnell are only too happy to help — he knows his campaigns are financed by the owners and the corporate leadership, and he takes good care of them.

That’s what it means for him to be a “friend of coal.” Mitch McConnell is friends with coal money, not coal miners.

We’ve got an aspiring McConnell on our hands here in West Virginia. Patrick Morrisey, who lost a  New Jersey Congressional race in 2000, packed up his game, headed out west, and picked up a West Virginia law license just in time to run for Attorney General in 2012. He saw something here he didn’t  see back in Jersey. What was it?

Well, next thing you know, though, he’s posing in hard hats, touring mines, and collecting major campaign cash at a coal company headquarters in Illinois. He starts telling everyone that his mission in life is to fight the President and his war on coal. A real road-to-Damascus story.

But Morrisey didn’t see a blinding light on his road, he saw a political path. And he didn’t hear the booming voice of the Lord, he heard the President’s poll numbers. “They are LOW,” the voice said, “so when you get to Charleston, you will know what you must do.”

And so Morrisey’s coal con began. A person with no previous interest in West Virginia became a self-styled zealot for coal. He spent over a million dollars of his own money on his campaign, and an investment like that isn’t made if it’s not expected to pay off. His move has delivered a lot of political juice for Morrisey, but just as with McConnell, there’s been nothing actually in it for coal miners.

Lawsuit after lawsuit has turned the Attorney General lawsuit into a publicity factory. All the lawsuits have been ballyhooed at the filing time, trumped up with press releases at every procedural stage, and ultimately lost, or abandoned, with no tangible results for miners. The latest and loudest — a stay of the Clean Power Plan —  fits the pattern.

The CPP rules are slated to go into effect between 2020 and 2022. This tells us at least two things: 1) a stay for six to nine months has a lot more to do with election-year politics than altering the future of the coal industry, much less the lives of miners; and 2) The CPP, still far in the future no matter what happens in court, is not what ails the coal industry today. Nationally, Republicans don’t even bother talking about the “war on coal” anymore. It’s played out everywhere but here.

Utility companies have made it clear that the price of other fuels and worldwide markets are driving their moves away from coal. Billionaire Bob Murray brazenly demanded a 60% tax cut for himself in West Virginia while plotting a strategy to reap billions from the “death of coal.” Dealing from the bottom of the deck doesn’t begin to describe how dishonest the right-wing coal con has become. But McConnell “caught a hanger” with the pension move, and we can all be grateful to see the con exposed once and for all.

We might have known. McConnell’s been getting away with it for years — claiming to be a friend of coal miners and then stabbing them in the back, as the Post revealed. When Morrisey actually put a campaign manager on the public payroll, you couldn’t really be surprised at that either: his whole office is a perpetual political campaign and the “job” he worries about in his office is his own.

The investments that could improve lives in coalfield communities always seem to get held up. Actually working on the problem doesn’t suit the political con, so solutions are deliberately undermined by McConnell and the snow job continues. Continuing pain in coal country supports the scam, so they can’t let it end.

Now, the most important part of a con job is to get out while the getting is good. That why Murray is quietly getting into gas. And after Bill Cole cleared Morrisey out of the governor’s race, Morrisey can have only one thing in mind — the 2018 Senate race and a chance to get out of West Virginia and back to Washington, D.C., where he started his political career working as a committee staffer.

So coal miners who deserve better get used: first to deliver owners their billions and executives their millions; and now to protect Morrisey’s political ambitions, which point back the way he came and have nothing to do with West Virginia. Meanwhile, McConnell and Morrisey play Catch-Me-If-You-Can to become political bosses, using coal miners as props. The sooner the miners walk away from these guys, the sooner the roof comes down over the whole sickening enterprise, and the sooner West Virginia can go back to work for itself, instead of right-wing coal grifters.

Blankenship Case Exhibits the Need to Change the System

UPDATE 2/17/16: Regular as clockwork, another CEO, Gary Southern, has swung himself a 30 day jail sentence despite poisoning the water supply for Charleston West Virginia. There continues to be one system for the rich in this country and one for everybody else. That has got to change.

Don Blankenship will escape his criminal trial without receiving the long prison sentence he deserves. A possible one year in jail, and a fine, are punishments that do not fit his crimes. But rather than rail against the injustice, we need to understand it, and address it, by fixing the laws and the system that made it happen.

Don’t imagine the lawyers, or the judge, or the jury rigged it. All of those folks performed their roles properly and honestly in this case. Everyone involved did their lawful duty in the epic Charleston trial of the former coal baron. But the resulting sentence points to a larger and more important truth below the surface.

For a powerful few in this country, nothing is left to chance. Blankenship didn’t have to try to influence the judge or jury unduly, because people like him set the system up well in advance, and make sure that the law itself is looking after them. When the chips fall their way, there is no surprise because everything has been arranged ahead of time.

CEOs like Blankenship have rigged our system in a deep and systematic way. The reason the sentence will be such a letdown was perfectly expressed by Vann Newkirk’s observation that our “system cannot avenge those it was not designed to protect.” Exactly so.

Our justice system has been built up over hundreds of years — all of them dominated, to one extent or another, by the power of organized money. A person can receive a long prison term for possessing marijuana, but not for conspiring to violate mine safety regulations. The reason is that those who would conspire to violate mine safety regulations organize their money and demand special protections from the legal system — and they get them.

West Virginians overwhelmingly believe that Don Blankenship bears responsibility for the deaths at Upper Big Branch. A clearer case of “industrial homicide” has rarely been seen. Yet again, and again, Blankenship’s team expressed frank incredulity and indignity at the idea that he would even be tried, let alone convicted, of anything.

Booth Goodwin’s historic prosecution of Blankenship was a tour de force, all the more so given the limited tools we give our prosecutors to work with against CEOs. But the light sentence — destined to be heavier in money than jail time — clearly shows us where ordinary miners stand in our legal system compared to the big bosses. Blankenship faced thirty times as many years behind bars for crimes against banking than he did for crimes against human beings.

Mine safety regulations are a matter of life and death. But conspiracy to violate them carries a misdemeanor-grade sentence. The system we have cannot avenge those it was not designed to protect. So we must change the system, and bring it into balance with what truly matters — bringing workers home at the end of the day to be reunited with their families — instead of tilting it towards “profit at any cost.”

All aspects of the system have this problem. Pensions and health benefits for workers are no safer than the workers themselves. In bankruptcy court, there is always money, and more money, to pay executives their salaries, bankers their fees, and bonuses on top of that. But there is never money for the workers’ pensions. Modest, monthly checks earned over thirty-plus-years of service at hard labor are suddenly “bloated” or “excessive,” while multi-million-dollar bonanzas for single executives are “necessary expenditures” for “key employees.”

More often than not, the most-highly compensated personnel have the most responsibility for the financial disasters, just as they have the most responsibility for the the human catastrophes. But they have financed a system that makes sure the price for their mistakes is paid by others. And they are getting their way.

Year after year, just as families are broken and bereft of their loved ones who do not survive Blankenship’s vision of how to “run coal,” so are those who survive bereft of the money once thought to have been earned underground. Organized money operates a system much like the house in a casino; in the end, they get it all.

Financial criminals brought this nation to its knees in 2007, and few if any of them have been prosecuted and none received a significant jail sentence despite costing the nation hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of jobs. Meanwhile, thousands of Americans are jailed for failing to have money enough to pay fines for petty violations of the law and regulations. Privatization of our prisons and courts is another means for organized money to extract profit from ordinary working people, and it’s a growth industry in 2016.

We need to redesign our system. We need to give prosecutors the tools they need to reach the top — where the decisions really get made. Mine safety is as good a place as any to start. At the federal level, the Byrd Act remains ready to go — every member of West Virginia’s Congressional delegation should support it as a top priority. If West Virginia’s leaders won’t stand up for miners and their families, who will? At the state level, conspiracies like Blankenship’s to violate mine safety rules should be deemed a felony, and carry a stiff sentence.

Some say that West Virginia prosecutors wouldn’t have the moxie to take on CEOs like Blankenship. But our U.S. Attorney has set an example for others to follow by boldly placing the responsibility where it belongs: on the wealthy men making the decisions that sent honest, hardworking, decent people into needless peril and death. Others must follow his work. The least leaders can do is deliver to our prosecuting attorneys the legal tools they need to make their convictions count at sentencing time.

Working people don’t have the advantage of unlimited bank accounts. They have to educate, organize, and vote to beat the Blankenships at their own game. When organized people demand it, we will have a system that protects them from organized money. Let’s get started.

Patriot Cole Plunders West Virginia

UPDATE: On January 27th, with Bill Cole’s apparent approval, billionaire Bob Murray came to Charleston to suggest he pay no tax at all, or get more than a 50% cut, while West Virginia faces a budget crisis:

Bob Murray almost yelling about West Virginia’s coal severance tax, calling it too high.
— Jonathan Mattise (@JonathanMattise) January 27, 2016

Murray calls for removal of the 56 cents per ton special severance tax and three percent of the current five percent regular severance.
— WV Coal Association (@WV_coal1) January 27, 2016

Everything for the richest, nothing for the schools. This is happening the same day working families have their prevailing wages taken away by Republicans. The looting of West Virginia is on, with Republicans leading the charge, and billionaires coming in behind them to mop up what we’ve got left. In Cole and Murray’s West Virginia, we take working people’s wages and cut retirements for schoolteachers, but Bob Murray needs a huge cash giveaway.

Over and over again, we’ve seen corporate power players loot a company. Investors, executives, and consultants pay themselves millions, or even billions, before lo, and behold, the company is “bankrupt.” Hard-working employees get left holding the bag, losing not only their jobs, but their pensions, their health benefits, and often, their communities as well. Former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney made his hundreds of millions just that way. He executed one American business after another, left devastation in his wake, and walked away rich.

We saw it first hand in West Virginia with Patriot Coal. CEOs created Patriot to be plundered until it failed – allowing the miners’ pensions and benefits to be stolen, while the corporate brass walked away with millions. And like any get-rich-quick scheme, the Patriot Coal Plan is spawning imitators. But the latest loot-the-company schemes are not targeting individual businesses, or small company towns, but rather whole states. Republican politicians are now using Romney’s plan to plunder whole U.S. States into bankruptcy – and making handsome profits.

In 2014, Senator Bill Cole seized the Senate Presidency by exchanging the position of Majority Whip for Senator Daniel Hall’s party switch and vote. Cole, a car dealer, looked to see what he could take for himself on day one, trying to treat himself to custom-made legislation limiting pesky auto warranties. He later tried to bestow on auto dealers a special exemption from the so-called “legal reforms” that crippled other West Virginians’ right to a jury trial.

But these little legal favors were just warm ups for the main event — the bulk transfer of taxpayer dollars from the working families of West Virginia to Cole’s friends and corporate backers. His prime target was the business inventory tax, an assessment that cuts into the bottom line of corporations like his own. But all manner of giveaways to the rich are in the offing, including the reckless financial schemes of Arthur Laffer, now best known for bankrupting the state of Kansas.

Still, you couldn’t call it the “Patriot Cole” plan until just the past few weeks, when the state’s leading Republican announced that the health and pension benefits of school teachers, police officers, and state highway workers were, in a nutshell, “not his problem.” Meeting our financial obligations to working families is the responsibility of the Legislature, but Cole will have none of it, saying he was “dismayed” that the “burden” of honoring our promises to our workers was being placed “squarely on his shoulders.” Republican leader Tim Armstead also passed the buck, saying that expecting his Legislature to pay its bills was the “same old passing of the buck.”

This is West Virginia under Republican rule. Money to hand out to wealthy corporate chieftains like Cole? Plentiful. Money to pay the working families that educate our children, police our streets, and try to maintain our roads? Sorry – Cole doesn’t want that “burden” on his “shoulders.” These upside-down priorities of the Republicans – where only the rich matter and the working man can pound sand – built Romney’s fortune, robbed the Patriot miners and now it could flat-out bankrupt our state. It’ll be no surprise when the millionaires and billionaires Republicans planned to entertain at a $100,000 per plate breakfast walk away richer, and working West Virginians pick up the check.

We are now witnessing daily the bitter fruits of Cole’s deal with Daniel Hall. They rot in Charleston, while tens of thousands of state employees face major cuts to the benefits they worked hard to earn. Meanwhile, Patriot Cole and his Republican crew caters to wealthy donors with a series of boondoggles for the Chamber of Commerce. The Republican plan to have middle-class taxpayers foot the bill for their expensive corporate giveaways is going into full effect.

It’s plunder in true Romney style, and on a state-wide scale. All the ingredients are there — the payoffs to those who are already rich, savage cuts to what is legally owed to the workers, and a slick PR campaign to blame outside forces for their own sins. Republicans have already cut prevailing wages for the private sector workers, now they are after the pay and benefits of public servants — no one who earns a paycheck is safe from these Republican schemes.

West Virginians must rise up as one to fight against the plunder of their paychecks, their treasury, and their beloved state. We know what happens if we don’t. Lower wages, layoffs, benefits cut, then taken away altogether.

And it’s all being brought to us by the man who’s earned the name: Patriot Cole.

Day of Reckoning: Blankenship Goes on Trial

Whatever happens at his trial, the hard truth is we are living in Don Blankenship’s West Virginia. The billionaire coal baron may have landed himself in the dock, but along the way, he landed an avalanche of politicians in our Capitol. The policies, and the politicos, that Blankenship groomed for a decade finally broke through in 2014 and they are busily turning our state into one big Massey enterprise.Old Scratch

Don Blankenship has a knack for summing himself up better than anyone else. He has declared that he believes in a kind of social Darwinism — “survival of the fittest” — whatever produces more money and profit justifies itself by that alone. Miners killed or injured by his deliberate circumvention of safety rules were simply a cost of doing business and as long as his bank balance went up, he felt fine.

And, Lord, did it go up. In 2011, when Massey sold out to Alpha, Don Blankenship took an payout worth over $86,000,000.00, on top of all the money he’d made before that. He locked up a lifetime deal for company lawyers too and who knows what other perks. At the height of what people call the “war on coal,” money rained down on Don Blankenship. He won the war.

But as Don faces the long arm of the law, United States Attorney Booth Goodwin, and a possible prison sentence, his legacy surrounds every West Virginian in every county — not just the coalfields he used to haunt. His cronies, proteges, and pals are a veritable “who’s who” of the present-day West Virginia Republican Party. Senators, Delegates, GOP Party officials and flacks — odds are any given one of them graduated from the Don Blankenship school of social Darwinism (or at least took plenty of money from it). They call him the “kingmaker.”

Blankenship’s reign demanded unremitting hostility toward union miners in particular, and the idea of working people bargaining collectively for better wages in general. He despised safety regulations that could slow down his efforts to “run coal” and increase company profits. Most of all, he wanted Republicans to control the Legislature so they could implement his agenda and his favorite policies.Coal Tattoo

And they have. The Armstead/Cole regime in place since the 2014 election followed Blankenship’s playbook page by page. Repeal of coal mine safety regulations: check. Attack on union wages and organized labor: check. Tax cuts for wealthy and influential businesses: on the way. Blankenship didn’t want to run only his mines, he wanted to run the whole state, albeit by proxy. Now West Virginia faces the prospect that Don Blankenship will rule West Virginia from a prison cell.

The power of Blankenship reared its head in Wood County last month, where one of his proteges, Republican county chair Rob Cornelius, got himself removed from his post for outrageous and offensive behavior. His actions included crude sexual remarks at public hearings and brandishing a baseball bat at a retired police officer. The dean of the GOP House caucus, Delegate Frank Deem, called Cornelius “bad news.” Never mind. The State Party quickly reversed course and put Blankenship’s man back on the job. Asked to comment on the trial, the Republican Party darling said: “[Blankenship] was a very good man and friend to me over the years.”

It pays to be Don’s friend, and it pays well.UBB

Millions and millions of Blankenship’s dollars have been poured into the West Virginia Republican machine, and none of it appears to have been returned when he was indicted. Bereft of the man himself as he occupied himself preparing for trial, Bill Cole, Mitch Carmichael, and Patrick Morrisey have become pale echoes of Blankenship’s rhetoric. They lobby for tax cuts benefiting rich businesses like Cole’s own auto-dealerships. They lambaste the wages earned by construction workers. They decry any regulation aimed at protecting human lives and limbs, or even basic clean water, as an affront to the “interests of business.” They re-brand the Blankenship agenda as the “Chamber of Commerce” agenda.

Blankenship once made a great show of living in West Virginia. But after his companies polluted the water supplies in his neck of the woods, we found out he’d built his own private water line for his house, while the local people dealt with his pollution. Once again, he sums himself up better than anything you can say about him. The pure self-interest, the total disregard for the rights of other human beings in the pursuit of profit — Don Blankenship piped in his own special water, while the local folks drank the water he’d dirtied. Social Darwinism.

It’s a shame Blankenship’s friends won’t go on trial with him. He may be the ringleader, but he recruited dozens of accomplices to do his dirty work, and many of them have yet to be charged. Even if he goes to jail, the men his money put in power will continue on the path he paved for them. “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” So it may be with Blankenship, unless, in 2016, his legions of politicians receive a different verdict, from a different jury: West Virginia’s voters.

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