Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Parallels to the plight of Jews during and following World War II should never be made lightly, but as reported by the Charleston Gazette-Mail, state delegate Josh Nelson (R-Boone) has started an online petition to ban from the United States and West Virginia refugees from the war in Syria.

Nelson's ostensible motivating concern for the safety of Americans is unavoidably reminiscent of the motivation claimed by an even more prominent West Virginian, US Sentator Chapman Revercomb, who in the years following World War II authored the Displaced Persons act, which dictated the conditions that European refugees had to meet in order to be admitted to the United States. Revercomb fashioned those conditions specifically for the purpose of minimizing the number Jewish refugees from Hitler's Germany who would be accepted. The tale is best told by columnist Drew Pearson who wrote the following in his "Washington Merry-Go-Round" column from July 20, 1948. I reprint it here in honor of Delegate Nelson and all those who would add to human misery by using immigration policy as a weapon of bigotry.

Washington Merry-Go-Round
By Drew Pearson
From The Daily Illini July 20, 1948

DISPLACED PERSONS -- Senate Democratic leaders say that one of the first moves at the special session of Congress will be to revamp the displaced persons act. Many Republicans agree and are angry at the anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic restrictions.
The Senate accepted the bill in its present form, because it came up so late that to have fought for corrective amendments would have meant no displaced-persons legislation at all.

The bill is the handiwork of West Virginia s Republican Sen. Chapman Revercomb, and the methods he used to foist it upon his fellow senators are some of the most shameful in the history of the eightieth Congress. Soon after he was assigned to head a judiciary subcommittee to study the problem, Revercomb bluntly told colleagues: We could solve this DP problem all right if we could work out some bill that would keep out the Jews. That is exactly what he did.

By legalistic sleight-of-hand, he put through a bill admitting 200,000 of Hitler's victims to this country but on Hitler's terms. Those who entered Germany after December 22, 1945, cannot be admitted. It so happens that most of the Jews, now in refugee camps, fled into Germany from the Polish pogroms after the December 22, 1945, deadline. Revercomb s bill also assigns 50 per cent of the displaced-persons quota to the Baltic states for no valid reason, except that these states, are predominantly Protestant . Whats more, the bill requires that 50 per cent of those who come to this country must be farmers in spite of petitions from employers and labor groups, asking for trained garment workers to fill the shortage in that field. Few Jews are farmers, many are garment workers.

Two months ago Undersecretary of State Robert Lovett wrote Senator Revercomb asking him to move up the eligibility date from 1945 to 1947. Revercomb kept the letter secret from his own committee until his West Virginia colleague, Democratic Sen. Harley Kilgore, found out about it several weeks later. The state department recommendation, snorted Revercomb, in reply to Kilgore s protest, was made by the Jews. The department is full of them. Later, while the Senate-House conferees were debating differences in the bill, U. S. Ambassador to Britain Lewis Douglas sent an urgent cable to the state department, warning that Europe regarded Revercomb's bill as grossly anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic. He requested that his views be communicated to congressional leaders. The state department promptly got in touch with Sen . Alexander Smith , New Jersey Republican, who urged Revercomb to present Ambassador Douglas views to the Senate-House conferees. Afterward, Smith asked Revercomb whether he had done it. I did not; growled the West Virginia Republican. I didn't want to raise any racial or religious issues in the conference.

( Copyright , 1948 , by the Bell Syndicate , Inc . )

Monday, November 16, 2015


Supporters of Right to Work legislation in Charleston are calling attention to a new West Virginia University study that's titled, "The Economic Impact of Right To Work Policy In West Virginia". In the words of the authors, the study examines "the way in which Right to Work (RTW) policy has affected economic outcomes across US states" and "consider(s) how the adoption of such a policy in West Virginia would likely affect economic outcomes in the state."

As you might expect from the enthusiastic support the report has received from RTW proponents, the news is nothing but good. Based on the experiences of states that have previously enacted RTW laws, the report concludes that, if West Virginia follows suit, it can expect to see substantial increases in jobs and output as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) without any measurable decline in wages.

There is, however, at least one problem with this rosy scenario. The conclusions are, again in the words of the authors, "based on a careful examination of data from all 48 contiguous US states over the period 1990 through 2013". But, what if West Virginia isn't like the other forty-seven contiguous states? What if the underlying economic dynamics that influence variables such as employment and output work differently in West Virginia than they do elsewhere?

It sounds like a flimsy supposition, but in fact, it's not. Previous posts in this blog have observed that, in West Virginia, many economic dynamics produce outcomes that are both counter-intuitive and the opposite of those experienced by other states. One of those is the relationship between economic growth as measured by GDP and growth in jobs and incomes.

Conventional wisdom holds that, when GDP rises, so should jobs and incomes. And, in the world at large, that's generally true. But, lo and behold, when you examine West Virginia's economic performance in recent years, we see precisely the opposite.
Since 2007 West Virginia has been a leader among states in GDP growth, but in that time the state experienced zero job growth and median household income actually plunged. Indeed, in 2013 West Virginia's economy produced a truly mind-bending result by achieving the nation's third highest rate of GDP growth -- nearly twice that of the country as a whole -- while at the same time it added no jobs and came in dead last in income growth, which was actually a decline. Keep in mind that's a period during which the national economy was adding jobs at a rate of over 2.5 million annually.

The following chart shows that since just before the great recession of 2008 West Virginia GDP has grown significantly faster than that of the nation. In fact, as measured by GDP West Virginia never even went into recession. Yet over that same period and after the economic dive in 2008 and 2009, the nation has consistently added jobs and now has four precent more than it had prior to the recession. West Virginia on the other hand has actually lost jobs despite its superior GDP Growth.

Superior GDP growth has also not stopped West Virginia incomes from plunging faster than those of the rest of America.

In short, if the experience of other states were indicative of what happens in West Virginia, the state would have about 50,000 more jobs today than it has and residents would be much wealthier, which brings us back to the Right To Work study and its presumption that the experiences of other states are a reliable predictor of outcomes in West Virginia.

It can fairly be argued that the dynamics that have driven West Virginia's GDP growth since 2007 -- primarily the state's natural gas boom -- are unlike those that would be triggered by the enactment of RTW and, therefore, the results of that legislation would be more consistent with experiences elsewhere. But, as it happens, West Virginia has also had an experiment with the enactment of other public policies that actually pull many of the same levers and trigger the same dynamics that RTW policy would.

Since 2010 the state has enacted a series of business tax cuts that have collectively reduced the costs of businesses operating in West Virginia by hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Right To Work appeals to businesses because it is perceived as decreasing business costs by making it harder for workers to exert pressure on companies for higher wages and more rigid work rules. In both RTW and tax cuts, businesses see an opportunity to save money, which proponents of RTW argue will result in more investment and more jobs. But, again, there's a problem. West Virginia's business tax cuts have produced nothing of the sort.

This chart provided by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy drives the point home powerfully. As West Virginia's business tax cuts have improved its competitiveness rank among states as calculated by the Tax Foundation, a right-leaning market-oriented think tank, the number of jobs in the state has fallen relentlessly.

But, why don't measures that save companies money generate the results that proponents of those policies predict? It has to do with where the savings go. In 2010 the state of Minnesota conducted a study that concluded more than half of state business taxes were paid by out-of-state individuals and companies. Of course, that means that, when business taxes are cut, most of the savings from those cuts flow out-of-state as well. And, in West Virginia, where the problem of out-of-state ownership of assets is the stuff of legend and where nearly all of the state's major private sector employers are out-of-state corporations, the effect is probably compounded. For instance, the state's largest employer is Walmart. Any money that Walmart saves as a result of tax cuts goes to the company's corporate coffers in Bentonville, Arkansas where it's no more likely to be invested back in West Virginia than any other money Walmart has on hand. And there is no reason to believe that Right To Work policy would work any differently. Most of whatever savings it generates for companies would be exported out of West Virginia and lost to the state's economy and residents.

The bottom line is that Right To Work policy like business tax cuts are attempts by states to "discount their way to prosperity" by making it as cheap as possible for companies to do business. But, there is little evidence that doing so works. In fact, even without RTW, CNBC reports that West Virginia already has the seventh lowest cost of doing business in the America and where has it gotten the state? It's telling that the same study that ranks West Virginia seventh for cost of doing business ranks the state 49th for its overall quality of its business climate, which is an indication of how little leverage is gained by being cheap. And yet for a couple of decades that has been West Virginia's prevailing economic development strategy under both parties and it's time to stop because it demonstrably and manifestly doesn't work.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

WEST VIRGINIA'S ASCENT CRACKER IS DEAD Someone send a note to the politicians who suggest otherwise

The good news is that a spokesman for West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said yesterday that the governor “remains optimistic” that Wood County’s much ballyhooed ASCENT ethylene cracker plant will be built. The bad news is that the person who will actually make the decision, Braskem CEO Carlos Fadigas, told Reuters that, given the low price of oil, there is currently “No reason to build a complex from scratch.”

While Fadigas allowed that “at some point the price of oil will go up again and the project will become important”, the vagueness of his phrasing suggested he doesn’t expect it to happen anytime soon and that, like most experts, he has no idea why it should.

Fadigas cited the price of oil because it is the single most critical factor in determining the economic viability of ASCENT. As oil prices fall so does the cost of the conventional process used to produce ethylene, which is a key element in the manufacture of plastic products. Cracker plants, like ASCENT, offer an alternative method for producing ethylene from natural gas rather than from oil. When the price of oil was over a hundred dollars a barrel and natural gas prices had plummeted from thirteen dollars per million BTU's to less than five, it was significantly cheaper to produce ethylene from natural gas making projects like ASCENT an economic slam-dunk. But then the price of oil also plunged by more than half to less than fifty dollars a barrel and the economic justification for crackers largely evaporated.

The question now is whether the price of oil will bounce back and restore the competitive advantage to natural gas. According to both the World Bank’s and the International Monetary Fund’s October forecasts, it won't do so anytime soon.

Economists are pessimistic about oil prices for a number of reasons. First is the advent of fracking, which caused oil production in the US to skyrocket to the point that, for the first time after decades, we are within hailing distance of energy self-sufficiency and of breaking the back of OPEC. But, we’ve also created a huge glut of oil and now have excess inventory and production capacity.

Another barrier to rising oil prices is the imminent re-entry of Iran into the market. Iran holds the world’s largest reserves of oil and natural gas and, thanks to the upcoming removal of sanctions related to that nation’s nuclear program, Iranian oil is about to hit the market in a big way, which will further increase supply and exert downward pressure on prices.

Then there is the worldwide movement to curb carbon emissions and global warming, which means countries will be working harder to reduce their consumption of oil or, in the case of emerging nations, to reduce the rate of growth in their consumption.

None of these factors is temporary or short-term. They will be with us for the foreseeable future as will yet another factor that will harm the prospects of West Virginia crackers. In the next few years, competing cracker projects that were started in the Gulf Coast before the collapse of oil prices will come on line raising US ethylene production capacity by 40% and will further dilute the need for crackers in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions.

There is also a final irony associated with West Virginia’s hopes that one or more crackers will be built and will trigger an associated boom in manufacturing. Not only must all of the previously mentioned barriers be overcome, but natural gas prices will have to remain at something close to their present depressed levels in order for natural gas to achieve a competitive advantage over oil. That means that while on the one hand state politicians pray for a recovery in natural gas prices and the accompanying severance tax revenues to fill the state’s yawning budget deficit, on the other hand, if they get their wish, the already crippled prospects of crackers ever being built in West Virginia will be further undermined.

Friday, August 14, 2015


There is small “c” coal – the combustible black mineral extracted from the earth – and there is big “c” Coal, the one used in headlines and in slogans such as “Coal is West Virginia”, and, most notably, “the war on coal”. It's a linguistic bundling of coal companies, executives, investors, miners, and their families into a confederacy of common interest in which what is good for the industry is presumed to be good for all – a community rising or falling together.

This picture of common cause is quaint, touching, even a little romantic . . . and extremely convenient for the coal industry in its efforts to exert political influence and resist environmental and safety regulations that would lessen demand for coal and increase costs. The problem is that the communitarian picture is almost entirely myth.

The notion that the interests of coal miners are aligned with those of coal operators would have been laughable to early 20th century unionists who literally had to fight mine owners to win even basic safety provisions and workers' rights. Still, it's argued that jobs and communities often wouldn’t exist at all were it not for the mines. But, what kind of existence is it that coal affords? What kinds of communities does it sustain?

Despite the higher-than-average wages paid by coal companies, mining communities are generally isolated, sparsely populated, impoverished, culturally barren, economically undiversified, and the health of residents is often atrocious. While geography and topography contribute to these conditions, to a large degree they are brought about by the coal industry itself.

Whereas most businesses prefer to operate in prosperous, growing communities, affluence and population growth creates problems for coal operators by driving up property values and raising expectations for higher standards of living including a clean and healthy environment. That’s why now, unlike a century ago, coal mines no longer operate beneath large towns and cities. It’s too expensive, there are better uses for the property, and the populations won’t stand for the attendant environmental and health risks. In short, the coal industry is an economic dinosaur – primitive, large, and not easily adaptable to a diverse modern society and economy. Even the marketplace in which coal companies operate is antediluvian.

Most businesses compete on multiple fronts – price, quality, innovation, and customer service. But, coal is a commodity, so prices are rigidly set by a market that offers little or no opportunity for product innovation or differentiation. That absence of opportunity also compounds the pressure to minimize costs, which is the only basis on which coal companies can gain a competitive advantage. And the drive to minimize costs leads directly to the noxious practices for which the industry is so well known -- dangerous workplaces, environmental degradation, and an almost pathological disregard for the externalized costs of burning coal which include global warming and all of its ill consequences.

Aside from a shared interest in keeping the lights on, coal mines and people simply don’t coexist happily. Those who live in coal communities find themselves trapped in a state of economic dependency on what is usually the area's only major employer. So, despite the health and environmental risks with which they live, they can develop a kind of Stockholm syndrome with respect to the coal companies, which can be seen when they leave their communities to rally at state capitals and wave signs declaring themselves "Friends of Coal" and opponents of the EPA's "war on coal".

If the national press takes notice of the demonstrators, it's to pity and sometimes deride them for their ignorance, for their insensitivity to the global consequences of burning coal. And it's true that coal supporters rarely acknowledge and almost never discuss coal's victims -- the hundreds of thousands of who suffer and die annually of respiratory diseases, never mind the millions who stand do be displaced as a result of global warming. But, if coal's supporters are callous toward others, they're no less callous toward themselves, many of them miners or the family members of miners who are consigned to suffer and die from silicosis and black lung. If they offer no pity, neither do they ask for it.

Besides, they're hardly alone in their disregard. Opponents of coal are no less guilty of blinkered compassion, expressing endless concern for the planet and those affected by its degradation, but rarely acknowledging the plight of those whose lives will be upended when the mines close. Occasionally opponents of coal will excuse their disregard by pointing out that the rise of renewable energy sources is creating more new jobs than the number being lost in coal. But, it's a sterile argument that doesn't resonate in the real world in which almost none of those new renewable energy jobs will go to refugees from the mines.

Ultimately, the only humane and economically sensible solution to the conflict will be for the mines to close. In some cases it may be possible to diversify coal community economies to help them find new reasons for being. That's what the Obama administration is attempting with its POWER+ Plan that will invest in coal towns. But, it's also inevitable that many communities will be beyond salvation and residents who are not retired or disabled will eventually have to move in order to seek new livelihoods. They will face daunting barriers to finding employment. And housing prices will be two or three times what they've been accustomed to paying. As a result, many will see their already meager standards of living diminish even further.

Compared to the deaths and dislocations of hundreds of thousands or millions that will result from continuing to burn coal, it's a small tragedy . . . but a tragedy still.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


A couple of weeks ago the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) released its annual ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index, often called the "Rich States, Poor States" report, which ranks states for economic competitiveness based on the extent to which they have adopted a set of policies that ALEC says, "can lead a state to economic prosperity". So, when this latest edition showed that West Virginia had fallen in the rankings from 30th place to 36th, very serious people were all over it. Wheeling and Parkersburg newspapers editorialized on the need to accelerate the pace with which the state is adopting the report's prescribed policies, MetroNews host Hoppy Kercheval devoted a segment of his statewide radio show to the report including an interview with the report's author, and state senate president Bill Cole (R-Mercer) cited the report as a legislative committee prepared to explore the subject how West Virginia's tax structure should be reformed.

The problem with all of this focus and publicity is that the empirical evidence shows the ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index utterly fails at what it purports to do, predict states' economic performance. As gleefully demonstrated by Sean O'Leary, the smarter, of the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy, there is no correlation whatever -- none -- between states' rankings in the index and any major indicator of prosperity -- economic growth, job growth, income growth, or increases in state and local government revenue.

In short, whatever the ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index predicts, it's not economic prosperity, which raises a fascinating question, why does a report that demonstrably fails to fulfill its purpose command such attention and in some cases near reverence? The answer is a sad commentary not just on the quality of political discourse in West Virginia, but on the state of our democracy.

One reason Rich States, Poor States has such a following is because its sponsors have the financial wherewithal to inject it into public discourse and into the political process. But, there's a second and equally troubling reason. There are empowered and influential people who steadfastly believe in the report's policy prescriptions raising again the question of why when the facts are there for them to see?

In many cases -- probably most -- believers haven't subjected the report to critical evaluation (although that seems more than a bit negligent given the stakes). Such carelessness, if that's what it is, can often be explained by believers' implicit faith in the report's authors and sponsors. But, it's also possible that political expediency and the possibility of private gain are factors.

That's not to suggest that people are baldly exchanging legislative favors for money especially since there are more subtle and less legally risky ways for players on both sides of the transaction to achieve their desired ends. Reports such as "Rich States, Poor States" send to office-holders and would-be office-holders the unmistakable message that money is being spent and will be spent in support of certain policies and, therefore, on behalf of politicians who champion those policies. In the first instance pliant candidates understand that, if they espouse the favored policies, that aggressive PR and "issues advertising" will confer upon them a veneer of intellectual and moral respectability. And, in the era of unlimited "dark money", they may also infer that they'll benefit from "uncoordinated" attack ads that target their opponents. Finally, there are old-fashioned direct campaign contributions that roll in from out-of-state donors -- individuals and organizations -- of which candidates have very likely never heard. And it all happens without a meeting or so much as a conversation between the concerned parties.

There are also less tangible but no less meaningful benefits, such as membership in a community the likeminded that offers mutual admiration and support as well as opportunities to hobnob with assorted varieties of celebrities, from those recognizable to the general public to behind-the-scenes players who are virtually unrecognizable and, therefore, that much more compelling. Indeed, the nervous delight of three year-olds meeting Santa Claus for the first time pales in comparison to that of local politicians who find themselves shaking hands with one who until that moment they had known only through the grace of Fox News or the pages of the Wall Street Journal.

No wonder current and would-be public servants evince such little interest in critically examining policies that, when allowed to go unquestioned, provide so much. And, what are the policies? Again, Sean O'Leary, the smarter, provides a helpful summary.

The policies shown in the image are simply a prescription for minimizing government services and shifting the responsibility of funding those that remain from the wealthy to middle and lower class families, a strategy that as was previously shown has utterly failed to increase prosperity in the states that have most thoroughly adopted it and that, on a national level has contributed to economic stagnation and increased deficits to the degree it has been tried.

It's easy to understand why those consequences are acceptable to the people behind the policies' promulgation. They get richer -- much richer. But, what are we to make of elected officials such as Senator Cole who represent West Virginians? Are the incentives mentioned above really so appealing that he and others would willingly see their own constituents suffer?

Sadly, in some cases the answer is yes. But, at the end of the day many local politicians are guilty of nothing more than credulousness and incuriosity -- enough that they accept what they hear at face value. They are the true believers of American politics who serve as foot soldiers in cities, towns, hamlets, and hollows all over the country and who can be relied upon to champion the policy du jour so long as it comes wrapped in the appropriate rhetoric and is enunciated by the recognized priesthood. Vladimir Lenin coined a term for them -- useful idiots.

They are people for whom adherence to dogma is the paramount virtue, not because of the outcomes it produces, but often in spite of them. Adverse results and suffering constitute tests of faith rather than a test of understanding, the former demanding constancy while the latter would recommend change. So, as Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac to demonstrate his faith, they remain prepared to double down on policies that have already caused West Virginia great harm, oblivious to the fact that they are serving a God who will not stay their hands.

Monday, April 6, 2015


Last week, Belinda Biafore, newly named chairwoman of West Virginia’s Democratic Party, participated in a wide-ranging interview with reporters and editors of the Charleston Gazette in which she was asked about lessons learned from last fall's election debacle and the party's direction going forward. Democrats hoping for the ascent of a phoenix can put away their binoculars.

A transcript of the interview has been published and in it Biafore fails to identify a single policy or position that West Virginia Democrats should reconsider, much less change. More worryingly, she proves unable to articulate any semblance of a Democratic narrative that would save West Virginia from its ongoing economic decline or that offers a compelling alternative to the now ascendant Republicans.

Things got off to a rocky start when Gazette editor Rob Byers asked Biafore what Democrats should have done differently in the disastrous 2014 election.

“Raised a whole lot more money. Maybe worked a little harder to get out the vote.”


Noticing the obvious omission in Biafore’s response, Byers prods her. “Philosophically, though, any changes there?”

“We probably should have maybe done a better idea of defining who we were.”

Recognizing the challenge before them, the Gazette’s questioners then pose a series of questions that practically provide Biafore with step-by-step instructions for how to articulate a vision, message, and policies. But, it’s to no avail. Nor does the participation of Democratic Party Vice Chairman Chris Regan elevate the discussion above repeated platitudes about “getting out our message” punctuated by sniping about the legislature’s new Republican majority. Biafore and Regan even frame major issues in exactly the way their opponents want them to be framed.

Just like Republicans, Biafore talks about “coal” as though it’s a monolithic force in which the interests of the industry, of miners, and of West Virginia residents are identical. If current market conditions and West Virginia’s long and painful history have taught us nothing else it’s that (a) even when the coal industry has prospered, it has not led to job growth or prosperity for workers and communities, (b) the desire of the industry to reduce costs and defeat environmental and safety rules is diametrically opposed to the wellbeing of miners and to health conditions in mining regions, and (c) the future of the Appalachian coal industry is compromised not as much by EPA regulations as it is by economic forces including competition from low-cost coal in Illinois and Wyoming, low-cost natural gas and renewables, and a worldwide consensus that the health and environmental effects of burning coal are so dire and costly that its use must be reduced.

That being the case, West Virginia Democrats should forcefully distinguish between the interests of miners and communities on the one hand and those of the industry on the other because doing so would not only serve the public interest, but would also politically distinguish Democrats from Republicans who make hay by falsely declaring that opposition to environmental and safety regulations is a fight for jobs when in fact the primary benefit is improved margins for mine operators with little or no impact on jobs or prosperity in West Virginia. Stating these truths would also put to rest the delusion that West Virginia’s coal industry and jobs would see a rebirth if environmental and safety measures were weakened.

If Biafore’s articulation of Democrats’ position on coal is bad because it’s misguided, her description of party economic policy is worse because it appears there isn’t any. While she mentions tactical measures such as raising the minimum wage and efforts to promote pay equality, Biafore fails to articulate any kind of overarching economic philosophy or principles.

She certainly doesn’t criticize current state economic policy, which can be summarized as “cut business taxes and pray the natural gas industry saves our asses”, probably because, although the policy is Republican in nature, it was proposed and implemented by Democratic governors and Democratic majorities in the legislature. In any case, West Virginia has seen no growth in jobs and prosperity. What we have seen are regularly recurring state budget deficits.

The good news politically is that these policies are fully embraced by Republicans even more enthusiastically than by the Democrats who enacted them. So, Democrats are now perfectly positioned to pivot on the issue and denounce what has been a manifest failure. The denunciation should be accompanied by the presentation of an alternative progressive economic agenda that would expand West Virginia’s economy by (a) defending the wages of West Virginia workers against assaults from Right to Work laws and weakening of the prevailing wage law; (b) revising West Virginia’s tax code to stop the repatriation of hundreds of millions dollars annually from the state’s economy while doing nothing to increase jobs or commerce; (c) using the revenue gained from revisions to the tax code to reduce the costs of higher education, invest in infrastructure and jobs, and cut personal income taxes so West Virginians can keep more of what they earn; and (d) defending federal programs, including Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps and other entitlement programs that provide desperately needed income for West Virginians and without which the state’s economy would contract even more.

It’s an economic policy and roadmap for greater wealth and prosperity that would powerfully distinguish Democrats from Republicans and leave Republicans holding the bag and baggage for the state’s current economic woes, which currently include thirty six consecutive months of decline in the number of West Virginians with jobs and chronic state deficits at the same time when jobs and the economy are growing at a healthy pace nationally.

Also absent from Biafore’s remarks is any mention of the environment, a truly remarkable omission in a state that perpetually lurches from one environmental crisis or industrial disaster to another responding each time with enhanced safety and regulatory measures only to see those enhancements rescinded months or years later as public apathy allows. From religious conservatives who believe we must be stewards of the earth with which God has blessed us, to environmentalists who observe the mounting crises caused by global warming, to residents and communities that see their health and property values destroyed by practices such as mountain top removal and the poorly regulated disposal of fracking waste, West Virginians will be receptive to a moral, economic, and public health argument that we must fight Republican efforts that would eliminate virtually any restraint on industry and that would also limit West Virginians’ access to the courts ensuring they will never be fully compensated for the damages they suffer. The question is, will Democrats have the courage to make the argument.

The same question can be asked with respect to the issue of healthcare. Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act (Biafore can’t bring herself to utter either name) has been an unmitigated blessing for West Virginia not just for the health of more than a hundred thousand West Virginians, but also for the economic benefits, which include more than $500 million dollars pumped into the state’s economy annually.

Finally, there are the gut issues that motivate many West Virginians – God, guns, and gays, and, lest we forget abortion and race. In her interview Biafore discusses the gun issue and correctly points out that many people who are generally supportive of gun rights are none the less taken aback by Republican legislation that would nearly abolish licensing and training safeguards and that would lead to weapons being present in nearly all places. Biafore also mentions Democrats’ successful effort in the last legislature to fight off Republicans’ attempt to pass a so-called religious freedom law that looked like a great deal like Indiana’s. But, pointing out Republican excesses isn’t enough.

While fighting for progressive positions on these issues individually, there is also an opportunity for Democrats to bundle social issues as part of a larger narrative accusing of Republicans of making West Virginia appear to the world, including people and businesses that might move and invest here here, to be a reactionary backwater of bigotry, ignorance, and resistance to modernizing influences that are shaping society.

West Virginians resent nothing more than being dismissed as rednecks and hillbillies and will understand the destructive consequences of such an image, which, along with environmental degradation and the absence of an educated workforce, constitute a far greater barrier to economic prosperity than do issues of taxation and government regulation.

In the wake of their 2014 electoral disaster, West Virginia Democrats have an opportunity to remake themselves by remaking their vision for the state. But, again, merely criticizing Republicans for their extremism isn’t enough. Democrats can and should be the party that speaks truth to West Virginians by acknowledging our shortcomings and by articulating a new economic and social narrative that explains how we got into the situation in which we find ourselves and how we can get out.

Honesty begets trust and vision begets hope and from those things votes will follow. The question is, can West Virginia Democrats find leadership capable of delivering either one. They haven’t yet.

Monday, March 30, 2015


Since becoming a senator, Joe Manchin's two most noteworthy actions in the area of economic policy have been his championing of the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan and his vote against Janet Yellen when she was nominated to become chair of the Federal Reserve Board. In both cases Manchin was motivated by his belief that deficit spending and the Fed's easy money policies were leading the nation to a fiscal precipice from which, he warned ominously, the nation would tumble into "a credit downgrade, reduced GNP and a devastating spike in inflation".

That was in 2012 in a speech to the Weirton, WV Rotary Club. So, what has happened in the intervening two and a half years during which the Bowles-Simpson plan was dismissed, Yellen was confirmed to lead the Fed, and the policies against which Manchin warned -- a low discount rate, quantitative easing, and deficit spending -- continued?

The latest numbers show that January marked the 34th consecutive month in which inflation has come in below the Fed's target-rate of 2%, the 25th consecutive quarter of GDP growth, and the 60th consecutive month of job growth -- the latter an all-time record.