Still Crazy, After All These Months

Trump's world

Fourteen months ago, the Trump administration took office. The American electorate selected a novice politician as their executive leader. This leader extolled his business acumen, his management skills, his abilities to only hire “the best people”. The voters of this nation, having grown used to the presence of this actor from his television reality show, ignored the baggage that he brought to this office. Baggage of multiple business bankruptcies. Baggage of two failed marriages, and the baggage of a reputation for womanizing. Baggage of a history of making money through the expedient act of not paying local craftsmen for their honest work. Baggage of sponsoring a bogus real estate course offering expectations of great insights from the master developer, only to instead offer bait and switch courses where for a few thousand dollars more, course participants could get the next level of knowledge. Baggage of over 3,500 lawsuits filed against Donald Trump and his affiliated companies over the course of his career. Baggage of egregious racist attitudes exemplified by his crusades against the falsely convicted Central Park 5 defendants and his outrageous birther claims against President Obama. Still. He was elected as President of the United States despite this pitiful record.

So why is it now, fourteen months later, do I have the feeling that I’m revisiting a 1930’s movie with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, only instead of “Hey, let’s put on a show!”, I believe that the rank amateurs in this administration decided, “Hey, let’s put on a Federal Government !” I can see the facades of the scenery being constructed for the big musical numbers, err, the big cabinet meetings that is, with the cheesy dialogue coming from the cabinet members pouring out laud and honor upon he who must not be criticized. Why is it that this supposed genius at personnel management managed to hire people better suited for roles as parking valets than as government managers?

I hear his supporters keep claiming that he’s accomplished so much, and all of the media and coastal elites just keep harping on the same old things, can’t get over the fact that Hillary lost, just shut up and take it. OK. Fine. Hillary lost. Apparently enough voters from enough states wallowing in the echo chamber of social media (soaking in a Russian dressing marinade) selected this candidate to enable him to succeed in the electoral college. I’ve seen all of the graphics showing that Trump won the overwhelming amount of land area and the county count. Guess what? This nation has turned into an urban nation, and it is in the urban centers that the repudiation of Donald Trump was at its strongest. Only the Electoral College was in favor of Donald Trump.

As far as Donald Trump’s incessant claims that his administration has accomplished the most of any first term President in his first year, I realize once more that he lives in the delusional world of his own making. I count his successes in his first year at exactly two – first, the nomination of Neil Gorsuch and his confirmation by the Senate, second, the extremely tortuous path to an upper class and corporate tax cut foisted upon the American public late in 2017. What are some of his failures in his first year as he played his role as President?

  1. Repeal and Replace. Easiest thing in the world (who knew that health care was so hard!).
  2. Witch hunt! Seems to me that the witch hunt is getting closer and closer to unraveling the webs of deceit and deception surrounding the unnatural ties between Trump and Russian influence and money. We shall see what we shall see.
  3. Infrastructure week 1. Infrastructure week 2. In what should have been the easiest sell in the history of Presidential politics, can anyone enunciate what infrastructure policy Trump is advocating and how that is going to restore the nation to greatness?
  4. Let’s all sing like the birdies sing. Tweet, tweet tweet, tweet tweet. Enough said.
  5. I only hire the best people. Yeah, the best people who manage to trip all over themselves in justifying exorbitant plane fares (in first class I don’t get yelled at by the people affected by my policies), the people who can’t figure out how to comply with instructions on how to fill out forms for security clearances, people who beat their spouses and can’t get security clearances but still remain on the job until their actions get unwanted press. I can keep on going as long as you have patience to read examples of incompetence, but still I think the Mooch has the unbeatable record of being fired before he actually took over a position within this administration. I don’t know how you can ever top this as a signal accomplishment of this totally incompetent President.
  6. There’s good people on both sides. Ah yes, the moral equivalence proposition that neo-Nazis who paraded down the streets of Charlottesville in their khakis and polos carrying their tiki torches and chanting anti-Semitic slogans were just as good as those who marched to protest the neo-Nazis. And yes, I am aware that there were antifa provocateurs who provoked attacks from the neo’s. But they didn’t drive cars through crowds of protestors, mowing down victims mindlessly.
  7. Diplomats? We don’t need no steenkin’ diplomats. While there is optimism that the Korean peninsula is not going to become a giant ball of nuclear flame, the American people (and the rest of the world) greatly prefer the use of diplomacy with an adequately staffed State Department to the vagaries of an adult with ADHD who decides on the spur of the moment to accept a summit invitation. What does it say when the leader of North Korea exhibits more maturity than the President of the United States? Welcome to our world.

I know that none of these arguments are going to sway those who are true believers in the complete imbecile now occupying the office of the President. I also know that the true believer who occupies the office of the Vice President is perhaps more dangerous, since he is an ideologue, and has demonstrated competence at government administration. The Vice President’s ideology is putrid, and his pronouncements would have the institution of a theocracy as one of his highest priorities. For all of Donald Trump’s failings, theocratic leanings are not one of them. Donald Trump has played the Christian card for all of the benefits he could get, being himself a card-carrying hypocrite. So there is danger in forcing the removal of this President, should the opportunity present itself. No, what I am doing is using whatever power I have in my words to keep shouting to the world how Donald Trump’s incompetence and narcissism is placing the security of the world at risk. And once more emphasizing to the American public that it is not a good idea to elect charlatans to the highest office in our land. Not that they care. Last time I checked, the Kardashian’s are still trending on social media. And of course, that is our highest priority, right?

Which Side Are You On?

Teachers strike nbc image

Photo Copyright NBC News

Pete Seeger sings this classic union song in 1981. Which Side Are You On?

The central Appalachians have been a hot bed of union activity for more than 100 years. The history of West Virginia is full of stories about the battle to unionize the coal mines, and armed battles that took place to enable workers to organize and gain a measure of power against the forces of capital. At the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921, the US government actually bombed positions held by miners as part of the armed standoff. Eventually, the victory of the United Mine Workers was recognized, and the union became a symbol of worker solidarity and evidence of the continual struggle between management and labor.

Still, after the heyday of the union movement, over time the antipathy of the capitalist class toward unions gained more sway, especially with the general prosperity that evolved in the coal fields. Entire mining companies proudly declared themselves as non-union operations. The A.T. Massey company, led by the notorious Don Blankenship, was famous for breaking unions at their mines. Indeed, even in 2018, Don Blankenship is running for Senate in West Virginia fresh off of his stay in a Federal prison, claiming that he is a miner’s safety champion, as he runs ads extolling his generosity and the commitment to safety that Massey mines held. It was the government’s fault that 29 men died in a Massey mine, not management! Nowhere is it so evident that unions are far weaker than they were, reduced as it is to a faint whisper of their influence a century ago.

Which is why it is so surprising that the events of the past two weeks in West Virginia are resonating with the echoes of history in the hills around Charleston and throughout the state. Teachers in West Virginia walked off of their jobs beginning February 22, and as of March 3, have not agreed to return to work. This strike is not against a capitalist company, though. This strike is aimed at the Legislature of West Virginia, and Governor Jim Justice, who ironically is a coal magnate with mines throughout Appalachia. Over the past decade, the Legislature has reduced or eliminated a series of taxes in the state. Some of these taxes were regressive, like the sales tax on food. Some tax reductions were aimed at improving the business environment. But the net result was to reduce tax revenues by several hundred millions of dollars per year, and the promise of new businesses coming to take advantage of an improved business climate has not closed the revenue gap. Then, several years ago, the eastern steam coal market collapsed, as exports shrunk, and more coal-fired power plants closed down rather than comply with regulations aimed at minimizing the health and environmental consequences of coal combustion. A surfeit of natural gas from fracking also convinced utility companies that coal was not part of their future. Severance tax collections fell by hundreds of millions of dollars.

So for several years, West Virginia has dealt with tax revenues that declined over time, and this has necessitated on-going cuts in state programs and government spending. The deplorable state of this state’s highways bears witness to the sustained neglect of state services. The teachers of this state were squeezed from two directions. First, their base pay as set by the state, has not risen for multiple years. Second, the state-run health care insurance has repeatedly raised rates and deductibles, like most health insurance has over this decade. The general increase in rates was exacerbated this year by an ill-advised proposal that was to charge employees for health insurance based upon total family wage income, rather than by the employee wage. So a teacher who would have a moderate premium based upon their state salary, might be subject to pay twice as much if they had a spouse who had income but used the state health insurance. State teachers could foresee their pay going down to cover these premiums in a period of limited pay increases.

Teachers in this state are in essence fighting a proxy war for all state and local employees and retirees. All state employees are covered by the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA). So whatever changes that the teachers can cause, will apply to all of those in the state who are using PEIA.

This year, frustration boiled over. The proposed family income change, and other legislation aimed at diminishing teacher rights, collided with a minor pay raise proposal. For the first year since Republicans expelled the 80 year reign of the Democrats in the Legislature in 2014, there appeared to be growth in tax revenue projections. Governor Justice and the Legislators proposed a magnificent 5% pay raise, with the pay rates to be increased by 2% the first year, and 1% each of the next 3 years. No change was proposed in the PEIA rate structure.

Teachers rose up in rebellion. The job action finally began on February 22, and since that time, the steps of the Capitol Building have been covered by thousands of teachers with the #55Strong motto on shirts and signs (West Virginia has 55 counties). The chambers of the legislature have been packed, and the members of the legislature have been heckled with the calls of “DO YOUR JOBS”, and “WE WILL, WE WILL, VOTE YOU OUT!” echoing inside of the Capitol rotunda. It has been a remarkable scene reminiscent of the days of yesteryear, when the miners who were on strike became known as rednecks due to their use of red bandannas around their necks. Some of the current teachers are proudly wearing red bandannas now in honor of their labor past.

How will this end? At this writing, it is uncertain. The State Senate is maintaining its prerogative to slow track a bill aimed at granting a one year 5% raise, thanks to an opportunistic rise in revenue projections that just happened to show up. Teachers have said that it’s not the pay that’s the biggest problem, it is the funding for PEIA. As often happens once a conflict erupts, neither side is willing to budge, and the way out of the abyss is hard to see at this time.


Blair mountain

Photo copyright Jed Ward.


Spring Encroached Early

spring 2018

So far, the famed groundhogs of the east are not proving to be expert prognosticators. Here in South Charleston, WV, we had our first crocus out on February 15, and the daffodils started blooming on February 25. Some of the purple crocus have already shot their wad, and lie listless and limp on the ground. The early bees liked the pollen while it was available.

The picture above shows a scene from the front of our house. A purple crocus fronts the first blooming daffodils. Hellebore, or lenten rose, is blooming directly behind. For us, this is the best time of year for flowers since these are the flowers that our hooved rat interlopers will not eat. Soon there will be thousands of blooms open in our yard, and the next 6 weeks will be the peak time for our gardens. But there’s work to do, especially with the hellebores, since last year’s greenery that lasted through the winter, has now wilted and browned, and must be pruned away from the vibrant new foliage. So I must arouse myself from the winter induced stupor and take advantage of any dry and relatively warm days that we have. Of course, last week with its 81ยบ temperature reading spoiled me for a normal day like today, back in the low 50’s.

I assembled the new deep bed raised bed for my vegetable garden. Three years ago, when I had just retired, I bought some inexpensive 4″ high cedar beds. They’ve reached the end of their useful life, and I bought a new one to replace the one in the middle of the three beds. Now I have to get the fabric liner purchased and installed, and the extra topsoil to mix with this year’s compost. Even though we have had exceptionally early warm weather, there will be later cold snaps that would nip early plantings in the bud. So it will be the second half of March before I plant any of the cold-loving vegetables.

I’ve already seen courtship dances with some of the birds in the area. I need to mend our bluebird house before our residents come back and are disappointed at the housing shortage. Still haven’t seen the robins come back. The earthworms and other bugs are out and about though. As I shoveled out the dirt from my old raised bed, I saw many worms and beetles emerging from their enforced inactivity. You wonder what a beetle may be thinking about as it sleeps under the earth in winter.

Another spring crop has emerged on our roadways. The traditional American Pothole is appearing in all of its pestilence. This year, the crop is especially large, since there were a significant number of potholes that weren’t fixed last year, so they over-summered and are larger than ever this spring. I’m hopeful that these pests are soon followed by the blooming of the orange road flowers, indicating the attempts to eradicate the American Pothole. Our state committed itself last fall to significant bonding to fix our roads, so we are hopeful.

It is always amazing how filthy things get over the winter. On our front porch, remnants of bird seed are scattered all over the floor, along with bird excretions. Broken branches mingle with the last leaves of the fall, and the leaves that fell after the last raking. Bunches of wild onions are poking their heads through the uncultured lawn. In all my years as a homeowner, I have never attempted to develop a perfect grass monoculture. I prefer diversity in my lawn, so I’m just as happy to see moss develop as I am to see fescue or bluegrass. I think the reason why at this time of year, my lawn is riddled with blooming crocus, is because I don’t use any herbicide at all on the surface. I’ve never known how crocus spread as much as they do – I may have planted some 25 years ago, but those few bulbs have multiplied by the hundreds now.

daffodils 2018

I expect more cold weather to come, and more snow and ice before the end of winter. But since we’ve already enjoyed frozen drinks on our front porch in February, we can bear the brunt of late winter’s onslaught. But please, bring on the spring!