28 September 2007

Byrd's Busy Week

U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., did not limit his activities this week to threatening cuts to Iraq war funding, talking tough with Bush administration officials and kicking hecklers out of the Senate Appropriations Committee

Colleagues from both sides of the aisle were on hand as the
Senate Commission on Art unveiled a new portrait of history's longest-serving U.S. senator at the Capitol.

The Charleston Gazette has a story, while C-SPAN is offering video of the unveiling ceremony.

(Update: The Charleston Daily Mail offers a slideshow from the unveiling.)
(Update II: About a minute into the C-SPAN video is where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., refers to Byrd's accomplishments "for the state of Virginia." Grrr.)

The 89-year-old also saw the new Public Higher Education Center in his home county of Raleigh named the Erma Byrd Center to honor his late wife, the Register-Herald of Beckley reports.

And earlier this month, Wheeling Jesuit University awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters to his late wife, who died in 2006 just months shy of their 69th wedding anniversary. The Gazette reported on that event as well.

More Changing of the Guard

September's end marks the departure of several more figures from state government:

* Billy Jack Gregg is retiring after 26 years at the Public Service Commission as "the only Consumer Advocate West Virginia has ever had," as MetroNews reports.

"Gregg says he is most proud of his office's efforts during his tenure to thwart the attempted deregulation of the electric industry in West Virginia and the successes, he says, they had in limiting the increases for customers when natural gas prices shot up a few years ago," the MetroNews piece said.

* Ben Beakes is leaving as chief of staff to Secretary of State Betty Ireland. With Ireland deciding not to seek another term next year, Beakes is joining Petroleum Products Inc., The Associated Press reports.

Beakes gained a reputation as a tireless and knowledgeable aide to Ireland with county election officials, voters and the press. A Friday Parkersburg News article underscores the often touchy terrain facing the state's chief elections office.

They Voted For You: MoveOn.org

The U.S. House followed the Senate's lead this week and adopted a resolution that "condemns in the strongest possible terms the personal attacks made by the advocacy group MoveOn.org impugning the integrity and professionalism of General David H. Petraeus."

The measure passed 341-79, with Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, all voting for it.

The Associated Press offers details on the resolution, while MoveOn.org has also responded.

U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., voted against a Sept. 20 amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 that aimed to "express the sense of the Senate that General David H. Petraeus, Commanding General, Multi-National Force-Iraq, deserves the full support of the Senate and strongly condemn personal attacks on the honor and integrity of General Petraeus and all members of the United States Armed Forces."

The Senate measure passed 72-25.

27 September 2007

Spinners In The Hands Of An Angry Byrd

Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., dished out some fire and brimstone during Wednesday's appearance by Defense Secretary Bob Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace before the committee.

As The Associated Press reports, Byrd's speech at a hearing on a $190 billion Iraq combat funding request was punctuated by "tough rhetoric" and "was interrupted several times by cheers of anti-war protesters."

"The American public was sold on this war with metaphors about mushroom clouds and
fanciful visions of our troops being greeted as liberators," Byrd told the pair at one point. "The fear tactics and half-truths continue, as the President suggests that terrorists will 'follow us here' if we withdraw from Iraq, and the Administration grasps at every straw to demonstrate 'progress' on the ground."

C-SPAN offers video of the entire three-hour hearing. Byrd's speech takes up the first 12 minutes. (The so-called "Greek Chorus" begins at 8:55, but also check out the reaction by other committee members, particularly Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., at 8:11. And things really go south at 1:28:15.)

The committee has posted the text of Byrd's prepared remarks.

(Thanks to the Charleston Daily Mail for picking up a Washington Post column opining on the hearing, which was marred by "two dozen hecklers in the audience from the antiwar group Code Pink" who "continued to shout at the witnesses and wave signs for the better part of an hour.")

Byrd had vowed in a speech earlier this week that "I am convinced that the best way to support our troops is to bring them home, and the only way to get them home may be to somehow restrict the funds for this disastrous war."

The Charleston Gazette and MetroNews (with audio) were among those to cover the Monday remarks, while the Appropriations Committee has also issued a release on Byrd's statement.

(Update: Public Broadcasting has a piece on both Monday's remarks and Wednesday's hearing.)

Today's Batch O' Facts: West Virginians In The Military

West Virginians remain proud of their patriotism and their historic willingness to enter harm's way when their nation calls. The state has consistently seen solid contingents from its population fight in armed conflicts going back to the Civil War.

But in a question to Rudy Giuliani during his recent presidential campaign stop in Morgantown, one reporter asserted that West Virginia led the nation in residents per-capita serving in the military.

And state officials are among those who have boasted that West Virginia leads the nation in veterans, per-capita.

The latest figures from the U.S. Department of Defense count 9,318 active duty military and 7,480 reservists as Mountain State residents. These numbers suggest that nine out of every 1,000 West Virginians are in the military.

Fourteen states have higher rates, with Alaska leading the nation with 59 per 1,000 residents.

West Virginia ranks 12th for active-duty military (Alaska is again 1st), and 20th for reservists (Hawaii is 1st).

(DoD figures also count the number of active duty personnel stationed in states: West Virginia has just 489, while California has more than 150,000.)

As for veterans, the 2000 Census counted 201,701 in West Virginia, or 11.15% of the population, ranking the state 10th. Maine had the greatest share, 154,590 for 12.13% of its population.

The American Community Survey estimated veteran populations last year, again ranking West Virginia 10th with 12.5 percent of its residents veterans. Alaska topped that survey, at 14.6% of its population.

26 September 2007

They Voted For You: Iran

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., voted for a Wednesday amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 that sought "to express the sense of the Senate regarding Iran."

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., voted against the amendment proposed by Sens. John Kyl, R-Ariz., Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and others.

It prevailed 76-22.

Critics of current U.S. foreign policy have seized on specific language in the amendment:

"(T)hat it should be the policy of the United States to combat, contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies (and) to support the prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of United States national power in Iraq, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military instruments in support of (this policy) with respect to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies."

DeLay Comes To West Virginia

Former U.S. House Majority Tom DeLay, R-Texas, addressed a Fairmont State University audience Tuesday as part of the school's Celebration of Ideas Lecture Series.

The Times-West Virginian of Fairmont has an article, on the subscriber portion of its web site. Will add any additional links asap.

They Voted For You: SCHIP

West Virginia's entire House delegation - Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd -- voted to accept the Senate's amendments to the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act.

The vote was 265-159. Capito was among 45 House Republicans to support the measure, while eight Democrats opposed it.

But as The Associated Press reports, "the Democratic-led victory may prove short-lived because the margin was too small to override President Bush's promised veto."

Bush has mischaracterized the bill, according to FactCheck.org, giving "a false description of proposed legislation to expand the 10-year-old federal program to provide health insurance for children in low-income working families."

Several West Virginia groups have weighed in on the legislation and Bush's veto threat, including to The Charleston Gazette, MetroNews and Public Broadcasting.

The Climate Change Debate In W.Va.

"Clean coal" technology, pursued by West Virginia to maintain its role in the nation's energy mix, is "hugely expensive" and "probably one of the worst ideas ever proposed," a Charleston audience was told Tuesday.

S. Fred Singer, described by The Charleston Gazette as "one of the nation’s most outspoken and controversial climate change skeptics," said that "that humans aren’t making the world warmer, and said state residents shouldn’t try to curb greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants."

Singer spoke at an evening event "sponsored by Payne Engineering Co., the First Presbyterian Church of Charleston, Blackbird Technology Group of Indiana, and BB&T," the Gazette reports.

Public Broadcasting
also covered the forum, reporting that Singer is considered "a sort of Rorschach test for your views on climate change. Environmentalists call him a 'climate change denier' -- like the people who deny the Holocaust. They blame him for working with conservative groups and the energy industry to delay action on climate change."

But Singer found a receptive audience Tuesday, which "listened eagerly as Singer gave his hour-long speech and took pot-shots at Al Gore, climate scientists and even his former friends in the oil industry, who he says are only admitting now to climate change because they see how can make money off it," the report said.

Singer is also "the founder of the Science & Environmental Policy Project, which disputes the prevailing wisdom on climate change," Public Broadcasting reports.

25 September 2007

Thieves Exploit Mine Safety Push

In the wake of the Sago mine disaster and Aracoma mining deaths in early 2006, West Virginia adopted the stockpiling of emergency air packs in its quest to improve mine accident survival and rescue efforts.

The resulting caches, stored well within a mine, have become magnets for thieves, The Associated Press' Tim Huber reports. Massey Energy Co. alone estimates that 100 to 200 of the air packs have been stolen from its mine in recent months.

Rather than a new law, officials tell Huber they want prosecutors to pursue regular theft charges but to make such cases a priority.

"The approach comes on the (heels) of a harrowing attempt to steal eight emergency air packs from Massey Energy Co.'s Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine earlier this month," Huber writes. "Authorities are searching for a suspect who allegedly started a multi-ton vehicle, taped the controls and sent it some 3,000 feet down the mine's tracks, where it collided with a second vehicle."

Witnesses Allegedly Bullied In DHHR Case

Public Broadcasting reports on allegations that the state Department of Health and Human Resources has intimidated witnesses not to testify in a discrimination case against DHHR.

(Update: The Charleston Gazette reported last week on the lawsuit and the alleged intimidation.)

The underlying lawsuit alleges people like Shawn Shumbera, a patient at the state-run Bateman Hospital in Huntington, have been wrongly barred from enrolling in a public program that would allow them to live on their own.

"The non-profit group Mountain State Justice says that DHHR officials routinely discriminate against people like Shumbera, who has been diagnosed as both mentally retarded and mentally ill," Public Broadcasting reports.

A lawyer for Shumbera alleges that a pair of Bateman staffers were willing to testify on Shambera's behalf -- until they were called in to a meeting with the hospital's CEO, a DHHR lawyer and other officials.

The witnesses now allegedly say they've changed their minds about Shumbera's case, and that they would not testify.

One of them allegedly said, "
you need to remember who signs my paycheck," Public Broadcasting reports.

A DHHR spokeswoman declined comment for the story, "
because of the lawsuit and because they don’t want to violate Shumbera’s privacy."

Public Broadcasting also offers the full text of the segment.

Election 2008 - Short Takes

* Elizabeth Edwards expects to be in Charleston for an Oct. 9 fundraiser for her husband's presidential campaign. As The Associated Press reports, the Democrat, North Carolina senator and 2004 vice presidential nominee had outraised the rest of the presidential hopefuls among West Virginia donors as of the last filing period. The Charleston Daily Mail, which was first with the story, notes that the event co-sponsors include Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha and a physician, and city lawyer Harry Bell.

* The U.S. House campaign of state Sen. John Under, D-Berkeley, was the intended beneficiary of a Monday evening fundraiser in Washington, D.C. Hosts were to include top brass from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and both of West Virginia's U.S. House Democrats, Reps. Alan Mollohan and Nick Rahall. Unger has previously touted DCCC backing of his bid to unseat Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd.

* Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, tells the Times-West Virginian of Fairmont that he has decided against a run for one of two state Supreme Court seats on the 2008 ballot.

24 September 2007

Quote of the Day

“The ideas put forth in my book are more consistent with those of the Republican Party than those of the Democratic party.”

-- West Virginia University economics professor Russ Sobel, while promoting Unleashing Capitalism at a GOP picnic Sunday covered by The Intelligencer of Wheeling.

The Debate Over "Open For Business"

More than 61,000 votes were cast by last week, online and by phone, for a new slogan for West Virginia's highway welcome signs.

Conventional wisdom predicts that few favored "Open For Business," the mantra championed by Gov. Joe Manchin. But as The Associated Press reports, the debate over that slogan overlaps with the discussion over whether Manchin's efforts to date render such a slogan accurate.

In the name of "Open For Business," Manchin has led trade missions abroad, touted West Virginia at all manner of business summits and forums, and has even commissioned an eight-page ad supplement for major metro daily newspapers.

But also influencing the debate over the state's business climate is Unleashing Capitalism, edited by West Virginia University economics professor Russell Sobel.

The book has its critics, including some who welcome the effort but offer a mixed review. The AP article recounts how one GOP lawmaker denounced its chapter on the coalfields -- likening it to denials of the Holocaust -- as revisionist history.

But the book has been warmly embraced for its advocacy of free-market and libertarian principles. Both the state Chamber of Commerce and Republican Party have been offering copies to anyone interested, and Sobel has found himself a speaker in demand.

The Intelligencer of Wheeling reports the latest such public presentation, at a Republican Party picnic Sunday in Brooke County.

Unleashing Capitalism will be our party platform next year,” GOP Chairman Doug McKinney told the newspaper. “Our philosophy will be, ‘It’s the economy, Stupid.’"

"McKinney and Sobel were among those attending an 'old fashioned picnic' for Republicans Sunday at Eric Freeland’s farm on Windsor Heights in Brooke County," the article said. "Copies of Sobel’s book were available for $10 each at the event."

West Virginia's Mini-Casinos

Kanawha County plans to hold public hearings next month so residents can weigh in on the 157 bars and clubs that together host 731 video lottery machines in the county.

Officials there hope to catch the attention of the Legislature, but lawmakers tell The Associated Press that they're highly unlikely to do anything about these mini-casinos until their licenses come up for renewal in 2011.

The AP's Vicki Smith also notes the revenues that flow from these machines to the state _ for Promise scholarships, schools and economic development funding _ and to county and local governments across state government.

The article also cites the 2001 law that created this arm of the state lottery system, by outlawing the infamous video poker "gray machines."

(At least one reader earlier questioned some of the representations made about gray machines. The AP article draws from a census conducted by the State Police in early 2001. It found 13,519 of these machines at 2,645 locations statewide. The video lottery system, as of August, had 8,178 video lottery terminals at 1,658 locations.

These gray machines operated in places well beyond the Alcohol Beverage Control Administration-licensed clubs and bars to which they are now limited. The census found them in grocery and convenience stores, video rental stores, bowling alleys and pool halls and, yes, even laundromats.

These machines were widely believed to pay out illegally. By way of comparison, the machines operating legally grossed $397 million during the last fiscal year.)

The Journal of Martinsburg also delves into the video lottery issue. Berkeley County officials expect the machines to deliver $311,000 in revenue this year, and they tell The Journal "that’s fine by them."