11 February 2011

The Governor’s Special Election: Laughing up the Sleeves; The NRA Misses the Broad Side of the Barn; And other tales

Government by Dairy Queen; The Special Election

I’ll have an ice cream cone – seven scoops, lemon, chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, coffee, pistachio and almond ripple. Covered with fudge. With sprinkles. Okay on second thought, I’ll take nine of them. No, no bag. Oh, no, I’m alone. I’ll just eat them here.

Elections are like ice cream cones. They are really good things. Delectable. Democracy in action. And consume too many of them in a short period of time, and you’re going to puke. And puke. And then puke some more, and not be very enthusiastic about them for a long time to come.

Welcome to the politics of West Virginia. We’re gearing up for the special governor’s election. The primary will be held on May 14. Then we will have a general election on October 4. Oops, then it will be 2012. Voters will go to the polls for the West Virginia primary in May. And, finally, and I’m not sure it if it will be climax or merely dénouement, but we'll finish off with the November 2012 General Election. And so, in a timespan of 18 months, West Virginians will abuse themselves with four contested, barn burning, hammer and tongs, knife in the kidney, slander and libel fest elections. I can hardly wait.

Oh, this follows the special senatorial primary election in August, 2010, plus the senatorial lovefest general election in November 2010

The cause of all of this was the death of Sen. Robert C Byrd in late June 2010. Sen. Byrd was the almost totally beloved and absolutely untouchable Dean of West Virginia politics. In a gesture to populism, the Governor and Legislature ordered a special election in 2010 for the open Senate seat even though that election was not necessary. Two years, they reasoned, was too long for an appointed senator not elected by the people. In any event, Gov. Manchin won that election which then created a vacancy in the governor’s mansion. Under the West Virginia Constitution, Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin became acting governor. That, by the way, set up a power struggle in the Senate. They’re still cleaning the walls from the pie fight.

Let me take a detour from fact and political reality here: every politician says that he or she wants Biblical glory for Mother West Virginia, let the chips fall where they may. I am reminded of very sage advice I received years ago from my seniors – don’t appeal to someone’s better nature, they may not have one. Instead, appeal to their self-interest. Everybody wants to win. Quite a number of people have the taste of the governor’s chair will in their mouths, and they will stop at damn-all-nothing to slake that thirst. And if the people benefit? Well, that's OK too.

One of the players seeking election is Senate and Acting Governor Tomblin. The other players do not want to wait, primarily because that would permit Gov. Tomblin to amass two years of incumbency points.

I consider the necessity for three back-to-back years of elections to be a chicken bone in the throat of Mother West Virginia. But here is where our dedication to a government of law has to withstand a test. The necessity of a special election this year was confirmed by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. I didn’t like the result, but in reading the decision, they were exactly correct that the Constitution requires it. Last year, the whole special senatorial election was pushed as a trendy damn-history event. The 2011 election has to be held to satisfy the Constitution and to avoid it we would have to trash legal procedure. (One Supreme Court justice recused herself from the election things because she’s going to be on the ballot in 2012. Circuit Court Judge Larry Miller filled in. He’s a good friend and a totally upright guy. The fact that he signed off on the Supreme Court decision lends a particular credibility to me.)

So what do we have? On the Democratic side we have chaos in fratricide. On the Republican side, they are simply laughing their asses off. You see, Republicans in West Virginia have a fundamental problem – the great majority of the time, they lose elections. Therefore, any chaos will at worst leave them no worse off than they already are. Moreover, a 2011 primary process coincides with a convenient appeal to populism. Conveniently, it also aids Democratic Party fratricide and will require Democratic candidates to blow most of their resources on the primary. In my judgment, it would have been wiser and better to have used a conventional system which, up until last week, was what the law provided for. Of course, that would’ve affected the result of who the nominee was, mainly by leaving big money out of the process. I have a little problem tying big money to the public will, but maybe that’s just me. (Just like singing that phrase “world without end” in the Gloria Patria, this whole idea of a “public will” induces a chuckle every time I say it.)

As you might expect, everyone getting into the governor’s race sees himself or herself riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. One candidate announced “A new day in West Virginia!” I’m reminded of the comment made by Brother WC Fields that we don’t need a new deal, because we're going to get old double shuffle anyway.

I am not ready to handicap the election. Every election for 30 years, I've prepared a sample ballot about a week prior to the election and posted it in the back of the circuit clerk’s office with my predictions. I think I would have to write this one on Kevlar this year. So far, the Democrats have five reasonably heavy candidates in the race. State Treasurer John Purdue is smart and accomplished, but suffers from genuinely lousy PR. Speaker of the House Rick Thompson is primarily known in southern West Virginia and would have to hurry up to get a statewide reach. One of his strongest assets is his wife, who travels around with him and who is a GREAT campaigner. Gov. Tomblin is going to get some incumbent points and also points for having jumped in and taken charge. He, too, is known primarily in southern West Virginia and the disgraceful fight in the Senate likely has hurt him. Senator Jeff Kessler announced today. He led the revolution in the Senate which is the first thing that has given him any genuine statewide exposure and which carries some of its own negatives. Finally, there is Natalie Tennant, Secretary of State. While that may be a fairly unimportant job scheme of things, she has run and won a statewide election. Last week, she shot herself in the foot by having a bunch of posters printed at public expense on election issues featuring her photograph. A. James Manchin could get away with that kind of thing, but he’s gone now.

Republicans have a strong candidate in Betty Ireland, the former Secretary of State. She has stayed reasonably prominent since she left office and is already running hard. I have no doubt that she will get some pushback from others in Republican Party because she is just not doctrinaire enough. (That is not say that the Democratic Party does not have a crazy wing. However, the sane wing keeps winning elections, so the crazies stay at the back of the room.) I don’t see Ireland doing goofy things like invoking lasers in the sky, so she will benefit by the Democratic infighting. The question, of course, is how much will she benefit.

Permit me to remind you of something Will Rogers said: I’m not a member of a organized political party. I’m a Democrat.

Note: I finished Greg Icenhower’s biography of A. James Manchin yesterday. A James acted like a goofball, but he believed everything he said and he genuinely loved Mother West Virginia. In 1974, I was down at the Legislature on an internship through West Virginia University. We had an evening session setup by Doc Whisker with A. James. In the room were about 20 intense college students at the end of a hard week but still looking forward to hitting the bar at the Daniel Brown Hotel that night. A. James talked to us for a couple of hours and absolutely captivated us with stories of doing what he felt was the right thing for people. When he was head of the Farmers Home Administration West Virginia (a political plum for helping the Kennedy's in 1960), he attempted to fund a football field in Wetzel County. It was turned down in Washington because they had a rule against funding what were primarily spectator sports facilities. Undeterred, A. James proceeded to fund and approve an outdoor volleyball court 80 yards x 120 yards.

Unrelated note: I read a brief biographical sketch of Lewis Wetzel this evening. He was a well-known Indian fighter on the frontier when the frontier was here in West Virginia. Manifest Destiny aside, the local warfare was intense and Wetzel was a positively accomplished practitioner. He developed the usual skill of being able to reload a flintlock rifle while at a dead run.

The NRA Misses the Broad Side of the Barn

Jeez, and Bro. Dave says I'm a bad shot. I got an e-mail this afternoon from the NRA. Let me say at the outset that I’m a member of the NRA. I argued the gun statute case before the West Virginia Supreme Court for the NRA after the enactment of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms Amendment to the state constitution. I support gun rights. I like guns.

Today’s e-mail proudly announced that the NRA is backing two new bills introduced at the West Virginia Legislature. The first is stupid and the second is both stupid and unconstitutional.

“House Bill 3084 would clarify the training requirements for concealed carry applicants, such as the misunderstanding about the existence of a live fire requirement.”

In West Virginia, one must have a permit to carry a concealed firearm. (To openly carry a firearm is lawful so long as one does not brandish it. In other words, if you carry a handgun, leave it in the holster. That's still stupid, though.) The existing statute requires that you have to be a graduate of a recognized training course in order to qualify for the permit. People with law enforcement training or military training have had those courses automatically. NRA courses are specifically approved within the statute. What is, apparently, unclear to some is whether the courses need to include “live fire,” that is, going to a range and actually firing a weapon.

This bill clarifies what nobody in their right mind already knew, that there need be no requirement of “live fire” to obtain a pistol license.

Nor should there be a requirement of working on patients to get a surgeon’s license. Or ever starting an IV to get a paramedic’s license. Or actually donning turnout gear to obtain a firefighter certificate.

Maybe the thinking behind this bill is some “slippery slope” thing that is driving maniacal resistance, for example, to questioning 30 round pistol magazines. (Of that, a discussion on another day.) But, Lord Jesus, please don’t tell me that we will have ignoramuses who have never felt recoil or heard anything go “bang” carrying firearms.

Incidentally, initial life fire is nowhere near enough. If you’re going to do anything dangerous, you need to maintain your skills.

“The second, House Bill 3085, would prohibit physicians from making unrelated
inquiries into a patient’s status of firearm ownership.”

You really have to read some of the language of this one to get the full belly laugh. It would permit the Board of Medicine to suspend or revoke a doctor’s license to practice for any ONE or more of the following 9 causes: (The first 8 are already in the law.):

(1) Conviction of a felony . . . ;
(2) Conviction of a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude;
(3) Violation of any provision of [the licensing law];
(4) Fraud, misrepresentation or deceit in procuring or attempting to procure
admission to practice;
(5) Gross malpractice;
(6) Advertising by means of knowingly false or deceptive statements;
(7) Advertising, practicing or attempting to practice under a name other than one's own;
(8) Habitual drunkenness or habitual addiction to the use of morphine, cocaine or
other habit-forming drugs;
(9) Making an oral or written inquiry of a patient concerning the possession, ownership, or storage of firearms, where the inquiry has no relationship to the practice of osteopathic medicine or the medical condition of the patient and is for the purpose of gathering statistics or to justify patient counseling unless the inquiry is the subject of a request or related to a medical complaint made by the patient.

The statute has the distinction of being insulting and unconstitutional.

Some months ago, I answered some sort of written questionnaire prepared by some national company as a part of some medical care. It had three or four questions about the ownership and use of firearms. Do I think that my doctor needs to know that? No, not really. It would be a little tacky to go tooled up into the doctor’s office, especially if one were going for an examination required disrobing. (I remember some funny scenes from the Police Academy movies where the gung ho character Tackleberry would occasionally relieve himself of his many firearms and stack them up.) But I do not need the Legislature or my mommy to tell the doctor what to ask me, or to tell me how to answer him or her. I’m a big boy. I have a choice to answer “Yes,” “You bet your ass!,” or “Sorry, Doc, that’s really none of your business.” See? I didn’t need the Legislature to protect me, I did it all by myself!

I really hope I don’t need to expound much on constitutionality. This is America. We have free speech. We can say things and ask questions with very few limitations. Those who would "protect" us from speech are insulting us. Oh, and they are also very much into Selective Socialism.

By the way, sometimes I'm asked "Should I get a gun?" And my answer is, How the hell should I know. I'm not YOUR mother.

Pippa passes.


06 February 2011

Prime the Pump

Prime the Pump

Billy Edd Wheeler is a West Virginia songwriter/playwright & artist. One of his country/folk favorites is called "Desert Pete," and is the story of a thirsty man running across a water pump out in the desert. The last person there, Desert Pete, left a bottle of water, just enough to prime the pump. The thirsty man's challenge is to trust that using that water to prime the pump will make the pump work and give him all of the cold & sweet water that he needs.

The chorus of the song goes:
You've got to prime the pump.
You must have faith and believe.
You've got to give of yourself 'fore you're worthy to receive.
Drink all the water you can hold.
Wash your face cool your feet.
Leave the bottle full for others.
Thank you kindly, Desert Pete.

I haven’t posted in 6+ weeks. I’m moderately surprised that Friend Jan hasn’t hassled me for my laziness. In reality, I just haven't primed the pump.

The “winter of my discontent” has been wrapped up in a tea bag and dipped into the hot water of politics. Mind you, I love politics, but this heat was scalding because it was me wrangling for an office. Our long-serving Circuit Judge, Fred Fox, retired. He is the longest serving judge or justice in the history of West Virginia, and his retirement still came as a shock. It did set off a frenzy of maneuvering amongst the Bar to find a replacement to be appointed until the 2012 election, and your wretched scribe was in the battle. The Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission met last week, made a short list, and made the wise decision that a black robe would be just too strange looking on this poor stiff.

I will confess that my legendary good humor was strained for an hour or two after I got The Word on Tuesday. And then, Wednesday morning, I was having coffee as usual with Bro. Dave at the Classics Café and we were again solving all of the World’s Problems. Jeri, the owner, came up and exclaimed “Hey, look!,” and pointed at the Courthouse right across the street.

The photo above is what she, and then we, saw: A double rainbow over the Marion County Palais du Justice. Dave and I burst out laughing. Coincidence? Refraction of light, nothing more? Or was it a timely reminder that all of our little machinations don’t amount to a Hill of Beans in the scheme of things?

Good humor restored. "You've got to prime the pump. You must have faith and believe. You've got to give of yourself 'fore you're worthy to receive.

You Are Your Own Security

When I go to our newspaper’s site in the mornings, I’m greeted with an online video ad, usually something local. This morning, though, it was a feel-good, professional ad for Smith & Wesson Security Services. I have a positive feeling for Smith & Wesson, but I didn't know that they did home alarm systems. The video was of a happy little family group on the couch, but the male announcer told me what a close call they had just had. An intruder had just tried to break in! “But thankfully, the Peterson's were never in any danger. The Peterson’s Smith & Wesson Security System sounded the alarm and scared him off.”

Bull. Shit.

Mind you, I believe in electronic security and perimeter security. There are all sorts of good reasons. Most criminals are stupid, greedy and lazy. If they meet strong resistance gaining entrance, most will leave. If they believe that the police are coming, most will leave. Moreover, other electronic services and devices, such as smoke alarms and the personal distress devices for older people, work very well and save lives.

But, but, but - to say that “The Peterson's were never in any danger” is magnificently stupid.

Most criminals are lazy morons. If they were not, they would make the connection that crime doesn’t work to make their lives better long-term. But not all of them. What the public does not recognize is that evil people do not reside just on the movie screen or in books. And just as dangerous as the evil people are the amoral people and the sociopaths, those who do not make the connection that it is wrong to harm others. Unrealistic? Excessive? Nope, consider it a tip from Mr. Reality.

God bless our police officers. They do a hard and dangerous job for not enough money. However, primarily they are a reactive force. When something bad happens, they react to it. They deter crime because most criminals fear that they will be caught and punished after the crime is committed.

And so, to sell us “complete security,” the alarm companies are peddling the bilge water that “The Peterson's were never in any danger.” Loud noises and the threat that the police will arrive in a few minutes will not deter the sociopath. They may merely hurry him up and make his attack all the more violent.

This is not a “get-your-gun” polemic. The decision to take up a weapon is an extremely serious one. It should only be made after a commitment to respect the extreme responsibility attendant to that decision. It should only be made after a commitment to learn to use weapons responsibly and safely. But do not console yourself that you are relieved of the duty to protect yourself and your family because the thought of police coming in 3 to 5 minutes will chase away every criminal. We citizens are at our most vulnerable when we become too complacent or too lazy or too afraid to consider our own safety.

Mumbles from Mumbai

As I’m working, often I keep “Internet radio” playing in the background. There are not many advertisements which, curiously, emphasizes those which there are.

This morning, I heard a well-done ad. Did you know that you can get the help of a “personal assistant” for only $6.98 per hour? Personal assistants are the folks who trudge through the minutia of life so that we can think Higher Thoughts and do Greater Deeds unimpeded by Ordinary Things and, coincidently, stay out of touch with humanity. Miley has a personal assistant. So does J. Lo and Brad and Oprah and The Donald, so why can’t we, and on the cheap at that?

Well, my question was, how can they provide this service for less than the federal minimum wage? Dummy me. I looked at the website. I bet you already know how they do it. They describe themselves as “a full service offshore outsourcing solution provider” located in the US with the “operated delivery center located at Mumbai, India.”

In other words, Americans (maybe) formed a company to service greedy and lazy Americans using Third World labor.

Before any of us get all pious, let us remember why this outfit has a call center in India. We put it there. We’re the ones who demand plastic junk which can be made cheaply in Asia and then sent by containership to North America at a lesser cost than it could be manufactured on this continent. We are the ones who are unwilling to pay American wages for work that we consider beneath ourselves. We are the ones who look at products which fill our mouths with the saliva of irrational desire and tell ourselves, “oh, just this once, it’s okay to buy something that’s not American.” And in doing so, wink wink, it’s OK to have some illegal immigrants just this once to harvest the crops so we can eat cheap at Applebee’s and, wink wink, we’ll pretend that proud American brand names (Buck, Springfield, Timber Rattler, or, hell, Ford, GM & Chrysler) are still All-American. Are your winking muscles getting tired yet?

Government regulation is not the answer, even if it were possible to get a square deal there. (It is to chortle - some of the best investments in America are made in its politicians. And the funny part is, it’s legal. Wink, wink.) We the People have a right to spend our dollars as we choose.

Where do we choose? Here is a test of us as a people. Not whether we have a government strong enough to coerce us to long-term economic health if ever it were inclined to try, but whether we have the people who are intelligent enough and of sufficient moral strength to do so. I say these things not from some position of moral superiority - - I have my own excess of Chinese, etc., shit. It has to end. Or not. Our choice.

What’s it going to be? Mumbai or Fairmont? Shanghai or St. Louis? Indonesia or Indiana?

Note: There are places to learn about american products, such as
Buyamerican.com and buyamericanmart.com, among others.

My Secret

I don't care about the Super Bowl. Mum's the word.

Pippa passes.