Thursday, September 22, 2022

No, being calm and polite does not excuse monstrous behavior!

The Tuesday, 9/22/22 Charleston Gazette Mail carried my letter to the editor responding to an editorial by the VP of HD Media and Executive Editor who wrote an opinion piece PRAISING ROGER HANSHAW SPEAKER OF THE WV HOUSE (R-CLAY) BECAUSE HE WAS SO CALM AND POLITE AS HE RAMMED THROUGH AN ABORTION BAN (WITH NO PUBLIC INPUT OR EXPERT TESTIMONY)! I'll post the text of his piece and the text of mine below. The hell if I'm going to make anybody pay to read them. I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!

Lee Wolverton: A speaker standing tall in the mire (Opinion)

Sep 16, 2022

Before writing that which I am about to write, I must do that which I am loathe to do regarding anyone holding political office. I must ask forgiveness. I must ask this because I am about to write that which I rarely find cause to write regarding elected officials. That is:

Roger Hanshaw appears from where I sit to be that rare sort in the modern milieu: A leader of keen intellect and high integrity and a respecter of law, propriety and decorum. The speaker of the West Virginia House and a Republican from Clay County, Hanshaw representsconservatism of yore — principled, thoughtful and reasoned.

This does not indicate I concur with him on the issues. It means rather that, observing him from afar, I find him to be what politics in West Virginia and America badly need in both parties — men and women of intelligence, skill and decency.

Those traits are virtually absent across the political spectrum, which is why I must ask forgiveness. Getting praise from the editor overseeing news operations at the Charleston Gazette-Mail and Herald-Dispatch, especially the former, is for a Republican in this state like getting a kiss from your sister after learning she contracted the flu.

For that reason and others, I am generally disinclined in this space to single out for praise or criticism individual officeholders below the rank of governor. It is more apropos to my thinking to opine broadly on the issues of the moment, and, of course, the issue of the moment is that onetime third rail known as abortion. Plenty of others are sounding off on that topic. Another voice would only add to the multitudes.

In Hanshaw’s case, I am compelled to deviate from custom because he is emblematic of something lost not only in politics and American culture but across the wider expanse of Western civilization. The human species long has been infected by liars, cheats and chiselers.

They will always be among us. But their successes once were fleeting. Corruption empowered and emboldened crooks such as William M. “Boss” Tweed, Richard M. Nixon and Arch A. Moore Jr., but it also eventually ensnared them.

People in power long have bullied others, but they once understood that public boorishness was bad politics. Lyndon Johnson on the Democratic side and Nixon on the Republican were presidents notoriously vulgar privately but publicly restrained because the lines of acceptable conduct were plainly delineated in American society.

All this has given way to a perversion of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man” ode to domestic stupidity. Constituents no longer give a damn whether a carpet-bagging lawmaker is being investigated by the Congressional Ethics Office for buying Chick-fil-A sandwiches with campaign donation money. They care only that he voted against an infrastructure bill, not because of the legislation’s lacking merit but merely because its passage would represent a victory for the leader of the opposing party. That’s their principle: Shaft the other guy, always.

Hanshaw provides welcome contrast to this manner of thinking, partly because he has manners. With grace and dignity, he leads a state House where chaos would reign without him and surely will if he is toppled as speaker. This observation follows Tuesday’s rancor, when shouts of protest filled the House before lawmakers approved one of the strictest abortion bans in America. Hanshaw responded with typical calm before ordering the protesters removed in an affair that could have been avoided had the vote swiftly taken place instead of being preceded by floor speeches that stirred already raw emotions.

Engineering a quick vote would have necessitated Hanshaw performing greater feats of herding cats on the right than possible in current conditions. West Virginia’s state House no longer is a legislative chamber but a theater of the rabid in a Republican Vanity Fair that makes the one of allegory look like a bastion of tranquility and virtue.

Somehow, Hanshaw has navigated this Slough of Ordure avoiding both stain and stench. The same can be said neither of his counterpart in the state Senate nor of others in the upper chamber who were sullied by their own filth during their profane taunting of their House Republican colleagues last year over state income taxes.

West Virginia and America could do with a great many more like Hanshaw. One among his own party is angling to unseat him as speaker. What that delegate should be doing is supporting Hanshaw, learning from him and seeking to emulate him. That would add another adult to the one standing now among toddlers riding a supermajority high and riding West Virginia straight into Bat Earth.

Lee Wolverton is the vice president of news and executive editor of HD Media. He can be reached at 304-348- 4802 or

My response:

I am flabbergasted by HD Media's VP of News and Executive Editor, Lee Wolverton's piece in Saturday, September 17th's Gazette-Mail in praise of the politeness of Republican House Speaker Roger Hanshaw during the passage of House Bill 302.

The bill outlaws abortion in WV except in very narrow circumstances that will exclude many or most victims of rape of incest and force doctors to make life and death decisions under penalty of losing their licenses or even prosecution. This bill will result in unfathomable misery for many West Virginians and their families, who, if they can't travel to a place where abortion is legal, and even if they can, may lose their health or lives. Hanshaw brought the revised bill to the floor without allowing the public more than a couple days to read it. No committees reviewed it, no medical experts were publicly consulted, and the public had no opportunity to comment.

Hanshaw, the legislators who voted for it, and the governor who signed it will have blood on their hands. There's nothing polite about that.

Paul Epstein, Charleston, WV

Monday, August 29, 2022

All Hands on Deck Needed to Save Democracy in Upcoming Election

Are you disgusted by politics and considering not voting this November? I understand the impulse to write off politics and to believe your vote doesn’t matter. I did when I “dropped out” in the early 70s. I’d witnessed, as a teenager, the violence of the 1968 election season in which Democrat Hubert Humphrey lost to Richard Nixon, who ran on restoring law and order after the assassination of Martin Luther King caused riots, and peaceful protests against the Vietnam War were often met with police brutality. In 1969, draft age, I attended massive protests against the war. I returned from D.C. stinking of tear gas realizing that fighting a well-armed government was suicide. To avoid supporting the war machine, I would move to the country, raise my own food and be as self-sufficient as possible. 

We were called hippies, and the long hair, at least for me, was partly a statement that I was willing to endure taunting and possible violence, increased attention from police, and difficulty getting work in solidarity with African Americans and other people of color who faced discrimination on a daily basis.

A few years later I landed in Roane County, with some rudimentary carpentry, gardening and musical skills and bought a small property for next to nothing. My path to becoming a taxpaying and politically engaged citizen began. I cut my hair and married my girlfriend when she got pregnant. We made a living of sorts as musicians and I got a job as a logger. I remember how blatantly racist some people in the area were, talking with pride about not allowing blacks to live “up Elk River.” Though we were different because we were from “out-of-state,” as white kids, we were treated well and accepted by the community. We were poor, but today I recognize that easy acceptance as white privilege. I have since moved to Charleston and appreciate the fact that the population here is more diverse.

I found various jobs while attending WV State College to become a teacher. During the teacher strike of 1990, in the wake of President Reagan’s mass firing of air traffic controllers for an “illegal” strike as we were doing, I started paying attention to politics. Gaston Caperton, a Democrat, was governor, and we didn’t know if we'd be fired. Thankfully, Caperton demonstrated a difference between Democratic and Republican politicians which holds true today—Democrats use government to try to solve problems, Republicans try to limit government except when they use it to enforce their ideas of law and order or defense spending. Caperton settled the strike by promising raises and changes in education. After a series of town hall meetings around the state, and with the support of the majority Democratic state legislature, soon teachers had a $5,000 raise over three years (a 25% increase for me—I’d started at under $15,000/yr). We also gained some power in the workplace through faculty senates which received a small budget for school supplies. 

Elections are important, but Americans are becoming suspicious of their fairness. If you’re Republican, you probably believe what is known as the “Big Lie,” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump (spoiler alert: he lost it--then tried to steal it himself). If you’re a Democrat you likely see that extreme gerrymandering means Democrats can’t easily win true representation in the House of Representatives. Senate rules such as the filibuster give a minority of the population the ability to thwart the will of the majority. The same is true of the system of electing presidents and in the current makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court who were mostly appointed by presidents who hadn’t even won a majority of votes, though the electoral college or the Supreme Court made them winners. Almost all of us feel that democracy in the United States is not working well, and sadly, some seem ready to take up arms against it if their candidate doesn’t win.

Maintaining our democracy depends on us voting “like our lives depend on it.” Generally, people “vote their pocketbooks,” and though presidents have little control over gas prices and inflation, they get blamed for them, and President Biden’s approval numbers are low, which usually means the opposition party is set to make big gains. Perhaps because of the overturning of Rowe v. Wade, gas prices coming down, the work of the January 6th Committee, and the retrieval by the FBI  of classified documents Trump had taken to Mar-a-Lago (violating the Presidential Records Act), more Americans now report being concerned about our democracy than the economy.

The best way to oppose those trying to weaken our democracy is to vote. Yes, protest peacefully if you feel strongly about an issue, volunteer to help on campaigns or to help run fair elections. Try to read or view mainstream sources of information that have fact checkers instead of depending on what your friends, neighbors, or co-workers are saying. Don’t trust unchecked information on Facebook or other “non-mainstream” sources. 

Violence is not a solution. Our system of checks and balances isn’t perfect, but it’s what we have to work with. The percentage of people who vote is low compared to most democracies, and if we can raise that percentage significantly, perhaps we can safeguard our democracy. Make sure you’re registered, find out what the rules are for early voting or voting by mail, or vote in person on November 8th!

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Big Oil's Right Wing Conspiracy to Stop Renewals Must End Now!

 When it rains, it pours—especially in West Virginia in the 21st century, which is increasingly being defined by the effects of global warming. Climate change plays a role in most everything.

“The Power of Big Oil”, PBS Frontline’s 3 part documentary describes what amounts to a 50 year long conspiracy by fossil fuel companies and right wing think tanks and lobbyists to sow doubt on climate science. Exxon’s scientists were fully aware that disaster loomed and warned industry leaders that the burning of fossil fuels had been impacting the climate since the advent of the industrial revolution. The tipping point has been or will soon be reach, and we are living in a world virtually on fire with melting icecaps, rising sea level, ever more damaging hurricanes, tornadoes, derechos, and the severe thunderstorms that have flooded many WV communities. 

Greenhouse gases, CO2 and methane from producing and burning fossil fuels: coal, oil, and gas are the culprits. But climate change also has impacts on human populations and the movement of people around the world.

Increasingly, immigration from developing countries to western nations is being used to stoke fears that the cultures of their majority white populations are threatened. People don’t just seek to enter the US and Europe for “a better way of life,” they are escaping droughts, fires, environmental damage and wars, causing them to flee for their lives and health of their children. It is often a choice of dying at home or dying trying to cross the desert at our southern border or the Mediterranean Sea in flimsy overcrowded boats.

Scientists warn that pathogens and their carriers will find their way from the tropics to places that were previously temperate. Remember the Zika virus carried by a tropical mosquito whose habitat continues moving farther north?

Many people find themselves reluctant to bring children into a world facing these major challenges (another reason why folks will fight to preserve their right to decide when and how to have children). 

Big oil and coal want to keep the world addicted to fossil fuels. They use their wealth to fund politicians who stop legislation that tries to accelerate the transition to cleaner energy and they advertise the message that any effort to slow the use of the dirty energy that is despoiling our planet will hurt our pocketbooks. But it’s not your pocketbook they’re worried about, it’s theirs. 

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a human and environmental catastrophe. I don’t know if scientists have ever quantified the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere by the exploding missiles, bombs, and fires wars generate, but when you add the energy needed to rebuild whole cities, it has to be significant. 

This particular war may also have some positive effect, however, on efforts to reduce fossil fuel use. European countries have more than doubled efforts to replace Russian natural gas with renewables. America needs to be doing the same. New investments in fossil fuel infrastructure is a mistake. More oil and gas drilling and building new pipelines won’t add supply fast enough to help Ukraine or lower gas prices during this spike in inflation. Continuing to rely on dirty energy dooms our future; a livable future depends on clean energy. 

The real cost of fossil fuels is much higher than we pay at the pump. We pay with higher health care costs caused by pollution. We paying billions of tax dollars each year on “natural disasters” caused or made worse by a warming planet. Oil, coal, and gas producers should be paying those bills. America could lead the world to put a global price on carbon pollution. We could do it in away that protects poor and middle class Americans from the impacts of rising fossil fuel prices. Our West Virginia leadership should be advocating for these policies, not continuing to allow fossil fuel producers to pay few if any taxes and receive subsidies such as the WV Public Service Commission is allowing to keep coal burning power plants in operation.

Democrats (including Manchin) and several Republicans, passed President Biden’s infrastructure bill last year, which funds some of what’s needed to move our electric grid and transportation toward renewable energy. It’s time to pass the rest of the climate package that Senator Manchin stopped when came out against the Build Back Better package. We must work to leave our children and grandchildren a world in which when it rains, it doesn’t flood; when a forest fire starts, it doesn’t burn for months; where polar ice caps exist and our coasts are not inundated by storms and sea level rise; a world where people in developing nations can live a sustainable life and populations are not forced to become refugees of environmental disaster and war.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

WV Legislature Made Progress Destroying Public Education in 2022

Teachers in 2018: It may be time to walk out again. Certainly must VOTE!

Teachers (and anyone who cares about public education in WV), listen up! In one case, four minutes was all that stood between you this legislative session and the unreasonable demands of Republican lawmakers. I’m talking about their so-called “Anti-Racism Act” (SB 498–it passed, but too late to become law). But they managed to pass at least two other disturbing education bills or resolutions. SB 704, which passed and is headed to the governor for signing, requires teachers to make all course materials available by the first day of class for parents/guardians to preview. They can demand that you “demonstrate how the supplementary instructional material relates to the content standards...” If you fail to do so in a manner that satisfies, they can file a complaint to your Superintendent, which, if not “resolved,” goes to the state Superintendent. You could get in trouble, for example if you introduced something from a current newspaper that hadn’t been made available for parents to preview by the first day of class! So current events are now not acceptable? What about the internet?
The “Anti-Racism Act” claimed to prevent teachers/schools from requiring students or employees to “state or believe in the superiority of one race or biological sex over another.” It states students/employees can’t be obligated to feel guilt or in any way responsible for what a member of their race or biological sex did in the past. But, for example, if you introduced the fact that white plantation owners enslaved blacks and sometimes beat or lynched them, and a child goes home and says their teacher made them feel “discomfort” or guilt, that parent can file a complaint against you with your principal that can end up on the Superintendent’s desk.
How should a teacher respond if a student or a colleague said, “If poor people of color just worked harder, they would be equal economically and socially to other (white) Americans?” I would want to point out that many are already working 2 and 3 jobs and that bias or discrimination may prevent advancement in some cases. But the Anti-Racism bill would have made it illegal for you to explain that the concepts of “meritocracy” or “a hard work ethic” are sometimes, to paraphrase the bill’s language, used by racists and sexists to deny that discrimination oppresses another group. Confused yet? If I were still teaching, I’d be afraid to even bring up or respond to a student on the topic of racism or sexism. I guess that’s the point.
It should not need to be stated that not every person of color is or was disadvantaged by discriminatory systems that existed and may still exist: slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, immigration laws, bank loan and credit policy, unfair policiing, etc. It also goes without saying that not every white person was or is directly advantaged by those systems. But most white Americans, even in West Virginia, had or have access to better schools, nicer neighborhoods, higher paying jobs, the ability to elect those in government who would improve their roads, etc. Of course those advantages shouldn’t leave children with any sense of guilt and doesn’t make them responsible for the problems such inequities have created in our society. That’s common sense–something sorely lacking in the minds of many at the Capitol.
Incompetence saved teachers this time. SB 498, the “Anti-Racism Act” was passed four minutes after midnight on the last night of the session, so it will not become law….yet.
But do you think they’ll stop trying to make it or something like it law?
WV Republicans also passed a Constitutional amendment for the November ballot that would take control of school curriculum and policies out of the hands of professionals and citizen boards. “Decisions affecting daily classroom life would be placed in the hands of a partisan Legislature,” the WV Board of Education declared in a letter opposing the Constitutional amendment.
Teachers and school staff, supported by the public, stood 55 counties strong in unity for affordable health care and better pay for all public employees in 2018. Now all West Virginians need to stand strong and vote out the legislators responsible for bad legislation this session.
Help organize voters to vote down the Constitutional amendment that gives the legislature final authority for all public education policies and curriculum while letting homeschools and “learning pods” of unlimited size free to ignore all state board educational policies and curriculum.
Teachers and service personnel, if you haven’t joined WVEA, AFT-WV, or WVSSPA it’s time to do so, because you will need the protection of professional organizations. They can represent you in hearings and investigations if angry, close minded parents influenced by right wing media make unfounded complaints. You should be allowed to teach in a way that will inspire students to work for a more equitable and fair West Virginia. If you are forced to avoid tough subjects and good teachers continue leaving the profession, young people will continue moving out of state to live in places where all people are treated with respect under the law.
Paul Epstein is a retired elementary school teacher and musician living in Charleston

Sunday, January 23, 2022

The Women Who had Abortions before Roe v. Wade

This is an article from the NY Times published on Sunday, Jan 23, 2022 that appeared on their website a couple days earlier. It is from the digital edition and may have been shortened in print. I am married to Rita Ray. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Let Teachers Teach History (not propaganda)

As some members of our legislature introduce legislation to prevent WV teachers from honestly teaching American history because they worry it is “divisive” or that white students will be ashamed of the facts of our American history, it’s worth reviewing what those facts are.

Imagine a world in which Christopher Columbus discovered America and the Europeans who followed were welcomed by Native Americans who, fed them, sold them land, and in a few rare instances fought against Europe’s and later America’s eventual colonization of the continent, generally living peacefully together with help from missionaries to learn agriculture and give up their former life of struggle to survive in a vast wilderness. 

Imagine the Africans were brought to America in a mercantile exchange by brave and heroic sea captains outfitted by wealthy traders on multiple continents leading the United States to grow powerful on sea and land. Sugar from Caribbean plantations was shipped to New England where rum was made and shipped to Africa to trade for Africans who were enslaved to produce cotton. Imagine those Africans were happy in the New World, fed and housed by kindly white plantation owners and loved like members of the family. They were encouraged to attend church every Sunday to learn about God’s plan and intention—for the superior white race to use the wealth that was being created to build cities, transportation networks, and new technologies to achieve their “Manifest Destiny” of domination over North America.

Sadly, this is the “history” of the United States that was taught with few exceptions through the 1960’s and in some areas and some schools is still taught today. It is the whitewashed version of history that mobs of angry parents are demanding to have back in their schools.  Parents who are afraid their children can’t handle the truth and will feel distressed if they realize that their ancestors enslaved others and built the wealth and privilege they now enjoy over centuries. These parents are encouraged and sometimes funded and led by right wing dark money PACS and think tanks. They are trying to make schools into political hot button issues to affect upcoming elections using false claims that “critical race theory,” a theory studied by university scholars, is being used in public K-12 schools to shame white children. Oh, and that wearing masks or requiring vaccinations is impinging on their freedom to die of a deadly disease or be allowed to freely spread it.

Time for a little fact checking. Most Native Americans tried to get along with European colonists and wanted to trade with them, but the history of their treatment by the English, Spanish, and Americans is one of brutality, having their lands encroached upon and stolen, constant breaking of treaties, spread of deadly diseases, and efforts to simply wipe them out resulting in the death of as much as 90% of the indigenous population in a couple hundred years.

Captured and enslaved Africans were cruelly separated from their homelands, tribes and families and literally sold to the highest bidder and often worked to death and punished with beatings, whippings, or lynched if they dared to attempt escape or openly resist. Our Constitution protected the enslavement of black human beings and granted political power to southern states where their so-called human property could be counted as 3/5ths of a person to give them more seats in Congress and protect the “peculiar institution” of slavery, as it was known. 

In the imaginary history of our right wing fellow citizens, any residual effects of slavery on the lives of African Americans that lingered after the Civil War were magically completely dispelled by the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in the 1960’s. Of course that’s a fantasy, and there are countless examples from around the country of discrimination remaining in place in schools, workplaces, and housing; not to mention acts of violence including lynching by white citizens against blacks. Discrimination, brutality and even murder of blacks by police are well documented right into the present.

I did my best in elementary school classrooms in Clendenin and Charleston from 1987-2012 to help students reckon with the truth of our history while also exposing them to the many aspects of America that rightfully fill us with pride. In my experience, it was not the white students who were most affected emotionally by learning about some of the darker periods of our history—generally they wanted to know why inequality continues into the present day and what could be done to solve it. It was the black students who were the most affected, as some for the first time learned how badly their ancestors were treated and wondered why even today, as they no doubt heard from their families or witnessed themselves, they continue to face discrimination because of the color of their skin.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

No, Democrats are not socialists

 No, Democrats are not socialists and are not trying to turn America into a socialist or communist country like Cuba, Venezuela, China or the former Soviet Union.

Countries like that not only own and control almost all business and industry, but their political systems consist of one party, making them authoritarian governments, not democracies.

Democrats, like Republicans, believe that capitalism makes for a better economic system because private ownership of business and industry unleashes competition and allows individuals to profit from their labor. Democrats and Republicans disagree about how much business and industry should be taxed and regulated and how much government should be involved in helping those who need help, not on whether our government should own business and industry.

When I was a teenager in the 1960s, Republicans and many Democrats railed against communism, an ideology that encouraged revolution. Many European countries had (and still have) socialist political parties that lobbied for more “social welfare,” in the form of free health care, higher education and, sometimes, child care or other social programs. We had programs that people referred to as social welfare in the United States, as well, to support poor families with food stamps and cash assistance, although, under Ronald Reagan, many of them were discontinued or began to require recipients to work or go to school to get assistance.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were all called socialist programs by many Republicans when they were passed.

Bill Clinton tried to pass universal health care, but advertising campaigns funded by the health insurance industry and some doctors’ groups called it socialism and defeated it, because it would have put most health insurance companies out of business. Barack Obama managed to pass the Affordable Care Act, in part, by allowing private insurance companies to continue to manage payment for health care, making the “socialist” label harder to deploy. Turns out that Americans agree that profit should not be the motivating factor when their lives and health are at stake.

Is President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which includes the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the jobs and “human infrastructure” bill, an example of socialism? No. It’s a perfect example of the Democratic Party’s long-term effort to make taxation more fair by increasing taxes on the richest among us, which includes hedge funds and corporations that, over time, have been rewarded by Republican tax breaks.

The money collected will be used to rebuild roads and bridges and help working families in a variety of ways, including lowering the cost of child care, prescription drugs and higher education.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has objected to the overall price tag, suggesting that increasing taxes might slow the economy. He has specifically objected to spending money for incentives to transition to clean energy. Manchin knows that the free market — capitalism — has been killing coal jobs for decades. First, it was because of mechanization and, more recently, competition from cheaper sources of energy, like natural gas. Solar and wind are getting even cheaper. Manchin is making a grave mistake by not factoring in the cost of continuing as we are: more floods, extreme weather, fires, droughts, extinctions, rising sea levels, etc.

Like Gov. Jim Justice and his hand-picked Public Service Commission, which recently stuck West Virginians with higher electricity bills for the next 20 years simply to keep coal-burning power plants running, Manchin suggests that quickly transitioning to clean energy is too progressive, or even socialist. It’s not. Transitioning as soon as possible to clean energy is sanity. It is insane not to.