West Virginian: Don’t Mess With Land and Water Fund

CHARLESTON, WV - Congress’ failure to reauthorize a popular land and water fund is drawing widespread scorn from West Virginians. Since 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has taken money from offshore oil and gas royalties. It gives grants to protect and improve everything from Civil War battlefields and federal wilderness areas to state parks and city pools.

Fayette County Commissioner Matt Wender is frustrated Congress is failing to fund a program crucial to ongoing efforts to protect local tourism.

“If you were going down the Gauley River, as many, many people do in the fall, there is clear-cutting along the banks going up the sides of the gorge, and there are housing developments that go down to the river,“ says Wender. “The value of that asset needs to be protected and is at risk.“

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Some West Virginians, including local officials, say they are frustrated that Congress has failed
to reauthorize a conservation fund with long-standing bipartisan support.

Part of the delay is a push by some in Congress to shift much of the money to other uses, they say need it more. Wender and others say that could gut the program.

Utah Republican Rob Bishop chairs a house subcommittee crucial to the LWCF. Bishop said he opposes the federal government buying up more land for parks and forests. He’s backing a bill he describes as expanding the LWCF’s scope. It could shift land-buying money to local governments and training for oil and gas workers.

Alan Rowsome, senior director of government relations for lands with The Wilderness Society, says they favor a bipartisan alternative that would permanently fund the LWCF to do what’s long been popular in both parties. He says don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.

“In an incredibly polarized world where Congress isn’t doing much, you see this bipartisan cooperation,“ says Rowsome. “And it shows you that this is a special issue, and one that shouldn’t be caught up in the politics.“

According to Wender, tourism is worth $60 million to Fayette County each year. He says the fund has helped them make an important and difficult economic transition.

“It became a significant part of our county and softened the blow of the loss of coal jobs,“ says Wender. “It’s a part of our future that we’ve got to protect and develop further.“

The last authorization for the fund expired at the end of September.

~~  Dan Heyman ~~

Obama Really Hates Pardoning Turkeys


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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) released the following statement wishing West Virginians a happy Thanksgiving:

“I have always said that if you can count your blessings, you can share your blessings. This is a lesson that I learned from my parents at a young age, and it has stuck with me throughout my life. It is a message I have proudly passed along to my own children and grandchildren. Starting at Thanksgiving and throughout this holiday season, I encourage all West Virginians to pause and truly give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy each day by sharing those blessings with those in need.

“Thanksgiving is an important time to reflect on how blessed we are as Americans. We are so fortunate to live in the land of the free, and every year, we come together no matter what is happening in the life of our country to give thanks. Although we should thank our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Guard Members and Reservists every day for their dedication to this country, I ask all West Virginians to take a moment today to thank those who risk their own lives each day to keep us safe.

”Despite daily struggles we may encounter, we are all blessed to live in this wonderful country. I am thankful each day for the opportunity to represent the great state of West Virginia. On behalf of Gayle and our whole family, we wish you and your family a happy and healthy Thanksgiving. God bless America, and God bless the great state of West Virginia.”

Rockford Rockets 4-H Club Donates Cancer Care Bags to UHC

Bridgeport, WV – The Rockford Rockets 4-H Club, from the Rockford and Lost Creek areas, recently donated cancer care bags to the Cecil B. Highland, Jr., & Barbara B. Highland Cancer Center at United Hospital Center. Emma Samples, president Rockford Rockets 4-H, decided after an Internet search that a donation of cancer care bags would be a great idea. The club’s goal was to make an impact locally due to so many lives being affected by cancer.

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(L-R, BR) Donna Riddle, RN, BSN, Radiation Oncology nurse at UHC; Linda Carte, RN, MSN, AOCN, director of oncology at UHC;
Jessica Stroupe, member Rockford Rockets 4-H Club; Emily Bowman, treasurer Rockford Rockets 4-H;
Jeremy Ables, club leader Rockford Rockets 4-H Club; Nancy Dye, RN, CCRP, oncology program coordinator at UHC.
(L-R, MR) Emily Bennett, secretary Rockford Rockets 4-H Club; Brendon Smith, member Rockford Rockets 4-H Club.
(L-R, FR) Gavin Ash, member Rockford Rockets 4-H Club; Matthew Ables, member Rockford Rockets 4-H Club;
Amelia Samples, member Rockford Rockets 4-H Club and Emma Samples, president Rockford Rockets 4-H Club.

“This generous donation helps give cancer patients the comfort they deserve while at the same time providing them with the knowledge that the community cares for and supports them during their course of treatment,” said Linda Carte, RN, MSN, AOCN, director of oncology at UHC. “This is a testament to the caring community of North Central West Virginia.”

The cancer care bags provided to chemotherapy patients at UHC are filled with thoughtful items to assist patients while they go through treatment and healing. “We decided to donate the care bags to help people locally who have cancer, that’s why we selected UHC as a partner,” said Samples.

For more information about the Cecil B. Highland, Jr., & Barbara B. Highland Cancer Center at UHC, call Nancy Dye, RN, CCRP, program coordinator at 681.342.1804 or email .

Lengthy Legal Battle with Lender CashCall Ends with $13 Million Settlement for WV

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An out-of-state private lending company accused of charging exorbitant interest rates and harassing West Virginia consumers must pay $13 million in penalties, WV Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced Wednesday, November 25, 2015.

CashCall Inc., which made high interest loans to state consumers, must make an immediate $10 million lump sum payment, according to the terms of a court settlement approved by Kanawha County Circuit Judge Duke Bloom last week. That money will begin to be distributed to consumers affected by CashCall’s business practices within 90 days, Morrisey said.

CashCall must pay off the additional $3 million over the next three years in installments of $375,000, Morrisey said.

The state’s battle with CashCall has been going on for years. In 2012, a trial court ruled the company violated the state Consumer Credit Protection Act by charging interest rates of up to 99 percent and harassing customers on the telephone. CashCall also tried to get around state law by making it appear another bank was handling the loans, the court found.

The state Supreme Court upheld the ruling last year. The U.S. Supreme Court turned down an appeal of part of the judgment in May 2015.

“This settlement shuts the door on years of litigation, but most importantly compensates those residents who were harmed by CashCall’s unfair business practices.“

CashCall has faced similar legal action in other states. Last year, the company was forced to pay a $2 million settlement in the state of Maryland, and the Michigan Attorney General’s office reached a $2.2 million settlement with CashCall in June.

In West Virginia….

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►   Hostage situation under investigation on Braxton/Gilmer County line

ROSEDALE, WV—Troopers, deputies and DNR officers remained at the scene late Wednesday night.

DNR officers say it was a situation between a man and three women and involved threats.

Troopers say it stemmed from a domestic situation in Rosedale, a community on the Braxton/Gilmer County line.

Law enforcement officers continue looking for the man. It isn’t certain if he actually had a weapon.

The incident was reported just after 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

No specific details were available late Wednesday night.

►   CAMC earns nationwide honor

CHARLESTON, WV — Charleston Area Medical Center is one of four organizations across the entire nation to win this year’s Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker names winners for the award each year.

“This year’s Baldrige Award honorees have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to improving their performance in all facets of their organizations, and they have served as role models for others to follow,” Secretary Pritzker said. “As America’s Innovation Agency, the Commerce Department is honored to support innovators and job creators who power our economy and help keep America open for business.”

Hospital CEO Dave L. Ramsey was a guest on “MetroNews Talkline” with Hoppy Kercheval Tuesday to discuss the award.

“Next month it’ll be ten years recognizing that we wanted to be the best possible organization,” he said. “Not just from a quality perspective–we’ve always had great quality–but as an employer, as a resource to the community.”

Ramsey said they used certain criteria to begin to determine how to become a great organization.

“We sort of broke it down into pieces, and over these ten years we’ve improved every year,” he said.

Ramsey said the size of CAMC presents a challenge every day because you are bringing in patients from all walks of life, and need to be empathetic to everyone.

“It’s a patient-by-patient experience,” he said. “And that’s our challenge. And a lot of our patients come from outside the immediate area and they may have never been to Charleston.”

That empathy also extends to everyone walking through those doors to be with a family member, according to Ramsey.

“We worked diligently with all of our departments and all of our employees just to sensitiize everybody to the fact that we have to treat everybody that comes in the hospital with respect, and we need to answer their questions and be courteous to them, their family members, and anyone that comes in with them,” he said.

The Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award is the nation’s highest Presidential honor for performance excellence.

Other recipients included MidwayUSA (Columbia, Mo.), Charter School of San Diego (San Diego, Ca.), and Mid-America Transplant Services (St. Louis, Mo.)

►   West Virginia announces $13 million settlement with lender

CHARLESTON, WV — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey says a private lender has agreed to a $13 million settlement stemming from abusive debt collections.

Morrisey announced on Wednesday the settlement with CashCall Inc. Terms call for the non-bank lender to immediately make a $10 million lump sum payment to customers. The remainder will be paid out in installments.

State attorneys say CashCall used a so-called rent-a-bank model in an attempt to skirt the state’s consumer protection laws.

A circuit court judge found that CashCall violated state lending laws and owed consumers restitution. It also ordered the company to reimburse the state for attorneys’ fees.

Terms of the settlement received final approval last week from Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom.

►   Shooting by officer in West Virginia investigated

NITRO, WV — Authorities are investigating the shooting of a West Virginia man by a police officer.

Sgt. B. D. Humphreys of the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office says the early Wednesday shooting sent a 28-year-old South Charleston man to the hospital. He said Mickey Davis is in the intensive care unit.

Humphreys says in a news release that the shooting occurred in Nitro after a police officer attempted to stop Davis, whose vehicle had only one operating headlight. He said Davis didn’t stop and a short chased followed.

Humphreys says Davis stopped but then attempted to hit the officer with his vehicle. He said the officer then fired several shots, striking the driver several times.

Humphrey said a passenger was not injured.

Nitro police asked the sheriff’s office to investigate.

►   Flights arrive to Yeager Airport with passengers excited to spend Thanksgiving with family

CHARLESTON, WV — During the busiest air travel day of the year, most flyers that landed at Yeager Airport Wednesday were happy to reunite with their loved ones this Thanksgiving weekend.

Chloe Walker, of Loma Linda, Calif., couldn’t help but smile ear-to-ear as she made her way to baggage claim to meet her mother.

“This weekend I’m just hanging out with family, just enjoying good food and relaxing, doing a little bit of studying,” she told MetroNews as her and her mother locked arms.

Walker is a second-year medical student in California, but was born and raised in Charleston. She said this time of year brings her a lot of joy.

“I just love the changes of color. I love the hot drinks and just how all the family gets together. I like all the good Christmas movies that are starting to come on and just putting on warm clothing. I love it all,” Walker said.

Maria Young, of Gallipolis, Ohio, would’ve had a much closer commute to West Virginia, but she said she flew into Yeager from Florida where she vacationed there.

“We went down there and stayed for a while, but I’m glad to be back here where I belong,” Young said. “I’m happy to see regular trees and not palm trees.”

Belinda McKenzie, of Leesville, La., said she was looking forward to spending the weekend with her nieces and nephews before heading back to work Monday.

Since Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for what you have, McKenzie told MetroNews it’s important to acknowledge those things.

“My family and for our health,” she said about what she’s giving thanks for on Thursday.

►   Federal Grand Jury Indicts Beckley Doctor on Drug Charges

A federal grand jury has indicted a Beckley pain clinic doctor whose office was raided by authorities earlier this month.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin says Dr. Jose J. Gordinho faces 21 counts related to illegal distribution of controlled substances.

Goodwin says State Police and the FBI executed a search warrant at Gordinho’s office on November 12. He was arrested that day and has been held since in the Southern Regional Jail.

Several counts allege Gordinho distributed oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone and morphine that weren’t for legitimate medical purposes.

Each count is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Gordinho’s arraignment is scheduled for November 30 in federal court in Beckley.

His attorney, Timothy Koontz of Williamson, didn’t immediately return a telephone message seeking comment Tuesday.

►   WV Woman Laid Off By Mining Company Sues

A woman let go by a West Virginia mining company has filed a federal lawsuit claiming she lost her job to a man because of her gender and pregnancy.

Alyssa Moate Larry filed the suit against Marion County Coal Co. The subsidiary of Murray Energy operates the Loveridge Mine.

In her civil action, Larry says after she gave birth in February, she returned to work but was not provided an appropriate location to pump breast milk. Later, her suit claims she was laid off and a man ultimately took over her duties.

Larry says she was told her position was being eliminated.

In response, Marion County Coal Co. denied many of the allegations.

Did You Know?

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Moscow says it will deploy long-range air-defense missiles to its base in Syria to destroy targets that threaten its planes.


U.S. military officials say the warplane fired at the wrong building and continued the attack despite observing no hostile activity from the hospital.


Demonstrators are urging supporters to converge on the city’s famous Michigan Avenue shopping district to disrupt the shopping bonanza.


It reminds governors they do not have the authority to deny benefits and services to refugees based on their country of origin or religion and cannot refuse to accept them.


Drivers are delighted by the lowest November gas prices in years, and flyers prepare for extra security in light of terror fears.


Tests point to a vegetable mix used in chicken salad sold at the store that later sickened 19 people in seven states.


Hundreds attended the funeral for Jamar Clark, and protesters are demanding release of video showing the shooting.


The suit filed by three of Kasem’s children and his brother accuses Jean Kasem of elder abuse.


For the first time, more people are expected to visit retailers’ web sites using their smartphones than with desktop computers or tablets this holiday shopping weekend.


Wide receiver Stedman Bailey was shot in the head as he and three others sat in a car outside a home, and is now in stable condition.

Corporate Inversions

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WASHINGTON, D.C.—Pfizer and Allergan are pursuing the biggest buyout in health care history, a $160 billion deal that would essentially send one of the biggest U.S. corporations overseas, or at least its legal domicile and principal executive offices.

Under a maneuver known as an “inversion,“ Pfizer will be able to lower its corporate tax load by reorganizing as a company in Ireland, which has a lower tax rate.

The U.S. has attempted to curb the practice, with little success, and it’s become a sensitive political issue with a presidential election less than a year away.

Ten things to know about corporate inversions:


An inversion happens when a U.S. corporation and a foreign company merge, with the new parent company based in the foreign country. For tax purposes, the U.S. company becomes foreign-owned, even if all the executives and operations stay in the U.S.


There can be many business reasons for two companies to merge. The decision to incorporate the new parent company in a foreign country can generate significant tax savings over time.

The U.S. has the highest corporate income tax rate in the industrialized world, at 35 percent. The U.S. is also the only developed country that taxes corporate profits earned abroad. Foreign profits are subject to U.S. taxes once they are brought to the U.S., though corporations can deduct any foreign taxes paid.

Companies that become foreign-owned don’t have to worry about the Internal Revenue Service trying to tax the profits they make abroad.

Most U.S. corporations pay federal income taxes at rates much lower than 35 percent because the tax code is filled with breaks for businesses. Inversions open the door for even more.


Inverted corporations must still pay U.S. taxes on the profits they earn in the U.S. However, they can lower their U.S. tax bills through a maneuver called “earnings stripping.“

Here is how it works: The new foreign parent company “lends” money to the U.S. firm, which must pay it back. The U.S. firm then deducts the interest payments it makes to the parent company, reducing its taxable profits - “stripping” them from its balance sheet.

“You haven’t raised any new money,“ said Robert Willen, a New York-based tax adviser. “All you’ve done is literally out of thin air, you’ve created a debt obligation on which the U.S. company is the debtor and the foreign parent is the creditor.“


Many U.S.-based corporations are hoarding money overseas, either to invest abroad or to shield it from U.S. taxes. Experts say the total amount could exceed $2 trillion.

If a foreign subsidiary sends profits directly to a U.S. corporation, the U.S. firm must pay taxes on it. However, if those profits are funneled through a foreign parent company that was formed through an inversion, the money can be invested in the U.S. without paying U.S. taxes.

The technique is called “hopscotching” because the money - at least on paper - bounces from country to country while avoiding U.S. taxes.


About 50 U.S. companies have inverted in the past decade, and more are considering it, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Many inversions have been done by health care companies, including Pfizer. Drugmaker AbbVie and the pharmacy Walgreen Co., had considered doing inversions but ultimately decided against it.


In 2004, Congress tried to curb inversions by saying U.S. companies couldn’t escape U.S. taxes by simply reincorporating abroad, with the same shareholders and executives running the new company. Instead, Congress passed a law saying that in order to become a foreign-owned corporation, U.S. companies must merge with a foreign partner, even if the foreign partner is much smaller.


Several Democrats in Congress have announced bills to make it harder for U.S. corporations to invert.

President Barack Obama included provisions in his 2015 budget request to limit inversions, and has called on Congress to act.

But in the current political climate, it’s hard to see House Republicans, Senate Democrats and the Obama White House all agreeing on a fix. We’re talking about taxes, and Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on much when it comes to taxes.


The Treasury Department has issued two sets of regulations designed to reduce the tax benefits of inversions, with the latest coming last week.

AbbVie called off its inversion after the Treasury first acted in 2014. However, Treasury officials say they can’t stop inversions without action by Congress.

“Our actions can only slow the pace of these transactions. Only legislation can decisively stop them,“ Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said.


Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress have questioned the patriotism of corporate executives who elect to invert their companies. At the same time, they are trying to make it a political issue ahead of next year’s presidential election, accusing Republicans of protecting corporate loopholes.

“They are renouncing their citizenship even though they’re keeping most of their business here,“ Obama once said in a speech. “They shouldn’t turn their back on the country that made their success possible.“


Key Republicans say the only way to adequately address inversions is to overhaul the tax code, making it more attractive for businesses to locate in the U.S.

“Anything short of that and you’re not going to be able to do it,“ said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Hatch and other Republicans say they could support limited efforts to fight earnings stripping, which many see as nothing more than a tax dodge. But in general, Republicans said they don’t like the idea of punishing corporations for trying to lower their tax bills.

In USA….

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►   ‘Clock Kid’ Wants $15M and Some Apologies

The family of “clock kid” Ahmed Mohamed hasn’t exactly forgotten about his arrest in September. Their lawyer today sent letters to the city hall and school district of Irving, Texas, threatening to file a civil lawsuit within 60 days unless they receive apologies and $15 million in payments, the Dallas Morning News reports. Ahmed was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school that a teacher said resembled a bomb. “Mayor Beth Van Duyne lied about Ahmed and his family, and she did it to an audience that is on the absolute fringe of American life,“ writes attorney Kelly Hollingsworth in the letter. “Van Duyne irreparably endangered the safety of the Ahmed family.“ Among other things, the letter claims that:

  • police broke the law by interrogating 14-year-old Ahmed without his parents there (even though he requested their presence).
  • officials suggested that Ahmed had lied about his arrest, and incorrectly said he broke school rules with his homemade clock.
  • school and city officials planned a way to “trash Ahmed” in media reports after police charges were dropped.

The letter is demanding $10 million from the city, $5 million from the school district, and apologies from Van Duyne and other officials. WFAA quotes the letter, saying Van Duyne must admit that “she has never been presented with any evidence that Ahmed was a ‘pawn’ in any ‘civilization jihad.‘“ Ahmed and his family have since moved to Qatar.

►   Guy Steals Beer Truck, Runs Self Over With It: Cops

A 55-year-old Georgia man experienced karma almost immediately Monday morning after he allegedly stole a beer truck. Police responded to a Circle K in Columbus after getting a report of a stolen 18-wheel Coors Light semi; the truck’s driver left it running while he ran into the Circle K, WRBL reports. Police ended up chasing suspect Gregory Miller in the truck, WTVM reports, and they caught up with him at a nearby Bojangles restaurant. Miller exited the truck in an attempt to flee police ... and the truck ran over his leg. He was arrested and also taken to a hospital for a “serious wound,“ possibly in the form of a “break to his right leg.“

►   Dozens of Animals Perish in Massachusetts Shelter Fire

Heartbreaking: A Massachusetts animal shelter building caught fire late Sunday and was totally engulfed by the time firefighters got there—leading to the deaths of dozens of animals. “We didn’t think we’d be able to save any of the animals. That was our first goal—to do that. We were just trying to get to the dogs if we could,“ the Paxton fire chief tells WMUR. At least four dogs, plus one cat, were rescued, but Sweetpea Friends of Rutland Animals Inc. staffers say another 17 dogs and 39 cats likely died. “The building can be replaced, but these animals can’t be,“ the shelter manager tells WBZ NewsRadio 1030, per CBS Boston. “They’re our babies.“

“Sweetpea is currently ON FIRE and we need volunteers to help MOVE animals. This is not a drill. Please help!“ the rescue organization posted on Facebook. Many people responded with blankets and other supplies, and a veterinarian arrived on scene as well, the Worcester Telegram reports. “Tonight, sweetpea has lost almost everything,“ reads a later post from the nonprofit. “We would like to send a HUGE thank you to our community, without whom, we would have lost everything.“ Staffers say it’s possible some cats ran from the blaze, and traps have been placed in the hopes of catching them. A GoFundMe that was originally set up to defray the cost of the shelter’s vet bill is now being used to collect funds “to get back on our feet” and has raised more than $14,000 so far.

►   Online Clues in Case of Baby Cut From Pregnant Mother

An 8-pound, 2-ounce baby girl sits in a Bronx hospital room under watch of the NYPD as more details emerge about the grisly crime that took the life of Genesis’ mom on Friday. The New York Daily News reports that Angelikque Sutton was found in Ashleigh Wade’s apartment with a “deep gash” in her stomach and stab wounds to her neck and torso; the baby’s placenta was recovered from the bathroom floor. Sutton, who was 8.5 months pregnant, died shortly after arriving at the hospital, and Wade, 22, was soon charged with her murder. The New York Post speaks with a former NYPD detective lieutenant commander presented as an expert in “fetal kidnapping.“ Vernon Geberth says such crimes have been documented 17 times in the US since 1987, and he notes that each case showed forethought: The perpetrators “download sonograms or build nurseries,“ for instance.

The New York Times pieces together alleged evidence of such planning by Wade, who police believe was not pregnant. Wade’s landlord tells the Times her tenant told her she was due November 16 and had been experiencing complications. That due date and Wade’s name surface online, in baby registries like this 47-item one at Babies “R” Us. Geberth adds that “the primary motivation” in these cases “is to sustain a relationship with a male partner by providing them with a child,“ and the Times’ online sleuthing finds hints of that, too. These include posts made to Facebook by Angel Praylow, who presents himself as being the father of Wade’s child and wrote on November 16, “Today her due day but she not ready to come out yet.“ The Daily News notes Wade and Sutton met in 5th grade; a relative shared a few more details about their relationship.

►   Chicago Protesters Chant ‘16’ After Video’s Release

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Chicago Tuesday night soon after police released disturbing video of a white police officer fatally shooting a black teenager, and the Chicago Sun-Times reports that they chanted “16"—the number of times Officer Jason Van Dyke allegedly shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. One tense moment occurred when protesters and police engaged in a “full-on pushing match” for about 15 minutes at one barricade, which resulted in three people taken away in a police wagon. But pleas for restraint were generally heeded throughout the night, reports AP. More demonstrations were planned in the days ahead, including one at City Hall on Wednesday and one designed to block Michigan Avenue on Friday’s busy shopping day.

Van Dyke was charged with murder on Tuesday, hours before police released video of the October 20, 2014, shooting. Protesters say they’re angered not just by the shooting, but by the police department’s failure to release the video until a judge ordered it to—and by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy telling the community that the video should start a healing process, after they had spent so long trying to block its release. “People are mad as hell,“ organizer Page May with the We Charge Genocide anti-police violence group tells the Chicago Tribune. “It still feels so unnecessary.“

►   Mom, Boyfriend Arrested in Toddler’s Oven Death

The mother of a 19-month-old who died a horrific death after being left at home with three siblings may be in jail when her next baby arrives. Racqual Thompson, who is 8 1/2 months pregnant, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with child endangerment, along with boyfriend Cornell Malone, reports Click2Houston. Prosecutors say the couple left four children—two 3-year-olds, a 5-year-old, and 19-month-old J’Zyra Thompson—alone in their Houston apartment while they went out to get pizza and visit Malone’s brother, ABC13 reports. They returned to find three of the children crying, with J’Zyra dead and “extremely burned” in the tipped-over oven, which had been turned on “all the way,“ according to court documents.

Earlier court records, which have now been sealed, according to the AP, stated the 3-year-olds told authorities they had put J’Zyra in the oven and turned it on. A neighbor tells Click2Houston that the couple had bragged about not facing charges over the November 16 death. “They were saying that it wasn’t their fault, and that they’re gonna get away with it, and they weren’t there and this and that,“ he says. Thompson and Malone are being held on $36,000 bond and the other children are now in the custody of Child Protective Services, the Houston Chronicle reports. Authorities tell Click2Houston that in cases like Thompson’s, they’ll wait for the mother to give birth before deciding whether to request CPS custody.

►   NSA Analyst Who Spied for Soviets Freed After 30 Years

A former National Security Agency employee convicted of selling defense and communication secrets he gained during his career has been released from federal custody 30 years after his arrest. The sentence for Cold War-era spy Ronald Pelton, 74, ended on Tuesday. He had been placed on home confinement several months ago to serve out the final stretch of his sentence and was released Tuesday from the custody of the Bureau of Prisons, an agency spokesman says. Pelton, a former NSA intelligence communications specialist, was arrested in November 1985 on charges of selling information to the Soviets about signals intelligence between 1980 and 1985 for $35,000 plus expenses.

Pelton worked for 14 years for the NSA before resigning in 1979. The FBI says Pelton, because of financial problems, approached the Soviet Embassy after leaving the agency and offered to sell the secrets. Prosecutors have said a Soviet KGB agent who defected and later returned to Moscow tipped investigators to Pelton. Among the secrets Pelton gave up was information about Operation Ivy Bells, an effort by the NSA and the Navy to tap Soviet communications cables that were laid under the ocean. He was sentenced to three life terms in 1986 by a federal judge who said he had betrayed a “special position of trust,“ compromised citizens of the United States, and endangered US agents.

►   Real Newborn Left in Church Nativity Scene

A janitor who heard a baby crying in an empty New York City church was astonished to find a real newborn baby in the church’s Nativity scene with its umbilical cord still attached. Jose Moran tells the New York Daily News that he found the baby after returning from his lunch break on Monday, only about an hour after the manger was set up in the Holy Child Jesus Church in Queens. Police say the baby boy, who was found wrapped in a blanket, was brought to a hospital and found to be in good health. “At least whoever abandoned him brought him to a safe place and didn’t leave him to die,“ Moran says. “I hope he finds the right home. He’s a miracle baby.“ Police are trying to track down the newborn’s mother.

New York has a “safe haven” law allowing people to drop off unwanted newborns at places like churches, hospitals, and fire stations, reports the AP, but the mother could still face charges because the law requires authorities to be immediately informed of the baby’s whereabouts. One of the church’s parishioners has already offered to adopt the boy. “God works in mysterious ways,“ Father Christopher Heanue tells the Daily News. The infant was “a kind of gift to the church in a poetic way, so we’d love to see it stay in the community,“ he says.

In The World….

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►   Aussies Cut Benefits for Anti-Vax Parents

Parents in Australia who don’t have their children immunized by January 1 will soon find themselves embroiled in what the country calls its “no jab, no pay” laws—meaning if they don’t take their kids for vaccinations by then, they’ll lose childcare benefits, rebates, and a federal tax benefit, Yahoo Australia reports. The legislation passed the country’s Senate on Monday, leaving only exemptions for medical reasons, meaning that parents who opt out of vaccination for philosophical or religious reasons would miss out on welfare payments that could total up to $15,000 Australian (nearly $11,000 US) per year, ABC News Australia reports. The paper notes that close to 40,000 Aussie kids under the age of 7 haven’t been immunized due to parental objections, while the Sydney Morning Herald cites a stat from Australia’s health department that says 1.8% of the country’s kids were registered as conscientious objectors in 2014, up from 0.2% in 1999.

The new laws will save about $500 million over four years, the Herald notes. There’s some back-and-forth over timing, with at least one Aussie leader noting the changes should be delayed until 2018 to get data systems up to speed; another lawmaker, though, says parents would have at least two weeks to remedy the situation before payments are nixed, per Yahoo. One legislator in particular wants to go even further and take away most welfare for all parents and their “little blighters.“ “The government is not your parent or your spouse—get over it,“ liberatarian Senator David Leyonhjelm said Monday, grumbling “the least they can do is immunize their bundles of dribble and sputum so they don’t make the rest of us sick,“ per Yahoo. Leyonhjelm also thanked “the childless people of Australia” for their productivity and for subsidizing benefits, per the Sydney Morning Herald—which he says is like having people in “wheelchairs pay for other people’s running shoes,“ Yahoo notes.

►   Charge $170M Painting on AmEx, Fly Free Forever

Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian, who doesn’t exactly struggle to afford a plane ticket, can now likely fly free, in first class, with his whole family, anywhere in the world, for the rest of his life. All because he bought a painting. Liu was the winning bidder for Amedeo Modigliani’s Reclining Nude at a Christie’s auction earlier this month—offering $170.4 million—and when the sale closes he’ll be putting it on his American Express card. Liu, a high-profile collector of Chinese antiquities and art, has used his AmEx in the past when he’s won art auctions. He put a $36 million tea cup from the Ming Dynasty on his AmEx last year, according to reports, and put other artifacts on his card earlier this year. He and his wife said they plan on using their American Express card to pay for the Modigliani, according to reports after the sale.

Liu has an American Express Centurion Card, also known as the AmEx “black card,“ an invitation-only card given only to AmEx’s biggest spenders. The card has no official credit limit. American Express will not confirm Liu’s Modigliani purchase, or say if it would be the biggest ever on their cards, citing privacy reasons. But it can be done. “In theory, it’s possible to put a ($170 million purchase) on an American Express card,“ says an AmEx rep. “It is based on our relationship with that individual card member and these decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, based on our knowledge of their spending patterns.“ That appears to be the case here: In an interview with the New York Times, Liu and his wife said they plan to use the points to allow their family to travel for the rest of their lives.

►   Latest Syrian Victim: 4-Year-Old Girl Washes Ashore

A boat ferrying mostly Syrian migrants to a Greek island sank on Wednesday, and Sunday brought the discovery of a tiny victim of the tragedy: The body of a 4-year-old girl, identified by a survivor as Sena, who was found by amateur fishermen washed up among rocks of the Turkish resort of Bodrum. “Her mother was constantly addressing her child as Sena while they were boarding the boat,“ the survivor tells the Hurriyet Daily News. Sena is one of at least 10 to have drowned, while five survived, reports the AP. The group Save the Children says more than 70 children have drowned in the attempt to reach Greece since September, when little Aylan Kurdi’s death sparked outrage at migrants’ desperate plight.

►   Protective Suits Go MIA at Paris Hospital

The authority for the Paris public hospitals says a number of protective health outfits, similar to those worn by people dealing with the Ebola virus, have gone missing from a locked room in one of the city’s hospitals. Following the incident in the Necker hospital, a formal complaint was filed on Thursday, the same day Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in the National Assembly “there may also be a risk of chemical and bacteriological weapons” used by attackers.

The public AP-HP authority said Sunday a “limited number” of suits were missing but wouldn’t confirm media reports saying a dozen hermetic protective overalls, three dozen pairs of special boots resistant to chemical agents, gloves, and anti-bacterial masks have disappeared. The AP-HP said the missing items were stored with other materials in code-locked premises but that many staff had access to the room to pick up ordinary supplies. Since the incident was discovered on Wednesday, security has been reinforced at that room.

►   Paris Fugitive May Have Had Cold Feet

Authorities say Salah Abdeslam should have been the eighth suicide attacker in Paris on November 13, but he either got cold feet or his suicide belt failed. Police say the explosive belt found without a detonator in the suburb of Montrouge may have been discarded by Abdeslam before he escaped France. The belt, discovered in a trash pile by a street sweeper, was not only similar to those used in the Paris attacks—it also contained bolts and the same type of explosives, per the AP—but it was found near where police traced a signal from Abdeslam’s phone on the night of the massacre, reports the Wall Street Journal. The theory is supported by the Islamic State’s initial claim that eight terrorists carried out the attacks.

ISIS also claimed that the attacks were executed in Paris’ 10th, 11th, and 18th districts. However, there was no attack in the 18th district, where the unused belt was found, report Fox News and the Daily Star, which also mentions reports that ISIS would kill Abdeslam for abandoning his mission. Abdeslam was last seen crossing the border into Belgium on the morning after the attacks. He was traveling with two companions who have since been arrested. Prosecutors say 15 of 21 people detained in raids in Belgium since Sunday have now been released. Brussels is still under lockdown as it remains at its highest alert level, but officials say schools and subway lines should reopen on Wednesday.

►   Paris Attackers May Have Been Fueled by This Drug

How does one massacre scores of people? Drugs may help. French media are reporting that the Paris attackers may have taken Captagon, a synthetic drug that suppresses hunger and reduces the need for sleep. Also known as the “jihadist’s drug,“ it’s a favorite of ISIS fighters, reports ABC Australia. Police say syringes, needles, and plastic tubing were found in a hotel room rented by Salah Abdeslam, while survivors describe the terrorists as serene and composed. “They were like zombies,“ says one. “It’s as if they were drugged.“ Captagon’s active ingredient, fenethylline, breaks down into theophylline—similar to caffeine—and amphetamine, which boosts pleasure and alertness and reduces a person’s need for sleep and food. But experts tell Live Science the drug isn’t as potent as Adderall.

Captagon was originally developed in the 1960s to treat hyperactivity and depression, but it was found to be addictive and later banned in many countries. It’s now almost exclusive to the Middle East. Since the start of the civil war in Syria, where a pill sells for $5 to $20, production has been on the rise, with both sides accusing their enemies of taking Captagon. A drug control officer told Reuters last year that fighters appeared to be using the drug. “We would beat them, and they wouldn’t feel the pain. Many of them would laugh,“ he says. An expert tells Live Science that Captagon is “not a magical painkiller,“ though. Rather, “when you’re hyperstimulated and very focused, you tend not to react to pain as much.“ The Tunisian attacker who killed 38 people in June is suspected of taking Captagon, reports ABC.

►   Russia: 2nd Pilot Rescued in Syria

A Russian pilot whose plane was shot down by Turkey on Tuesday is alive and safe at a Russian base in Syria, Vladimir Putin says. Russia says the man was rescued from Syrian rebels during a 12-hour overnight operation involving Syrian and Russian forces. “I understand he is already back at base, at the aerodrome. He and all those who participated in this operation, including the rescue mission, will receive state awards,“ Putin said, per the Telegraph. The other pilot was apparently killed by rebel forces while trying to parachute to safety. A Russian marine was killed during an earlier rescue operation. In other developments:

  • Russia’s ambassador to France says one pilot who parachuted out of the Su-24 warplane was killed by “jihadists” in northern Syria, while the other was rescued after managing to escape, reports the AP. He denied that Turkey had warned about an airspace violation, echoing Putin’s comment on Tuesday that the attack was a “stab in the back” and Turkish military officials are “accomplices of terrorists.“
  • Russia appears ready to hit back hard to prevent any repeat of Tuesday’s incident. Military officials say a vessel with an air defense system will be deployed in the Mediterranean to strike “any targets representing a potential danger,“ and bombers will now be accompanied by fighter jets, the BBC reports.
  • Turkish and Russian officials have given conflicting accounts of the alleged violation of Turkish airspace, with Moscow insisting the plane never crossed the border and Ankara saying the downed Su-24 and another warplane spent 17 seconds over its territory, reports Reuters.
  • Russian authorities say a helicopter involved in a rescue operation Tuesday was “destroyed by mortar fire conducted from the territory controlled by illegal, armed groups” after it was hit by small-arms fire and made an emergency landing in neutral territory, CNN reports. They say a “naval infantryman serving under contract” was killed in that incident but the rest of the crew was safely evacuated, per the BBC.

►   Official: Man Behind Paris Attacks Was Planning More Carnage

The man believed to have planned the Paris attacks that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more had likely planned to carry out another suicide bombing days later in the French capital’s business district. Abdelhamid Abaaoud and an accomplice are believed to have been planning to attack La Defense on November 18 or November 19, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said Tuesday. Abaaoud was killed during a police raid on an apartment in a Paris suburb in the early hours of November 18. Molins said an unidentified third person who died in the raid is believed to have been the accomplice with whom Abaaoud would have carried out an attack on La Defense, the high-rise district that is headquarters to major companies on the western edge of Paris.

The prosecutor said he “can’t be and doesn’t want to be more precise” on the details suggesting such an attack had been planned. Information obtained on November 19 suggested “that the two attackers—Abaaoud and the man we found by his side in the apartment—were planning an attack consisting of blowing themselves up at La Defense,“ Molins said. In the hours after the November 13 killings in Paris, Abaaoud is believed to have returned to the sites of at least some of the attacks, including the Bataclan concert hall, even while special police forces were still there. On Tuesday, a judge also handed down terrorism-related charges to Jawad Bendaoud, the only person so far in France known to be facing such charges directly linked to the November 13 attacks.

West Virginia Division of Culture and History Awards $162,432 to 41 STEAM Projects

The Free Press WV

CHARLESTON, WV – STEAM Power WV grants provided by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History (WVDCH) and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation will contribute $162,432 to 41 STEAM projects throughout WV.

Students at Madison Elementary in Wheeling, Ohio County, will use the arts to learn about solar movement, robotics, garden design and more. Students at Clay Battelle High School in Blacksville, Monongalia County, will explore the chemistry of plant pigments and dyes, while students at Greenwood Elementary School in Berkeley Springs, Morgan County, will discover some of the science behind music. These projects are among 39 schools and arts organizations that will share in the funding for projects that put STEAM Power WV to work for students in communities all across the state.

“The STEM to STEAM evolution is so important for education in West Virginia.  Recognizing that every subject has an arts component opens the door for creativity and imaginative projects that will help students become more curious, more confident and more excited about what they are learning,” said WVDCH Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith.

In this new grant initiative, the state arts agency offered up to $7,500 to schools and organizations that integrate the arts in their curriculum and community programming with STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math). Additional funding was provided by the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts in collaboration with the Governor’s STEM Initiative and the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences.

For more information about STEAM Power WV contact Jim Wolfe, arts in education coordinator for the division, at 304.558.0240 or .

STEAM Power WV grant recipients are as follows:

Berkeley County
  Hedgesville Middle School, Hedgesville, $5,891 for HMS News: Making Our Own Headlines with Creative Media, and Makey Makey Piano.
Mountain Ridge Middle School, Gerrardstown, $5,129 for Mountain Ridge Choir iPad Composition Project.

Cabell County
  Cabell Midland High School Band, Ona, $7,000 for a project combining the study of music with math, science and technology.
  Huntington Museum of Art, Huntington, $4,586 for Turn Up the HEAT, in which Mason County middle school students explore the effects of heat on multiple art processes.
  Milton Elementary School, Milton,  $1,698 for Arts and Bots.

Clay County
  Clay Elementary School, Clay, $6,737 for songwriting and movie making curriculum titled Full Steam Ahead.

Gilmer County
  Gilmer County High School, Glenville, $7,000 for curriculum that combines music instruction with math, science and technology.

Harrison County
  Mountaineer Middle School, Clarksburg, $7,072 for The “Art” of STEAM Integration, combining science, technology and math with music instruction.

Jefferson County
  Page Jackson Elementary School, Charles Town, $947 for Using Science to Compose Music.

Kanawha County
  Holz Elementary School, Charleston, $776 for a Lego robotics program.
  Lakewood Elementary, St. Albans, $1,266 for Legos Recreate the World’s Architectural Landmarks.
  Richmond Elementary School, South Charleston, $1,618 for City Planning 2040, a design project incorporating 3D printing.

Lincoln County
  Lincoln County Schools, Hamlin, $6,228 for After-school Publishing, a student-based book publishing program.

Marshall County
  Sherrard Middle School, Wheeling, $7,500 to create and construct an “Urban Tree” sculpture for the school campus.

McDowell County
  Barter Theatre serving Mount View and River View High Schools, $7,500 for Project REAL (Reinforcing Education through Artistic Learning).

Monongalia County
  Clay-Battelle High School, Blacksville, $4,824 for exploration of the molecular structure and function of plant pigments;  pigments are used to dye fabric that students can bind in book form or stitch together as a quilt.
  Eastwood Elementary, Morgantown, $5,000 for Wake Up Your Senses, Sleepy Bears, a program that combines STEAM principles with garden-based learning.
  Mountaineer Middle School, Morgantown, $359 for West Virginia Watersheds, a student-community collaboration in which students investigate water quality and create model watersheds.
  North Elementary, Morgantown, $5,000 for SuperSTEAM to the Rescue, a problem-solving project combining visual art,  environmental science and engineering.
  University High School, Morgantown, $5,625 for expansion of the school’s clay studio, with students contributing work to the Empty Bowls project. Collaboration includes environmental science, art,  math, physics, and engineering/technology faculty.

Morgan County
  Greenwood Elementary School, Berkeley Springs, $1,074 for arts integration with the WV Symphony Orchestra’s Student Centered Arts Learning Environment (SCALE) project. 
  Morgan Arts Council, Berkeley Springs, $7,500 for MAC STEAMWorks, a partnership with Morgan County Schools which uses art, animation, dance and music to explore science, technology and math.
  Warm Springs Intermediate School, Berkeley Springs, $1,044 for the collaborative creation of a bottle cap mural, integrating environmental science and art.

Ohio County
  Madison Elementary School, Wheeling, $5,700 for Oglebay Institute STEAM Achievers.
  Oglebay Institute, Wheeling, $3,877 for its Science of Raku Ceramics program, serving high school students in Ohio and Marshall Counties.
  The Linsly School, Wheeling, $800 for Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day, combining art, architecture, engineering and math.
  Wheeling Park High School, Wheeling, $5,000 for Picking Up STEAM, a project that combines math, modeling, theater and design.
  Woodsdale Elementary School, Wheeling, $2,691 for Artbots, combining computer coding, geometry and collaborative painting.

Pocahontas County
  High Rocks Educational Corporation, Hillsboro, $3,750 for arts education programs including Creative Expressions, Musical Math and The Art of Science.

Putnam County
  Confidence Elementary, Poca, $3,117 for Composting with Confidence, in which students build and maintain three school compost bins.

Raleigh County
  Beckley-Stratton Middle School, Beckley, $7,500 for a 3D Animation/3D Printing Lab in the school’s STEAM Library.
  Liberty High School Fine Arts Department, Daniel, $3,003 for a music composition project in which students apply STEM principles to antique and futuristic musical instruments.
  RESA 1, Beckley, $1,500 for Smart Moves for Education & the Arts in three Raleigh County elementary schools.

Taylor County
  Flemington Elementary, Flemington, $2,805 for a collaborative project with the WV Symphony, integrating literature,  music, physical science, technology and math.

Tucker County
  Tucker County High School, Hambleton, $4,600 for Tiny Houses: Designing Solutions, Building Collaboration, a project in which students investigate the value of art and architecture in designing solutions to economic, energy and environmental challenges.

Upshur County
  Hodgesville Elementary School, Buckhannon, $1,082 for a project examining the art, architecture and engineering of bridges.

Wayne County
  East Lynn Elementary School, East Lynn, $6,758 for a STEAM Powered Science Camp combining robotics, life science, music and art.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting Foundation, Charleston, $4,875 for a virtual scavenger hunt that combines STEM disciplines with art lessons and activities.

West Virginia Symphony Orchestra $4,000 for its SCALE (Student Centered Arts Learning Environment) project.

WVDNR’s Electronic Game Check System Provides Opening Day Buck Harvest Numbers

The Free Press WV

SOUTH CHARLESTON, WV – The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources’ new electronic game check system shows a preliminary report that hunters harvested 20,105 bucks during the first day of the buck deer firearms season that began Monday, November 23, 2015. That’s a 77 percent increase over the 11,330 bucks taken during opening day in 2014.

In addition, hunters took 3,541 antlerless deer in the counties open to a concurrent season for a total of 23,646 deer harvested on opening day. Hunters have 72 hours to check in their animals taken Monday, so the final number is expected to go up slightly.

These preliminary numbers are available this early into the two-week season because hunters, for the first time in West Virginia, are able to quickly check in their kills by phone, online or at a license agent.

“It’s really exciting to watch the numbers come in as hunters take advantage of this new system,” said DNR Director Bob Fala. “Until this year, we had to wait until the end of the season and then send staff out to the checking stations to collect game tags. Then they had to hand-count the tags and key them into a database before we could get the totals. Now we can get numbers almost instantly.”

Fala says this new system will provide DNR’s wildlife managers with better and timelier information to assist them with their game management efforts. It also provides DNR’s Natural Resources Police Officers with more accurate information as they check game tags and licenses during this busy time of year.

Hunters are required to get a permanent WVDNR identification number which allows them to check in their game from their phones at 1.844.WVCHECK (1.844.982.4325), their computers at, or at a hunting and fishing license agent. ID numbers are printed on the annual hunting license or may be obtained at, a DNR district office or by calling 304.558.2758. All field tagging, transporting and possession requirements still apply.

The 2015 West Virginia buck deer firearms season began Nov. 23 and continues through Saturday, December 05.

More information about the season is available online at

DHHR Encourages Residents to Take Steps to Avoid Foodborne Illness

The Free Press WV

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Bureau for Public Health (BPH) is reminding residents of the importance of proper food preparation and food storage temperatures during the holiday season. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), foodborne illness is a common, preventable public health problem. Each year, one in six Americans gets sick from contaminated foods or beverages. Foodborne illnesses commonly occur due to unclean hands, not separating raw meat from other foods, not cooking foods to the correct temperature and not refrigerating food properly.

“Foodborne illness sends more than 100,000 people in our nation to the hospital each year,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, State Health Officer and Commissioner for DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health.  “Taking the time to ensure that proper food handling measures are taken around the holidays and throughout the year can go a long way in preventing an outbreak of illness such as norovirus, salmonella or E. coli.”

BPH offers the following tips for preventing foodborne illnesses:

• Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F (62.8°C) as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming.

• Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 155°F (68°C) as measured with a food thermometer.

• Cook all poultry and stuffed meats, poultry, fish and pasta to an internal temperature of 165°F (73.9°C) as measured with a food thermometer.

• Foods should not be thawed at room temperature. Safe thawing methods include in the refrigerator, under cool running water, or in the microwave.  If food is thawed in running water or the microwave, it should be cooked immediately.  It is also important to allow sufficient time to thaw food.

• Check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer with an appliance thermometer. The refrigerator should be at 40°F (4.4°C) or below and the freezer at 0°F (-17.7°C) or below.

“Always wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food,” said Gupta. “Keep raw meat, poultry, fish, and their juices away from other food to avoid cross-contamination. After cutting raw meats, wash cutting boards, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water.”

According to Dr. Gupta, it is important to discard any food left out at room temperature for more than two hours.  Place food into shallow containers and immediately put in the refrigerator or freezer for rapid cooling.  Make sure you use cooked leftovers within four days.

Attorney Generals Underscore Legal Limits of Obama Administration on Climate Accord

Letter from attorneys general urge Secretary Kerry to acknowledge states’ concerns in negotiations
The Free Press WV

CHARLESTON, WV — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, together with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, called upon U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to fully acknowledge the legal limits faced by President Obama’s environmental agenda as the secretary negotiates at the upcoming United Nations summit on climate change, also known as Paris 2015 and COP21.

Attorneys General Morrisey and Paxton, two of the leaders in the states’ lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency, outlined their concerns in a letter addressed Monday to Secretary Kerry and copied to other officials, including President Obama, congressional leaders and leading foreign negotiators from Britain, China, France, Germany, India and Russia, as well as others representing the United Nations and European Union.

“There are significant legal limits on (President Obama’s) ability either to carry out the promises he has made in advance of Paris 2015 or to enforce any agreement arising out of the summit,” Attorneys General Morrisey and Paxton write.

Attorneys General Morrisey and Paxton urge Secretary Kerry to acknowledge the centerpiece of President Obama’s domestic strategy to reduce carbon emissions – his so-called Clean Power Plan – is unlikely to survive judicial review in the face of lawsuits brought by more than half of the states.

The attorneys general describe arguments against the Power Plan as strong and numerous. Their letter specifically cites U.S. Supreme Court case law in calling the EPA’s reliance upon Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act as mistaken. It also contends the EPA cannot force states to reorder their energy policy and argues the plan would violate the 10th Amendment.

Aside from the Power Plan, Attorneys General Morrisey and Paxton insist any agreement arising from Paris 2015 will be legally non-binding unless it is ratified with a two-thirds vote of the U.S. Senate.

The attorneys general believe any attempt by President Obama to ratify a Paris 2015 accord through executive agreement would be clearly unlawful. They believe Senate ratification preserves some power for the states.

“These serious legal questions are of great importance to the States,” Attorneys General Morrisey and Paxton write. “We expect our federal representatives to respect that system of dual sovereignty both here at home and in negotiations abroad.”

View a copy of the letter H E R E.

Higher PEIA Costs Weigh on Public Employees

The Free Press WV

Officials with the West Virginia Public Employee Insurance Agency got an earful and more during a recent series of public hearings on planned changes.  Hundreds of plan members turned out to express their displeasure with the proposed $120 million in benefit cuts.

Their angst is understandable since employees on an individual plan will see a $500 increase in their deductible, while the family plan deductible will rise by $1,000.

Out-of-pocket maximums will increase by $1,500 for an individual and $3,000 for a family.  Drug co-pays for preferred brands will rise from $25 to 30 percent of the cost of prescription.

Retiree premiums will rise by eight percent.  The finance board proposes no changes in active employee premiums.  The Legislature has final say on those.

PEIA Finance Board members listened, but they don’t have many options here.  Health care costs continue to rise, active employee premiums are fixed and the state’s appropriation of its share to the plan has remained static for the last several years at $422 million.

It’s doubtful public employees will get much sympathy from private sector workers.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, premiums in employer-sponsored health plans increased 27 percent between 2010 and 2015, while wages increased ten percent.  Kaiser also found that between 2005 and 2015, private sector employees saw their premiums nearly double, while the employer share rose 61 percent.

Enrollees in Obamacare in West Virginia are also getting sticker shock.  Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of West Virginia announced earlier this month it’s raising premiums by 24 percent next year.

Still, many public sector workers in West Virginia are low paid, so it’s difficult for them to absorb any increase in costs.  Additionally, public employees have always operated under the assumption that they are trading higher pay in the private sector for better benefits working for the state.

Public employees and the state’s teacher unions will pressure Governor Tomblin and legislators for some relief when the regular session begins in January, but options are limited.  The state budget is growing tighter by the month because of the decline of the coal industry, school teachers and public employees want pay raises and more money is needed for road work.

Some lawmakers are floating the idea of an increase in the cigarette tax from the current .55 cents a pack to $1.55. That would raise at least another $90 million annually.  However, tax increases are always unpopular, especially in an election year.

Or lawmakers could change the premium split from the current 80-20 (80 percent of the cost is paid by the state and 20 percent by the employee) to 75-25.  The high premiums could hold down future increases in out-of-pocket costs.

In hindsight, the benefit cuts planned for next year would have been easier to absorb if the state had gradually raised the employee costs while the Tomblin Administration put a little more money in the budget for PEIA the last few years, but that didn’t happen, and now comes the tough medicine.

~~  Hoppy Kercheval ~~

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