Entries by Neal Barkus

How Secure Are West Virginia Elections?

The Mueller Report released earlier this year detailed numerous ways that Russian operatives sought to interfere with U.S state and local election apparatus in 2016. A Russian entity called the GRU targeted state boards of elections, secretaries of state and county governments with the intent of gaining access to databases of registered voters. In June 2016 they compromised the voter database of the Illinois Board of Elections and extracted information on millions of voters before the intrusion was blocked. Hundreds of outsiders probe West Virginia’s election computer security system daily. Just how secure will the West Virginia election process will be in 2020?

Shareholder Resolutions: Another Tool for Fighting Climate Change

Those of us concerned about climate change in the United States have a right to be frustrated. The Trump Administration seems determined to undermine every hard-won diplomatic, legislative and policy success in the climate arena. Take, for example, withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords, weakening targets for power plant emissions, and installing an implacable opponent of the agency to chair the EPA. The list goes on. While the federal government is in the grip of these science-deniers and climate change reactionaries, other governmental units and private citizens must find a way to make a difference. One tool available to many private citizens is to exercise their rights as shareholders of large corporations.

Donald Trump: Guilty of Obstruction of Justice

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has now delivered his final report on the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election to the Justice Department. This investigation was broadened mid-stream to include potential obstruction of justice by the President through his interference with the Russia investigation. The evidence of obstruction of justice is compelling, although the report was careful not to assert directly that the President committed a crime. Instead, it politely concludes that the evidence “does not exonerate” him. However, the rest of us are not constrained by the Justice Department policy. Anyone reading the Mueller Report with an ounce of objectivity will conclude that Trump actually did obstruct justice several times.

Bullying Nature

It is a bright spring day in Shepherdstown and I am gazing out my window at my self-inflicted folly – the swimming pool in my back yard. Nature wasn’t on board with the original happy plans behind this water-filled hole. Instead, nature wants to use it to grow all sorts of bacteria and algae, and allow mosquitos, toads and any other interested party to lay eggs and spawn their young. Ah, but we have the answers for nature, right? Engineering, pumps and chemicals. Every summer with much effort and money thrown at the problem, we win – temporarily. But let up a moment and nature inexorably overcomes our efforts. A swimming pool is a fool’s errand to push a large rock up a hill.

Lying in Politics

From time to time the Washington Post publishes a tally of the “false or misleading” claims President Trump has made since he has been in office.  The tally is up to 8,718 as of February 12, 2019. I am no fan of Trump, but the large majority of these are assertions that contain some grain of truth and are then exaggerated and embellished by him for effect. Trump seems to have a need to be always right, always the best, always superior to his opponents.  But I wonder how different his assertions are from the puffery one expects from any salesman who has a second-rate product.  Are Trump’s exaggerations and misstatements lies?  Do we even expect politicians to tell us the truth?

Our Most Effective Tool for Fighting Climate Change: A Tree

You can’t avoid noticing the rapid development of housing in the Eastern Panhandle. Just blink and an old farm or wooded area has been replaced by a Dan Ryan development extravaganza. In my established farming neighborhood alone there are four homes under construction. But often these homes end up being naked structures with no landscaping and no trees. Evidently, new home buyers are more interested in square footage and amenities than saving or establishing wooded areas. More’s the pity. Trees add grace and beauty, provide protection against cold winter winds and blazing summer heat, prevent rainwater erosion, and create habitat for birds and other wildlife. Perhaps most importantly, trees remove prodigious amounts of carbon dioxide from the air.

Charter Schools: The Real Threat to Public Education

Those who have been following the Brexit debacle in the UK will be familiar with the terms Leavers and Remainers. Leavers are the faction who want Britain to leave the European Union, where it has prospered for decades. Remainers are the faction who want Britain to stay. West Virginia has its own version of Leavers. Our Leavers, led by Senator Patricia Rucker of Jefferson County, want to set up a system of charter schools that would permit parents to remove their children from public school. But the evidence does not show that students at charter schools perform better. Worse yet, the Leavers want the rest of us to pay for this scheme with our tax money, draining funds from already underfunded public schools.

Death By A Thousand Cuts

The West Virginia Legislature began its main 2019 session on January, 9, 2019. All bills introduced in 2018 that were not then acted upon were re-introduced on the first day of this session. New legislative proposals have also been introduced early in this session. A review of both categories introduced in the House and Senate shows that many legislators are in love with tax exemptions and credits, which benefit one class of taxpayer and disadvantage everyone else. Sometimes these proposals have merit, but taken cumulatively they show the Legislature’s willingness to bleed our government of the revenue required for it to function effectively, drop by drop.

Microplastics: An Emerging Concern for Animal and Human Health

I cannot claim to be the most environmentally aware person in my neighborhood. I drive a car that is way too fond of gas, and often leave the lights on when I shouldn’t. So maybe I can be excused for not having heard of microplastics until now. Microplastics are particles smaller than 5 millimeters in diameter. Some have broken down from larger objects like tires or plastic bags. These tiny pieces are ingested at lower levels of the food chain, but because birds and fish ingest them also microplastics are headed our way. The effects of these microplastics are poorly understood now, but they are sure to become a concern for animal and human health. So how can an environmentally retarded person such as my own personal self act appropriately when it comes to plastic?

The Value of Increasing the Minimum Wage

One obvious way to increase the value and attractiveness of working is to increase the minimum wage. The federal minimum wage has been $7.25 per hour since 2009 but Congress does not seem interested in increasing it. Individual states, however, can set a higher minimum wage. West Virginia’s minimum is now $8.75, having been increased in stages over several years. Many other states have done the same. Increasing the minimum wage puts more money in the pockets of low-income people who will spend it in the economy, reduces dependence on public benefits and decreases crime. This is seriously good policy.