Pardon me, but the start of this column will be delayed momentarily while it undergoes further tweaking.
Just one moment.
There, that’s better. Been a lot of tweaking going on recently at the Capitol as the Justice administration has been tinkering with the Harvard Global Health Institute COVID-19 risk level metric, which displays risk in four colors, from green (all clear, virus contained) to red (full-blown, fast-spreading).
Since its unveiling, Gov. Jim Justice has proudly displayed the state version of the metric as if it were some new innovation by West Virginia’s best minds and not just a cut-and-paste from Harvard Global.
From Justice’s perspective, the Harvard Global metric has one serious flaw: It tends to make too many West Virginia counties show up in scary yellow, orange and red colors, instead of a safe and reassuring green.
Admittedly, the standard of cases per 100,000 works in most of the U.S. but is a tough climb in many of West Virginia’s populationally challenged counties. Tiny Wirt County needs a multiplier of 17 to get to the 100,000 threshold. (Why West Virginia continues to maintain absurdly small counties is a topic for another day.)
On Friday, Justice further tweaked things in small counties (with populations of less than 16,000), going from a seven-day rolling average to 14 days. Of course, like the cumulative average, the longer the time span the more peaks and surges are artificially smoothed out.
Also, with Harvard Global, a county must have fewer than one case per 100,000 to get the all-clear green ranking, but Justice initially fudged that from seven cases or fewer, then three or fewer with the explanation that the weaker standard lets people “feel better.”
Why not do away with all pretense of measuring risk and make the system four shades of green?
In a pandemic, the priority should be to keep people safe not make them feel good.
Another controversial fudge factor has been counting outbreaks in nursing homes and correctional facilities as one person and initially counting infected staffers at a 50% rate.
Clearly, that’s to avoid having a single outbreak in a nursing home or jail push a county into the dreaded orange or red level, where — horrors — high school football games would have to be canceled or postponed.
The problem with downplaying the so-called congregate setting spread is that it’s based on the false assumption that people who go into nursing homes or correctional facilities are there for the duration.
In reality, people go into nursing homes for brief periods of time to recover from surgeries or serious illnesses, not necessarily to count down the last sands in their hourglasses. Similarly, inmate populations — particularly those in regional jails — change frequently, with arrests, posting of bonds, completion of sentences and so forth.
To say we can count an outbreak as one person because these populations are self-contained is foolhardy.
Because of all these “tweaks,” the West Virginia version of the risk map frequently looks very different from the Harvard Global map, with a majority of counties in green instead of yellow and generally with only about half as many or fewer orange counties.
It might not be an accurate measure of risk, but it makes us feel good about ourselves and lets us play football on Fridays.
Meanwhile, Justice took the politicization of the COVID-19 briefings to a new low last week, having Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and Rep. Alex Mooney (both, like Justice, Republicans up for reelection in November) as guests.
Neither added anything of substance and, when asked, both downplayed President Donald Trump‘s dismantling of the U.S. Postal Service to discourage absentee voting.
Mooney curtly dismissed the question, stating, “President Trump was simply trying to make the government work more efficient. These changes have been discussed for a long time, but they put them on hold so there’s a lot of misunderstanding, misinterpretation — I think intentionally, I think to attack the president.”
That is straight out of the Koch brothers/Americans For Prosperity playbook: Make government more efficient by shrinking it to the point of nonexistence while eliminating the services it provides.
One of the Koch brothers-funded Astroturf organizations, the Cardinal Institute, frequently rails on what it considers government waste, outlined in a publication called, “Wild and Wasteful West Virginia.”
Among the institute’s bugaboos are state grants for the arts and leisure activities, including fairs and festivals:
“West Virginia is unparalleled when it comes to how much money its state government spends on handouts to fairs, festivals, rodeos, homecomings, parades, barbecues and myriad other examples of merriment,” the article laments. “There is a very simple solution to West Virginia’s bizarre fixation with frittering away taxpayers’ cash on fun and games: Let the people who attend fairs and festivals pay for them, and get the state government out of the entertainment business.”
Likewise, the institute is vehemently opposed to state grants for museums, symphonies and performing arts: “Eliminating government funding of the arts means that taxpayers would have more money to attend the ballet, buy a painting or go to a concert — personally choosing the art that they wish to support — rather than having government make that choice for them.”
Oddly, though, the Cardinal Institute has been thoroughly silent on Justice’s handing out of, so far, more than $2.8 million of civil contingency funds to fairs, festivals, symphony orchestras and theater companies, presumably to win the favor of the influential community leaders who serve on those entities’ boards and commissions.
As the controversy over the Stonewall Jackson statue on the Capitol grounds continues to swirl, West Virginia Association for Justice Executive Director Beth White, who as a Civil War historian and lecturer has forgotten more about the Civil War than I’ll ever know, offered a more positive view on Capitol complex statuary to mark the 100th anniversary of passage of the 19th Amendment.
White tells me that when Henry K. Bush-Brown, a renowned sculptor of the early 20th century, was commissioned to sculpt the Mountaineer Soldier statue honoring Union soldiers, his wife Margaret — a dedicated suffragette — insisted he pay tribute to the women who were on the home front during the war.
Thus, the two panels at the base of the statue depict a woman maintaining a household and women caring for a wounded soldier.
For 108 years, the statue has stood as a tribute to West Virginia men and women who helped preserve the Union and a counterpoint to the tribute to white supremacy that defaces our Capitol grounds.
White also notes that when the Stonewall Jackson statue was moved from the west side of the Capitol in 1976 for construction of the Culture Center, the United Daughters of the Confederacy insisted he be moved to the southeast corner of the Capitol grounds, the point closest to the former Confederate capital, Richmond, Virginia.
They also didn’t want him with his back to Kanawha Boulevard, effectively defeating the artistic intent of sculptor Moses Ezekiel, who sculpted a Jackson with his back bowed and his clothing and vestments appearing to be blown by a strong wind — figuratively representing Jackson standing firm against the winds of Northern aggression.
Instead, for the past 44 years, Jackson has been defiantly standing up to winds blowing from the South.
Finally, when you’re handing out more than $10 million of CARES Act money in $5,000 grants for small businesses, it’s no surprise that a lot of interesting companies show up on the list.
Most people don’t want to spend hours going through hundreds of pages of grant awards to find interesting cases, which is why I’m here.
First, there are too many restaurants, bars, beer distributors, craft breweries, distilleries and wineries to list here and stay anywhere close to my word limit.
The list includes greyhound breeders, including Abrahamson Kennels in Moundsville, CET Kennels in Logan (owned by Carl Tomblin, the former governor’s brother) and Tomblin Kennels in Chapmanville (owned by Carl Tomblin II, the governor’s nephew).
There’s Limited Video Lottery machine distributors, including Ajax Amusement in Martinsburg and Warden Amusement in MacArthur.
There are vape shops, including CJ Vapors in Martinsburg, and tanning salons, including the cleverly named Lion in the Sun in Fairmont and less-cleverly named Sahara Tanning in Hurricane.
Other cleverly named businesses include Hole ‘n Run in Wheeling (sporting goods shop that evidently specializes in golf and running), Starry Eyes Media in Princeton (advertising agency), Wear It Again, Kid in Charles Town (used children’s clothing), Sweetalicious in Buckhannon (ice creamery) and Woodchuck Logging in Chapmanville (logging).
There are public relations firms that do a good bit of political work in campaign years, including Orion Strategies and The Manahan Group, both of Charleston.
Tennis seems to be a popular activity in the state, based on the grants to Mercerized Tennis in Huntington (tennis instruction) and the Teays Valley Tennis Center.
Also receiving grants are West Virginia Baseball LLC, which operates (the possibly defunct) West Virginia Power baseball team, and Fly Rod Chronicles, which while based in Cross Junction, Virginia, operates upscale fly fishing trips to West Virginia featuring stays at luxury resorts, including Justice’s Glade Springs Resort in Daniels.
Grants also went to tourist destinations, including the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston and Avalon Resort, the clothing optional resort in Paw Paw.
Perhaps we should be grateful that the grant checks were delivered via what’s left of the U.S. Postal Service and not presented in person.