Friday, November 21, 2008

The Nation's Press Can Do Its Job -- If It Wants To

We are soon to celebrate the anniversary of the first report of a scandal that brought West Virginia University to its knees. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporters Len Boselovic and Patricia Sabatini broke the story that WVU had awarded an MBA degree to a student who lacked nearly half of the required credits for the degree in "MBA Mystery in Morgantown." The story hit the streets on Dec. 21, 2007.

At the outset, there was no story. As a matter of routine reporting, Boselovic and Sabatini called WVU to verify that an officer of Mylan Pharmaceutical had an MBA as her official resume stated. Then came the surprise answers. At first, the university said, "No, she didn't." A few days later, WVU was saying "Yes, she did."

What followed was an investigative reporter's dream come true.

The Post-Gazette's reporting by Boselovic and Sabatini stands as a great example of why a free press is so important. As the mystery in Morgantown deepened, it was apparent from reading articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education that universities across the nation were looking inward to see whether they had awarded bogus degrees.

One did not have to look far to see the reporters' impact. Pittsburgh's prestigious Carnegie Mellon University, while never a target of the Post-Gazette's reporting, announced in August that it had forced the resignation of one of its academic deans because of an improperly awarded master's degree in 2004.

While WVU bore the brunt of the Post-Gazette's criticism, the entire academic community took itself to task to examine the issue of bogus degrees. As a result, colleges and universities across the land are better off for doing so, even if their only motive was to avoid bad ink.

Another example of why a free press is so important came to light a few days before the November general election. The Times of London broke a story that Zeituni Onyango, a Kenyan, was living illegally in Boston.

The Times set about to do a human interest story after reading "Dreams Of My Father," a memoir written by President-elect Barack Obama. Reporters went to Kenya to interview family members named in the book. Upon learning that "Uncle Omar" had moved to the United States, The Times' reporters decided to track him down. And that is how Barack Obama's aunt, Zeituni Onyango, came into the picture.

Apparently, not a single American media outlet bothered to do what The Times did -- read Obama's book and then report facts. Instead, American journalists sought political cover, hoping that Aunt Zeituni's expose' by a foreign newspaper would evaporate quickly.

It didn't.

On Nov. 3, The Times (somewhat incensed) reported, "The Democrat campaign has implied that the story might have come from Republican sources - 'the American people are ... pretty suspicious of things that are dumped in the marketplace 72 hours before a campaign,' said Mr. Obama's chief strategist David Axelrod yesterday."

As reported since the election, we now know that Zeituni Onyango has lived in Boston public housing since 2003, that she attended Barack Obama's swearing in to the U.S. Senate in 2004 and that she was instructed to leave the U. S. in 2004 by an immigration court. Zeituni Onyango is neither a phantom living in the shadows nor was she an instrument of political subterfuge.

Imagine how the presidential campaign would have turned had this story broken before the New Hampshire primary. Obama's Democratic opponents would have had a field day when debating him on immigration policy.

During the campaign, we saw that journalism in America is changing from being an honorable trade to being an art -- the art of swallowing a press release whole without developing even the hint of indigestion.

And, in time, we shall see the results of the media's failure to properly scrutinize the selection process and the candidates for America's presidential search. We may have to read about it in The Times, but we will read about it.

Whenever it is that a judge tries to force a reporter to divulge sources, journalists rally around the flags of free expression and freedom of the press. I would submit, however, that freedom of the press never will be endangered because a reporter dared to report the facts.

Quite the contrary.

Freedom of the press is in danger only when the press becomes biased, self-censoring or just plain lazy. The free press will lose its protected franchise only when it chooses to no longer pursue it.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Undergrads' Fundraising Is Reminiscent of Dickens

When Oliver Twist dared to ask for more porridge, the parish workhouse master swiftly reprimanded the lad for not being satisfied with the sustenance provided him.

Times have changed since Charles Dickens wrote of the plight of poor boys forced to work long hours at the parish workhouse for not much more than room, board and a taste of the three Rs.

Today, colleges and universities are the parish workhouses for our youth, though a lad or lass need not be poor to enter the campus barracks, for he or she will assuredly be on the debtor rolls when the experience ends -- if not as an outright debtor, then as an eternal taxpayer.

With the increasingly popular practice of using undergraduates to solicit funds, institutions of higher education have turned Dickens' masterpiece of institutional budgeting ridicule on its ear. The main sources of college operating funds -- grants, student loans, scholarships, charity and government revenue -- continue to fall short in the annual quest to balance college budgets that year to year outpace the general inflation rate.

Thus, more and more schools are employing students to staff the call centers or make road trips to stage dog-and-pony extravaganzas at alumni gatherings. The waif's message nonetheless is still the same: "More."

Oliver Twist's plea for more gruel is not a perfect analogy of today's youth asking for more institutional funding, but the comparison is lacking only in the sense that your alma mater's foundation board knows that a student's plea for charity from the community will receive a more sympathetic ear than will a cold call from a foundation staffer.

And the skeptic in me must ask whether the practice of having students call donors during the evening supper hours is more by sublime design than professional fundraisers might want to admit.

When it comes to donating money to colleges, I am an easy mark. I have never made a large donation (for the obvious reason), but I feel that my continuing support for academics and athletics is a necessary act of kindness if I expect the next generation to lead society onward and upward.

The college experience remains, I believe, the greatest test tube ever invented precisely because we cannot predict the results of the multitude of experiments known more familiarly as students.

Fundraising should be an ethical endeavor. In this regard, I strongly believe that the employment of undergraduates, whether they are paid a stipend or not, falls outside the ethical boundaries of fundraising. In my view, the practice of using student solicitors strains even the pleasant etiquette of panhandling.

It is quite one thing for alumni to promote their alma maters. After all, they have had years to reflect on the value of their college experience. To the contrary, undergraduates cannot know the value of the college experience because the experience is incomplete.

Did we not warn these students when they were children about the consequences of counting chicks before the eggs hatch? Are we somehow allowed to simply withdraw that sage advice in the interest of fundraising?

Our public school system is inadequate in preparing young people for today's job market. The associate or bachelor degree, then, is considered almost a necessity even though college degrees do not guarantee success in any endeavor.

Whereas in the past an apprentice would work for several years to gain journeyman credentials, modern society looks to college to prepare journeymen (and women). And, of course, college is still viewed as finishing school for the upwardly mobile. But woe be to the college failure -- the dropout.

We can debate whether "dropout" is still the stab in the back that colleges coined it to be, but it is worth noting that the first footnote on Bill Gates' Wikipedia page refers not to his birth but to his status as a 1975 Harvard dropout.

Whether colleges deliver the goods or not, their parchments have become cultural indentures. Thus, I argue: It is unethical to employ indentured servants, in this case students, as beggars.

I will give credit to college and university foundations for employing only the brightest students to make cold calls. These kids are polished, polite and know how to close the deal. When it is my time to receive a student's cold call from foundation headquarters, I often throw the caller a curve or two just to see how he or she responds. Let me just say that they keep their eyes on the prize.

For this reason, and out of respect for their individual soliciting skills, I have come to call these students artful dodgers, and to them I offer this as a compliment with my right hand. And with my left, I offer said same to the Fagins who employ them so cheaply.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Dreaming Ahead, the Names Never Change

I had a very strange dream last night. I dreamed that I had awakened in 2048, exactly 40 years into the future.

My surroundings were fairly familiar, but cars and storefronts looked quite different -- definitely futuristic. Wal-Mart and McDonald's were pretty much the same, only bigger. McDonald's, for example, had a food section chock full of ready-to-eat meals. All the customers had to do was bring plates or trays and fill them with whatever entrees and sides they preferred.

In the future, there are no refrigerators. Irradiation and preservatives are so effective that food won't spoil for at least three months. One shopper told me that she preferred some dishes, like corned beef and cabbage, to get "tangy" before she served them. She was shopping for Easter (2049) dinner when I met her at Mickey D's.

Politics had changed a little, but there were still plenty of familiar names on the ballot. Ruprecht Gainer Jr., son of the esteemed Wirt County proctologist, was running unopposed for state auditor, thus making 80 consecutive years of somebody named Gainer holding that office.

West Virginia had lost population, so much so that we were down to one congressional district. In 2048, Shelley Capito-Underwood (granddaughter of Shelley Moore Capito) was unopposed. However, she would only serve until 2050, when Charles Mollohan (grandson of Alan Mollohan) would take over. And then in 2052, Glenn Bob Rahall (grandson of Nick Joe Rahall) would return to serve for a term.

The voters had approved the Ambassador Amendment in 2016 to protect the three political families who had so dominated House of Representatives races. In their off years, the Congressmen served as official ambassadors to Washington, were paid a generous stipend and allowed to maintain a district office.

It was no surprise then that "Rocky 7" (John D. Rockefeller VII) was the favorite to win the Senate seat previously held by Rockies 4 through 6.

Gus A. Douglass was still the incumbent agriculture commissioner, although he had threatened to retire a decade earlier saying the job was too much work for him. The voters responded by approving the Agricultural Stabilization Amendment, which reduced the duties of agricultural commissioner to maintaining the grassy areas around state office buildings.

Commissioner Douglass was running unopposed in the general election. He had survived a challenge in the primary election from Devil Anse "Jesco" McGraw, an itinerant leaf-blower from Mingo County.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd had unexpectedly retired in 2047, which left the state's Democratic Party in a quandary. Because the name "Byrd" was so synonymous with the Senate seat, the party chairman, Ralston P. Caperton, insisted on appointing someone named Byrd to it. After an exhaustive search of coalfield Democratic voter rolls, no Byrds turned up. The closest match was Kermit Bird from Glen Jean, and he received the appointment to fill Robert Byrd's seat until the next election.

Now this race was interesting because Piper Palin, the youngest daughter of former president Sarah Palin, had moved to West Virginia in 2025 and was running well ahead of Sen. Bird. Piper Palin was best-known around the state as a champion ATV racer. She lived in a tent on Spruce Knob.

During the summer, Piper Palin had scored points by running a negative ad that featured background music from the movie "Dumb and Dumber." Voters apparently took a liking to Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels singing "Mockingbird" because most of them referred to Kermit Bird simply as "Ing."

Joe Manchin Il was certain to win the governors race. He defeated Joe Manchin V (grandson of former Gov. Joe Manchin III) in the primary election.

It came as a shock to me when the lady I was talking with at Mickey D's explained that Joe Manchin Il was actually Kim Sam Il, a Korean immigrant who changed his name. Voters had mistaken "Il" as "II" and assumed that they were voting for the elder Manchin.

I asked the lady if Kim Sam Il was from North Korea, and she replied: "No. It's even worse. He's a successful businessman from South Korea!"

In 2048, West Virginia is not ranked 50th on the economic indicator lists. Unfortunately, West Virginia drops to 56th behind the new states of Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Grenada.

I am now awake, and I know it's 2008. I am writing this column from Mickey D's in Clarksburg. My Egg McMuffin tastes a little tangy, but I am not sure if it's the food or my imagination.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Re-Examining the Bread Standard for 2008

Comparison of Bread  1957-2008 

Sunbeam Bread    '57 Fresh (3)    '57 Day Old         2003 (4)      2008 (4)
Price per loaf             0.16                0.08            1.59 (5)        2.09 (5)
Sales tax (1)               .01                  .00              .10              .07

Mileage (2)                 .00                  .00              .73            1.17
Totals                      0.17                 0.08            2.42            3.33

Footnotes to table:
1.  1957 rate equals 3¢ per $1.00, beginning at 14¢.  2003 rate equals 6¢ per $1.00.  2008 rate equals 3¢ per $1.00
2.  IRS Mileage allowance of $0.365 per mile (2003);  $0.585 per mile (2008)
3.  Sunbeam bread baked in Clarksburg
4.  Sunbeam bread baked by Flowers Baking Co., North Carolina
5.  Kroger, Clarksburg.  Sept. 2, 2003; Aug. 14, 2008 _________________________________________
    Five years ago in this column, I compared the cost of a loaf of bread in 1957 with its adjusted cost in 2003; I called it the “Bread Standard.”  The comparison, updated for 2008, appears in the accompanying chart.

    In 1957, Sunbeam bread was baked daily in Clarksburg and delivered to the neighborhood grocery stores.  There were two grocery stores within a short walk of my house.  Grocers discounted day-old bread by half, because most homemakers would only buy fresh bread. 

    In making a like comparison, we must use the discounted price of day-old bread because Sunbeam bread is now day-old bread when it arrives at the grocery store.

    If we needed bread, I was allowed to walk or ride my bike to the neighborhood grocery but not to the nearest supermarket, which was one mile distant on a heavily-traveled thoroughfare.  Thus, the comparison chart includes the cost of a two-mile automobile trip for 2003 and 2008.

    In determining the purchasing power of one dollar, most economists opt to compare commodity prices such as oil or gold.  Throughout history, however, the daily ration of bread has been the most consistent measure of nutrition for all people, whether they lived in the ancient Nile valley or now live in Kansas.

    While not every civilization ate wheat bread, most of the world’s farmers could grow a cereal grain of some kind.  Our daily bread, whether made from wheat or corn, has its nutritional equivalent in rice, other grains, or non-grains such as potatoes (E.g.: the Incas).

    Human civilization managed for a long time without need of oil or gold but never a day without bread.

    In 1957-58, only the wealthy drove Cadillacs; the behemoths retailed for about $7,000.00.  Or put another way, if you could afford a new Cadillac, you could also afford 87,500 loaves of day-old bread.

    Today, a Cadillac retails for about $50,000.00 and is considered nice middle-class car.  And why shouldn’t it be?  Its worth is only 15,000 loaves of day-old bread.

    To match the social status of a 1958 Cadillac owner, you would have to spend $290,000.00 for your automobile and a whole lot more for the house, swimming pool, gardens, driveway and garage to go along with it.  And don’t forget to add in the associated property taxes and insurance policies.

    Along the way, we have seen depreciation in more than just the dollar.  The old neighborhood groceries provided free delivery service, and credit-worthy customers could run a tab and pay every two to four weeks.  A housewife could also call her grocery order in if she didn’t have time to shop.

    Fifty years ago, grocery shoppers demanded quality.  This was due to the fact that even city folks were not far removed from growing their own food, and they knew what fresh food looked and tasted like.  June Cleaver would absolutely scream if she had to fry a “fresh” egg from today’s supermarket. 

    Fifty years ago, people knew what fresh-baked bread tasted like because they were probably raised on home-baked bread.  Homemakers in the 1950s would try to do without something else on the grocery list before they would stoop to buy day-old bread. 

    In terms of food, the dollar has become worth a lot less for two main reasons.  The first is that government deficit spending for food stamps and agricultural subsidies have skewed the marketplace with inflationary pressures.  Import tariffs have done likewise.  And the ethanol-for-fuel mandate (ethanol is alcohol made from grain) is piling even more inflation on top of that.

    Secondly, Americans have lowered their food quality standards.  Shoppers will pay a grocer for a dozen eggs that are a month or more old but will balk at buying truly fresh eggs from the local farmer because those eggs aren’t USDA-inspected.  This is but one example of how food-ignorant Americans are. 

    Ignorant people make ignorant spending decisions—distilling corn for Cadillacs being just one.

    Friday, August 15, 2008

    American Voters Face Familiar Choice

    For those of you who are younger than 50, you have a unique opportunity to learn American history. The election of 1976 is being restaged with Barack Obama as Jimmy Carter and John McCain as Gerald Ford. This is not a virtual election; this is for real, and your vote counts.

    It's important to remember 1976 for another reason -- the economy. If you are younger than 50, then you haven't lived through a real economic recession. Today's economy is taking its licks from the sub-prime mortgage spree. But 30 years ago, U.S. Treasury notes carried interest rates as high as 14 percent. Try borrowing mortgage money at 15 percent or 20 percent and see what your house payments are. Then watch gasoline double in price as it did in 1979. It was heck.

    You can fret all you want about today's high gasoline prices, but the economy is healthy when compared to 1976, and this is why you should be concerned about the upcoming revival of Ford vs. Carter. You are going to vote for the man who loses control of the economy.

    Gerald Ford was a good man, but he couldn't inspire an angel to do a good deed. He neither had a command of economics nor did he have the best of economic advisers. Ford's solution to the economic woes of his day was to ask people to wear "WIN" buttons--WIN stood for Whip Inflation Now.

    Compare this lame message to Margaret Thatcher's during that era. When she visited Lech Walesa during Poland's uprising, she gave him a copy of F.A. Hayek's book "The Road to Serfdom." That small gift inspired a trade unionist to lead his nation out from under the yoke of Soviet communism.

    I can still hear Maggie Thatcher saying, "WIN buttons, indeed."

    Gerald Ford also was viewed as a continuation of the Nixon White House, although nothing could be further from the truth. Ford tried to do the best thing for the nation by pardoning Richard M. Nixon, and however noble were his intentions, he lost the election primarily for this one act. People hated Nixon. George W. Bush is merely disliked by comparison.

    John McCain is viewed as nothing more than a continuation of the Bush administration although nothing could be further from the truth. John McCain is Gerald Ford.

    Enter Jimmy Carter, the candidate for change. Do you recall the motion picture "Being There" in which Peter Sellers plays Chance, the mentally disabled gardener, and through a series of misunderstandings, he becomes a national guru? This describes Jimmy Carter -- the boy who ran away from a traveling idiot circus and then demonstrated a knack for growing peanuts, and the rest, as they say, is history.

    Jimmy Carter edged out better-known candidates for the 1976 Democratic nomination. The field was very crowded that year; his opponents only had regional appeal. Carter used his born-again, come-to-Jesus message to give him an advantage in every state. Though he was personally unable to explain the demands of the Good Book to his own family (Do you remember his brother, Billy?), Jimmy Carter was charismatic. Jimmy Carter was as charismatic by his humility as Barack Obama is charismatic by his arrogance.

    Barack Obama is Jimmy Carter, right down to having a mean, vindictive wife.

    Like Ford and Carter, McCain and Obama share a complete lack of aptitude for economics. And worse, we don't know who their primary economic advisers will be. Remember for the moment that Bill Clinton started his first term by appointing Sen. Lloyd Bentsen as Treasury secretary. When that proved a Texas-sized joke, Clinton made amends by appointing Robert Rubin. Bill Clinton's economic success was due solely to the confidence that the financial markets had in Secretary Rubin.

    If there is an exception when comparing Ford vs. Carter to McCain vs. Obama, then it would be that the major parties have nominated two senators who serve in a Congress that has an overall approval rating of just 14 percent. How pathetic is that?

    Offsetting this minor difference is the fact that the Republicans and Democrats once again are telling voters they have a clear choice when it comes to selecting the next president. If we do have a clear choice this time, then it will be defined by degrees of failure.

    I don't know about you, but I will not let the major parties railroad me into choosing between Ford and Carter again. On Nov. 4, I am writing in "Ricky Bobby" for president, and I will do so, knowing in my heart, that if he ain't first, he'll be last.

    Friday, July 18, 2008

    Earmarked Funds Often Miss the Mark

    Charles L. Miller stepped down as highway commissioner in 1984, and Fred VanKirk was appointed acting commissioner. At the changing-of-the-guard ceremony, Mr. VanKirk accepted the position by saying, "Everyone else in West Virginia acts like he's the highway commissioner, so I might as well act like it, too."

    West Virginia enjoyed a long run of qualified highway commissioners beginning in 1969 with Bill Ritchie and continuing with Charlie Miller and Fred VanKirk. The number one priority of each man was completion of the Interstate system, and they should be remembered for finishing the job.

    Today, motorists take the Interstate system for granted. And that is a shame. For example, before I-79 was built, the trip from Charleston to Morgantown took six hours, and every mile had its share of grueling curves and blind passing zones. The drive now takes a little over two hours and can hardly be called challenging.

    In the 1960s, Interstate construction was spotty. The main reason for this was the sad fact that highway commissioner Burl Sawyers (1961-1968) and his deputy, Vincent Johnkoski, were extortionists, crimes for which they were later convicted.

    West Virginia is a tough place to build high-speed highways. Our terrain is notoriously unforgiving; our weather limits the construction season. The cost of building a mile of Interstate in West Virginia was comparatively one of the highest in the United States because of the quantity of earth that had to be moved and the numerous stream and river crossings.

    I always have felt that our Interstate highways are a remarkable engineering achievement that have been overlooked and underappreciated. That's especially so because the three aforementioned highway commissioners protected the highway budget and stayed with the plan to finish every mile of Interstate in timely fashion.

    We are now living in a different era -- the earmark era. Every politician in the land tries to earmark funds for a pet project. The drawback to this hodgepodge of earmarks is that there is no plan for the public good -- there are just scattered pet projects, such as Alaska's proposed bridge to nowhere.

    Were it just Alaskans earmarking Alaskan funds, we wouldn't care. But earmarks are now the preferred passion of every legislator and executive. Twenty-four years ago, Fred VanKirk could joke about everyone acting like a highway commissioner. Now it's not a laughing matter.

    My congressional district has a very visible earmark project -- the Gateway Connector highway at Fairmont. The project connects I-79 to the High Level Bridge and will assuredly save downtown Fairmont from further deterioration after it opens in 2010 or 2011.

    The highway is only 1.5 miles long, but it carries an estimated price tag of $155 million. The roadway also features two traffic circles. Many people refer to these circles as "roundabouts," but I prefer "circles" lest I infer the road is a roundabout way to get to downtown Fairmont.

    I think the traffic circles were engineered to provide holding patterns for westbound traffic waiting for a green light to cross the bridge. And further, I guess that stoplight is the "gateway" in "Gateway Connector."

    I am taking this potshot to make a point. The $155 million could have easily finished Morgantown's 705 to I-68 connector -- a road that has been desperately needed for two decades. The Gateway money could have provided seed capital for 100 machine shops. The money could have built more than 700,000 square feet of new office space in Software Valley.

    But no matter how earmark money is spent, it generally is wasted because it neither furthers the completion of an overall plan nor does it contribute to a coordinated, meaningful infrastructure.

    The native sons of Marion County, whose ranks include our governor and First District congressman, undoubtedly will feel that I am picking on them personally. But I am not. I am criticizing the whole notion of earmark spending as being irresponsible.

    When the Interstate highway system was laid out, it was planned from coast to coast with a purpose for each and every mile. Had Congress designed the Interstate system using the earmark method, then every congressional district would have a few miles of four-lane highway, and none of it would be interconnected.

    If you don't hear from me for a while, please don't worry as I will be writing my next column from the tropics. A Fairmont travel agency is planning my vacation stay at a Guantanamo Bay resort hotel, where I will be learning a new sport called waterboarding.

    Friday, June 20, 2008

    Boards Must Have Balance, Integrity

    Because of the ongoing turmoil at West Virginia University, the subject of appointing directors to the university's governing board has been a much-discussed topic. Let's take a moment to consider the right people for the job.

    When selecting a board member-- and this applies to every organization -- the candidate must have a common interest or commonality of purpose with regard to the institution. If not, why bother?

    While this requirement seems simple enough, it never fails that two undesirable types of people pass the commonality test--the proverbial "yes" man and the parasite. Even the most diligent screening process cannot always weed out these people.

    Sitting on a board can have an intoxicating influence on even the most well-intentioned people. Directors find that the title of board member does afford them status in their communities, and at some point they might become "yes" men or women so as not to jeopardize losing their directorships. No director that I am aware of was ever fired for toadying.

    Other well-intentioned people have compromised their fiduciary duty by doing business with the very institution they are appointed to oversee. Most often, these business arrangements begin as symbiotic relationships with all parties benefiting. When greed sets in, the relationship turns parasitic.

    The faculty has expressed that the governing board should have more faculty representatives. This sounds wonderful in theory. But the reality of the campus is that professors rarely know what goes on outside of the buildings they teach in.

    Professors also specialize in their field of learning. So who do you pick? The botanist who studies aphid damage? The physicist who looks for dark matter? The historian who debates the cause of the Civil War? Or do we consider the education professor who knows everything about running a classroom but precious little about running a school? Would a professor of proctology even stand a chance?

    For the faculty's sake, they should speak collectively through their elected senate rather than through one or more board members. And the faculty senate should have stronger powers, especially so with regard to the presidential selection process. If a presidential candidate can't win the hearts of the faculty senate during his or her interview, then the candidate has no business applying for the job.

    There are probably 100 million people on this planet who know who Pat White and Kevin Pittsnogle are. Ten times that many know who Jerry West is. In terms of dollars and cents, WVU's athletic program is not a huge budget item. But in terms of publicity, athletics brings WVU its most attention.

    Candidates for the Board of Governors need to be serious about athletics -- and just as serious about demanding a scandal-free athletic program. The football stadium may be named in honor of Milan Puskar, but it will always be remembered as the house that Don Nehlen built. Coach Nehlen was a winner, but let us not forget that he was respected for his integrity from coast to coast.

    The Health Science Center is an important part of WVU, and the board needs a few members who are up to speed on modern medicine. While drug company representatives don't get much respect, I will tell you for a fact that they know everything that goes on in the medical community.

    I am not recommending a drug pusher for the board. So don't choke.

    I point this out, however, because WVU needs to consider people in the medical field who get around and also are knowledgeable of the financial side of the medical business. This is definitely the area where WVU has to think outside the box for recruiting board members.

    When Netscape developed JavaScript in 1995, I remarked that java scripts had been around for years. When questioned about my observation, I quipped that boards of directors were in the habit of using the chairman's report as coffee cup coasters to protect their mahogany conference tables.

    Bad jokes aside, a board member must be involved and not consider the board meeting a coffee klatch.

    A board member's responsibility can be compared somewhat to that of a juror's. When the door is closed, people trust them to make the right decision. Sometimes, those decisions are incredibly unpopular, while at other times they are routine. But all individual decisions made on behalf of a community test a person's resolve, conscience and ethics.

    From personal experience, I have seen the damage that self-serving directors can do. I have also seen the good work that responsible directors can do. The final test for selecting a board member is this simple: Picking from the former guarantees a train wreck, while picking from the latter guarantees success.

    Friday, May 30, 2008

    It Was A Dark And Stormy EMBA Degree

    I read the Report of the Special Investigative Panel For Review Of Executive MBA Program Records (at West Virginia University) issued on April 21, 2008. At the outset, I did not believe that five college professors could write with such clarity and brevity. And yet, these five academics did an admirable job in explaining their findings in crystal-clear fashion using as few words as possible.

    Therefore, I have been at a loss to understand how there could be any debate about what transpired in awarding Ms. Heather Bresch an Executive MBA degree. The panel concluded that the academic and financial records of West Virginia University were reasonably accurate, that Ms. Bresch received special treatment not afforded any other degree candidate and that her degree was manufactured in the shabbiest way possible -- by overt fraud committed at the highest levels of the university.

    The panel could not have made these charges clearer. However, in West Virginia, not all people are fluent in translating the English language into our local dialect.

    "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White is (and has been for decades) the most popular writing primer. The authors are famous for their advocacy of using the active voice when writing. They further recommend that writers avoid using the passive voice.

    Unlike Mssrs. Strunk and White, West Virginians tend to speak and write in the passive voice, which derives from their fondness for passivity. The term "miner's mentality" describes the passive attitude of most West Virginians. For my purposes, let's skip the reference to miners and call this behavior the passivity-passive voice complex.

    Innumerable people have either said or written, "Mistakes were made" when describing the manner in which university officials manufactured Ms. Bresch's degree. I wondered how they could have read the panel's report and then resort to the passive voice to describe people pulling grades out of thin air.

    So I went back to the report and re-read it. On page 12, the panel states, "But again, the grade (--) that was entered in that course (--) was simply pulled from thin air." Well, there you have it -- the passive voice.

    In matters relating to science and scholarship, it is customary to use the passive voice in certain situations. For example, it is better to write, "Experiments were conducted" than to write a lengthy preface explaining who conducted the experiments. If it is necessary to name each scientist conducting the experiment, then that information is consigned to a footnote.

    The investigative panel's charge did not require the panel to return an indictment against the person or persons who altered Ms. Bresch's transcript. Thus, when the panel wrote, "But again, the grade ... that was entered ... was simply pulled from thin air" they purposely used the passive voice to avoid naming names and going beyond their charge.

    Though the circumstance demanded that the panel speak to the alteration of grades in the passive voice, that does not mean that certain people weren't actively doing the pulling. If we allow ourselves to slough this dreadful affair off with words like "Mistakes were made" then we should just assume that the university's computer system is a deus ex machina over which there is no control. And that assumption would be consistent with the passivity-passive voice complex.

    West Virginians need to realize that the rest of the world speaks with the active voice and, further, that the rest of the world does not translate the passive voice as necessitating passivity. The rest of the world is dumbstruck that a university would manufacture a degree. But West Virginians have allowed their special interpretation of a few words to cloud their own judgment.

    The investigative panel members should be commended for their report. Had the provost appointed five typical West Virginians to the panel, then be assured that their report would consist of three tried-and-true words that you'll hear spoken only in the Mountain State: "You'll have that."

    The university's faculty has every right to be incensed about the manufacture of a degree. That said, every single faculty member should have demanded a forum to cast his or her vote in the matters addressed on May 14. As it turned out, less than half bothered to vote.

    No amount of protest can ever restore the faculty's virginity. But in this case, Shakespeare might say, "Methinks the Lady doth not protest enough!"

    WVU would quickly expel a student caught cheating. The same punishment must apply to everyone involved in this pathetic scandal.

    Friday, May 16, 2008

    Were Our 'Good Old Days' Really That Good?

    George Kovach died last week. He was 90. For most of my boyhood, "Mister" Kovach ran the Cities Service filling station a block away from my house.

    As I read his obituary, I began having those unavoidable flashbacks of life as it was lived nearly 50 years ago. Whenever we remember the days of our youth, we invariably think of that stage of our lives as the good old days. Maybe you call them the salad days. For most of us, that time of life seemed just about right because we were far too young and untraveled to have had any perspective.

    The old filling stations were lessons in merchandising. Everything the station sold was a branded product. The Cities Service logo--the outline of a green clover leaf on white background--appeared on everything.

    The men who worked at the station wore neat uniforms with a Cities Service emblem. The oil cans, antifreeze jugs and just about every other container carried the store brand. And as for the gasoline, Cities Service promoted their brand as the best for your car because it had Power Prover.

    In Clarksburg, Cities Service had to compete with Esso, Pure, Gulf, Amoco, Mobil, Texaco, Sunoco, Sinclair, Spur, Red Head, Ashland, Quaker State and Pennzoil. Each brand claimed that its own secret ingredient made your car engine run better. However, these claims were just so much gimmickry. (Perhaps you'll recall: "Put a tiger in your tank!")

    Filling stations were big on handing out promotional items. You could take your pick from a nice selection of road maps. Ice scrapers were common giveaways in the wintertime. Sometimes, the giveaways were merchandise, such as drinking glasses. All in all, these stations competed for your business and your trust by developing brand loyalty.

    Filling stations usually had two service bays. One side had a lift for lube jobs and oil changes. The other side was used for car washes and tire changes.

    Fifty years ago, a car needed a lot more maintenance. On average, cars had about seven grease fittings that needed a shot of grease at every oil change. Drum brake pads, unlike today's disc brakes, wore out pretty quickly. Batteries were anything but maintenance-free. And radiators all too often overheated.

    In some respects, filling stations were like the blacksmith shops in the horse-and-wagon era. Cars of the 1950s were about as temperamental as horses and, like the wagons of old, needed frequent maintenance.

    Tires prove this out. Fifty years ago, a set of four tires cost about $100. Radial tires were still a new concept in Europe. We bought tube-type, bias-ply tires that did well if they lasted 10,000 miles. With their uncanny ability to pick up nails off the roadway, you could expect a tire to go flat once before it wore out.

    To fix a flat tire required removing the tube and patching it with a hot patch. Then you had to remount the tire and, most likely, rebalance it. Fixing a flat tire was a real chore.

    A set of radial tires today will cost four times what Mister Kovach charged. But your new radials are likely warranted for 50,000 miles or more. As for flat tires, you may never have one. All-season radial tires handle much better, are much safer and are far less likely to hydroplane than the rubber ducks of the good old days.

    Last week, gasoline hit $3.89.9 per gallon in Clarksburg, the highest price yet. Today's price seems so distant from the 25 cents that a gallon cost in my youth.

    If I looked only at the price of gasoline, then I'd say the good old days were indeed good. But when I look at the total cost of operating a vehicle, I must conclude that modern times are the better era of the two.

    Gasoline has become a generic commodity sold mostly at convenience stores. These stores offer no service because there really isn't much of a need to check under the hood anymore. As for building customer loyalty, why hand out free road maps when cars are increasingly equipped with GPS locators? Is it any wonder then why the neighborhood filling station is all but extinct?

    In 10 or so years, we won't complain about the price of gasoline because we'll plug our vehicles into an electric outlet every night. And when that time comes, we'll remember the good old days. You know -- the days when every neighborhood had a convenience store.

    Friday, April 11, 2008

    As Investments, Airlines Have Bumpy Rides

    Until recently, I had four distinct memories of Charleston's airport.

    The most vivid, of course, was my first landing. I kept wondering if the pilot was ever going to descend low enough to land when, all of a sudden, the runway was right under the plane. That first landing on a hilltop was an unforgettable thrill. And then wondering whether the pilot would ever get the plane stopped in time more or less topped the thrill of landing.

    That landing brought back memories of a plane crash at the airport many years prior. I remembered the dope-filled DC-7 that came in too low and went kersplat. The plane crash, however, wasn't as newsworthy as was the response by a sheriff's deputy. At first, he was praised for getting to the crash scene so quickly. Then it was learned that he was actually there to meet the plane.

    After Tom Wolfe's bestseller "The Right Stuff" was made into a movie, the Charleston airport was named in honor of Brig. Gen. Charles "Chuck" Yeager. You just knew that Chuck Yeager had the right stuff when he quipped that having the airport named for him must be an honor because it's so hard to land a plane there.

    And my other memory of the airport was reading a newspaper article from the mid-1940s in which the author pointed out the benefits of building Charleston's (proposed new) airport at Teays Valley to serve both Huntington and Charleston. That did not happen. Charlestonians wanted their own airport regardless of its location.

    Allow me to pause here and mention Warren Buffett. As you know, Mr. Buffett became one of the world's richest men because he is a brilliant investor. Even so, the Sage of Omaha once made a poor stock pick -- US Airways. He later conceded his error and said, "If capitalists had been present at Kitty Hawk when the Wright brothers' plane first took off, they should have shot it down." No one, not even Warren Buffett, has made money on airline investments.

    Until now, that is. Because this time, it's different.

    The descendents of the tribe that flattened seven of Charleston's hills by moving enough earth and rock to rival the construction of the Panama Canal are now going to get into the airline business. Yeager Airport is going to be home to a startup, discount airline -- code name: Jet America.

    My sources tell me that investors and public officials from Kanawha County sealed the deal after being flown to Nebraska, where they feasted on Omaha steaks at Warren's Buffet, a trendy eatery in Scotts Bluff.

    Charleston, Kanawha County and the state have announced they will pony up $2.2 million in seed money for the Jet America start-up. All of this money comes from taxes or public grants.

    Jet America is modeled after Skybus, the discount carrier that operated out of Columbus, Ohio. In less than a year of operation, Skybus lost so much money that it unceremoniously pulled the plug April 4. Travelers were stranded. Employees were left in the lurch. And everyone who held a ticket for a future flight is probably out their money.

    It goes without saying that Port Columbus airport, the state of Ohio and investors have lost money -- about $160 million. Yet just last spring, Skybus was going to revitalize Port Columbus and central Ohio. Because that time, it was different.

    In this current round of airline bankruptcies, the airlines are blaming high fuel prices. Before this, they blamed pilots' salaries. Before that, they blamed machinists' salaries. Before that, it was airport fees or not enough landing slots.

    The reason why airlines go in and out of bankruptcy so often is actually quite simple -- there is too much capacity in the industry. Too many seats lead to poaching customers to gain market share.

    There seems to be no shortage of people who think airlines are a good investment. The business does have a certain allure, not unlike that of horse racing. Perhaps, it is that allure that makes investors convince themselves that this time, it's different.

    But really. What do I know? I don't own airline stock.

    Friday, March 28, 2008

    Huxley’s America: A Nation on Drugs

    The numbers are in: More than 2.3 million American adults are behind bars. That's one out of 99 -- or more than one percent.

    The prison population has essentially tripled since 1988. And if you add in all American adults who are on parole, home confinement or still in the corrections system, the number grows to more than 3 percent of the United States population.

    What does the current prison headcount say about our society?

    China reports 1.5 million adults in jail, and its population is more than four times that of ours. If China, the nation we love to criticize for its human rights policies, had the same incarceration rate we do, then China's jail population would swell to more than 14 million. Boy, oh boy, would sanctimonious Americans squawk if China had 14 million jail cells.

    How many Americans are in jail? If you fenced West Virginians in, you'd still have to import everyone from Wyoming to equal 2.3 million people. Kentucky with its 4.2 million Kentuckians could represent our nation's halfway house.

    Drug use is the driving force behind the boom in American incarceration. Some people shoot heroin. Some smoke pot. College students pop Ritalin at exam time. Elementary schools force-feed Ritalin to children just to spite parents who tune out to Pink Floyd. Doctors and pain clinics prescribe heavy-duty painkillers as if handing out Halloween candy. (In fairness, patients would sue doctors into the poor house if they didn't.) And teenagers just steal whatever is in the family medicine cabinet or use their allowance to buy ecstasy for special occasions.

    Of those incarcerated felons who aren't in jail for using or selling drugs, a significant number were convicted of a drug-related crime, e.g.: robbing a convenience store to get money to buy drugs.

    The crime numbers that astound me the most haven't even been published because there is no way to calculate them.

    First, consider the billions of dollars circulating throughout the underground economy. Just how many bales of cash has America air-mailed to Colombia, Mexico, Afghanistan and other foreign countries to purchase illegal drugs?

    Secondly, billions of dollars are spent on legal drugs. Hospice care alone is a major pipeline for narcotics. Medicare and Medicaid, as well as insurance companies, shell out big bucks for narcotics. And we have to include over-the-counter drugs in this calculation. People get high on Nyquil, and Sudafed becomes meth. Before ecstasy, teens mixed aspirin with Coca Cola. Big Pharma rules the drug scene!

    And, finally, there is the cost of policing and warehousing. Whether it's the extra cost to pharmacies for hiding Sudafed from cold sufferers, the budget of the Drug Enforcement Administration, or that new federal prison that Sen. Robert C. Byrd calls an economic development project, the cost of policing our drug culture is enormous.

    If we could cut our drug-induced social costs by half, then we could use that money to turn America into a Utopian paradise.

    Couldn't we?

    I am not so naive as to believe that we'll eliminate the drug scene. However, until the late 1960s, Americans certainly did a better job of managing it.

    What happened in the 1960s was dreadful. A generation of Americans (my generation) actually believed they could do what had always been dreamed about but never achieved -- create Utopia. Free love, mellowing marijuana and LSD made it so.

    In 1932, Aldous Huxley wrote "Brave New World" as a parody of Utopian society. He wrote about the world becoming a dystopia, wherein families and family values were crushed, promiscuity was the norm and soma (a hallucinogen) became the drug of choice.

    Huxley also predicted test-tube babies. While that has not happened yet, we're surely closing the gap. In the interim, we have segregated Alphas from Gammas the old-fashioned, Wizard-of-Oz way with certificates of accomplishment.

    The problems associated with our love of drugs have gone beyond building more prisons or reducing sentences. Steadily rising incarceration statistics tell us the problem is more complex than that.

    The real question before us is: Has America become Huxley's soma-driven dystopia? Our paper money routinely tests positive for cocaine. Though not every bill has been used to snort the white stuff, enough have to contaminate ATM's. And metropolitan drinking water now tests positive for a variety of pharmaceuticals.

    Bulging prisons would alarm sober people and force them to take action. But as our dirty money and tainted water indicate, Americans are everything but sober.

    Friday, February 29, 2008

    Delaying Tax Reform Delays Prosperity

    How many southerners does it take to change a light bulb?

    Actually, just one. However, it has long been a custom for gentlemen of the Confederacy to attend the changing ceremony and offer their recollections of the years of faithful service that the old bulb gave.

    My favorite light bulb joke reminds me so much of West Virginia's attitude toward business tax reform -- 40 watts was good enough in Grandpa's day; 40 watts will do for ours.

    "Unleashing Capitalism," Russell Sobel's collection of thought-provoking articles, makes it very clear that prosperity stops at the West Virginia state line. He has the pictures to prove it.

    Some of the many reasons advanced in the book for our losing the battle of border warfare point to the state's taxation of businesses. And in this category, the business franchise tax and property tax are not really taxes at all -- they are instruments of punishment aimed at foolhardy capitalists.

    Now that Sobel and his colleagues have exposed flaws in the business tax structure, the power brokers in state government have begun their defense of the status quo. This was not unexpected. But the defense they offer is pretty weak.

    The party line defense is: If we cut business taxes now, the state just might need that revenue during an economic downturn in the future.

    This defense for not cutting taxes works only when one condition has been met -- government spending has been trimmed to the bone, and there is nowhere else to cut. But such is not the case. Let's look at Clarksburg and Weston.

    The state-owned, state-operated Veteran's Nursing Home and the public-private Stonewall Resort are two examples of the creative ways that our state wastes money. The state has no business running a nursing home, a mission that it proved it couldn't handle before the facility even opened. As a hotelier, the state had already lost tens of millions of dollars operating park lodges before dreaming up the Stonewall project.

    If West Virginia politicians were farmers, they'd fertilize their fields with rock salt and then sit back and wait for a bumper crop of vine-ripened pickles and boughs of flossy sauerkraut. And when the crops predictably failed, they'd sow more salt.

    We know that the business tax code is punitive. Toyota's incredibly successful engine factory in Putnam County owes its success to, in large part, special arrangements that allow for tax avoidance. The state tax code was the deal breaker -- no tax relief, no factory.

    Before Toyota, we had the super tax credit model for picking winners. As I recall, this credit was the workaround for the notorious gross sales tax on business.

    Whether you tax capital and inventory or a company's gross receipts makes little difference to the balance sheet. These types of taxes have the same effect in that they work against building the capital account.

    Time and time again, we have seen substantial capital investment in plant and equipment as a result of the elimination (or very substantial reduction) of business taxes. Yet our state's leaders fail to comprehend the simple but obvious message -- reform the tax code for all businesses, and prosperity will follow.

    My biggest concern regarding tax reform in West Virginia is the current notion that we must cautiously phase out a specific tax. This indicates to me that nobody in state government has a comprehensive tax plan. Such tentative phase-outs also can be translated as meaning that nobody understands the tax base well enough to even craft tax models for the future.

    Business tax reform is the best way to create jobs. And it needs to happen sooner rather than later if we expect to keep the lights on.

    Friday, February 8, 2008

    Shapiro Brings Clarity to the Welfare State, Health Care

    Book Review:

    Is the welfare state justified?

    Finally, there is a lucid answer to that question. I say lucid, because, in the past, the answer always has been given from the perspective of the bleeding-heart liberal or the "eat-cake" conservative.

    The lucid answer that I refer to comes from the pen of Dr. Daniel Shapiro, professor of philosophy at West Virginia University. He has done a remarkable service for society with the publication of his new book "Is the Welfare State Justified?" (Cambridge University Press, 2007).

    On seeing the book's cover, the first question I wanted Dr. Shapiro to answer was: Is the welfare state justifiable?

    He dutifully answered me by defining the two most important social welfare programs that we have -- health care and retirement income. This is the first time that I have read anything regarding health and old age benefits wherein the author bothered with definitions. How novel!

    Each of us will succumb to illness or injury in our lifetime, and we have come to expect medical care when we need it. The option of not helping the ill or the injured was settled long ago. We cannot stand idly by and watch others suffer.

    Hippocrates offered pain relief to his patients by having them chew on willow bark. Today, the same drug (aspirin) is available over the counter. You may think my example as trivial. However, I chose aspirin for a reason. Going from doctor-prescribed herbs to self-medicating patients represents, at least in my mind, the quantum leap that has landed us in our current health care dilemma.

    Once upon a time, there was one Hippocrates. Hence, health care was rationed as he could see only a limited number of patients. Today, we have Docs-in-a-Box available 24/7. Yet we believe health care is rationed too stringently. Is it?

    Dr. Shapiro discusses the aspect of rationing health care in a thorough manner. But before diving in, he takes special care to educate the reader about what we refer to as private health insurance and government health care. We have neither private (market health insurance) nor government insurance (national health insurance). We have a hodgepodge system of health care options cobbled together as a result of federal and state legislation and state insurance regulations.

    Make no mistake -- health care is rationed now and will continue to be rationed. Dr. Shapiro describes how both systems (market and national insurance) ration care and then makes his recommendation for the best plan.

    "Is the Welfare State Justified?" also delves into the sources of retirement income. If we live long enough, we'll need some form of income subsidy. Should government (the taxpayer) bear the expense of old age benefits? Or should individuals (and their families) bear this responsibility?

    Once again, the author points to a system that is neither a national plan nor a market plan. Our retirement plans have resulted from years of meddling with the tax code. And like my aspirin example, "if it feels good at the time, then chew on it" seems to be the way our government has dealt with the regulation and taxation of old-age income.

    In the past 50 years, health care and retirement income have come to be viewed as entitlements. We know that Social Security and Medicare are bankrupting this nation. The situation is only going to get worse.

    Medicare and Medicaid have survived this long on the kindness of cost-shifting their respective burdens to group health insurance policyholders. Social Security is failing based solely on demographics. We cannot tax today's youth enough to keep the Baby Boomers on the golf course.

    Policymakers could right the ship in time before it sinks if they would consider Dr. Shapiro's analysis and recommendations. Because his arguments are based on the philosophy of social welfare, and not on the partisan politics of entitlements, Dr. Shapiro succeeds in understanding how to overhaul the welfare state.

    By coincidence, I began reading "Is the Welfare State Justified?" just after re-reading "Theory of the Leisure Class" by Thorstein Veblen. Though written a century ago, Veblen understood exactly where society was headed. He coined the term "conspicuous consumption." High-priced goods and services sometimes are referred to as Veblen goods, meaning that people desire them more as their price increases. Thus, do you wonder why increases in health care costs outpace the general inflation rate?

    I can only hope that our policymakers will read Dr. Shapiro's book. His insight on the philosophy of the welfare state outclasses anything that I have read prior.

    Friday, January 18, 2008

    O Death, Where Is Thy Certificate Of Need?

    Just before the holidays, I went to the doctor's office thinking I had a routine ailment. But while in the waiting room, I had one of those unexpected health scares -- a mortality check so to speak.

    As a new patient, I had to fill out several forms. The first, of course, requests that all important personal identification information that consists of an identity thief's bonanza. The next three pages asked me "Have you ever had ... ?" With pen in hand, I checked boxes in the "Yes" and "No" columns.

    The next page asked me the reason for my visit. So I wrote: ingrown toenail.

    It was page six that explained the doctor's privacy policy in fine print. Though difficult to read -- the copier must have been low on toner that day -- I still had to acknowledge receiving an explanation of the policy with my signature.

    At this point, I thought this podiatrist's privacy policy ought to include advice on keeping one's feet covered while in public. I have seen so many sandal-clad, ugly feet that I wish people would learn, once and for all, that Birkenstocks only make their naked feet look mangier. And then there are painted toenails, especially the ones that are half grown out, that really make me cringe.

    Then came the killer. Page seven wanted to know if I had a living will and a medical power of attorney. When a podiatrist wants to know this information, then one has to confront the seriousness of any medical condition.

    I had been derelict in executing a medical power of attorney because I never felt comfortable with asking someone to end my life. That is such an awesome responsibility to dump on someone else.

    But who wants to live Terri Schiavo's life? Nobody wants family and friends to end up in court trying to decipher his or her last wishes.

    While sitting in a foot doctor's office, I confronted my dereliction of duty and boldly selected my medical power of attorney-- the West Virginia Health Care Authority.

    I didn't even know that the HCA existed until Clarksburg's United Hospital Center decided to move to a new location about five years ago. I live very close to UHC, and I was hoping that the hospital would stay put.

    To move, however, UHC had to seek the HCA's approval of a new certificate of need. The process was time consuming and finally had to be decided by the state Supreme Court of Appeals. The court invalidated UHC's certificate of need because the HCA broke its own rules in granting it.

    The HCA rules specifically stated that a replacement hospital had to be built within a five-mile radius of the existing facility. UHC's new location was eight miles distant. The HCA has since amended the five-mile rule to accommodate UHC.

    Initially, I was mad at the HCA for approving the move. But then a paramedic set me straight. He told me that I lived too close to the hospital to be Life-Flighted. He also said that even five miles was too close to call in the Life-Flight helicopter. But eight miles meant that the chopper could pick me up.

    In essence, the paramedic told me the HCA was doing me and everyone else who lived in Clarksburg a favor. I agreed with him and began thinking about the HCA in a positive way.

    More recently, the HCA has been involved with deciding who can own and operate CT scanners. It seems that a bunch of greedy doctors want to take that business away from hospitals. Charleston Area Medical Center has said that it makes an annual profit of $45 million from its CT scanning business, which it uses to subsidize money-losing procedures. Doctors, if allowed to own scanners, would just subsidize their already extravagant lifestyles.

    I don't know how the CT scanner issue will play out. But I do know this: Only the HCA has the ability and the wisdom to know exactly how many CT scanners we need and, more importantly, where those machines need to be located.

    In short, the HCA -- and only the HCA -- knows exactly how much health care each West Virginian needs. This is why I chose the authority to implement my end-of-life directives. The HCA won't keep me alive any longer than I need to be nor will it pull my plug prematurely.