For quite some time we have been having trouble with our Verizon land line.  The phone rings once all by itself – at one time it was always about ten thirty eight at night.  We called it our “go to sleep call.”  Whenever it rains heavily, the dial tone would disappear.  Recently, the phone would ring with nobody there.  Recently, any time we made a call, another call “bled” through like an old fashioned party line.  A relative said she had been trying to call us for weeks but always got a very rapid “busy” signal.  We had no message on our voice machine.

Because I have Suddenlink, I decided to switch to their phone service.  While I was on the phone with the Suddenlin rep, the party line “bleed” through happened.  “Hear that?” I asked him.  “Yes,” he said.  I had him call me back on my cell phone, and we completed the transaction.

I guess the phone companies are not much interested in investing in maintaining their land lines.  Sort of like paper newspapers, they are slowly fading into the past.

What A Strong Move He Gasped !!

Watching basketball is fun and listening to the “expert” commentators is part of that fun.  One thing I have noticed is this “gushing” when some big guy standing under the basket gets the ball down low then with a Herculean effort actually lifts the practically weightless basketball up, up all the way over his head then hops a few inches and dunks the ball.  “What strength!” the commentators scream.  “Look at all that power!”  “What a move !!”

Correct me if I am wrong but lifting a ball over your head is not really my idea of an obvious display of superhuman strength.  But it is a “power move” and shows how “the big guy” can really “muscle” his way under the basket.  Good grief.  Then what I also like is if the ball happens to be smacked out of the big guy’s hands his arms continue to move straight up over his head as if his upward arm movement was so powerful he can’t stop it … his arms have to go way up, straight up and flail around helplessly without the ball.  And the look of shock, amazement and “I was obviously fouled” on the big guy’s face is also priceless.

A good flop is always fun to watch but nothing beats the superhuman effort associated with some seven foot guy actually lifting a basketball over his head.  Now that is power.  That is strength.  Awesome, baby, awesome.

Time/No Time to Raise Taxes

On a regular basis we seem to hear some version of the following from political types:  “Now is not the time to raise taxes.”  “This is not the time to raise taxes.”  “In this economy we can’t afford to raise taxes.”

My question is why don’t these same people let us know when it is a good time to raise taxes?  Wouldn’t it be refreshing if someone would announce “Now is the perfect time to raise taxes.”  Perhaps some research would reveal when it was a “good time” to raise taxes.  Let’s see:  August 1976 now that was a good time to raise taxes.  Oh yeah, and September through November 1997 was an excellent time to raise taxes.  Or maybe this:  “Now is the best time to raise taxes since July 9, 1922 which was an absolutely perfect time to raise taxes.”

Maybe we could use a version of the terror alert system.  Green would be raise taxes.  Yellow would be neutral.  Red would mean no new taxes.  At least we would know when and when not to raise taxes.

In Defense of Jeff Eldridge

I spent a year in the House of Delegates and came to know Jeff Eldridge pretty well.  He is a great fellow who takes his work seriously and is someone whom I feel conducts himself well and does a good job in the House.  Jeff impresses me as a solid fellow by which I mean he has substance and can be trusted and counted on to do the right thing.  Even before I knew of his fight club background, I recognized that Jeff is the kind of person you want in the foxhole beside you.  Solid.

The “blow back” from his Barbie Doll bill I’m sure was a surprise to Jeff.  But for those who criticize him for “wasting the Legislature’s time” I would submit that wasting time is what the Legislature generally does.  Jeff’s bill didn’t “move the needle” an inch on that one.  You could probably cover Kanawha Boulevard with the bills that get introduced each year and go nowhere. 


Call from Newt

On March 12, my phone rang and a pleasant sounding guy said he wanted my opinion on behalf of Newt Gingrich and some group that I think had the word America or Americans in it and would I listen to a brief message from the Speaker.  I said sure and then heard a pre-recorded message from Newt suggesting that we should lower our corporate tax rate to that of Ireland and we should eliminate capital gains as they did in China.

The fellow came back on and asked what I thought.  “What is Ireland’s corporate tax rate?” I asked.  He said he didn’t know.  “Why would we want to emulate China?”  I asked.  He quickly terminated our call.

I thought those were two pretty good questions but I guess they weren’t. 

Sports and Politics

Have you ever noticed a certain similiarity between sports and politics?  Both have an obvious and unrelenting presence on radio and TV.  Shows are devoted exclusively to discussing, dissecting, arguing and predicting the various aspects and personalities of both “professions.”  In both, there is no particular requirement to have an opinion.  There are also no particular requirements to particpate in either field other than a willingness to do so and the ability to win.  The fans in both fields are often unquestioning “boosters” of whatever their “team” happens to do.  Those who support the other “team” are unfortunately often “hated” and demeaned as being “evil”, “supid” or worse.  Both fields encourage huge rallies with the “players” being center stage.  There is a lot of shouting, noise and excitement at rallies for both.  Both love to look back at the “history” of their team and the next game/election is a reason for great intensity, effort and “sacrifice.”  When a good player/coach/politician comes along, things happen.  When a mistake is made or an effort fails, that person is a “bum” and is criticized as a “failure.”  Not taking chances is often the preferred course of action.

Obviously, both sports and politics fill a human need.  Both can be uplifting and create splendid moments and memories.  Both create bonds and rivalries.  Both are constantly changing.

Go team!  Hurray for my/our/your side.

About the Economy

Economists are highly trained and well-educated.  However, economic theory is just that – theory.  For the most part it is an attempt to apply formulas to data in order to predict results.  As we all know, if human commerce could be reduced to an intractable mathematical formula then it would be child’s play to make a fortune on Wall Street.  Simply put, there are too many variables in the economy to lend itself to such pronouncements.  No matter how much data is assembled, it still takes the subjective workings of a human mind to interpret the data, and very few if any people have the knowledge, experience and brains to make the right call. 

To me what went wrong with the economy is best understood by analogy.  When credit dried up, that is equivalent to an automobile losing oil.  The parts no longer work in harmony.  If you keep driving, the engine will blow up.  Adding to this, the housing bubble is like major gasoline refineries suddenly discovering that their huge storage tanks have faulty valves.  By reading the valves, they thought they had 100,000 gallons in the tank.  Upon closer inspection, the valve was faulty and the tank only contained 10,000 gallons.  Then on the highway all of the motorists also had faulty fuel guages. They thought they had more than half a tank.  As the car sputters to a stop, they realize they are out of gas.

So the government decides to start handing out gas and oil.  They pump the refiners tanks with more gas (the bank bailout) and deliver extra gas and oil to the gas stations (the states receiving stimulus funds).  The government even pulls up and hands out gas and oil to some stranded motorists.

Problem solved?  Not quite.  We still need to repair and replace all those faulty valves and guages (regulatory reform).  Then will people start driving, heading for their destinations and making it there?  That depends.  People are worried.  Will I get stranded without gas again?  How far will this tankful of gas the government gave me take me?  Should I turn around, shorten my trip, change my destination?

This is the human factor that cannot be controlled nor reduced to a formula.  A complex economy is the result of hundreds of thousands of individual decisions.  As those decisions are made then over time the traffic flow can be examined and some conclusions can be drawn.  No one quite frankly knows or can predict what the traffic patterns will become.  It might revert back to normal levels (recovery), it might come back on some roads and not others (recession) or although unlikely the vehicles could just pull off the road and stop (depression).

Maybe what this economic crisis has taught us is that if we are going to drive a car we need to become somewhat of a mechanic ourselves.  We need to be able to sense when the gas guage just has to be wrong.  We need to watch the temperature so we know when we are low on oil. We need to carry some extra gas on long trips so we aren’t stranded if the tank goes empty. 

In other words, we need to educate ourselves about how to use our labor and our assets to produce value.  That quite simply is what the economy is all about – producing value.  A stock that was “worth” $100 and has now dropped to $1 has lost what?  Value.  Think about what is valuable to you and invest in that. In the words of the analogy, don’t make unnecessary trips in your car.  Plan for where you need to go and take reasonable steps to get there anticipating that unexpected things will happen. 

Yes, the economy will recover.  The trick is to have buses for those who have abandoned their cars.  You may even have to pick up a hitchhiker here and there.  

Happy motoring! 

How to Save the Greenbrier

First, take a hard look.  The Greenbrier is not and never will be a destination resort.  It is a regional resort.  It has a rich history and has a truly unique infrastructure.  The beauty of the mountain setting is unmistakeable.  Forget about ideas like the “fusion” restaurant and the disco bar.  Upscale comfort is what the Greenbrier can offer.

So what should the owners do?

Sell of a piece to a casino operator with a proven track record.  A successful casino must also have first class entertainment.  This means converting space to create performance areas and performance theaters.  The retail shopping needs to be greatly expanded, and this should be done in converted space that might look like Fremont Street in Las Vegas which has a canope that runs a light show and music.  Package concessions for skiing at Snowshoe, white rafting, tours of local caverns, horseback riding, fishing, hunting, golf, hiking, mountain biking, road courses, hands on participation arts and crafts along with extreme skate boarding, a teen hangout and all the existing activities.

Then promote, promote, promote.  Emphasize that anyone can spend a week at the Greenbrier and do something and see something different every single day.  Sell it as a regional multi-day vacation spot with gambling, good food, shopping, entertainment, abundant activities all in a pristine mountain setting with access by interstate, airplane or train.  Market heavily in the DC area.  Also provide for a 20% discount if you have a West Virginia driver’s license and see what happens. Second only to the profits from the casino and shows, the convention business will seriously consider this package.  Vegas plus the Greenbrier plus unparalleled outdoor activites all in one place sitting in a mountain setting that many people have never seen?  A marketing dream come true. 

Now here is the important and slightly tricky part.  Do all of this while preserving the quiet, comfortable elegance of the hotel itself.  Put all of the “activities” away from the insulated “cocoon” of the main hotel.  This “marries” the “action” of Vegas with the “peace and quiet” of a famous Southern spa and resort.  As things stand now, the sedate, comfortable elegance of the Greenbrier is all there is.  It needs to be “surrounded” by “bright light” action.  The idea is to pair “sleepy time down South” with near constant activity elsewhere.  Because hardcore gamblers will be coming, provide non-Carlton Varney rooms near the casino action for those folks who will gamble all day and night (and produce most of the profit).  Others who might gamble for an hour or so a day would be willing to pay to stay in the historical section with its peace, quiet and comfort but they would know that if you are tired of playing golf, reading on the porch, having tea, etc., you can “cross over” into the “wild side.”

Finally, you need something unique.  The Greenbrier has it – the bunker.  Turn that into a first class museum with “tons” of interactive features.  Rather than walking people through the bunker and telling them what it was model it after the numerous museums that have video presentations, simulated activity and a gift shop.  Capture that time in our history.  If properly done, this feature would be incredible.

If all this happens White Sulphur and Lewisburg need to prepare to grow.  The employees this will attract will become permanent residents of the area.  .Crime and the need for increased social services will increase so be prepared.  The hotel/motel tax should help here.  The state legislature should allow all not just half of those funds to be used by Lewisburg and White Sulphur Springs.  Half going to a CVB is unnecessarily redundant.  Let the new Greenbrier do its own promoting.

Put all of this in a new company where the casino operator has a large stake.  Register the stock that would be owned by CSX so they can sell out to the public.  The railroad really needs to get out of this business.

All of this would take two to three years to create.  That would be about the time the national recession should be reversing.  Also now is the time for this type of investment to be made when interest rates are down and prices should be stable.


Having done this if a theme park can be attracted to some of the Greenbrier farmland acreage, my goodness things wil be interesting here in West Virginia.

Just a thought..

In Further Defense of Justice Benjamin

I practiced law with Brent Benjamin from the time he graduated from law school until he was elected to the West Virginia Supreme Court.  The Massey recusal case pending before the US Supreme Court has justifiably generated a lot of interest and commentary.  Unfortunately, much of the arguments assailing Justice Benjamin are in my opinion typical misguided political assaults.

The question presented by this appeal is “twisty” to say the least.  The fact that Don Blankenship spent tons of money to defeat Warren McGraw is easy to “flip” and say he spent the money in support of Justice Benjamin.  Truth be known, McGraw’s opponent could have been Daffy Duck and Blankenship still would have gone after Justice McGraw. 

Suppose this wasn’t about money.  Suppose I had saved Justice Benjamin’s daughter from stepping in front of a speeding car.  Should he recuse himself in a case involving me or in which I represent one of the parties?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  How do we draw these lines?  I suspect that the reason the US Supreme Court took this case may have less to do with deciding this murky recusal issue and is more about giving them a platform on which to examine the propriety and legality of these 527 organizations that Congress inserted into the campaign laws.  Don’t be surprised if the case ultimately deals with that not whether or not Justice Benjamin should recuse himself.

In closing, let me tell you a few things about Justice Benjamin.  In all the years I worked with Brent I NEVER heard him cuss or say anything critical or mean about anyone.  Believe me, that is not something I can say about most of my other law partners!  Brent is also very, very bright.  Now he may not be the hardest working person I have ever met (he habitually put things off until the last minute) but having said that Brent understands the law and has the kind of brain power that you want in a judge.  In short, Justice Benjamin has the qualities which I admire in a judge, namely, judicial temperment (see above) and smarts (see above). 

 If I was representing Caperton against Massey would I be concerned that Justice Benjamin would be prejudiced against my client?  Not at all.