Sunday, June 29, 2008

Fresh Eggs

In Virginia, most new laws take effect on July 1. Some highlights of this year's handiwork of the General Assembly:
  • Organized animal fights and cockfights are now felonies. Also officials have greater ability to search after dark without seeking a new warrant. When substances or equipment are used to help the animal fight it will now be a felony. These laws were prompted by the much publicized Michael Vick case.
  • An array of new laws and procedures are designed to patch gaps in the mental health system were prompted by the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech. The intent of the laws is to make identifying, monitoring, and treating persons with mental illness more streamline, humane, and to facilitate the sharing of mental health records. Hopefully the state has provided sufficient additional funding for staffing our mental health agencies and the courts that will deal with these extensive changes.
These new laws illustrate how events can push legislators to act. For years, animal rights activists had urged the General Assembly to get tough with dogfighting and cockfighting. And advocates for the mentally ill had pointed out the weaknesses and flaws in state laws, procedures, and funding. We can all hope for proactive leadership from our elected officials (like the governor is attempting with transportation) but the reality is that politicians are more frequently reactive. They wait to see where the public is going and then jump in front of the parade! It is true that little is achieved until a consensus forms - high profile events can be that catalyst.
Other new laws include:
  • A couple new laws should help shorten lines at DMV offices - drivers licenses will be for eight years rather than five (the fee remains at $4/year) and online vehicle registration renewals will get a $1 discount while going in person to your local DMV office will cost $5 more!
  • Sheriffs' deputies will be a bit more stealthy. A new law will allow sheriff's department vehicles to be colors other than brown or white, but they still must have the star on each front door.
  • School bus drivers will be forbidden from using cell phones while driving - how about doing the same thing, at least for handheld phones, for all drivers! A few weeks ago I was almost done-in by a driver who had a phone to the ear, a drink in the other hand (which was also on the wheel), and a cigarette in the mouth. Too much multi-tasking.
  • Restaurants and bars can now sell drinks that mix beer and wine with liquor. Enjoy your sangria or boilermaker. But, make sure you have a designated driver. Or roost in the bar overnight!
  • An archaic law (so described by the governor) was repealed. It allowed a man who sexually attacked a girl aged 14-16 to get off the criminal hook if he offered to marry the victim. Legislators also eliminated the law that required victims of sexual assault to take a lie detector test and commit to prosecution of the attacker before the state paid for a forensic medical exam.
  • It is now a crime for adults to French kiss a child younger than 13. It carries a pretty high punishment - up to a year in jail, $2,500 fine, and registration as a sex offender.
Don't be a dumb cluck - obey these laws!

Eggsactly.... err, Exactly

A letter in the Roanoke Times reminds us of one huge policy difference between the current congressman, Bob Goodlatte, and his challenger, Sam Rasoul.
Mr. Goodlatte, always the loyal Bush lapdog, voted against the Children’s Health Insurance Program Extension and Improvement. Using his normal excuse of "too expensive" (doesn't apply to war, does it?) he took a strong stand against children's health in the 6th district and across the nation.
The letter writer, a nurse, reminds us that Mr. Rasoul believes the federal government has a vital role in assuring that all children have health care. Healthy kids do better in school. Health problems untended during childhood may become more expensive health issues later in life.
The writer also makes an excellent point about Rasoul's willingness to listen to other points of view and to consider new and innovative ways to address health and other issues. He is supporting fundamental change in the way Congress works. By contrast, the incumbent seems stuck in the politics of the early 90s when he was first elected and marches to the drumbeat of the Republican leadership and president - even when that drumbeat is contrary to the best interests of his constituents.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Corn pone

Corn pone is a type of cornbread made from a thicker dough that is hand shaped and then baked or fried in butter, bacon grease, or lard. In slang it is sometimes used to describe an unsophisticated rural person, kind of like the words "hick" or "redneck." Mark Twain wrote of corn-pone opinions.
Some folks around here might be corn pone, but they enjoy reading and the good deals on books found at the Green Valley  Book Fair which opened today and continues through July 13. Just off I-81 at the Bridgewater/Mt. Crawford exit, it is easy to find. 
If you enjoy American history, let me recommend American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic, by Joseph Ellis for your summer reading. Examining key events and personalities in our nation's most creative era, from the Revolutionary War through the Louisiana Purchase, Ellis traces our gradual change from revolution to an energetic national government and the rise of the two-party system that is so important to contemporary politics. His cast of characters includes George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and the lesser known, but equally fascinating, Alexander McGillivray. The author celebrates their achievements, but provides incisive analysis of their failures such as their inability to end slavery and to foster a just settlement with Native Americans. While parts of American Creation read like a bit more editing would have improved the finished product, I still found Ellis' work compelling and very interesting.
Ellis is also author of Founding Brothers, which won a Pulitzer Prize, and American Sphinx, that explores the complex mind of Thomas Jefferson. You might find a deal on these books at Green Valley. If not, they are available online and in bookstores everywhere.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Valley grist

No surprise that the House of Delegates Rules Committee, on a mostly party line 11-4 vote, killed Governor Kaine's transportation bill. The same committee did advance the the Senate bill increasing the gas tax to the floor where it will likely die by a party line vote. Playing politics, the GOP is hoping to back the Democrats into a politically difficult vote. Watch out Repubs, sometimes a cornered rooster fights back.
The General Assembly will recess for a couple weeks to cool off in the summer heat. Maybe when constituents get hold of them, the legislators will want to get back to the Capitol!
(Cartoon from The News Leader)
The Supreme Court ruling in the D.C. gun case is, of course, front page news in the Shenandoah Valley where hunting and gun ownership are taken for granted. It is a landmark case because, for the first time, the court has found (5-4) an individual right to keep and bear guns. But a close reading of the decision makes clear the justices were not endorsing an absolute right for anyone to own/possess any gun at any time or place. In the majority opinion, Justice Scalia wrote that the U.S. Constitution does not permit "the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home." In typical fashion, the court's decision is pretty narrow and left open the power of state and local governments to enact reasonable regulations such as gun-free school zones, registration, and laws about concealed weapons. We'll see future cases that will spell out the meaning of reasonable. With some of the least restrictive laws in the nation, the ruling will have little impact in Virginia. 
Augusta Republicans elected Bill Shirley chair during a Thursday night meeting. Not to dig through all that litter again, but you'll recall the dispute between the reactionary right wingers (the Kurt Michael/Scott Sayre faction) and the conservatives (Larry Roller/Emmett Hanger faction) that led to disputed meetings, appeals to the district and state committees and threats of law suits. Some say Shirley was a compromise candidate, but that hardly seems likely as only the reactionary right wing faction (44 of them) was seated at Thursday's meeting and their loudest cheerleader is crowing. Mr. Shirley is a nice guy whose style will be dramatically different from the abrasive Michael's leadership. But, he's pretty far to the right so the ideological bent of the local GOP will change little. Senator Hanger, how do you spell O U T C A S T in your own county committee? I do agree with Mr. Shirley's observation that the hen fight  in the Augusta GOP is "stranger than fiction."
One final kernel, the Staunton city manager will not recommend a 4-day workweek for city offices. Steve Owen said the estimated annual savings of $21,000 would not justify the change and would create hardships for citizens and some offices.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Good Eggs - Bad Eggs

Governor Tim Kaine announced that Westport Corp. will invest $3 million to open an assembly plant in Roanoke. They will take over the 200,000 square foot Smurf-it building to build axles for the Volvo Heavy Truck Plant in Dublin. VA bested WV in competition for the plant that will create 60 jobs. Cock-a-doodle-do!
Corn prices are described as the "silent killer" for the poultry industry which is so important to the economy of the central Shenandoah Valley. Feed makes up 70% of the cost of producing chickens and turkeys. Corn prices have gone from $4.60/bushel at the first of the year to nearly $8.00/bushel recently. Most analysts think the federal mandate for 15 billion gallons of grain-based ethanol is a major reason for the nearly doubling of price. So, in addition to your morning bowl of corn flakes, you can expect to see prices rising for chicken, turkey, and beef too. Thanks Congress and President Bush. CCC has posted on this previously - the basic analysis stands.
The increase in feed prices could lead to job losses. Pilgrim's Pride in Broadway has cut back on egg placements by 5% and they closed a NC plant and let go 1,100 employees.
Coarse cracked corn used to be the low cost ingredient in cheap wild bird food - no more. Gimme some thistle seed.


The Virginia Senate passed a gas tax increase that is a dead duck in the House of Delegates. The House is ready to kill the governor's transportation bill. In this game of chicken, they now burn some gas and go home until next week (which will be a short holiday week). 
The Senate bill would increase the gas tax by 1 cent per year over the next 6 years. It also increases the auto sales tax (3% to 3.5%) and the sales tax (5% to 5.25%) but decrease the sales tax on food (2.5% to 2%). There would also be regional fees for NOVA and Hampton Roads.
Assembly leaders were hardly clucking over their accomplishments so far. Senate Minority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) said, "We have been trying to do the impossible." Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), who introduced the gas tax bill noted, "The House is doing its thing. The governor is doing his thing, the Senate Democrats are doing their thing."
The Senate vote was along party lines.
CCC supports increasing the gas tax since it would fall on in-state and out-of-state motorists alike. CCC also supports decreasing the sales tax on food purchased in grocery stores - a very regressive tax. A "chicken in every pot" and all that!
While trolling the Richmond Times-Dispatch's coverage of the General Assembly, I came upon this tongue-in-cheek comment on a way to raise funds and lay more pavement.  But, it may not work as hoped - according to reports, a Nevada business is offering gas cards to stimulate its business which has gone soft due to rising gas prices.
Cluck. Cluck. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Scrambled Eggs With Cheese

Yesterday's post about fuel prices was apparently timely - in today's DNR there is "Schools Take On Rising Fuel Costs" detailing some of the actions that will likely help deal with soaring costs: turning off buses rather than idling in lines and delaying purchases of new buses (might be safety and economy foolish in the long run). It is smart to shut down rather than idle at a construction zone or delays longer than 30 seconds. An exchange student I met told me European motorists have for years shut down at stoplights and other long delays. High prices will likely force similar behavior changes among Americans. Heaven forbid we turn off the A/C.
Delegate Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) has joined a northern Virginia law firm in which his buddy David Albo (R-Fairfax) is a partner. No, he won't be making the long commute to NOVA to practice law, they'll open an office in Salem and take in an associate to free up time for Griffith's legislative work. Griffith is House majority leader and hopes to be speaker if the GOP can hold on to its dwindling majority. The firm does have a policy against lobbying the General Assembly - guess you don't have to lobby when you have roosters in the coop.
Yesterday a Republican member of the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors was on the news talking roads and sent a not-so-subtle shot across Griffith's and other Republican delegates' bows. He noted roads are issue #1 with local governments and issue #1 with his constituents and doing nothing will be remembered in November, 2009. Wonder if Griffith, Saxman, Landes, Lohr, Cline, and others heard his clucking? Or if they cared?
What will the General Assembly do with transportation? After a day of posturing and laying out their turf, today should see some fireworks (just in time for the 4th). House Republicans will kill the governor's bill - the only question is, will it go quietly in a hostile committee or be a wild shootout on the floor of the House? Senate Democrats rightfully killed bills about using royalties from off-shore drilling to pay for transportation. At best those bills are premature since the issue is before Congress and no royalties exist; at worst blatant political posturing. There are multiple fracture lines in the General Assembly - the Senate is controlled by Democrats, the House by anti-tax Republicans; most Democrats want a statewide funding solution, many Republicans favor regional funding (aren't we one commonwealth?); and the perennial split between urban and rural legislators over how funding will be directed.
The supervisor is right - Virginians will watch as our legislators run around like chickens with their heads chopped off. Might be time for a new flock in '09.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Energy Eggs II

Local news coverage on the impact of fuel costs on schools, especially rural divisions with long bus routes (all counties in the 6th District), prompted these thoughts:
  • Cut back on nondistrict athletic contests and other extracurricular activities, especially ones more than 75 miles away.
  • Bus stops should be no closer than 500 feet apart. I, and a line of cars, frequently stopped three times within 300 feet to pick up students in a village. All of us, and the bus, idling and wasting gas at each stop. Students don't deserve door-to-door service and can walk several hundred feet. Exceptions should certainly be made for safety reasons.
  • School divisions should consider bus routes only on main roads. Parents should be responsible to getting students to stops at the entrance to subdivisions, etc.
  • A four-day school week would offer many energy efficiencies for schools. But, the negatives may outweigh the positives.
What are your fuel efficient thoughts?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Upset in the Hen House

Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the most insightful reporter on state politics, has an interesting article on the unhappy chickens in the House of Delegates. Seems the House GOP caucus traveled west to scratch in high dollar corn at The Homestead. They brought along the lobbyists, the corporations, the trade associations, and the law firms to spread some $300,000 of high protein mash. All that is business as usual - Republicans and high priced lobbyists schmoozing ain't exactly news. But, what got the roosters upset was the timing. Yep, the "family values" Republicans held this feedfest on Father's Day forcing legislators and lobbyists, roosters and hens alike, to leave the chicks at home.
But the disconnect runs deeper than family values. Seems Speaker Howell and Majority Leader Griffith aren't clucking to the same note. Are they still smarting over their rift in the election of a new state chair? Howell supported Hager while Griffith supported Frederick, the eventual winner.
Schaprio reports that most of the big time lobbyists grazed far away from Frederick, who has said he won't seek reelection to his Prince William Co. House seat . . . but maybe his wife will. Cluck.
There are other signs of stress in the Republican hen house. Many chickens are, at this early stage, strangely disassociated from the presidential and senatorial campaigns in Virginia. Guess they aren't too thrilled with the candidates? The special session on transportation may showcase more cracks in the eggs as the anti-tax conservatives try to scramble any attempts by GOP moderates to compromise with the governor.
A bit of humor had all of them clucking at The Homestead Hen House - Don Hall, a car dealer, lobbyist, and usually in the Republican flock wore a pair of shorts with one leg red with elephants, the other blue with donkeys.
Peck. Peck.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Cleaning up the hen house

The Sierra Club is the oldest grassroots organization fighting for the environment. With over 1.3 million supporters, the Sierra Club it is one of the most influential voices in our nation's capitol. Currently it is pushing Congress for leadership on clean energy, fighting global warming, and raising fuel standards for cars and trucks. The Shenandoah Group of the Sierra Club has recently hosted forums on wind power and on railroads as an alternative widening I-81.
Do you know where the 6th CD candidates stand on issues affecting the environment? What should Congress do about global warming? Clean energy? Clean rivers? Unfortunately, I've heard too little from them about environmental issues facing the nation. Bob Goodlatte is claiming some credit for the Chesapeake Bay restoration provisions in the recent Ag Bill, but he was pretty much a late bird on that one. According to League of Conservation Voters, Goodlatte has one of worst environmental records going, scoring 0% in the 1st session of 110th Congress and 0% in the 109th Congress (it doesn't get much better in previous terms). Sam Rasoul's website has only minimal discussion on environmental issues.
Voters should demand these candidates talk plainly and honestly about global warming, energy, clean water, and other environmental issues that will face the 111th Congress and beyond. Issues that will affect the quality of life here, in the Shenandoah Valley - one of the most beautiful places on planet Earth.
Maybe the Shenandoah Group can partner with other environmental organizations to host a candidates' forum (or a series of them throughout the district) specifically on these issues?
It is time to clean out the hen house. Or at least begin talking about it!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Say Ho

Took a trip to hear Scott Miller in a solo performance at Ashland Coffee & Tea. Scott was raised on a farm at Swoope, VA (his parents still live there), attended Buffalo Gap and graduated from Stuarts Draft. From there it was off to William & Mary and a degree (history, I think). He now lives in east Tennessee and performs solo and with his band, The Commonwealth. Occasionally his tours bring him to Virginia where family always shows up creating a reunion atmosphere. 
I've heard Scott several times with the Commonwealth, most recently in Johnson City while he and the band were recording a live CD, "Reconstruction."
One of my favorites is "Amtrak Crescent"
This extended clip from Studio 865 at the University of Tennessee features an interview and in-studio performances of several favorites: "Sa Ho," "Daddy Raised a Boy," "Made a Mess of This Town," among others. Enjoy.
Check out his website and buy a CD (also available on Amazon). More Scott Miller videos/songs are on YouTube.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Chicken Salad or Chicken____?

On the eve of a special session of the General Assembly to deal with Virginia transportation needs, Delegate Chris Saxman proposes using royalties from offshore oil and gas to fund road maintenance and construction. Saxman is the master of smoke and mirrors. The maestro of something for nothing. To say this idea is "ahead of the game" is generous at best - there is no game.
The state's transportation needs are here and now. The General Assembly and governor need to find common ground for a revenue stream to meet today's needs. In yesterday's post, CCC supported a tax on gas and diesel as the most honest (falls directly on those using the roads) and fairest (would be paid by both in-state and out-of-state motorists and truckers).
The delegate's proposal has nothing to do with the present needs. A federal moratorium on off-shore drilling has been in place since the Reagan administration. There is no guarantee it will be reversed by Congress. If it is, there will follow years of legal and environmental preparation before the first drill is sunk. If marketable quantities of oil and natural gas are off the Virginia coast, it will be years after that before they are brought to market and any royalties are paid to the state.
So why make the proposal now? The rabid anti-tax delegate never lets sound policy making get in the way of his agenda. This is smoke to distract from the real work of the special session. It is also presidential and senatorial politics.
When problems demand solutions we hope our leaders will rise above smoke and politics. We hope.
This proposal, made now, is chicken ____.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Scrambled Eggs

The Harrisonburg School Board presented a report clearing coaches in the case of alleged drug use among football players. The independent investigation suggested changes in school policy to help prevent future drug use among students. One recommendation - random drug tests. As CCC suggested in a prior post, the school board will not release the entire report, citing confidentiality of both students and staff.
About 250 people showed up at a wind energy forum sponsored by Shenandoah Forum to learn more about a proposal to put 130 turbines in the George Washington National Forest along the VA-WV line in Shenandoah, Rockingham, and Hardy counties. Opponents cite harm to bird and bat populations from the 400 foot tall structures and contend this site is not optimal for year-around electric generation. Supporters contend this is one of the better sites in the mid-Atlantic and that it can boost local economic activity through tourism. Last winter the Shenandoah Valley Chapter of the Sierra Club held a similar forum in Harrisonburg on the Highland County wind farm. CCC supports the development of properly sited wind turbines when environmental impacts are minimized. It is a small part of a national energy solution using renewable sources. We must avoid the NIMBY syndrome and keep an open mind when considering alternative energy sources.
Speaking of the local Sierra Club, they sponsored a forum on railroads at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton last night. The speaker, from Rail Solution, presented a detailed and interesting overview of rail options in Virginia, the entire I-81 corridor, and nationwide. Rail offers an efficient, safe, environmentally-friendly, and economically viable option to widening the interstate. Lots of facts and figures - almost too much to take in at once. Unfortunately, there were only about a dozen people present and no media coverage. Sam Rasoul, the Democratic candidate for House of Representatives, attended and asked probing questions about costs, public-private funding, and the European experience with high-speed rail.
And more on the transportation issue - Governor Kaine has called a special session of the General Assembly to deal with transportation funding. Kaine seems to be saying "Yes, we can" while the Republican House leadership says "No, we can't." The governor has proposed raising various taxes to raise funds for roads. CCC says raise the gas tax and dedicate it totally to road maintenance and construction. The Virginia gas tax is below the national average. Would an additional 5 or 10 cents even be noticed with $4/gallon gas? Plus, unlike the governor's tax hikes, the gas tax hits those who use the roads, including out-of-state motorists.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Energy Eggs

What do Staunton, Harrisonburg, Blue Ridge Community College, Pilgrim's Pride, and the University of Virginia have in common? They are all considering four day workweek. But, they are not all considering exactly the same arrangement.
Staunton, Harrisonburg, and Rockingham governments are looking at a four day week in which various offices would be closed one day a week but be open extended hours on the other days. Already some jurisdictions have select maintenance and other "noncritical" operations are on that schedule.
Good egg: That schedule would mean office buildings could be lights out on one weekday thereby saving some heating, cooling and other energy costs (Look for 15-20% increases in electricity cost soon). Employees would save the cost of one day's commute and get three-day weekends (assuming it was a Friday or Monday closing). The extended hours might be convenient for some customers who find it difficult to visit the government offices during the work day.
Bad egg: How would the public react to the change of not being able to walk in and transact business on any business day? Some employees may not like the long workday - would efficiency or safety suffer when workers tire?
Other governments and firms are considering a flex schedule in which the business would be open but individuals would work four 10-hour days. This arrangement would mostly likely work well at schools like BRCC and at some firms that have processes with inefficiencies related to start-up and shut-down operations.
Good egg: Employees would save the cost of one day's commute and have an additional day off for personal and family activities. In areas, like UVA, where parking congestion is a problem, the flex schedule give some relief and reduce the need to build more parking lots.
Bad egg: Some employees may not like the long workday - would efficiency or safety suffer when workers tire? Would operations work as smoothly as a traditional five day workweek, especially when considering vacations, sick leave, employee turnover, and other disruptions?
Not mentioned in the Daily News-Record article or in recent TV coverage are public schools. County school divisions spend huge amounts of money on gas/diesel (as well as related expenses) for student transportation.  
Good egg: Huge savings in both transportation and facility energy usage. The ability to more easily perform maintenance on both buses and buildings during the day of rest. If schedules mesh, parents and kids may have more time together.
Bad egg: Can students, especially younger kids, perform well with a longer school day. Learning would likely suffer. High school students who often work at part time jobs may be impacted. Less time for sports and other extracurricular activities after school. Parents of younger kids who are not on the same schedule would have childcare issues.
Maybe bloggers should cut back to a 4-day week. Not much energy savings, but the brain may clear and the body may rejoice.
Will the 4-day workweek be a partial solution to our energy situation? What will be the intended and unintended consequences? The only thing this bird is sure of it this: the rising costs of energy are going to change our lifestyles. Some adjustments will be tough. Others may give unexpected lifestyle benefits.
Meanwhile, as we look for the golden energy egg, hens' laying schedule will remain the same.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fox in the Hen House

CCC visited the Virginia Democratic Convention in Hampton this weekend. The famous Will Rogers quote comes to mind: 
"I belong to no organized political party. I am a Democrat."
I'm sure you've pecked through the news coverage and found the most compelling headliner about Mark Warner rejecting any speculation about being a VP candidate. He is committed to serving Virginia in the United States Senate.
The other big story is about the Democrats running good candidates in each of the 11 congressional districts. If you've been following CCC you already know this. Each of the candidates gave great speeches and the convention center, inside and out, was dotted with signs from all the campaigns. Sam Rasoul was meeting and greeting and had a loyal band of followers sporting his T-Shirts.
But, there was a sneaky fox in the hen house. I spent a little time pecking through the displays and vendors - of course, the candidates had tables. And there were the folks selling shirts, buttons, signs, neckties, and all sorts of campaign materials. AARP, NARAL, and other groups had displays, information, and answered questions. So who was the fox in the hen house?
Near the end of the line, attracting little attention, was an Americans for Prosperity table staffed by a couple of attractive young ladies who I was told were GMU Young Republicans. A slick pamphlet, a membership application, and a letter about "transparency" were the only handouts. The craftiest thing was that letter which among other things, praised Barack Obama for working for earmark reforms and Delegate Ken Plum (D-36) for attempting to get House of Delegates subcommittee votes recorded (Republicans blocked it).
Looking at the literature, one might incorrectly conclude that AFP is a bipartisan group that enjoys lots of support from Democrats. Untrue! AFP is a right wing, anti-tax group that is funded primarily by Koch Family Foundations. The Koch folks are the nation's largest private energy holdings with revenues of more than $25 billion. They are anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-global warming, anti-environmental protection. The Koch family has close connections with the John Birch Society, the Cato Institute, and other right wing groups. In CD6 such reactionaries as Scott Sayre (he's now some sort of regional director for AFP - a springboard for another run for public office?) and Lynn Mitchell help organize events and can be spotted protesting at forums like Governor Kaine's town hall meetings on transportation.
We can all admire the young ladies for standing up for their views at the Democratic Convention, where they were greeted with smiles and treated with courtesy and respect. However, caveat emptor - the AFP's glossy literature can't hide their right wing, anti-government agenda.

Deviled Egg

Chris Green, a local Republican activist, has overdosed on the Jeff Frederick,  Walter Curt, Gilmoron Kool-Aid in a letter to the editor in The News Leader. It must really smart when a couple of the most respected and responsible Republicans from those years in the General Assembly endorsed Mark Warner for U.S. Senate. Good chance John Warner will follow suit, or at least withhold his support from Gilmore. Other Republicans will do likewise. 
Mr. Green .  .  . summer is here. What a good deal for you .  .  .  you're on a trip to fantasyland that doesn't require expensive gas. But please .  .  . leave rewriting history to the folks at Disneyland.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday the 13th Cackles

Happy Friday the 13th. Guess it struck overnight as several homes in the area were victims of mailbox vandalism. Watch out for black cats in the barnyard. Don't walk under ladders. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Where does all the Friday the 13th hysteria originate? has some answers.
Money matters
Pork barrel spending. Bringing home the bacon. Congressionally-directed spending. Earmarks. Whatever you call it, U.S. lawmakers are masters at getting spending for pet projects in their states and districts. Then they hold press conferences and claim credit - usually in the run-up to their election. Ah, the "wonderful" advantages of incumbency.
The Roanoke Times has a database of the Virginia congressional delegations' 2007-08 earmarks. They total over $1 Billion (lotta cracked corn). Many are bipartisan. Some have truly national goals like homeland security and food safety. But others, such as Bob Goodlatte's $294,000 for the Wayne Theater renovations, $245,000 for awnings in the historic district of Roanoke, and another $245,000 for the Lynchburg Academy of Music renovations have no relevance to the national government goals and priorities. Especially when the deficit is growing. Would the world end if these projects were not funded? How about local government and/or charitable funding for these projects?
Gerrymandering 101
This year Democrats are running candidates in each of Virginia's congressional districts. When was the last time that happened? Anybody know? Give up? It was 1990. Before that it was 1974 when a very unpopular failed Republican president energized Virginia Democrats. What's the old saying - deja vu all over again? 
Following the 2000 census, the Republican controlled General Assembly and governor skillfully gerrymandered the districts (they also hyper-gerrymandered the 100 House of Delegates and 40 Virginia Senate districts) to make life tough on Democrats. The evidence is in the numbers - in 1998 Democrats held a 6-5 advantage in the House of Representatives delegation. By 2002 the Republicans held a 8-3 advantage (includes Virgil Goode's shift from Democrat to Republican).
Gerrymandering is done for partisan power purposes. It is detrimental to "government by the people" because it diminishes competition to the point where it is difficult to recruit candidates to challenge entrenched incumbents (who also have many other advantages like earmarks). It effectively disenfranchises the voices of many voters. It is morally wrong and undemocratic.
Senator Creigh Deeds has pushed legislation to minimize gerrymandering in the redistricting that is required every 10 years. This past session, he was able to win passage in the Senate, but Republicans in the House blocked it. 

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Healthy chicks?

Sam Rasoul came to Fishersville, with Augusta Medical Center in the background, to state his case for single-payer health insurance and for H.B. 676. That legislation, which is in a congressional committee, would guarantee access but would still allow patients to select their own doctor and hospitals would not be under government control. Rasoul also called for tax credits to help small businesses provide health care to employees, improved access to health services for individuals with disabilities, and creation of a digital medical records system.
Also speaking Terry Holmes, owner of the Mill Street Grill, and Dr. Jim LaGrua, with a family practice. Holmes talked about the rising costs of providing health insurance and the effects on his employees. LaGrua related the personal experiences of several patients who found themselves uninsured or unable to get coverage because of preexisting conditions.
Bob Goodlatte, the incumbent, opposes H.B. 676 and even supported President Bush's veto of SCHIP, which provided coverage for children. His "plan" really isn't one. He vaguely wants the market to provide more affordable health care.
CCC has been critical of the local media for being asleep in coverage of this race. Well, cackle cackle, they all showed up yesterday. Check out their coverage:
WHSV and NBC29 were both there, but the Charlottesville station apparently had no coverage on-air or online.
The News Leader, The News Virginian, and the Daily News-Record gave the press conference prominent coverage in the print and online versions - kudos to all. Bob Stuart at the Waynesboro paper seemed to have more depth than the others. The DNR's headline, "Rasoul Differs" seems to be sort of an editorial dig. Sam should take it as a compliment - positive change only occurs one person at a time standing up to find solutions to problems. 
The U.S. has great doctors, great technology, great health care - if you have private coverage through employment. For those who don't have that coverage, a health issue can quickly become a financial crisis leading to bankruptcy. Our failure to provide a national health policy also drains our economy in many ways - small businesses have to devote huge often prohibitive resources, to coverage, big business it put at a disadvantage in a global economy, and hospitals and doctors must write-off or pass on the costs of uninsured patients. H.R. 676 might not fix everything, but it will be a huge step in the right direction. Rasoul should be commended for putting it squarely before 6th District voters.
Update from the original post: Heard an interview this morning with Ezekiel Emanuel, author of Healthcare, Guaranteed: A Simple, Secure Solution for America. An interesting and promising approach. Available at Amazon for $10.17. Information also available online.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hard Boiled

Continuing its  sharp right turn, the VA GOP picked Walter Curt to head up the party's fundraising efforts. Curt, a Harrisonburg area businessman, is a well-known right wing activist who supports the most conservative of Republican candidates. Most recently, Curt made news when he gave $50,000 to Scott Sayre in an unsuccessful attempt to topple Emmett Hanger during the 2007 primary for the 24th Senate District.
According to Open Secrets, over the past decade Curt has given over $184,000 to various federal candidates, committees, and PACs. Curt has donated even more money in state and local elections - the Virginia Public Access Project reports that since 1997 he has donated $780,264 to Republican candidates and PACs.
The appointment of Curt as moneybags-in-chief follows the party's recent selection of Jeff Frederick as state chair. The right wing take over is just about complete. Senator Hanger, you'd better be watching over your shoulder (the right one).
Curt may find fundraising tough going in 2008. While the business community is the trough from which Republican candidates normally gorge themselves, it doesn't seem to be filled with corn this year. The problem is the rightward drift that Curt, Frederick, Gilmore, Ellmore, and friends represent. This crowd is too conservative, too rabidly anti-tax, and too abrasive to build coalitions with many in the business community who favor a more balanced approach and state spending on roads, schools, and other essential infrastructure. One reason Mark Warner is doing so well, while his opponent seems like a pit bull chained in the corner, is that Warner proved that responsible governing requires that balanced bipartisan approach.
So Mr. Curt, keep scratching in the cracked corn. Get out your own feed bags. Scratch. Peck. VA GOP running around like a chicken with his head chopped off. Cackle. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Shenandoah Valley Omelet

A couple items whipping up the eggs today (actually some of this is a couple days old - rotten eggs?):
The News Leader had a virtual orgasm covering all the gossip and scuttlebutt of the Augusta Republicans. They had reported that Kurt Michael would resign on June 7, but they never followed up to report that he actually did so and what would happen next. Coitus interruptus, for them I guess. The News Virginian did get the story about "Dr. Mikey's" resignation from Lynn Mitchell. Perhaps, Lynn hates The News Leader so much she delivered the scoop to their cross-county rival. At any rate, she has her own gushing orgasm over Kurt on her daily wingnut trivia.
Apparently, the temporary chair of the committee will be Bill Shirley. Bill's a retired teacher and football coach. Mild mannered and polite when compared to Kurt, but every bit as rabid a theocratic right winger. Is he the heir apparent? Or a bad yoke? Will the Hanger/Roller folks turn out the folks to control to the next caucus? Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Will Jim Bailey chair the caucus? NO! Unless he gets a crash course on Robert's Rules of Order. Guess we'll have to sit in the nest a while to see who hatches as the next permanent chair. 
Scott Sayre is the new vice chair of 6th District GOP committee. All of this underscores several points: 
  • The old mountain-valley Republicans are a dying breed and have been replaced by the Grover Norquist/Federalist Society reactionaries who have taken over the local committees, the district committee, and the state party. They are scary people if they ever get power, but this rooster thinks this shift is good news for Democrats.
  • Emmett Hanger is among the last of those mountain-valley Republicans.
  • Sayre will challenge Hanger for the nomination in 2011 or Hanger may consider running as an independent or (cluck) a Democrat.
Harrisonburg independent Carolyn Frank seems to be between a rock and a hard place. The city is trending Democratic and will move to November elections. Because of those changing dynamics, she may be tempted to join the Democratic Party - but many of them seem to be keeping her at arm's length. Or, is she a secret religious-right Republican - she has connections with Greater Hope Ministries and has dabbled in GOP politics? If you live in Harrisonburg, you may want to vote in this poll about the city council candidates.
Sam Rasoul is holding a press conference on health care in Fishersville tomorrow, June 11 at 12:30 PM. Will be interesting to see if he gets media coverage - the local TV and print media has been mostly asleep on the congressional campaign. Yes, it is early and it is hot, but the Daily News-Record, The News Virginian, and The News Leader all seem to be taking a siesta when it comes to covering this race.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Guess I'm a Redneck Rooster

Main stream media types like Andera Mitchell might think everybody in western Virginia is a "redneck." It is an unfortunate term that congers up images of uneducated, toothless, and racist folks in living in the hills and backwoods of Appalachia. It also has made Jeff Foxworthy rich!
I prefer the term "rural voter" which undoubtably includes those "rednecks" but also boasts a wide variety of people who prefer living in the majestic beauty of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains far away from the heat and congestion of the cities and suburbs. Among them you'll find organic farmers, teachers, and doctors working out of love for the land and the people. You'll find small towns and suburbs much like those that you'll find around Richmond and on the fringes of NOVA. In other words Andrea, western Virginia and all of Appalachia is a cross section of America. Not just "redneck" as you suggest in your conversation with Chuck Todd:
Barack Obama kicked off his post-primary presidential campaign in Virginia, beginning in Bristol and ending that evening with a huge rally in northern Virginia. Like many states, Virginia is a complex mix of changing demographics. Just check the map - Bristol, on the Virginia/Tennessee border, is ground zero for Appalachia and has been voting more Republican. But, today's Appalachia is different from yesterday's and the Bush economy and gas prices are biting rural voters more sharply than any others.  Northern Virginia is suburban, upscale, and increasingly Democratic. Obama knows that winning the White House will mean bringing together all sorts of Americans. Evidence: Mark Warner's rural strategy was successful in his run for governor and won him about 49% of the vote in "redneck" CD6. He kicked butt in NOVA. Warner will do even better among rural voters in the district. I suspect Barack Obama will also reach out to rural voters not only in Virginia, but in Pennsylvania, Missouri, West Virginia, Ohio, and indeed across America.
OK Andrea and your establishment media buddies, welcome to Virginia . . . the part outside of Fairfax and Alexandria. CD6 and CD9 welcome you. Enjoy the beauty of your drive along I-81. Stop by some of our colleges and universities - Virginia Tech, James Madison, Bridgewater, UVA/Wise, and many others - perhaps more per capita than anywhere in the nation.
Ya'll come back now, ya hear.

Help Wanted

Voter registrars across the 6th District, Virginia, and indeed across the nation are hanging out the "Help Wanted" signs. Every indication is that turnout will be huge as the nation elects a president, 1/3 of the U.S. Senate, and all 435 members of the House of Representatives.
In Virginia, there are races in all House districts - in CD6, which hasn't seen a contested race in several cycles, Sam Rasoul is working hard and his signs are popping up all over the sprawling district. Although the incumbent has the advantage of name recognition, Rasoul is stealing the march on issues. Like Democrats everywhere, Rasoul must be encouraged by three Republican districts in recent special elections flipping to Democrats. 2008 will be a change election - the failures of the Bush administration, and a presidential nominee who seems to embrace all that is George Bush (while trying to keep him at arm's length - at least behind closed doors at high dollar fundraisers) - all predict a rising Democratic tide. In the Senate race,  Mark Warner seems to have a commanding lead, but his opponent's anticipated negative campaign will see feathers flying. And, for the first time since 1964 Virginia may be in play in the presidential race. Barack Obama certainly seems to think so, as he started his post-primary campaign with stops inn Bristol and Prince William.
Because of the energetic campaigns and the growing interest in this election, voter registrars are expecting the highest turnout in years, perhaps ever. To meet the demand and to assure free and fair elections with hassle-free voting experience for citizens Virginia needs 10,000 additional poll workers, a 50% increase! Interested? You must be a registered voter and contact your local registrar's office. The pay varies by locality, but is generally about $150 (plus extra for training) for the long day - in Virginia polls open at 6:00 AM and close at 7:00 PM, but poll workers can add at least an hour on each end of that - gotta get up with the chickens.
So, where to find the new poll workers? Virginia has partnered with 14 businesses to guarantee time off for employees to work at the polls. That program needs to expand beyond the urban/suburban areas. Most school divisions close on Election Day, usually because school buildings are often used as polling places creating parking and security issues. Although school is closed, many of those same school divisions schedule a teacher "workday." Teachers would make great poll workers and many would do so if the school board would grant them civil leave for the election similar to the way it is granted for jury duty. Retirees are another huge pool of potential poll workers - AARP the nation needs your members! The political parties should also recruit their activists - I know they want folks outside handing out sample ballots, but the work inside is vastly more important to our democracy. Candidates can also do their part - they have the attention of voters and should help raise awareness of the need for poll workers.
Spread the corn, err.... the word about the need for poll workers in every county and every city in Virginia. Call your local registrar and sign up. Encourage your family and friends to do their part for democracy, too.
See you at the polls on November 4. Peck. Peck.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Flying the Coop

Had to fly the coop. Too hot in the hen house. Will be back pecking around soon.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Broken Eggs

CCC has often taken issue with the the Daily News-Record's editors. They usually drink, no guzzle, the Kool-Aide laced with right wing chicken crap which they spread across the Valley with reckless abandon. But, every now and then they get it almost right. The editor's call to Release the Report is, for the most part, on target. The public's business should be, well.... public
The story began when an investigation into a robbery led to an investigation and revelations that a football player had been selling prescription drugs to teammates. Things got worse when police suggested that some coaches knew about it. Still unclear (except perhaps in the report) is what those coaches and school administrators did in response to that knowledge.
CCC believes that the eggs of secrecy should be cracked open and this story should be brought before the community. These are, after all, serious charges of interest not only to those directly involved, but to parents and the entire community. The DNR, that bastion of the First Amendment and freedom of the press (at least when it suits their agenda), is calling on the Harrisonburg School Board to release the entire report of the investigation it commissioned. And release it now!
However a couple caveats are in order. While the DNR wants all the names and juicy gossip (gotta sell those papers), there are some legal matters to consider. Both the students and school employees involved have legal rights to some confidentiality at this early stage of the investigation. The School Board should respect those rights, as much as possible, when releasing the report. The School Board must also consider how a full release could impact the ongoing police investigation and potential criminal trials. If full release of the report hampers a fair investigation by police or creates an undue prejudice against defendants, it is reasonable withhold parts of it for now.
The School Board's investigation is rightly targeted on increasing awareness of drugs being brought into the schools and on revising administrative policies and procedures to deal with it in the future. If individuals failed in their duties, the School Board should deal with it as personnel issues. Naming names and a public chopping off of heads will not help with those goals. Release the essential findings of the report but preserve some confidentiality, for now. Allow the legal processes time to work. Only then should the full report be released. 
In the meantime, the DNR's crack reporters can dig out the names and gossip and the editors can decide to print or not. But, the School Board does not owe them an assist.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Change Election

Change Congress Change Congress
2008 will be a change election. The presumptive nomination of Barack Obama is ample evidence to the entire world that genuine and long lasting change is underway. Even John McCain is trying to claim the winds of change by going back to his "maverick" image of 2000. That is certainly a bit of chicken scratch for a man who has supported Bush 97% of the time.
Change is also afoot in the Congressional halls of power. It is bipartisan. It promises fundamental change and reform in the way government "of the people, by the people, for the people" works. At the center of that change is Change Congress, a bipartisan organization committed to ending the corrupting influence of money in Washington, D.C. Change Congress has four straightforward principles:
  • Accept no money from PACs or lobbyists.
  • End earmarks.
  • Increase congressional transparency.
  • Support public financing of campaigns.
In the 6th Congressional District of Virginia, one candidate, Sam Rasoul, is totally committed to the principles of Change Congress. Sam is refusing all contributions, however small, from political action committees and lobbyists. By contrast, his opponent Bob Goodlatte, in 2008, has received 43% ($210,762) from lobbyists and PACs. What is it about "government of the people, by the people, for the people" that this entrenched incumbent Washington insider does not understand.
Sam is so committed to the principle of transparency in contributions to candidates that he is even refusing contributions from local Democratic committees. His position is not readily understood by local Democratic leaders and activists who have worked to raise money to support the party's nominees. But, Sam's rationale is simple: no individual should donate the maximum of $2,300 under federal law and then be able to donate more by funneling other money through a PAC or even through a local committee because isn't transparent and it opens the potential of political corruption due to the influence of money.
A principled stand by a principled man. Sam Rasoul deserves our support in his quest to Change Congress and to bring true representation to the people of the 6th District.
To learn more about Change Congress and the man behind it, Lawrence Lessig, peck around in this excellent article in The Nation, "Mr. Lessig Goes to Washington."
h/t to Cobalt6

Monday, June 2, 2008

The cockfight gets nasty

Feathers are flying in the Augusta Republican Committee. No wonder these guys have so much trouble governing responsibly. More in the Daily News-Record
Sorry about the bad link earlier. Now you have both parts 1 and 2 for your viewing pleasure.

Will it catch all the bad eggs?

On July 1 a new Virginia law requires courts to notify local school divisions when a teacher is convicted of a felony drug or sex crime. The law also requires local school divisions and social service agencies to notify the Virginia Board of Education when a licensed employee is dismissed or resigns because of a "founded child abuse or neglect case" or because of a criminal conviction.
This uniform reporting should help to catch some bad eggs, i.e. individuals who should not now, not ever, be in our public schools (or for that matter as a youth coach, a recreation director, or a youth pastor). Hopefully, it will prevent those bad eggs from moving from one school to another because nobody knew of their past.
But, I doubt this new law will accomplish all that its proponents claim. Recently a Staunton bus driver was arrested for having sex with a student. If convicted, the court will report her as required and she'll never work in Virginia schools again. But, because she had no record, nothing in this law would have kept her from being hired in the first place. And a year or so ago in another Valley division, an unlicensed teacher's aide and coach, was dismissed after disclosure he'd been involved sexually with a student.
Hen house gossip being what it is, we've all heard cases of school employees (or a pastor or coach) resigning under suspicion (but not "founded cases"), getting a letter of recommendation, and moving on to another job working with children. No law, no matter how well-intended, can make a principal or supervisor report suspicions to superintendents or the police. Too often the easy way is simply to push the problem out the door and on to others.
Another gap is that this is a state law. To be more effective, national legislation or an interstate compact setting up a nationwide data base is needed. It is all too easy for pedophiles to move across state lines and dodge the paper trail, if one even exists.
The Virginia law is a step in the right direction - but there will still be some bad eggs getting in the wrong places. Cluck.