Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

Everybody has their lists of this and that... best of, worst of, favorite this or worst that. So, what the Hell, I might as well do the same thing. So, here goes and who really cares....
Most significant day of the year (also the decade and since January 1, 1863) - the inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States of America.
Best album/CD of the year - Bruce Springsteen's Working on a Dream.
Most encouraging economic sign of the year - investments are up over 20% from the crappy Bush economy. I hope the improvements on Wall St. soon find their way to Main St.
Best beer (if price is no object) - Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
Pet peeve #1 - Staunton's systematic plan to write speeding tickets... unlike most cities that step speed limits down, entering Staunton means going from 55 to 35, right now!
Biggest Shenandoah Valley political surprise - Delegate Chris Saxman announces he won't seek reelection.
Biggest Virginia political disappointment - Creigh Deeds would have made a great governor.
Best beer (when money is tight) - Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Best friend - My wife.
Best four-legged friend - Tucker. Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in. ~Mark Twain
Pet Peeve #2 - Giving money to a charity only to be besieged within days by calls and emails wanting more.
Must see TV - Toss up between The Daily Show and Colbert Report. I DVR and watch 'em both.
Best VA sports news - the firing of Al Groh and hiring of Mike London.
And in national sports - the Green Bay Packers are back in the playoffs.
Pet peeve #3 - drivers on cell phones.
Biggest national political disappointment - Republicans.
Best Christmas gift - a turntable. Burn the old vinyl to CD's.
Biggest misrepresentation of American history - Tea Parties.
Feel free to add your own bests, worsts, ugliest, favorites.... in a comment. You could even say this is the best (or worst) blog! Whatever. Happy New Year. May 2010 be great!

Don't even consider it

Robert Sledd, appointed by Governor-elect Bob McDonnell as Secretary of Commerce and Trade, wants to stay on the board of directors of three corporations while serving in public office. Sledd desires the arrangement so much that he's even offering to take a pay cut. In a weak attempt to justify the questionable situation, a McDonnell spokesman said:
The point of his proposing this is to save the commonwealth money, and to stay connected to the business community....
Sledd is on the board of directors of Universal Corp., a Richmond-based tobacco giant; SCP Pool Corp.; and Owens & Minor Co., a Richmond medical supplies distributor. He earns more than $224,000 from the companies, not counting Universal Corp., for which his earnings are not available.
It is appalling that Governor-elect McDonnell and Mr. Sledd would even float this idea. Even friends worry it may create an impression of conflict-of-interest since the Secretary of Commerce and Trade is the big kahuna over more than a dozen state agencies that oversee businesses. The Secretary is also a key advisor to the Governor on policies, influences legislation, and enforces state laws on business issues.
This arrangement, although neither technically illegal nor unheard of in American politics, is just plain wrong. Dave Levinthal of the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics (created the that tracks federal campaign contributions) noted:
If you're in a position of public trust and you're working on behalf of a private interest all the while, there are some concerns that could be raised about where your interests really lie.
Bob Gibson of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership, a UVA-based training program that emphasizes ethics, bipartisanship, thoughtful public policy, and building public confidence in government called the arrangement "unusual."
Mr. McDonnell, Mr. Sledd - the very fact that you are considering this "unusual" deal should give Virginians reason to pause and consider how well your ethical and moral barometers really function. We want and demand a full-time Secretary of Commerce and Trade who is not burdened by perceived and actual conflicts-of-interests. If Mr. Sledd is unwilling to give up those directorships during the next four years, then he should withdraw from the appointment before the new Governor takes office. Otherwise there will be a taint of favoritism and the stench of a government official working for someone other than the people.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Clean water and green jobs

Governor Tim Kaine announced that loan agreements and contracts for 35 water quality projects are in place to use some $77.7 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The projects, which are found all across the state, will improve facilities treating wastewater thereby helping to clean up Virginia's streams and rivers. Of course, building and renovating these facilities will create jobs and help stimulate local economies, too. Good news on several fronts. Among the projects:
  • Wastewater reuse projects in Fairfax will reduce nasty discharges into the Chesapeake Bay by 580 million gallons per day.
  • Projects in Lynchburg will move forward several projects eliminating raw sewage discharges at two points into the James River. How is such dumping allowed?
  • Richmond will get funding to help move forward on a sewer overflow project.
  • Communities in southwest Virginia will get funding to provide sewer service to areas with failing septic systems/drainfields.
The best managed state in the nation was very efficient at moving the paperwork forward so these projects can begin sooner rather than later - only Minnesota finished the process quicker. That is good news for cleaning up our waters and for desperately needed jobs. To the Department of Environmental Quality - Great Job!

Monday, December 28, 2009

All Wrapped Up

Christmas is a wrap. Gifts have been given and received. The "thank you" notes/emails written. Family back to their homes and jobs. Life begins returning to normal with the exception of the upcoming New Year's festivity.
One of my Christmas Day "jobs" is to gather the trash/recycling for a run to the county dumpster the next day. Our family, like yours, is part of a huge infusion of trash, much of it packaging, into landfills. Folks who crunch the numbers, such as the stats reported in Aboxalypse Now, say that from Thanksgiving to the end of the year Americans produce an additional one million tons of trash each week. Nearly 1/3 is packaging - boxes, plastic clamshells, twist ties, cardboard, etc. - and that less than half of packaging gets recycled.
Now, we're not perfect, but we do try to recycle as much as we can. All bows, some wrapping paper and bubble wrap, and some boxes are saved for next year. Christmas cards are saved to use as tags on next year's gifts. Speaking of cards - we send and receive far fewer cards than just a few years ago. Most of our holiday greetings are sent by e-cards which saves us money and the planet trees.
We break down boxes so they will be easy to put in the recycling bins provided by the county. Some of the wrapping is readied for the paper recycling that we routinely do. Ditto for some of the plastic. But, much of the foil paper, plastic, and other packaging just isn't recyclable. As a consequence we take a couple extra trash bags (about the amount we'd generate in two weeks) to the dumpster. Despite yucky weather on the day after, the trash/recycling collection site was busy. Sadly, I saw lots of cardboard and other recyclables in the trash bin - some people just don't get it or can't be bothered. The attendant said the waste company would make four pickups that day - compared to one on a typical day.
Besides doing our best to recycle this packaging, I'm not sure what individuals can do to reduce this avalanche of packaging waste. But, it is in society's interest to do so - packaging adds up to 10% to the cost of the product. It gobbles up landfill space that costs tax dollars. It can be a challenge and a downright hassle to open that Barbie Doll - she is encased in over 900 square inches of cardboard, nearly 600 square inches of plastic, plus wire, tape, and rubber bands.
Shopping online and by mail order complicates the issue as the product is put in an additional box or bag usually with some sort of cushioning. So, buying local not only boosts the local economy/jobs, it probably saves a little on waste. When you have the opportunity, request minimal packaging and environmentally responsible products - popcorn or recycled cushioning products rather than bubble wrap; use paper rather than non-recyclable foil products for wrapping those gifts. Day-to-day shopping offers opportunities to cut back on waste too - those single-serve snack packs create more waste and cost 2x to 3x more per ounce than regular packages. Drink tap water. Save some green. Be green.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Changed tossed in the ditch

Sign the petition. Tell the President we want, we need, a public option.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas, Tim

Governor Tim Kaine gets a surprise gift during his last "Ask the Governor" radio call-in show.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Broken Promises?

It appears Governor Tim Kaine will suggest breaking a sacred promise to state employees and propose that the Commonwealth force state employees to pay part of the contribution to the Virginia Retirement System. Currently the state pays the 5% "employee contribution" and has done so since the late 80s (I may need correcting on the date) in lieu of pay increases. At the time, the state and most local governments and school divisions "promised" this was a permanent commitment.
Governor Kaine will propose that the state reduce the employee contribution rate to 3%. Last fall he reduced contributions to VRS by $104 million - he helped balance the budget, but weakened the balance sheet of the retirement system with that move.
If the Governor, Governor-elect, and the General Assembly go along, faith will be broken and state employees even more demoralized than they are currently. Trickle down - local school boards and local governments will follow suit, breaking the promise they also made to employees. Most state employees, teachers, and others in VRS understand why they've gotten no recent raises, and won't in the foreseeable future.... but, they won't understand this broken promise to balance the budget.

Senator Webb, Senator Warner - VOTE NO!

Like many other Virginians, I support meaningful healthcare reform - ideally, "Medicare for all." Short of that, a robust public option that will bring competition to the markets. Elimination of discrimination against people with preexisting conditions. Lower costs while improving delivery of healthcare services. Real choice for Americans.
The bill before the Senate is a sellout to the insurance companies - their control over the industry will widen and millions of taxpayer dollars will flow into their coffers. Companies will be able to charge older Americans two, even three, times the rates charged to younger ones... age is a preexisting condition! Americans won't get any more choices, but they will get a fine if they don't sign-up with an insurance company. Neither competition nor other steps are taken to end the excessive CEO salaries and administrative waste in the private companies.
There are some good things in the Senate bill - more emphasis on preventative programs, some expansion of Medicare, help for small businesses struggling with health costs and for parents with adult children continuing their education well into their 20s, and more. But, the good doesn't come close to outweighing the bad.
There is lots of blame to go around: Republicans who have never offered any meaningful reform, just obstacles; the insurance companies and their front groups like 60Plus who have spent millions every day and deployed hundreds of lobbyists and slick ad agencies to spread lies and fear; and a media obsessed with headlines promoting conflict rather than consensus. But the real blame falls on Senate Democrats themselves - when given the opportunity to lead they descended into a family feud characterized by fights over side issues, over-sized egos, turf wars, and cowardice.
Senator Jim Webb and Senator Mark Warner.... vote NO! A bad bill that fails to offer real reform should be killed - in this case, any bill is not better than no bill.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Who ya gonna believe on climate change?

With the recent chill winds and a forecast of a cold end to the year, a friend (who knows my political leanings as I know his) asked, "so, where's the global warming?" My response was, "a cold wind sweeping off the mountains isn't much of a barometer on global warming... but it might help tell you if there is black ice on Rt. 42."
With many focused on Copenhagen and the eventual deal (or no deal) that may emerge, it really comes down to who do you believe on the issue of global warming. For example, do you believe this position:
  • Warming is a "global challenge"
  • Climate change is "a social, cultural, and economic issue..."
  • The nation should look into ways to "participate in carbon trading markets"
  • There are "opportunities to reduce greenhouse emissions."
Or, is this position more in line with your ideas:
  • Climate change isn't based on science, it is simply "agenda driven politics"
  • "Without trustworthy science and with so much at stake, Americans should be wary about what comes out of this politicized conference..."
  • "We can't say with assurance that man's activities cause weather changes..."
My friend, who sported one of those "I'm Voting For the Chick" yard signs that sprouted in the Valley in the fall of '08, falls squarely in line with the latter. His grin widened when I pointed out these are Sara Palin's views expressed in a recent WaPo op-ed.
"Ya know," I said, "you really ought to check out those other statements on climate change. They signal a responsible forward looking position; the kind of thing we're trying to achieve in Copenhagen." His head shaking scoff was cut short when I added, "besides, those are Sara Palin's view, too."
That's right. During her short stint as Governor of Alaska, the state that is perhaps most impacted by the early stages of global warming, Sara Palin issued Administrative Order No. 238 to create the "Alaska Climate Change Sub-Cabinet to advise the Office of the Governor on the preparation and implementation of an Alaska climate change strategy." The order continues:
"Scientific evidence shows many areas of Alaska are experiencing a warming trend. Many experts predict that Alaska, along with our northern latitude neighbors, will continue to warm at a faster pace than any other state, and the warming will continue for decades. Climate change is not just an environmental issue. It is also a social, cultural, and economic issue important to all Alaskans. As a result of this warming, coastal erosion, thawing permafrost, retreating sea ice, record forest fires, and other changes are affecting, and will continue to affect, the lifestyles and livelihoods of Alaskans. Alaska needs a strategy to identify and mitigate potential impacts of climate change and to guide its efforts in evaluating and addressing known or suspected causes of climate change. Alaska's climate change strategy must be built on sound science and the best available facts and must recognize Alaska's interest in economic growth and the development of its resources. Commercializing Alaska's great natural gas reserves through a new pipeline will improve the nation's energy security while providing a clean, low carbon fuel to help the nation reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions."
Expressing some doubt at what I was telling him, my friend shifted the subject and we parted wishing each other happy holidays. My guess is, his holidays have been jolted by a creeping realization that his "chick" may not have any core values, that what she "believes" shifts with the political winds and book sales. Here's wishing for a white Christmas - maybe then my friend can enjoy giving me his what global warming? smirk.
To borrow a line from Stephen Colbert - a holiday tip of my hat to Eugene Robinson, a grinchy wag of my finger to Sara Palin.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Governor Kaine: Do the Right Thing

The clock is ticking for Governor Tim Kaine to do the right thing - restore voting rights for to thousands, no make that hundreds of thousands, of individuals who were disenfranchised for a felony conviction, but they have done their time and are now tax paying and responsible citizens.
As stated in a prior post, Virginia joins only Kentucky with a hundred year-old Jim Crow mindset that makes restoration of voting rights for ex-offenders extremely difficult. Governor Kaine can move Virginia forward by an executive order restoring voting rights for former felons and creating a fair and reasonable process for restoring voting rights for others as they complete their sentences.
There ain't a snowball's chance in Hell the next governor will give a tinker's damn about this issue - so now is the time to urge Governor Kaine to act. It is easy to do... the email is even composed for you (of course, you can edit or write your own) to let Governor Tim Kaine know that now is the time to issue an executive order restoring voting rights to all or most of the 300,000 Virginians who have lost their voice in our democracy.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Coal Country

We usually don't think of the Shenandoah Valley as being part of coal county. But, there is some coal in our mountains and "Nationwide Permit 21," which governs mountaintop removal coal mining, extends into areas generally seen as part of the Valley - all the way to Rockbridge and Bath counties. With that in mind and with the knowledge that mountaintop removal coal mining and the effects of pollution from burning coal impacts us all, the Shenandoah Chapter of the Virginia Sierra Club is hosting a screening of Coal Country followed by a discussion.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009, 7:00 PM
Clementine Cafe, 153 S. Main St., Harrisonburg
Coal Country takes a dramatic look at modern coal mining. We get to know working miners along with activists who are battling coal companies in Appalachia. We hear from miners and coal company officials, who are concerned about jobs and the economy and believe they are acting responsibly in bringing power to the American people. Both sides in this conflict claim that history is on their side. Families have lived in the region for generations, and most have ancestors who worked in the mines. Everyone shares a deep love for the land, but MTR (Mountain Top Removal mining which has leveled over 500 Appalachian mountains) is tearing them apart. We need to understand the promises of “cheap energy” and “clean coal.” Are they achievable? At what cost? Are there alternatives to our energy future?
Sneak peek at Coal Country (2:26):

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Middle River water quality

The Middle River watershed lies in the heart of Augusta County. Along with North River and South River, it is one of the region's wonderful waterways that are major tributaries of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. Each of these rivers has "issues" that impact not only uses of that particular river, but everyone downstream who uses the water for livestock, drinking, or recreation.
In July the Department of Conservation and Resources hosted a forum kicking off the development of a water quality improvement plan for Middle River, Jennings Branch, Moffett Creek, and Polecat Draft. On Thursday, December 10 from 7:00 to 9:00 PM at the Augusta County Government Center, the Department of Conservation and Resources will conduct a public hearing on strategies and recommendations for improving water quality in the river and streams. Improving the water quality reduces the chance of human illness/infection, makes the water safer for agricultural uses, and supports healthy aquatic life and wildlife.
Middle River suffers from two major problems - bacteria and sediment - that impair the water quality. Sources of bacteria include runoff of manure and poultry litter, livestock pooping in the streams and on the banks, old leaking residential septic systems, and waste from pets and wildlife. The sediment is mostly caused by runoff from pastures and tilled cropland.
The good news is that we can take agricultural and residential conservation steps that not only restore the health of the creeks and rivers, those same actions will mean healthier people and more productive farms.
Recommended agricultural conservation practices include:
  • Vegetated buffer strips along streams and bank restoration
  • Manure/litter storage
  • No-till practices on cropland
  • Excluding livestock from streams
Recommended residential practices include
  • Repairs and upgrades of septic systems
  • Increased use of alternative waste treatment systems
We can be sure the naysayers will be there questioning the data and talking about private property rights. But, does anyone have the right to use a common resource such as a stream or river in ways that leave it seriously impaired for users downstream? I think not! Besides, the very practices that help clean the waters can also make even the naysayers' farms more productive and all our homes healthier.
Hope to see you at the Government Center. Speak up for clean water!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Holiday Gift Giving

While you are browsing the internet for holiday gifts, checking your email, or doing anything online, take a few minutes to make a difference for others and have fun at the same time. Some of these ideas have been mentioned on CCC before, but perhaps they've been been tossed aside in the hustle and bustle of life.
For example, visit and play Bow Wow Trivia and Meow Trivia. You'll learn more about our four-legged friends and every question you attempt means a donation of kibble to animal shelters.
You can build you vocabulary and help the UN World Food Program fight hunger at For every correct answer 10 grains of rice is donate. Don't think that sounds like much? In the past three years over 71 billion grains of rice have been donated through the site. Not to mention how many new words have been learned.
Still have some holiday shopping? Going to buy some things online? Well, you can shop 'till you drop and make donations to a favorite charity at Good Shop (a companion site of Good Search). Pick your favorite charity (from more than 85,000!) and then link through the site to shop at big online merchants ranging from Amazon to Zales. Your purchase earns donations ranging from about 1% of the purchase price all the way up to 30%. While you are exploring the charities and merchants on Good Shop, check out Good Search - every time you search the internet through the site a donation is made to your favorite charity.
Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Forefathers, communists, and injustice

I guess it was predictable that on this air-clearing Virginia day, we'd get some folks blowing smoke. Guess they've been puffing too long and their brains are totally fogged.
In Roanoke, a fellow named Gordon Middlekauff said "banning smoking in restaurants is communism...." Calling opponents "communists" has been popular since the days of McCarthyism and recently teabagger types have made abundant misuse of it to attack everything Obama. Then he brought out the ghosts of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Sam Adams by adding, ".... our forefathers fought for us... to smoke where we want." Hum, I do recall that early American men were big smokers, but I don't recall that was the cause of the American Revolution or a major bone of contention at the Philadelphia Convention. Revisionist history, I guess.
A Travis Powell called the smoking ban a "huge injustice." Guess he'll have a tough time saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Maybe he'll modify it to "and justice for all, except smokers."
Poochie Preston is upset because it upsets his routine... "get off work, get a beer and smoke a cigarette." Sorry Poochie... not part of everyone's routine.
It is amazing how smokers can claim their rights, their freedom, their liberty, their justice is somehow denied by bans on indoor smoking. I remember a teacher once telling a class, our rights extend to where the other person's nose begins. In this case an especially apt analogy.
It is equally amazing how our public discourse so frequently strays into name-calling and perversion of our nation's history. But, perhaps I'm guilty too... while sitting at a stop light just last night, the cute blond in the car to my right tossed her butt (cigarette butt, that is) right in front of my car. Exercising my freedom of speech to show my displeasure, I tooted my horn. Guess she got the message and didn't like it... exercising her freedom of speech she glared and gave me the too-often-used one finger salute. &#*@ communist!

Monday, November 30, 2009

A governor for all Virginians?

You may recall that Pat Robertson, responding to the shootings at Fort Hood, said Islam is "not a religion" but it is rather a "violent political system" that he compared to fascists and communists. Rev. Robertson is a close confidant and mentor of Governor-elect Bob McDonnell.
Last week a group of religious leaders, of many faiths from across the Commonwealth, sent a letter to the Richmond Times-Dispatch entitled Words Matter: An Open Letter to Bob McDonnell. They cautioned that words of hate, such as those spewed by Rev. Robertson, will create "new room for bigotry and intolerance." These men and women of faith continued, writing, "despite our theological differences, the fact that we Christians, Muslims, and Jews worship the same God seems to escape people like Pat Robertson."
They concluded by reminding the Governor-elect that words really do matter:
Gov-elect McDonnell, some of us had the pleasure to know you in the past and we firmly believe that you aspire to be the governor of Virginians of all faiths. In this spirit, we are anxious to hear your public remarks opposing the divisive words of the Rev. Pat Robertson and asserting your vision of an inclusive Virginia.
Perhaps I missed it over the Thanksgiving holiday, but I have not yet heard Mr. McDonnell disavow Robertson's detestable comments. Bob McDonnell ran as a governor for all Virginians and I hope he will be true to the voters' estimation - even if it means his friend, Rev. Robertson, never is given the opportunity to say grace or kneel in prayer in Virginia's Executive Mansion.


The bill for The News Leader has been sitting on my desk for a couple weeks - $133.69 for the annual subscription. My caller ID says they called on Black Friday. They'll probably call back today... and tomorrow... and later in the week. My conundrum - subscribe or not?
Today's paper is two thin sections, a total of 14 pages. Some days are a little bigger but not much meatier. About half of those pages are "news" or sports without ads. I say "news" because I don't consider things like road reports, restaurant inspections, TV listings, and horoscopes as news. Most days I spend 10 minutes or less with the paper.
Lots of pictures... is the one of the hunter on A3 recycled from a day or so ago? And the pictures, though colorful, are often huge and take up half or more of the page. They say a picture is worth a 1000 words, but in the case of The News Leader I get the feeling giant pictures are used because the paper doesn't have enough words to print.
With the immediacy of TV and the internet, why do we need about a third of a page devoted to the weather forecast? By the time I get the paper, that section is out of date!
And then there are the ads... and lots of them. Taking up more space than text on some pages. Some days, there are ads on the font page. There are the sad foreclosures. Then there is the daily pumpkin or other three column x 5 inch ad by Francis Chester. He must have a sustaining membership. Doesn't he realize that sometimes less is more?
But, there are all the reasons for keeping the subscription... firing up the wood stove, cleaning windows, wrapping fragile gifts, and the valuable coupons. I think I saved $2 at the grocery store last week.... ah the math, $2 x 52 = $104. Almost pays for the subscription... that is if I remember to clip/use 'em!
But, there are so many other things to do with $133.69. A donation to The News Leader/Salvation Army's Neediest Families program, the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, and the Augusta Regional Free Clinic will give much more satisfaction than 10 minutes a day kicking myself in the butt for spending so much on a subscription that delivers so little.
Conundrum solved.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Play it again... and again

The Department of Environmental Quality just released the Virginia Annual Recycling Report that contains a mixture of good news, not so good news, and some so-so news. Statewide, Virginians recycled/reused 3,661,027 tons of material out of a 9,542,428 tons of solid waste generated, or about 38.5%. (see the report for details of the calculations). While to some that may sound pretty good, after a couple yeas of positive increases, the percentage rate has been flat since 2006.
No surprise that recycling rates are generally a few percentage points higher in urban/suburban areas where curbside recycling is available and lower in rural areas where folks have to take recycling to collection points. Rural curbside isn't cost effective and the long routes burning fuel would probably be more damaging to the environment than the lower recycling rates. Kudos to the Greater Richmond area that topped 50% for the second year and to Fredericksburg that got very close. On the flip side are places in our region like Botetourt Co. that only managed a 13.1% recycling rate. Caroline Co. earns my "Who Gives a Crap About the Environment" award for a dismal 10.4% rate.
In the CCC region, the rates are okay, but could certainly be better - Rockingham is 26.5%, Harrisonburg is 28.3%, and Augusta/Staunton/Waynesboro combined is 27.6%. But, Rockbridge, Lexington, and Buena Vista do a great job - 39%. Maybe other localities ought to recycle some of Rockbridge's ideas for boosting participation!
Perhaps recycling/reusing rates are actually higher than the DEQ numbers indicate? For example, plastic and oil recycling are available in my county but not convenient to where I live. So, I take oil to stores, like Advance Auto, where I buy it and take most plastic to a commercial recycler not located in my county. I also take high value aluminum to the commercial recycler - at least it pays for my gas to get there. Wood from projects and limbs from pruning are used as kindling in our efficient Jotul stove (I'm always amazed at the perfectly good firewood that is dumped at the landfill). We compost. Are those numbers factored in the DEQ statistics?
Recycling offers so many advantages - conserving resources, saving landfill space (tax $), and in cases like aluminum real production cost savings - it amazes me that everyone is not on board. But, I frequently see folks tossing card board, paper, cans, etc. that - with about 20 steps - could go into the recycling bin. I bite my tongue figuring that is better than a whoopin', but always wonder what whack on the side of the head it will finally wake these hardheads up.
The folks in Rockbridge probably have some great suggestions to boost rural recycling, but here are a few of mine:
  • KISS - keep it simple stupid. Forcing folks to do an inordinate amount of separating things like different types of paper probably means less recycling. My county accepts mixed paper and mixed glass - a good thing.
  • Make it convenient - recycling needs to be available at all waste disposal sites across the county. I my case it generally is, but plastic and used oil for example, is only accepted at the landfill.
  • Set the example - all government offices and schools should recycle on-site. The cost and manpower of collecting recycling from schools should be bore by the locality, not by the schools. Many teachers encourage recycling but a school-wide emphasis from grades K through 12 would send a strong message to families.
  • Rural or not so rural - most of our "rural" counties have larger subdivisions, small towns, and suburban areas that, if they aren't doing it already, could benefit from efficient curbside recycling.
Thirty-eight percent statewide is good, and slightly above the 33% nationwide average, but we ought to be shooting for 50%! And when we get there... 60%. We'll never achieve zero waste, but my personal experience and common sense tells me that 75% or more is quite doable. It is a matter of will, of leadership, and of the common good.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Beware unintended consequences

Delegate Lacey Putney (I-19th District) is chair of the House Appropriations Committee. He has a suggestion for the upcoming session of the General Assembly, an intermission of sorts:
The possibility of coming into session, maybe recessing, let the members go back, except the money committees working on the budget, in order to give us time to see what they're going to do in Washington.
Putney's idea was hatched as the Appropriations Committee considers a $77 billion budget amid uncertainties over healthcare reform in Washington, D.C. Depending on if and what kind of bill is passed could have direct impact on the Commonwealth's budget. So a pause for more up-to-date information makes sense from the perspective of Richmond.
But, beware of the unintended consequence of passing an interrupted timeline on the local governments and school boards. Typically, city councils, boards of supervisors, and school boards are deeply immersed in their own budget writing after the first of the year, a process that continues well into spring with required steps including public hearings. School boards are supposed to submit budgets to city councils and boards of supervisors by April 1. Since the General Assembly is developing the state budget during January and February, school boards always find themselves working with estimates of state funding rather than hard numbers that are available only after the House and Senate reconcile a budget at the very end of the session.
Putney's idea would indeed buy time for Richmond budget writers to factor in the ramifications of actions in D.C. But, if the General Assembly recesses for an extended period of time it will place greater uncertainty (above and beyond expected budget cuts) and and time constraints on local budget deliberations. Obviously, there are ways to work around these issues, if the General Assembly decides that a "Putney recess" is in order. Now is the time to think about dealing with possible unintended consequences that could get passed on to local officials. Like an unfunded mandate?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Collision Course... maybe, maybe not

As Governor Tim Kaine enters his final months in office and Bob McDonnell prepares to take office, the Virginia budget situation continues to deteriorate because of the nationwide economic downturn that started in 2008. The Commonwealth will cut $250 million, or more, from the current budget to balance the books. Bad enough, but the really bad news is the expected $3 billion shortfall in the next two-year budget. The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond delivered the bad news - this recession, like the last two, will see lagging job creation. Jobs = income taxes + retail sales which are cornerstones of state revenues. A tiny bright spot is NOVA, which generates a big chunk of tax revenues, seems to be rebounding a little quicker. Governor Kaine will have a strong hand in drafting the budget, but the new Governor will influence priorities and ultimately the General Assembly will have to deal with the tough times.
I guess there is a little comfort in comparing ourselves to our neighbors. Although joblessness across Virginia is bad enough, it is far worse in many other states. So while the Virginia budget is hurting, the situation in many other states is horrendous.
Coming at the same time as the budget woes, a coalition of "school choice" groups says Virginians want more nonpublic school options and are willing for tax dollars to go in that direction. Among the poll's findings is that 62% of Virginians see their public schools as good or excellent, 35% want to send their children to private schools, 10% prefer charter schools (a public school freed from most regulations affecting regular public schools), and 9% want to homeschool. The groups that sponsored the poll are pushing tax credit scholarships and/or school vouchers - both schemes where tax dollars go to private schools but not through direct government payments to the schools.
First, it is important to understand - there is school choice in Virginia. Any parent can choose to home school or to send their child to a private school. Oversight by the Commonwealth and local school boards is generally quite lax and there is little or no accountability such as public schools face with the Standards of Learning.
The issue is really about money, tax money to be exact. Should the Commonwealth give tax vouchers to parents or tax credits individuals and corporations who donate to special scholarships for private school tuition. Either way fewer tax dollars are collected and private schools receive support but without much public accountability. School funding in Virginia is complicated and beyond this post, but if less tax money is collected the General Fund is impacted - which will mean less funding not only for public education but perhaps for other core services.
With a state budget gasping for air, now might seem like a bad time for these school choice groups to be asking for a slice of the state tax pie. But, several dynamics have changed and new political leverage may favor this initiative:
  • Although he rebranded himself as a moderate, Bob McDonnell owes much of his victory to the religious right. Groups like the Family Foundation, who support these school choice schemes, have an inside line to the Governor-elect and they expect for him to deliver, if not in 2010, certainly over the next four years.
  • With the economic downturn, many private schools have experienced enrollment declines. Parents who formerly sent their kids to a private school now see the apple of their eye in an increasingly crowded (because of lack of funding) public school classroom. Hence, both parents and private schools are more motivated to join the fight.
  • An anti-union resurgence has emboldened conservative groups who want to destroy all employee groups, including the Virginia Education Association. Can you really be a union without collective bargaining or power to strike? Groups like the Chamber of Commerce which may not join the fray on school choice grounds may chime in simply for the union bashing.
Over the past five years the House of Delegates passed legislation for scholarship funds but the Virginia Senate killed it each time. There will soon be two Senate special elections to replace Republicans Ken Cuccinelli who was elected Attorney General and Ken Stolle who was elected Sheriff of Virginia Beach. Even if the GOP wins both, it is difficult to imagine the head counting on these school choice issues is changed much - unless a few current Senators have a change of heart.
More likely, the advocates of school choice funding schemes see it as something, not to be achieved next year, but rather in the next two to four years. They've had their "preseason" over the past five years in the House of Delegates. Now it is game on - in the first quarter the House will again pass school choice funding legislation where it may well die again in the Senate for both philosophical and budget reasons. Afterwards, the school choice funding advocates will have field position and in the second half they expect complete victory. By 2012 the budget situation will have improved along with the national economy. Governor McDonnell's pen will set priorities and he'll be expected to pay the religious right back for their important role in getting him elected. In 2011, the General Assembly, including all 40 Senators, will be up for election and some Republicans who haven't been on the school choice side will be under extreme pressure to conform or be pushed out. School choice funding folks believe that trio of changes - an improved economy, owning the Governor, controlling the Senate - will converge to carry them to victory.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wolf in sheep's clothing

Tom Perriello has been besieged with attack ads on NBC29 since his courageous vote on healthcare reform. Many of those ads are paid for and sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber, which was once seen as nonpartisan and in many communities as a civic group akin to the Ruritans or Lions Club, has increasingly become aligned with the Republican Party. From where I roost, the Chamber of Commerce has joined the NRA and others as virtual wings of the GOP.
Another group by the name of 60 Plus Association has joined in the attacks against Rep. Perriello. Their ads feature grandma and grandpa types blasting the congressman for selling out Virginians. Being unfamiliar with 60 Plus Association I got a little assistance from our friends at Google to see what I could learn.
Claiming to be a "non-partisan seniors advocacy group with a free enterprise, less government, less taxes approach," 60 Plus appears to actually have few members and depends on funding from the pharmaceutical companies and other conservative groups. Its "leaders" seem to be in an interlocking directorate with conservative groups and individuals ranging from Amway, the National Right to Work Committee, and the Heritage Foundation to GOP direct mail mastermind Richard Viguerie. There's more online including at SourceWatch.
Below, Rachel Maddow exposes the right wing connections of 60 Plus in August of this year:
It is always helpful to know who is really spreading the BS. It may not be the pleasant looking grandma like you thought.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Southerners/Republicans Favor Federal Help

I was intrigued by this poll, but found my friend Riley already had an excellent post on Blue Ridge Data. Cross-posted here with his permission.
The anti-big government tea party and Gadsden Flag contingent, sure made a lot of noise and fuss this year, but here's some data to suggest that Southerners are more economically rational than the FoxNewsCorp sponsored "tea party" storyline would indicate.
New data from polling by Winthrop University, has some findings that run counter to GOP and FoxNews talking points. <> Overall, 71.6% Southerners strongly support government programs to create jobs and 62.7% favor assisting states in financial crisis. <> 94.5% of Southern Democrats strongly favor government-backed initiatives to spark economic growth. <> 68.9% of Southern Independents favor government-backed initiatives to spark economic growth. <> And to invoke Gomer Pyle ... Surprise, Surprise, Surprise ... 53.4% of Southern Republicans also support job aid programs and 50.9% support aid to struggling states.

Poll Dates: 10/24 to 11/7 2009

n=866 respondents in 11 Southern states.

MOE= 3.33%.

h/t Media Matters Action

Friday, November 13, 2009

Community Colleges Raise Tuition

Effective with the spring semester, tuition at Virginia's community colleges will go up by just under $22 for the typical three-credit course. On Thursday the State Board for Community Colleges approved a tuition increase of $7.30/credit hour to help offset cuts caused by the state budget shortfalls. The increase should help our community colleges avoid some of the layoffs and overcrowded classes that had been anticipated.
Even with the increase, Virginia's community colleges are a great deal!

Troubled waters

A new report (PDF file) entitled "Wasting Our Waterways: Toxic Industrial Pollution and the Unfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act" by Environment America says Virginia's waterways are the second dirtiest in the United States. The report says Virginia had more than 18 million pounds of toxic chemicals released into its waterways, second only to Indiana. The New River (NC, VA, WV) is the worst in the Commonwealth and second worst in the entire nation with 14,090,633 pounds of total discharges. Ranking second in the state (31st in the nation) is the James River with 1,686,939 pounds. The Roanoke River also made the nation's top dirty 50 in total discharges. The discharge numbers are from 2007 when Environment America says more than 232 million pounds of toxic chemicals were dumped into 1,900 waterways.
Here at CCC I've previously posted about water quality issues with Shenandoah Valley rivers, most notably trash and animal/human wastes in our streams. When you consider the trash, the mostly unseen mix of chemicals, the bacteria, the nutrients, and the sediment/run-off that goes into our waterways it is pretty scary for anybody who wants to swim, canoe, fish, or use our precious water resources. W.C. Fields only touched on one irrelevant aspect of water quality in his famous quote about why he doesn't drink water. W.C., there are lots of other reasons!
Tom Toles' cartoon in the Washington Post November 13, 2009 sums it up pretty well.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Last week's other loser

Senator Emmett Hanger, I hope you are watching your back. Folks are already taking aim at your political life... and most likely they are your fellow Republicans. Democrats are still in a daze and aren't plotting that far ahead....
Senator Hanger represents the 24th Senate District that includes Augusta County, Greene County, Highland County, Lexington, Staunton, Waynesboro, plus parts of Albemarle County, Rockbridge County, and Rockingham County. You may recall that right wingers in the GOP worked hard to deny Hanger the party's nomination in 2007. They put up Scott Sayre who Hanger eventually defeated in the primary, but not until deep rifts between party factions were exposed.
Flash forward to the summer of 2009. At Staunton's July 4 parade Senator Hanger had his own float (actually a convertible) that was quite separate from the Republican float. Then later that month came Chris Saxman's surprise announcement that he was withdrawing from the 20th District House of Delegates race. Although there was a very public forum at Buffalo Gap High School, the local GOP chairs privately interviewed candidates and just as privately picked Staunton City Councilman Dickie Bell as their nominee. Bell easily won the election in November.
So, what does all this have to do with Senator Hanger? The bitter feelings from 2007 are still festering among local Republicans. Hanger, who is still popular with many in the GOP (and independent) electorate remains distrusted, even disliked, by his party's right wing. Reports indicate that the GOP chairs' interviews of potential candidates in the 20th District got not only into issues and electability, but also touched on their relationship and loyalty to the Senator. Anyone who was seen as too friendly to Hanger, or not tight enough with the conservative faction, had no chance of being the nominee. Equally important was picking a nominee acceptable to Delegate Saxman.
Looking forward to 2011, most observers assume Senator Hanger will seek renomination by the GOP and another term. But he faces considerable obstacles. Hanger, though he remains popular with many in the community, is largely estranged from the local Republican committees. Delegate Dickie Bell, who owes his nomination to those local chairs and to Chris Saxman will never be a Hanger ally and may well continue what some say was Saxman's behind-the-scenes sabotage of the Senator.
Speaking of Saxman, come January he is free to roam the political landscape. He says he will concentrate on "school choice" issues, but nobody buys that as his last waltz in politics. While some of the rumors swirling around his exit from the House race would, if true, likely end his career in electoral politics; the rumors of his future political aspirations have more credibility. Some say he may challenge Bob Goodlatte, but this bird wonders if his plans might be focused more on 2011.
Added to the toxic mix for Senator Hanger is the rise of the Tea Party activists and their appeal to right wing Republicans and the continuing local involvement of far right groups like the Club for Growth fighting healthcare reform. The nexus of a hostile party leadership and right wing grassroots politics spells danger for a mountain-valley Republican like Hanger. The Senator is well-advised to watch his back, to see who is following, to see who is gaining, to see who is taking aim. Might be a whole flock!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rainy Days and Reading

Raw and rainy days, a warm fire, and a good book seem to go well together. In that spirit, I recommend In an Uncharted Country by Clifford Garstang, a Shenandoah Valley author. You can easily read the dozen short stories in a morning while listening to rain pecking on the window and rising to occasionally stoke the fire.
Garstang has written short stories about everyday folks in and around the fictional town of Rugglesville located in western Virginia. Several connected directly to my life, my experiences, my hopes and dreams... I think I've been to Rugglesville. I suspect many of these stories will relate to your world as well. In others I heard echos of neighbors or family dealing with all the twists and turns of life. While all the stories are compelling and thought-provoking, I was most moved by "Flood, 1978" and "The Clattering of Bones."
It wasn't until I got into the second half of In an Uncharted Country that I began to realize how these seemingly unrelated stories were interconnected in a way that brought a deeper richness and meaning to all of the characters and their experiences. It all came rushing together in the last story, "Red Peony."
Okay, I'll admit I read one story a day over a couple weeks. But, if you read In an Uncharted Country in one sitting by the fire or over a couple weeks matters little. Either way, Garstang will take you on an emotional, geographical, and psychological journey where you may just discover a little more about yourself and your own town.
For more information about In an Uncharted Country and Clifford Garstang, and to order your own copy, visit Cliff's website.

Blowin' In the Wind

Virginia Governor Tim Kaine joined his counterparts in Maryland and Delaware to announce a tri-state commitment to developing off-shore wind energy in the Mid-Atlantic region. Governor Kaine stated:
With our extensive coastline and highly-educated workforce, Virginia is particularly well-suited to explore offshore wind energy opportunities. In these tough economic times, it's more important than ever that we invest in renewable energy sources that will create jobs and provide cleaner, more affordable energy for our families and communities. One of the best things we can do to lift ourselves out of a challenging economy today is to invest in a greener, cleaner tomorrow.
The Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club has long opposed off-shore oil drilling along the coast of the Commonwealth because of potential harm to our environment, it threatens commercial and sport fishing, and could have adverse impact on Virginia's vital tourism industry. The Sierra Club points out that off-shore oil drilling is even opposed by the U.S. Navy because it would interfere with unfettered access to the Virginia CAPES operating area.
The Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club has long advocated for development of off-shore wind energy resources along the eastern seaboard of the United States. In the clip below, Ivy Main, the Club's Renewable Energy Chair, explains that the east coast of the United States has enough proven wind energy to supply a significant portion of our electricity needs with a clean and renewable resource that poses none of the adverse effects that the "drill here, drill now" crowd would bring to our Atlantic seaboard.
Kudos to Governor Kaine as well as governors Martin O'Malley of Maryland and Jack Markell of Delaware for joining in this forward looking project. Hopefully it will mean green jobs, a cleaner environment, and be part of weaning our nation off dirty coal and help end our dependence on foreign oil bought from regimes who do not share our values. The answer to our energy needs is indeed, at least part of it, blowing in the wind... now if only the recent political ill-winds that chilled Virginia don't blow out this flicker of progress.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Over the mountain

Across Afton Mountain from the Shenandoah Valley we find ourselves in a different political universe. Much of the Valley is strong Republican turf and the congressman from the 6th District, Bob Goodlatte, rarely if ever breaks from his party ranks. Goodlatte, who has a good number of constituents who will benefit from meaningful healthcare reform, was nevertheless a predictable NO vote yesterday.
But, just a few miles across the Blue Ridge, freshman Democrat Tom Perriello of the 5th District voted for the legislation. Last summer, Perriello held 21 town hall meetings on healthcare reform across his sprawling district. He'd been working behind the scenes to influence the legislation so it won't add to the deficit, to protect Medicare, and to assure it will be fair and beneficial to rural areas like much of his district. After the historic vote, Perriello stated:
[The bill is] profound shift away from the status quo towards progress and better, cheaper health care for more Americans. [It] will make health care more affordable for the middle class, provide security for seniors and reduce the federal deficit.
Whether for or against health care reform, most people in the district asked me to fight for deficit reduction, a fair shake for rural doctors, and no federal funding for abortions. I helped to score major victories on all three fronts. Today’s vote on health care legislation came down to a simple choice for me: do we sit back and let premiums skyrocket for middle-class families and small businesses, and watch the cost of prescription drugs bankrupt seniors and the cost of health care bankrupt the federal government? Or do we take this step today to support middle-class families and small businesses by encouraging competition to bring down premiums?
The time to act is now, because Virginians deserve a competitive health care market,” he continued. They deserve access to affordable health care, and they deserve better choices when purchasing insurance.
Perriello has been hammered for weeks in TV ads sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and other conservative/GOP groups. Several potential Republican challengers are on the campaign trail attacking Rep. Perriello. The barrage of misleading litter will continue all the way until November 2010.
Right now it appears unlikely that Democrats will field a candidate against Bob Goodlatte in the 6th District. So, I'd like to make a modest proposal to progressives and Democrats in the Shenandoah Valley - make a "Thank You" donation to Tom Perriello's reelection campaign. It is quick and easy to do online and it will send a message that Democrats across the state are standing with Rep. Tom Perriello because he had the courage to do the right thing for his district and country.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Win some and lose some

Blue Ridge Data has a great quote that offers sage advice to everyone after an election. Thanks Joe... and Riley.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Voter turnout

On election day I came home for lunch and tuned into the noontime news on a couple stations and checked The News Leader and a couple other newspaper websites. Though mostly anecdotal, the reports were brimming about the number of people at the polls and the high voter turnout. Later in the afternoon, similar "stories" about good turnout were posted on several news websites. I got a call from a family member in NOVA about the lines at the polling place.
Turns out, reports of high turnout were greatly exaggerated. With beautiful fall weather on Tuesday, 1,973,971 voters, or just under 40% of those registered, went to the polls. That compares unfavorably (especially when you figure the electorate has grown) to 2005 when slightly over 2 million voters, or 45% cast ballots. In 1985 when major flooding affected the western areas of the state, the turnout was 53%. In short, turnout in 2009 was the lowest for a gubernatorial race in 40 years. What is obvious is that the Republican base was much more motivated to vote, while many Democrats must have spent the day basking in the warm sunshine.
Creigh Deeds did well with African-American voters who went to the polls, getting almost 93% of their votes. But, African-Americans sat this one out compared to 2008 and the 2005 gubernatorial race. Turnout among African-American voters declined by more than 10% when compared to 2005. Apparently President Obama's coattails are pretty short when he is not on the ballot.
Political parties know that GOTV is essential to winning, but the dilemma is how to actually turn out voters committed to the party's candidates. A unified and hungry Virginia (and NJ) GOP won the GOTV ground game big time resulting in solid wins. Democrats, with a more muddled message and less unified electorate, lost the battle not only for independents, but in getting their own base to the polls. In the special congressional election in NY, it was the GOP who was divided... and lost.
More info on voter turnout at the State Board of Elections and Sabato's Crystal Ball.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pickin' Up the Pieces

The morning after. Sound thumpin' for the Dems locally, across Virginia, and in New Jersey. Pundits will offer all sorts of reasons and justifications over the days and weeks ahead. Today I will be gathering yard and field signs. We'll be taking it in for recycling and hope you'll do the same... the cardboard signs, as well as the corrugated plastic and sleeves can all be recycled. That's too much BS to pile in our landfills.
While I'll admit surprise at some of the margins, the outcomes of the races are not much of a surprise in to anyone paying attention over the past weeks. The Valley typically runs 65-70% red and the outcome in the House races confirms this advantage continues. If GOP House candidates hadn't campaigned at all, they'd still have easily won.
A least one local whiner has bemoaned the nomination (actually he used his blog to undermine the ticket since the primary) of Creigh Deeds, believing that Terry McAuliffe would have brought energy to the Democratic ticket... I doubt the outcome would have been much different. From my perch, McAuliffe would have divided Democrats and united Republicans even more... if that is possible. True, the Deeds campaign stumbled and missed opportunities, but the stars were aligned for a Republican win in Virginia in 2009 and only major mistakes by McDonnell and friends could have changed the result. Have you heard the rumor that Terry is hinting at a run in 2013?
Actually, the GOP win in NJ is much more surprising than their wins in Virginia. The Garden State is (was?) deep blue while Virginia, despite last year's win by Obama, is at best reddish purple. Virginia voters are greatly impacted by the blowback from across the Potomac... millions of dollars of ads on health care, climate change, card check and so forth affect NOVA and beyond (we get D.C. stations here in the Valley). The net result was a growing frustration with all things government that was a drag on gubernatorial candidates seen as incumbents or surrogates for incumbents.
Running contrary to the anti-government mood was the passage of the meals tax in Rockingham County. The tax will only affect restaurants outside of town limits and 100% of funds raised support schools. Proponents were able to sell the tax as a way to avoid raising real estate taxes and as a tax that would be paid by others such as travelers along I-81. So, a tax was sold as anti-tax?
Looking ahead, several things come to mind. Virginia's budget will present very real challenges to McDonnell, the General Assembly, and to all Virginians. Hopefully, bipartisan solutions can be found. Just as the Republicans used our wonderful system of checks and balances to block some of Governor Tim Kaine's initiatives, the Democratic Virginia Senate will likely block McDonnell if he tries to shift General Fund dollars from schools to build roads.
Ironically, Governor-elect McDonnell's future is now closely linked to President Obama's. The success of each depends on a recovering economy and job creation. For the good of everyone, we should all hope they are successful in that endeavor.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Full Moon

Election Day with a full moon. A full moon usually brings out all the crazies. After putting up signs at several precincts, I returned to mine to vote. Sure enough, a Cuccinelli crazy had moved some of my signs. I politely smiled and moved a couple back. When I left, he was talking to himself.
Election Day. Full Moon. Crazies. I fear for the Commonwealth.

Monday, November 2, 2009

DNR's bounce back censorship

Now it has happened to me.
I'd been hearing about folks who sent pro-Democratic letters to the editor, via email, to the Daily News-Record only to have them bounce back. These folks told be they'd double checked the address and found it to be correct. Most email delivery failures come back fairly quickly, sometimes within minutes. All of these bounce backs from the DNR are coming back days or even a week or more after the original email was sent. In my case, it was seven days, three hours, and four minutes later.
Given the right wing bias of the editors of the DNR and the fact that I am the third person who I know who has experienced this, and the returned emails come back too late to try again... I have concluded this is probably a case of "bounce back censorship."

Putting teeth in bay cleanup

Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-Maryland) has introduced legislation to put some teeth into cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. Among the provisions:
  • Reauthorize the Chesapeake Bay Program which is run by EPA;
  • States in the 64,000 square mile watershed would have to devise more specific plans to reduce pollution;
  • States would have to write stormwater permitting rules that protect the natural hydrology of an area under development
  • States would have to abide with a watershed-wide "total maximum daily load" limit on nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.
The legislation also provides $1.5 billion in grants to help states achieve these goals. Starting in 2014, the states would have to issue progress reports every other year. A failure to make adequate progress could result in loss of those funds. There's the teeth!
More about the legislation and cleaning up the bay at the Washington Post and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Hunt? Fish? There's only one candidate for you

Roanoke Times outdoors reporter Mark Taylor recently talked to Creigh Deeds and Bob McDonnell about outdoors-related issues Virginia's next governor may face. Looking through the scope of the interview it comes into focus that, for Virginia sportsmen, there is only one candidate who understands their issues, who in fact lives and breathes, the Commonwealth's great outdoors.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Facts about the "Fact Book"

Each year The News Leader publishes its "Fact Book: a guide to Staunton, Waynesboro & Augusta County." The 2010 edition arrived rolled in a newspaper a couple of days ago. Was it bigger than the paper?
The first thing I noticed was that it is easily rolled, having shrunk considerably over the past few years. The 2010 edition is a total of 6o pages counting the covers; 12 of those pages are on glossy stock that, other than the front cover, are all full color ads no doubt demanding top dollar. Speaking of ads, the Leader's sales department, which must be their largest, sold 27 pages of ads. No wonder there isn't a listing of realtors - a bunch of them bought ads, mostly with pictures of themselves. Looks like a high school yearbook.... except more wrinkles and bald heads.
To my dismay, I next discovered there is no table of contents or index. I suppose such frivolous things take up valuable ad space. Okay, with only 60 pages I ought to be able to browse it easily enough. Damn, those newsprint pages keep sticking together.
So browse I did... hunting and pecking like an old rooster through the grist to see what I could find, or not find. Less than 10 minutes revealed:
  • The listing for the Augusta County School Board is inaccurate;
  • The Augusta County General District Court is AWOL;
  • There is a long list of churches, but I have no idea how complete/accurate it is;
  • There are only five Business & Professional Organizations in our community - groups like teachers, doctors, lawyers, dentists, car dealers, etc. are nowhere to be found;
  • Other than a phone number, most listings have little information - usually no website or description. Exception - area colleges.
  • The Greater Augusta Regional Chamber of Commerce gets two listings - one under Business & Professional Organizations and another under Helping Agencies.
  • Agriculture? What agriculture? I didn't realize all our farms have disappeared!
I'm sure another 10 minutes could double or triple this list of errors and omissions, but who really cares? While I suppose we should thank The News Leader for putting Fact Book 2010 together, the real fact is that it is virtually useless. Most of the listings for government offices, schools, and so forth are more easily (and more accurately) found in the local phone book. Almost everything in Fact Book 2010 is available online, more up-to-date, and quickly found by by our friends at Google. Even The News Leader has more and better information available in the Data Leader section of their website.
The Greater Augusta Regional Chamber of Commerce is a "helping agency?" When you compare them to the other listings under that category - Red Cross, SPCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, and the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank - the chamber in no way qualifies as a "helping agency." Helping themselves! In fact, the Chamber of Commerce has become so blatantly partisan and FOXian in the last decade - deriding unions, spreading false information about climate change, trying to kill healthcare reform, attacking Democratic candidates - that it more accurate to call them what they are - a right wing lobby. Oh, I thought they were a wing of the GOP!
But, I digress... back to Fact Book 2010. I'll be putting this edition in the paper recycling. There is no reason to save it for reference and the paper can move on to another and perhaps greater use. TP? Besides, it has already served its true purpose of fattening the bank account of The News Leader.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Time To Reform the Patriot Act

Remember the Patriot Act? Yeah, the one that abused civil liberties and knocked the United States Constitution for a loop. Well, at the end of this year several sections of the Patriot Act will expire and Congress is just beginning consideration of what to do.
The USA PATRIOT Amendments Act of 2009 (H.R. 3485) offers significant changes that will restore some of our rights, including:
  • Protection of the privacy of homes and businesses by ensuring that the "library records provision" does not authorize collection of library or bookstore records that contain information on the patron;
  • Protection of our First Amendment rights by requiring the government to convince a judge that a national security gag order is necessary;
  • Protection of privacy of records by amending the national security letter statues to guarantee that the government can get the financial, communication, and credit records only of people believed to be terrorists or spies.
Not included in H.R. 3485, but should be:
  • A limitation on prosecution to individuals who actually intend to aid terrorists;
  • A requirement on the government to show, when obtaining a warrant, to show the records actually relate to a suspected terrorist or spy.
Contact Rep. Bob Goodlatte, or your representative, and urge him/her to cosponsor or at least support these basic reforms to the Patriot Act. Yeah, I know talking to Bob is usually a frustrating experience. But, this is important... we're talking about our constitutional rights. So, get this job done, now!

Cuccinelli: Affable Extremist

As a candidate for attorney general, Mr. Cuccinelli has profited from an affability and quick wit that have tended to mask his extremist views. As a lawmaker in Richmond, he has displayed contempt for non-English speakers; for those who care about global warming; and for the First Amendment. Many of his fellow Republicans regard him as occupying the far-right fringe of the party, the ultimate small tenter. The more immediate concern is this: If he is elected attorney general, Mr. Cuccinelli would drive away qualified lawyers from an office that functions as the state government's law firm, and, given his bizarre ideas, he would very likely become an embarrassment for the commonwealth.
Ken Cuccinelli's quick smile is a Halloween mask disguising the fact that he an evil spirit of a distant and ugly past. He is exactly the wrong man to elect as Virginia's Attorney General in 2009. Read more in Mr. Cuccinelli's Bigotry.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Down; Up

Virginia Western Community College has become the latest to announce cuts of positions as their budget goes down while enrollment goes up. At VWCC it was two layoffs and 15 retirements that balanced the books... for now. Unless revenues pick up, there could be more layoffs there and at other community colleges in about six months.
The story has been echoed at many other community colleges. Some school have have been able to minimize the impact on the classroom by savings in energy use, conferences, travel, maintenance, etc. Most schools are utilizing more part-time faculty who, because they don't receive benefits, are less expensive on a per student basis. Some full-time faculty are teaching an extra class. Class sizes are up.
Virginia's community colleges do not cap enrollment. Unlike UVA or JMU who can meet some budget constraints by limiting the number of students accepted, our community colleges take everyone. And those numbers are increasing as unemployed Virginians seek new job skills or look to get a great tuition deal on basic courses that will transfer to a four-year college. Community colleges are reporting double digit enrollment increases, with some experiencing jumps of 25-30%.
With expectations that Virginia's budget situation will get worse before it gets better, pressure will increase on community colleges - budgets are likely to go down while enrollments continue to go up. Governor Kaine's last budget, the new governor, and the General Assembly should recognize the importance of community colleges in building a trained and skilled workforce for the state. If at all possible, the Virginia Community College System should be spared additional cuts - the 23 colleges, located on 40 campuses, serving some 262,444 students do too much good work to be slammed again.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Witch's Cauldron

A scary Halloween from artist Zina Saunders at Drawger...
"Double, double, toil and trouble," chant Michele Bachmann, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh as they stir up the pot against health care reform.
A few incantations from the trio's trick or treat bag: Congresswoman Bachmann says sex clinics will result from Health Care Reform, Ann Coulter says Obama's plan encourages assisted suicide for the elderly, and Rush Limbaugh says Obama's health care plan is right out of Hitler's playbook.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Battlefield Preservation

The Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) today applauded members of the U.S. House and Senate for including the largest ever single-year allocation for the federal Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 Interior Appropriations Act Conference Report. The conference report includes $9 million for the Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program, a mechanism that utilizes government matching grants and private funds to permanently protect historic Civil War battlefields throughout the nation. "This is tremendous news that could not come at a more critical time," said CWPT President James Lighthizer. Each day 30 acres of hallowed Civil War battlefield ground are paved over and lost forever. This money will allow us to preserve historic land that would otherwise be lost to development and urban sprawl."
The CWPT thanked a number of legislators for their hard work and support in getting this measure passed, among them Virginia Senator Jim Webb, who stated:
"It is welcome news that our $9 million funding request for battlefield preservation was accepted in the Interior Appropriations bill. As America prepares for the 150th anniversary commemoration of the Civil War, it is more important than ever that we preserve these landmarks for future generations to learn about the history of our nation."

He's been there for Virginia

Creigh Deeds has been there for Virginia. Now he needs you to be there for him.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Vote Green, Live Green

Lost in all the negative ads, the whirlwind about healthcare reform, and the daily drumbeat of economic news are how candidates in Virginia stand on protecting our environment. Fortunately, the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club has great website that allows you to compare the statewide and House of Delegates candidates. If voting with a green conscience is important to you, check it out.
With the motto of "Conservation Is Conservative," a grassroots group is dedicated to bringing back the GOP's conservation best exemplified by President Theodore Roosevelt. Republicans for Environmental Protection found few friends among party leaders just a few years ago, but now that some in the party are soul-searching the group hopes to move to a greener GOP. Among the issues being pushed are constructive input on climate change and an end to mountaintop removal coal mining which David Jenkins, the group's VP for government and political affairs says, "offends everybody's environmental sensitivities...." Republicans for Environmental Protection may be on to something - although only 8 out of 178 House Republicans voted for the American Clean Energy and Security Act, a recent Zogby poll found 45% of Republican voters were favorable to the legislation. There's more in Sierra Magazine.
And on a lighter note, how about POWER TO THE PEE-PLE. Drought is causing water shortages in many areas such as Australia, China, and parts of South America. With climate change, scientists expect more severe droughts in our future. An environmental group in Brazil, SOS Mata Atlantica has a suggestion to save a flush a day. Their animated TV ad is in Portuguese, but a whiz kid like you will get the message.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Legal, ethical, and bad for representative democracy

There is something going on that smells like road kill on hot August afternoon in the Shenandoah Valley. Our 140 lawmakers can derive income from various state or local government agencies without it being a conflict of interest or disclosure of the money. In fact, no Virginia law even requires they disclose any income from a government agency. This is a story about something that is quite legal and ethical in most situations... but is it good for our representative democracy? Maybe not, but it is apparently good for some wallets.
Eight members of the General Assembly "earn" income from Virginia colleges and universities. Now some no doubt really do earn their pay. For example, Delegate Dan Bowling of Tazwell County has been a professor at Southwest Virginia Community College for years and earns just over $65,000. He was a professor before being elected to the General Assembly and like a person in any other profession should have the right to purse their occupation and serve as a legislator.
Another good example where all this seems above board and quite legitimate is that of Delegate Bill Janis of Goochland County. Delegate Janis earns a grand total of about $4,500 as an adjunct professor at W&M and VCU. Relatively speaking about the same cracked corn I earn as an adjunct at a private college.
But, the hen house is clucking about Senator Thomas Norment of Williamsburg who is paid $160,000 as a part time professor at W&M. It is hard for many to justify that salary for a part time position - just how many courses/students does Senator Norment teach? Or is the pay based on other "duties?" Then Attorney General Bob McDonnell held the arrangement was not a conflict of interest. Would the ruling have been the same for someone of the other party?
Of course, there is the clear conflict of interest in the case of Delegate Phil Hamilton of Newport News. Totally tossing the moral compass, Hamilton lobbied for and gladly accepted a $40,000 a year salary from ODU for a position he used his seat the House of Delegates to fund. Hamilton is being investigated by a federal grand jury and the House of Delegates. Hopefully, the voters will render those investigations moot.
The General Assembly now requires that members disclose annual income of $10,000 or more. But they are exempt from disclosing any and all income from state agencies or local governments. Some choose to disclose, others do not. Many in the General Assembly argue that voters can always kick out members who are too cozy or do favors for the agency that pays them. That is true... if we know about those relationships. The legal exemption on disclosure and generous conflict of interest rules certainly inhibit that.
Perhaps something good will come out of Phil Hamilton's ethical lapse. In the next session, the General Assembly should require full disclosure of income exceeding $10,000 that legislators earn from any any source including any state agency, local government, or school board. The disclosure should be reasonably specific about the services rendered. Then voters will have at least some of the information needed to decide if they need to kick any of the rascals out.
On a side (but related) note, Delegate Todd Gilbert works as a prosecutor in the Frederick County Commonwealth's Attorney's office. So, he is employed in the executive branch, working daily in the judicial branch, and was elected to the legislative branch. Can anybody spell "separation of powers?"

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Re-post: Bob McDonnell speaks out of both sides of his mouth

I originally posted this on March 14 when Bob McDonnell had just breezed down Rt. 11 reassuring right wingers that he was an ultraconservative although he appeared to be running as a Mark Warner moderate. It bears repeating. Perhaps it helps explain all the litter spewing forth from his campaign. My post was based on notes taken by a friend who "snuck" into the room at the Augusta Co. Government Center.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell has been cruising the state conducting grassroots meetings with Republican activists. Although billed as open meetings, they are not widely advertised except by their internal messages, word of mouth, and occasionally on blogs.
You may recall an earlier CCC post about McDonnell telling the Washington Post that he is a moderate. That article was reprinted in newspapers around the state. Well, the wingnuts of the GOP apparently don't like the sound of "moderate" one bit!
According to some who have been to the meetings, folks are showing up with the article in hand, wanting to know what he meant by claiming to be a moderate, and demanding that he explain himself. McDonnell, after assuring himself the door is closed, usually says something about the press not be present so he can tell those present the truth. He then launches into a tirade defending his commitment to ultraconservative principles on the hardcore social and economic issues that are red meat for the right wing who have shown up.
I'm not sure who should be more pissed off about Bob McDonnell's duplicity: the media for being lied to, the GOP conservatives for being stabbed in the back for political expedience, the readers of newspapers because reporters don't ask the tough questions, or the voters who are being sold a bill of goods by a slick talking two-faced liar.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Ventured to NOVA this weekend to visit our daughter and celebrate her new job that she'll be starting on Monday. While there we were absolutely thrilled to catch up with old friends Kevin and Mary. Kevin is one-half of MarshallArtz as their site notes a "guitar duo performing a distinctive original blend of rock, jazz, and blues forged together in a kick-ass acoustic style. The duo features the combined talents of Brad Marshall on lead, rhythm, and slide guitar and Kevin Artz on rhythm and fingerstyle guitar, vocals and harmonica."
In the early 80s I'd occasionally accompany Kevin and Mary to gigs in places like Lexington and Charlottesville. Now MarshallArtz plays at clubs, pubs, colleges, and events in NOVA, D.C., and Maryland. They've got several CDs of original music and live performances feature a mix of their original songs plus classics of folk, rock, and blues.
Below, MarshallArtz performs the Beatles classic, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
If you get the chance, check them out sometime. You'll be glad you did!