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 OpenSecrets.org 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 freekibble.com 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 freerice.com. 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!