Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Gasland: The Movie

The largest domestic natural gas drilling boom in history has swept across the United States. The Halliburton-developed drilling technology of "fracking" or hydraulic fracturing has unlocked a "Saudia Arabia of natural gas" just beneath us. But is fracking safe? When filmmaker Josh Fox is asked to lease his land for drilling, he embarks on a cross-country odyssey uncovering a trail of secrets, lies and contamination. (From the producers of Gasland)
The Shenandoah Group of the Sierra Club, in cooperation with the JMU Earth Club, will present the film Gasland: The Movie in the auditorium in JMU's Memorial Hall at 7:00 PM on January 18, 2011. Following the movie a panel of local experts will discuss hydrofracking and answer questions about its implications for our area.

Memorial Hall is the former Harrisonburg High School located at 395 S. High Street, Harrisonburg. Directions. The event is free and open to the public. More info.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Random acts of vacuous behavior

Okay, this post is vacuous behavior itself, but here goes...

The other day I was in Harrisonburg and spotted or heard on the radio, the following:
  • At the Lowe's there is a small bike rack. I suppose that is a nice touch, but wonder if it is often used? It is a cold day in Hell when I come out of Lowe's with such a small load that I could carry it on a bicycle! Then again, when in Beijing, we saw bikes with carts hauling everything from snow to small livestock... if gas prices keep rising we may see more "work bikes" here.
  • A Cash Advance store has a sign on the door saying "No Cash On Premises." Huh?
  • A radio ad for a funeral home wished everyone a "safe and healthy New Year." I like the sentiment, but it wouldn't be very good for business.
This one is more of a pet peeve. Like many folks at this time of year, we've made some charitable donations. Three were to local organizations helping people with genuine needs and whose work we admire because they touch lives and make us a better community. All well and good so far, but here's what irks me a bit... within two weeks all three had mailed additional solicitations to my home. Perhaps that is strategic marketing, but it seems almost rude and, to my way of thinking, a waste of resources. We'll donate to these organizations again in the future, but couldn't I get the thank you note first?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Governor to state employees... you'll have to pay for state's mismanagement

According to a recent study commissioned by the General Assembly, the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) is underfunded by $18 billion. In his budget proposals, Governor Bob McDonnell will likely tell state employees to pick up some of the tab for restoring the system. With pay raises unlikely, that will be a pay cut for the Commonwealth's workforce.

One might ask why the VRS is ailing. Well, the simple and honest answer is because for several budget cycles the General Assembly and governor have cut the state's, local governments', and school boards' contributions below what was prudent to maintain a viable system able to meet its obligations. They've also borrowed from VRS to patch holes in the budget. They assured everyone that these actions would not endanger VRS' balance sheet. Due to policymakers' own actions the VRS is in some difficulty and those same policymakers want someone else to pick up the tab.

If that sounds unfair... it most definitely is. A quarter century ago the state (also most local governments and school boards) picked in the employees' 5% share of the contribution in lieu of a pay raise. In response to some skepticism, policymakers promised it would be permanent. Then last year legislation passed requiring new employees to pay that 5% themselves. At least newbies understood the deal when they took the job. Now the governor wants all employees to pick up (as yet undisclosed) some of the so-called "employees' share." If the state does so, it is probable that local governments and school boards will follow suit - like state employees, most teachers, police, and other local employees would effectively face a pay cut after several years without pay raises.

The governor's proposal is bad policy that breaks faith with the men and women who perform valuable services for the citizens. The General Assembly should reject this idea, restore rational contribution rates for VRS, begin paying back money borrowed from VRS, and delay funding new pet projects of the administration until current obligations to VRS are met.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Saving corn... cutting service to farmers and homeowners

You may have used the services of the Virginia Cooperative Extension when having a problem in your home garden or with pests in your lawn. The farmer down the road probably uses a variety of Extension services in managing and improving his operation. Your kids may have been involved in 4-H programs. All that might be coming to an end, or be far less convenient, if proposed budget cuts materialize.

Virginia Tech has proposed restructuring the Virginia Cooperative Extension in a move that will save $5.5 million but make services much less available and convenient to those who use them. The plan, which is in a early draft stage, will consolidate the 106 local offices into a couple dozen regional hubs. Some staff positions, most likely administrative assistants, would be eliminated. Many folks who use extension services would have to travel farther and may find some programs cut or curtailed.

I haven't heard any speculation on specifically how restructuring would affect the central Shenandoah Valley Extension offices. Partly because the plan is just now being developed and partly because Extension employees have apparently been cautioned about speaking out on the issue, there are few public details. Rockingham and Augusta counties are two of the largest agricultural producers in the Commonwealth and they, along with other local governments and citizens, need to engage state legislators on this issue before the General Assembly convenes in January. In this case, the savings may not be worth the costs to our communities.

Friday, December 10, 2010

It is a good deal... let me find the credit card

Governor Bob McDonnell wants to take advantage of low construction costs brought on by the slow economy to jump start road building in the Commonwealth. His transportation plan calls for spending about $4 billion over three years to ease congestion and, as a side benefit, to create much needed jobs. Laudable goals. Road construction has languished in the Commonwealth while congestion has gotten worse. Folks in road building could certainly use the work. With costs, both highway construction and interest rates, at near historic lows now could be the time to get more miles for the dollar.

But... there's always a "but" isn't there... make no mistake about it, the Commonwealth will have to go deeper into hock to pay for the roads. Unfortunately the governor's plan fails to address just how we'd pay back those loans. Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-Henry Co.), House minority leader and a potential gubernatorial candidate, issued a press release saying of the plan,
This is just the latest in a long line of irresponsible and half-baked ideas that fail to address our core problem of generating a long-term sustainable source of funding for our transportation needs...
So where would Governor McDonnell find the dollars? He says some of the money would come from saving and unspent funds of over $1 billion "discovered" in a recent VDOT audit. So, that really doesn't represent much new spending, but rather money that is already in the pipeline for maintenance and other projects. The governor's plan anticipates $700 million from as yet unrealized future surpluses and from privatization of state ABC stores. Perhaps this is his way of pressuring the General Assembly into moving ahead on his plan to sell the liquor business, but legislators are far from being sold on deal, especially in light of a recent report of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission questioning administration numbers. According to JLARC, the "profits" would be closer to $300 than the $500 million the governor projected. Plus, while it would be upfront money that could be used for current transportation, the sale would mean a loss of state revenue each and every year in the future.

Beyond that, the governor plans to borrow $2.9 billion in a mix of state-backed and federal-backed bonds. The $1.1 billion federal-backed bonds, it appears, are repaid from future federal transportation grants-in-aid to the Commonwealth. So, we'd have future loss of revenue from the sale of ABC stores, loss of some future federal transportation aid, and future interest payment to service the increased debt. And the Commonwealth already has obligations to repay money to VRS and for other bonds that helped balance previous budgets.

It is irresponsible to spend money without clear plans and a reliable revenue stream for repayment of the debt to be incurred. Future governors and legislators will be forced to choose between core services such as schools and public safety or raise taxes. As Delegate Armstrong noted,
When you don’t pay now, someone has to pay later. Unfortunately the Governor’s lack of leadership on transportation has resulted in a plan that amounts to a back door tax increase on our children.
Perhaps now is the time for the Commonwealth to revamp its gas tax. Start a process of small periodic increases in the current 17.5¢ per gallon state gas tax to raise it to a level consistent with inflation. That rate was set in 1985 and its buying power is closer to 8¢. But, the governor seems dead set against that - he'll just max out another credit card.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

One of our better angels

I would be wonderful if we were all represented by such a senator.

May this rupture a hemmorrhoid on the south end of a northbound VC...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Chesapeake Bay Cleanup - voluntary won't get the job done

Always drink upstream from the herd.
                                                ~Will Rogers

Earlier this week, Governor Bob McDonnell's administration released its plans for the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. To a large extent the plan relies on voluntary actions to clean up the bay. It also provides for a system of buying and selling the right to pollute in certain watersheds - a plan that sounds much like cap and trade, a concept lambasted by many Republicans who care more about protecting business than protecting the environment.

Representative Bob Goodlatte (VA-06) joined Virginia farm organizations in calling for a more "flexible collaborative Bay cleanup effort." In other words the congressman and farmers want a largely voluntary plan with a few economic incentives but without deadlines or meaningful enforcement.

Voluntary always sounds good and sometimes results in meaningful positive steps, but in this case (and in many others) the problem is too big, the number and sources of the pollution to great, and the consequences of inaction too dire for this great natural resource to be restored simply by flexible and collaborative efforts. Action is needed and all (not just those with a conscience) need to be part of the solution.

How well does voluntary action work to end human behaviors that negatively impacts others? Suppose we had a voluntary program to end to drunk driving - think that would be effective? Even mandatory programs, where some find ways to get around the law, eventually find the problem rearing its nasty head after we thought it to be ancient history. For example, some parents figure that if all other kids get their childhood vaccinations, their darlings will be safe even without them. When enough think that way disease can make a quick comeback. Pertussis (whooping cough) cases are on the increase all across the country including cases recently in Orange County, Virginia.

Cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay will require action from all involved - not just farmers, but also households with leaky septic tanks and overzealous lawn fertilization, municipalities with out-of-date sewage treatment plants, and factories and processors who use our waterways to flush away their waste products. With all due respect to Will Rogers, in today's world, there is no place that is upstream from from herd (or bad septic tank).

Having been involved in stream monitoring for the past several years I have come to the conclusion that responsible farmers who are doing the right thing by building livestock buffers, planting vegetation, and restoring steam banks should be saluted but the reality is those efforts are only minimally affecting water quality. Water laden with e-coli and other pollutants may improve but will not magically become clean because it passes through a mile or so of properly managed stream. Bad water in = bad water out. Plus, in our karst limestone region bad surface water can find it way into groundwater affecting private wells and municipal water sources. In short, a few farms (or homes or old sewage plants) can muck up the whole creek.

One impediment to farmers taking the steps to manage streams crossing their fields is cost of fencing and providing water to their livestock. Cost is even more prohibitive and there are economic disincentives if the land is leased. Many landowners wouldn't go through the hassle of getting a grant or putting up the bucks to pay for the fence - it isn't their cows in the stream and the costs probably couldn't be recouped in the rent. The farmer running the livestock on the land may want to keep cows out of streams to reduce hoof problems and keep them grazing, but he'll unlikely to pay for fencing and watering on land he doesn't own.

Nope Rep. Goodlatte, this is one of those cases where voluntary won't get the job done. Too many incentives to not volunteer. And just a few farmers, homeowners, or factories not cooperating for the common good will have a dramatic impact on all of us. I'm all in favor of grants, expert advice, and other assistance to farmers. Those incentives should be designed to move cleanup of our streams, our rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay along faster. There might even be a bit of economic stimulus in doing just that. But at the end of the day, if we are really serious about restoring the Bay, we'll need deadlines, mandates, enforcement, and a common set of rules for all who use (and will potentially abuse) our precious water resources.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Why we'll have a hard time bringing down the debt

Governor Bob McDonnell and virtually all of the Commonwealth's elected leaders of both parties have unwittingly demonstrated why getting a handle on the federal deficit and debt will be so difficult. The governor and Virginia's congressional delegation are lobbying the Pentagon and taking to the air waves to argue against plans to close/downscale military bases and cut military jobs in the state. Those same leaders, almost to a person, talk of the need to cut federal spending and to reduce the debt... but like political leaders everywhere, they don't want to take the hit.

The governor talked about protecting national security (hey, that's the Pentagon's job, not the governor's) and the impact on the Virginia economy. But, the real reason is likely their own job security and political futures.

The USA will never fix our budget imbalances until those who scream loudest for spending cuts are willing to take willing to take some cuts themselves. It can't always be tax the other guy and spend the money on me. Where are politicians who will look beyond their immediate needs to the bigger picture of our common good? Where are the American people willing to do so? Don't tell me it is tea partiers... the one I know best is already screaming "don't touch my Social Security or Medicare... don't raise my taxes...."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Promises Kept

The Promise is kept (once again) by Bruce Springsteen.

Vast. Elegant. Tender. Mysterious. Fierce. Beautiful. Raspy. Fearless. Stimulating. Great. Boundless. Exciting. Jagged. Heavenly. Acrid. Amusing. Loving. Dramatic. Robust. Painful. Reflective. Complex. Exultant. Luxuriant. Witty. Expansive. Guttural. Encouraging. Combative. Heartbreaking. Gutsy. Victorious. Faithful. Ubiquitous. Knowing. Stormy. Nostalgic. Lonely. Spiritual. Wise. Outstanding. Lyrical. Tearful. Serious. Romantic. Ruthless. Punk. Sweet. Vigorous. Upbeat. Young. Old. Illuminating.

Turn it up. Absorb it. As "old" as 1977, as relevant as today... and tomorrow. Enjoy. The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tipping the bottle water guy

There's more on WVEC's Bottled Water Leaves Bad Taste in Taxpayers Mouth. Wonder if the taxpayers are paying for delivery of Keurig coffee, too? So much could be said about this one.... wasting tax dollars, plastic in landfills, it isn't what you know but who you know.... Gotta head to the kitchen tap to refill my glass. Cluck! Cluck!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Veterans Day

I received the following info about local Veterans Day events, however, I have not confirmed the details so if you plan to attend please check in advance. Even if you are not a Vet, take time to honor the men and women who have served, and continue to serve, our nation.
  • (This one appears to be for all seniors) Staunton/Augusta County residents: Free Senior Health Fair on Wednesday, Nov. 10 from 9 a.m. to 12 noon@Augusta County Government Center. For more information, call 245-5727.
  • Thursday, Nov. 11, Applebees Restaurants will be honoring Active duty, Reservists, and Veterans with a free entree among 3 specific selections. Outback Restaurants will honor the same group of people on Nov. 11 with a free blooming onion and beverage.
  • Monday, Nov. 15, Golden Corral Restaurants will honor the same group with a free dinner buffet from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. (Please call ahead to confirm that your area restaurants are participating and the specific hours.)
  • Residents of Staunton/Augusta County: On Thursday, Nov. 11 Subway will give a Free 6" fresh value meal to the above mentioned group.
  • The Old SchoolHouse Restaurant in Stuarts Draft will honor Active Duty, Reservists and Veterans with a Free lunch buffet from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 14. Please remember to bring proper I.D. to show your status.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The morning after... or afternoon after... pill

We took a lickin' but, just like the storied wristwatch, we Dems will keep on tickin'. While the news was bad, it wasn't as bad as many pundits predicted. We're here and we'll keep fighting for the principles that will move America forward. But, on this morning after, a chill pill.  ;>)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Old Man Winter will eventually arrive

It has been a mild, many would say warm, fall in the Shenandoah Valley. We've only used the wood stove a couple of times and the furnace remains silent. This morning was the first time the pet water bowls have sported a skiff of ice. But, even with the reality of global warming, the leaves are falling and we all know Old Man Winter will find his way to the Valley. Are you ready?

The Shenandoah Group of the Sierra Club's next program, Home Weatherization - Are You Ready for Winter? will feature Benjamin Meredith of Building Knowledge, an experienced professional building inspector and energy rater. Benjamin has conducted numerous energy audits on homes and is familiar with the common problems of weatherization and how to deal with them. He will explain how energy audits work, and will provide practical advice that you can put to use right away to better insulate your home. Learn how you and your family will be more comfortable, save money, and conserve our natural resources.

Date/time: Tuesday, November 9 at 7:00 PM
Place: Clementine Cafe (downstairs), 153 S. Main St., Harrisonburg, VA

Sunday, October 31, 2010

I remember

Because many American memories are short... a reminder.


No real choice in VA06? Rather than not voting, send a message by writing-in R.U. Kidding.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy Halloween??

I'm ready. Lights off. Big dog (but friendly Golden Retriever) outside. 

to this stupid "holiday"

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Constitutional Change - two outta three ain't bad

In much of the 6th District there is little compelling reason to bring voters to the polls on November 2. In spite of some grousing by tea party types that Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R) is just another "power-hungry career politician," the incumbent will again break his five term "pledge" and coast to victory by defeating Libertarian Stuart Bain and independent Jefffey Vanke. Neither Bain nor Vanke has made even a anemic blip on voters' radar.

Yes, there are spirited contests in some localities. For example, Harrisonburg has six candidates (two Republican, two Democratic, and two independent) vying for two city council seats. There is also an election for a couple of school board seats. A drive through the "Friendly City" shows far more local candidate than congressional signs and we might expect turnout there to be higher than in surrounding areas.

Virginia voters will vote on three constitutional amendments. One will raise the cash cap on the so-called "rainy day fund" by 50% to rebuild it faster. This fund is essentially a saving account in which the General Assembly deposits funds during "good times" and make withdrawals during shortfalls caused by economic slowdowns. The General Assembly passed the proposal unanimously... most Republicans like the idea of shrinking government by taking some money out of current budgets while Democrats laud the safety net.

Voters will also consider two other amendments, one dealing with with property tax exemptions for senior citizens. Currently a locality must get permission from the General Assembly to give tax breaks to low income or disabled seniors. This amendment would allow local governing bodies to make their own decision.

The other amendment intends to help veterans (or their surviving spouse) who were totally disabled during their service by exempting them from local property taxes on their home. This break would apply to some 7,000 veterans across the Commonwealth.

You can read the actual text of the amendments at the State Board of Elections. Typically, voters go along with the General Assembly and approve amendments (simple majority vote does it) to the state constitution. Should they do so this time? My position - two outta three ain't bad:
  • Increasing the rainy day fund makes sense to me. Perhaps it is the teaching of my depression-era parents, but in my personal life I've operated on this principle. Seems like a good idea for the Commonwealth to sock away funds for the tough times, too. Vote YES on ballot question #3.
  • I also like the idea of giving local governments the ability to grant tax exemptions to certain senior citizens without having to ask permission of the General Assembly. This is a decision best left to local officials based on local circumstances. Vote YES on ballot question #1.
  • While I generally support the notion of a tax break for disabled veterans, I do not support the General Assembly doing so with local tax dollars. The previous amendment grants more autonomy to local governments, this one encroaches on it. For that reason alone, voters should vote NO ballot question #2.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

Coarse Cracked Corn has reported on it before... the tea party is fueled by the money and organizations who are the very antithesis of all the good common folks, angry and frustrated by the Bush recession, who turn out for their rallies and pump money in their coffers. The unseen elites of the tea party are largely funded by billionaires far right wing David and Charles Koch who love flying well below the national media radar. They have radar for something beyond celebrity scandal?

Now a new report, Tea Party Nationalism, documents how opportunist racist, white nationalist, and militias groups are working to control the supply of tea. Guess they don't care for black tea? This isn't to say that all tea party types are racist, in fact, the more formalized parts of the movement have made specific statements repudiating the racist signs and comments that sometimes spew forth at rallies. Individuals with clear ties to racist and xenophobic organizations/websites have been booted out. But, it is accurate to say that some hate groups see the Tea Party as a vehicle for a larger audience and greater credibility.

Equally subversive since the local Chamber of Commerce is seen as non-partisan in most communities, is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's behind-the-scenes role in the Tea Party and the barrage of conservative ads attacking progressive candidates, 99.9% Democrats. Now the U.S. Chamber is made up of big business, big banks, big drug companies... the very groups that most in this populist revolt disdain. As Dana Milbank states in a Tea Party of populist posers:
There is genuine populist anger out there. But the angry have been deceived and exploited by posers who belong to the same class of "elites" and "insiders" that the Tea Party movement supposedly deplores. Americans who want to stick it to the man are instead sending money to the man. 
It is likely the Tea Party will enjoy electoral success this November. They won't have the numbers to run government, but they will probably run the Republican Party driving out the last few moderates as the GOP tilts farther right. Is that possible? When the reverse Robin Hood agenda of the Tea Party elites becomes clear, these good everyday populist folks will indeed have been fooled again. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Saving for a sunny day

About a year ago we bought a rain barrel from The Rain Barrel Company. Although it only one porch roof is drained to the barrell, it has been filled, used, and quickly replenished even during a year when rainfall hasn't been as regular as farmers and homeowners would like. We used it to water flowers and shrubs - the plants certainly like it better than our well water. The savings are double if you have chlorinated city water - the plants love the chemical free water and you get a break on the water bill! Rain barrels are centuries old but are increasingly relevant because of the need to conserve this precious resource and rising water bills.

The company is making its last bulk delivery of 2010 to Virginia this week. Available in black, the 60-gallon barrels will sell for $65.00 (they are $94.00 and up in retail stores) and are ready to us with a brass spigot, mosquito/leaf screen, and overflow. Learn more.

The Rain Barrel Company is delivering to Virginia this week and you must pre-order your rain barrel.
Wednesday, October 20 from 1:00 to 2:00 PM at the Best Buy parking lot, 1560 West Kroger Center, Richmond.

Wednesday, October 20 from 5:00 to 6:00 PM at Toy's R Us parking lot, 590 Branchland's Blvd., Charlottesville.

Thursday, October 21 from 8:00 to 9:00 AM at Regal Cinema Seminole Square, 2306 India Dr., Charlottesville.

Thursday, October 21 from Noon to 1:00 PM at the Walmart parking lot, 1028 Richmond Rd., Staunton.
 To reserve your rain barrel call 919.602.6316 or email Cindyn3@bellsouth.net. Include your name, daytime phone number, and how many rain barrels you are ordering.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The ABCs of privatizing Virginia's liquor stores

Privatize ABC sales? On one hand I can relate to the idea - this seems like something private business could do more appropriately than government. But, since the Commonwealth has a monopoly on liquor sales, it also makes great profits that go to the public good. The governor wants to sell the ABC stores for ideological reasons but mostly to infuse big bucks into transportation. Does his proposal make sense and cents - there will societal costs and impacts on future state budgets! From all the rhetoric, it is hard to tell the best course of action. But one thing is clear - in spite of the governor's assurances, there are many more questions than answers.

The Rockingham County Democratic Committee will take up the issue  7:00 to 8:30 PM on October 21 at the Rockingham County Administration Building (Supervisors Meeting Room). The guest speaker/moderator will be Doug Smith, director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. Smith is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He was formerly on staff with the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland and previously served as Senior Web Strategist for FaithandValues.com. He is a graduate of James Madison University (B.S.), Lexington Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was  a 2005 Sorensen Fellow of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership program (UVA), and is a graduate of the Citizen's Planning Academy in Hanover County, Virginia.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Things are upbeat down on the farm

For some reason The Progressive Farmer began showing up in my mailbox a few months ago. I'm not a farmer (but live in farming community) and I've never subscribed, but I find some articles interesting and helpful to a rural homeowner. Besides, it helps me better understand some of the issues facing my neighbors.

The October issue featured a story, "Confidence High Among Ag Business," that caught my eye. Perhaps because the MSM seems to like bad economic news better than good, this story resonated with my gut feeling that things really are getting better... just wish it would do so a bit quicker. Farmers' confidence can be inflated or deflated based on all sorts of things ranging from the weather (both at their farm and around the globe) to general economic conditions. While confidence varies by ag sector and by region, the upbeat feeling is a good harbinger for the U.S. economy over the next 12 months.

Among the findings of the Ag Confidence Index is that 26% of ag businesses expect sales to increase over the next year while 61% think sales will remain stable and only 13% expect a decline. Other questions focused on prospects for the coming year. Ninety-one percent thought things would stay the same (55%) or improve (36%). Only 9% forecast worsening prospects.

Other interesting articles in the October issue discussed no-till and minimum tillage conservation practices that are making great strides at cutting soil erosion caused by both water and wind. In the lower 48 states, it is estimated that cropland erosion dropped 43% between 1982 and 2007. That's good news not only for our fields but also for streams and rivers, our air quality, and for conservation of water resources.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hypocrites at the Chamber

On a recent road trip to the southwest, I caught lots of campaign ads along the route and occasionally saw some of the more vicious ads on TV. It is nasty out there. Everywhere! One constant thread is the nastiness and blatant hypocrisy of the Chamber of Commerce.

CCC has commented on growing hypocrisy and partisanship of the Chamber of Commerce in earlier posts. It is an organization with a reputation in many communities of being business-oriented and conservative but not openly partisan. The chamber could be fair, it could host local candidate forums in a nonpartisan manner, and its information (although conservative) was generally factual and could be trusted. But, as far as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is concerned, those days are apparently a thing of the past. Various groups and even the national media are finally picking up on and commenting on recent trends in the chamber's new status as an international trade association that pits nation against nation in an attempt to get its laissez-faire way.

The chamber's hidden sources of funds supporting their attack ads are the focus of much of that attention. Are they using foreign funds to influence American elections? We don't know because the chamber won't say, but the probable answer is yes... just as they use funds raised in the U.S. to influence politics in other nations.

But if we pay close attention, the chamber's hypocrisy is shoved right in voters' faces. Take the recent ad attacking Tom Perriello. The ad doesn't mention Perriello's opponent or even the election (but if you are running an ad in this season the intent is obvious) and is clearly designed to damage the Democrat. Regardless of its veracity (not much), the ad strikes this bird as blatantly hypocritical when it says: "Government run health care. Medicare cuts. Have you had enough? Tell Congressman Perriello, stop hurting Virginia families."

So the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is upset with health care reform and upset with cost savings in Medicare? The chamber defending Medicare? In all likelihood the chamber would dramatically gut or dismantle Medicare if it were not so popular. Hypocrisy!

Health care reform helps many small businesses which the chamber purports to represent at the local level. But, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with its international business mindset, isn't really looking out for the little guys any more. Maybe it is time for those folks to wonder why they pay dues to a trade association that is increasingly removed from Main Street realities.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Frack U II

A few weeks ago the Daily News Record reported that Carrizo (Marcellus Shale) Oil and Gas company had stopped pursuing a permit to mine natural gas in the Bergton area of Rockingham County. But, Carrizo made it clear it will reapply: "[we]...will take that permitting process up at a later date," stated Brad Fisher, vice president and chief executive officer.

If you live in Rockingham County or in much of the Shenandoah Valley (as well as West Virginia and Pennsylvania among other states), drilling for natural gas and the use of controversial hydraulic fracking is still a very real possibility. Want to learn more? If so, plan to attend an informational forum where people from all walks of life and with diverse views will gather to discuss the future of our economy, environment and way of life.

Saturday October 2, 2010 starting at 9:30 am
(come when you can - morning or afternoon - flexible "conversations design")
Broadway High School Broadway, Virginia
All issues of your concern are welcomed to the dialogue. Some topics for discussion are: property rights; state regulations; the effect on ground water, residents' wells, and rivers; mineral royalties; energy independence; roads; and the bond requirements for a permit to drill.

RSVP: Bruce Lundeen at blundeen9@comcast.net (cell 540-383-4718)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Act Blue - put your money where your heart and mind is

Okay... we're stuck with Bobble-Headed Bob in Congress for the next two years. Marching in lockstep with Tan Man Boehner and the other right wing "just say no" crowd. But good Democrats in Virginia's 6th District can help elect other progressives and keep Congress in the hands of people who look forward rather than backward. Representatives who will stand up for the middle class rather than bend over for the rich, the powerful, and the PACs. I've recently made a few donations and hope you will too. Suggestions:
Want more choices... want to spread your donations around to more Democrats? Visit Act Blue.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

HindSight, ForeSight

A family member is a member of VGEA, the Virginia Governmental Employees Association. In the past couple of months their newsletter, ForeSight, has been showing up in the mail... actually on time and with real news and commentary. In the past many saw VGEA as a weak step sister of similar organizations in the Commonwealth. Compared to the Virginia Education Association, for example, VGEA seemed impotent and largely ignored by legislators and the governor. On key issues of pay, of the Virginia Retirement System, and of working conditions it was hard to see how VGEA had much impact.

Things seem to be changing under the leadership of executive director R. Ronald Jordan and president William Dunlap. Communication with members is improving. Advocacy will hopefully be more forceful. If so, members will be more energized and engaged... which is the most vital way employee groups can exert influence. Kudos to those leaders and members who are moving VGEA towards greater influence - it is about time state employee voices were heard loud and clear.

Puppet masters of the tea party

Many of its organizers like to say the tea party is a "grassroots" organization. Maybe there is a bit of popular uprising involved, but there is plenty of Koch fertilizer feeding the roots... just like there is every time a Democrat is in the White House. These billionaire brothers are waging war against President Obama, Social Security, the environment, and anything (and anybody) they see as progressive. Read more about David and Charles Koch and how they pull the puppet strings of the tea party, of "think tanks" who don't really think but push an agenda, and of bought and paid for politicians and pundits in a fascinating exposé, Covert Operations, in The New Yorker.

Friday, August 27, 2010

On the (rail) road again?

After more than a half century of policies favoring highways, cars, and big oil it is time for all governments, including the Commonwealth of Virginia to get on board the train! Intercity passenger rail service can help ease crowded roads while weaning us from foreign oil and cleaning our air. Meredith Richards, a former Charlottesville city councilor lays out a compelling case for rail in "Intercity Passenger Rail in Virginia: What's on Track for Virginia?" in The Virginia News Letter. Breaking from policies of the past will take leadership - is our governor and General Assembly up to it?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Keep him center stage

In some ways I've been pleasantly surprised that Governor Bob McDonnell has been conservative, but relatively moderate, on some issues since taking office in January. He's a sharp politician and knows many Virginians are in the middle of the political spectrum and he has to work with a Virginia Senate controlled by the Democrats. But, CCC still believes McDonnell is a hard right conservative by ideology and he is being pulled towards stage right by the tea party whackos who are increasingly influential in the Virginia GOP and by "friends" like the extremist attorney general. Ken Cuccinelli is actually doing the governor a favor - as long as he's prowling the far right, McDonnell appears to be moderate by comparison.

So, in the hope that McDonnell will remain a somewhat pragmatic politician who knows the best political hay is in the middle of the field, I hopeful that his current town hall tour will fill his ears with more than right wing manure. Tonight (August 26) the governor will be at JMU Festival Conference and Student Center at 7:00 PM. In this format there will be time for only 12-15 speakers/questioners. If you plan on attending get there early and sign-up to speak - even so, it is likely his handlers will tilt the verbal questions to known conservative friends of the governor's policies.

If like me you cannot attend, or if you don't have the opportunity to speak, you can always leave comments at the governor's Reform Task Force website. Cluck, cluck... the site is slow loading today.

One issue the governor along with a local state senator will be pushing is privatization of the Commonwealth's liquor stores. I'm not opposed to the prospect of private liquor stores, but it is far from clear that this makes dollars and sense. There are two issues that I think are unresolved. The dollars don't seem to add up over time - it would be a real shame if a one-time cash infusion built a few roads and made the governor look like a hero only to have that funding stream dry up when he's out of office. Does it make sense to have more stores selling whiskey? Or would this lead to more DUIs or more hard liquor in underage bellies?

Earlier this year Governor McDonnell proposed closing five state parks and has sided with Ken Cuccinelli on the legal challenge to the EPA which questions global warming. Some right wingers want to privatize state parks. If we don't speak up, this administration may dismantle Virginia's parks and do nothing (or take steps backwards) on protecting our rivers, air, and the Chesapeake Bay. Here is what this bird is telling the task force:
  • Do not privatize our state parks. Do not close state parks. Instead, assure adequate state funding to keep our parks some of the best in the nation. My family and many of our friends have too many fond memories of camping, of picnics, and of exploring our great state parks to let you or anybody shut them down or diminish their splendor.
  • Get real about transportation by moving encouraging rail-freight solutions on I-81, smart investments in public transit including high speed rail, and encouraging local governments to have common sense regulations to end the sprawl that means more and more cars on the roads. VDOT must be fully accountable to all environmental regulations.
  • Make Virginia a green model for the nation. A recent report indicates that many of Virginia's streams and rivers are impaired. Impaired rivers mean an impaired Chesapeake Bay. We need tougher regulations to assure our water supplies are going to be cleaner in the future than they are today. The governor supports off-shore drilling - now let's see enthusiastic support for off-shore wind energy and other green businesses. That's hard to do when your attorney general, to appease the right wing, is conducting witch hunts in his crusade against global warming.
The governor has shown he can be nudged to center stage on some issues. But only if common sense Virginians are willing to speak up... indeed, stand up... to keep Virginia moving forward.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Something borrowed, something blue

It is widely reported that the Commonwealth's 2010 budget "surplus" has nearly doubled to $404 million. While it is only a "surplus" in the sense that very cautious figures were used in drafting the original budget, the news is nevertheless welcomed. The question now is how to allocate the "found money."

Governor McDonnell had previously promised state employee a 3% year-end "bonus." He and the General Assembly should live up to that commitment... or better yet, make it a permanent pay raise. It has been four years (well before the recession began) since state employees received one and they've taken hits on some benefits. It will go a long way to helping to build morale.

Another priority should be repaying the Virginia Retirement System for money the General Assembly borrowed to help balance the budget. This year alone the state put off $137 million in contributions to VRS. Restoring those contributions will be a giant step toward assuring the stability and long term viability of the system.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good - President Barack Obama and Mayor Michael Bloomberg
The Bad - Senator Harry Reid and Senator John Cornyn 
The Ugly - Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin

So students in Political Leadership 101, let's summarize... there are good leaders who rise above issues to by calling on the better angels of our nature; there are bad leaders who aren't leaders at all but jump in any parade, even marching along with disgusting rabble, if they think it will benefit them; and there are the ugly fear mongers who prey on our angst even if it means ripping to shreds our most cherished constitutional and national values.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Twist and Shout

Friday night we enjoyed a great evening of music and fun during Mary Chapin Carpenter's performance at the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival. The festival is a Valley gem in the beautiful village of Orkney Springs that features many fine artists bringing life to their slogan, We didn't invent summer - just the finest way to enjoy it.

Mary Chapin Carpenter and her fine band performed a number of songs off her new recording, The Age of Miracles, as well as old favorites such as Passionate Kisses and I Feel Lucky. Carpenter, who lives in Albemarle County, Virginia, connected with the audience by telling stories and explaining the origin of lyrics of songs such as Mrs. Hemingway, which she researched and wrote after rereading Ernest Hemingway's, A Moveable Feast. Along the way, she got in swipes at Verizon for the slow internet in her part of Virginia and at the right wing politics of Sarah Palin. Those brought a couple reactions - both cheers and jeers - from the audience. But hey, it was her stage and her mic... and her views were dead on.

Carpenter put in a big plug for Huss & Dalton of Staunton, Virginia. She owns three of what she proclaimed the "finest guitars in the world."

The opening act was Catie Curtis, a musician I'd heard of but wasn't very familiar with her work. The Boston area singer/songwriter put on an impressive performance that I wish had included more songs off her latest project, Hello Stranger.

For an encore, Carpenter and her band charged through a high energy performance of Down at the Twist and Shout, a song she played at Super Bowl XXXI. In the clip below, Carpenter sings the crowd favorite accompanied by the Cajun band BeauSoleil.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Old Coal Plants = Pollution

Old coal-fired generating plants are among the dirtiest polluters in the nation. They cause smog and spew out huge amounts of greenhouse gases, toxic ash, and a variety of chemicals. "Why are they allowed to do it?" you might ask. Because in its wisdom, Congress grandfathered these plants under amendments to the Clean Air Act in a way that created very powerful economic incentives to stay dirty... and get dirtier as they age. After eight years of a purposely impotent EPA, under the Obama administration the agency seems to be moving to updating regulations under the Clean Air Act and other pollution laws. There's more about the dirty deals, the grandfathered polluters, and how the politics of profits have trumped rational antipollution steps at grist.

Since these old coal-fired plants are the problem, you may be thinking the best thing to do is build new plants like the proposed Cypress Creek Power Station in Surry County, Virginia. A new plant would have the latest in antipollution technology and be much cleaner... I didn't say clean... there is no such thing as clean coal. That argument is pretty hollow unless as a condition of opening the plant older coal-fired plants are closed and dismantled in an environmentally responsible manner. I've not heard of that being on the table.

Besides, any coal-fired plant brings a variety of environmental concerns and other issues not only to Mother Earth, but more directly to nearby communities, rivers, and bays. A new plant wouldn't address all the profound questions about disposal of coal ash, the rape of our mountaintops, and degrading of our communities.

It seems some on Wall Street are questioning the future of coal by cutting off the dollars for new mountaintop removal coal mines as too risky. If this cheap coal source dries up, the profitability of coal-fired plants will be threatened, and greener/cleaner alternatives more viable. It is way too early to declare King Coal dethroned, but it is increasingly becoming clear to many that this king has no clothes that will be fashionable in America's energy future.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cock-a-doodle-do! Census under budget!

As one who worked in four or five operations of the Census Bureau, it is both amazing and gratifying to know that the 2010 Census is coming in under budget. Not just by a little bit, but by some $1.6 billion or about 10% of the $14.7 billion budgeted.

Like anyone who worked for the 2010 Census, I saw duplication, many miles driven, reams of paper, and waste. I guess that is to be expected in any large governmental operation... you only need to check out the military, or National Park Service, or virtually any other agency in government (or big business as well). But, it is great to know that my efforts, and those of many other diligent and dedicated Census employees got the job done in a fairly efficient manner. Among the reasons cited for the savings are an aggressive multilingual advertising campaign, few technical difficulties, and a highly educated and qualified workforce (perhaps needing jobs in the economic downturn). Of course, most of the costs associated with the door-to-door operations are can be attributed to those American who - due to oversight, ignorance, or an anti-government tea party mentality - refused to mail in their completed questionnaires.

Anyhow, this hasn't exactly been front page news. Guess good news rarely is. But, when government works well and does so with efficiency, it should be shouted out loud. This bird is crowing. Cock-a-doodle-do!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Coal Ash - it is TOXIC

Recently the three men who represent the Shenandoah Valley in Congress, Senator Mark Warner, Senator Jim Webb, and Representative Bob Goodlatte signed factually inaccurate letters pressuring EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to regulate toxic coal ash the same way as household trash, leaving communities at risk as arsenic, lead and mercury seep into our drinking water.

Coal and coal ash is dirty stuff and our "representatives" are siding with King Coal against our families' and communities' health. I sent the following email to each:
I am disappointed that you added your name to a factually inaccurate letter that puts coal company profits before the health of our families and our communities. Americans across the country are exposed to heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and mercury that seep into our drinking water, rivers and streams from coal ash disposal sites. There is an increased risk of cancer, learning disabilities, birth defects and other illnesses.

But the disposal of coal ash is less strictly controlled than household garbage. The letter that Senator Warner, Senator Webb, and Representative Goodlatte signed interferes with the EPA's ability to protect our health by pressuring the agency to reject plans for a strong, federally enforceable standard. The letter urges the agency to adopt guidelines that allow coal companies to continue putting our communities at risk.

The letter you signed makes false claims: that states have effectively regulated coal ash despite the fact that coal ash has contaminated surface water or groundwater in at least 23 states, that EPA documents calling for additional measures to protect public health say further regulation is unnecessary, and that strong regulation would stigmatize coal ash recycling when even the U.S. Green Building Council said there would be no stigma. The facts are that coal ash is a toxic material, and it's time for the EPA to treat it as such. Please support EPA's efforts to protect public health and water quality by removing your name from this letter.
For more information visit the Sierra Club. Please contact Senator Warner, Senator Webb, and Representative Goodlatte and tell them to reject the dirty dogs that run in the pack with King Coal.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Let 'em eat cake

The Republicans have been blocking extension of unemployment compensation. While Virginia's rate of about 6.7% is well below the national unemployment rate of over 9%, the GOP's anti-people, anti-middle class stance is hurting folks here in the 6th District and across the Commonwealth. Their reason - we have to pay for it. I have a suggestion - how about pulling troops out of Iraq? Or, Afghanistan? Running a needless/based on a big lie war (Iraq) or one that can't be won (Afghanistan) have been draining the federal treasury since President Bush got us mired in them.

Time to take care of folks here, in our neighborhoods... people you and I know. Besides, their spending will have a stimulative effect on the economy.

Interesting listening to the Repub talking heads on talk shows over the weekend and today. They all call for cutting the budget but none of them - NOT ONE - will say specifically what they'd cut. Reminds me of Nixon's "secret plan" to end the war in Vietnam. A lie then. Lies now.

Sign the pledge... tell Bob to stand with the PEOPLE

Tell Rep. Bob Goodlatte (VA-06) that it is time to put the people back in charge of government.

Tell Bob we need to pass legislation - including a constitutional amendment if necessary - to overturn the Supreme Court's wrongheaded decision in Citizens United v. FEC. The supremes effectively handed our democracy to the highest bidders.

Tell Bob we need public financing of federal candidates by passing the Fair Elections Now Act.

Tell Bob we need legislation to reduce the influence of lobbyists.

It is time for YOU to SIGN THE PLEDGE and TELL BOB to give OUR government back to the PEOPLE.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

This Land Is Your Land

Been on the road over the past couple of weeks. Recent posts were on the fly from a motel or a family's home in New Jersey. After 16 states, I'm back home, catching my breath and a nap or two, and getting back into summer home and garden projects. It was great being gone through an east coast heat wave... but looks like there's more to come this summer. Wonder what the guy who wrote the letter to the editor of The News Leader, "come shovel global warming off my driveway," is thinking now? Or even if he is thinking with his fried brain!

My son took a Ranger job (law enforcement) at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. Since he needs a car, I rode with him and flew home after making time to see the park. Five nights (and about 5 1/2 days) on the road covering about 2,800 miles. His Honda Prelude did great, averaging about 28 mpg although weighted down and stuffed to the gills. Fathers and sons don't need to talk too much to have a great time together, but we covered some important topics and saw one route through this great country from almost sea to shining sea.

Yes, we are still in the Bush recession, but this is a nation on the move by planes, trains, automobiles, and trucks. We've always been a nation on the move... but closely following trails used by Oregon, California, and Mormon settlers (according to a historical marker their early expedition had about 140 men and just a few women... they've changed those odds!), I realize my tired butt was a minor inconvenience compare to their hardships. Not to mention the time required for the trip!

The U.S.A. is one fantastic country, built and being constantly rebuilt, by every day folks driving the trucks, working on the farms, serving up meals in the diners, making stuff in factories, and teaching the kids in public schools. While we are a nation of great natural and human diversity, there is much that is common all across this land - from the fast food restaurants and Home Depots found in even the small towns to the hopes and dreams of everyday folks.Yes, there is indeed an American Dream!

Old fashioned windmills still help to lift water for livestock in Nebraska. We passed several over-sized tractor-trailers carrying modern windmill blades and other parts and drove through large modern windfarms in western states.
 Mormons passed this way heading for the Great Salt Lake.
The Bonneville Salt Flats is the site of land speed records. The 30,000 acres are administered by the Bureau of Land Management.
We spotted this long-lived dust devil near Denio Junction in northern Nevada. Most dust devils dissipate in a few minutes, but this one lasted at least 20 minutes and stayed fairly stationary.
Crater Lake is breathtaking and defies words.
 In an age when special interests already hold tremendous influence over policy makers and just after the Supreme Court gave corporations the right to infuse more stifling cash and influence into our politics, it is all the more important to remember our democracy is for the people... even the little guys/gals who don't pay much attention to the daily goings on in Washington, D.C. or the state capitols while they make this country work each and every day.

Bruce Springsteen performs Woody Guthie's classic, This Land is Your Land, live at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA on September 30, 1985 during his Born In The U.S.A. tour). A poignant reminder that "this land was made for you and me."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

GOP Hot Air... takes them far, but where are they?

A woman in a hot air balloon realized she was lost. She lowered her altitude and spotted a man in a boat below. She shouted to him, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am."

The man consulted his portable GPS and replied, "You're in a hot air balloon, approximately 30 feet above ground elevation of 2,346 feet above sea level. You are at 31 degrees, 14.97 minutes north latitude and 100 degrees, 49.09 minutes west longitude.

"She rolled her eyes and said, "You must be an Obama Democrat." "I am," replied the man. "How did you know?"

"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct. But I have no idea what to do with your information, and I'm still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help to me."

The man smiled and responded, "You must be a Republican."

"I am," replied the balloonist. "How did you know?"

"Well," said the man, "you don't know where you are or where you are going. You've risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. You're in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but somehow, now it's my fault."

This joke has circulated by email, been posted on numerous blogs, and passed on verbally... so I guess it now resides in the public domain and I don't need to cite a source. Besides, it rings so, so true. Especially here at Republican Ground Zero in the Shenandoah Valley. ;>)

Valley Dems host event for Perriello

Without a candidate of their own in the November congressional elections, Valley Democrats are hosting an event for Tom Perriello (VA-05). Apparently, some local Dems had suggested organizing a good ole bungie jumping opportunity for the incumbent congressman - of course, they said no strings would be attached. Anyhow, cooler minds prevailed and these Dems decided to help out Representative Perriello from the sprawling district located just across Afton Mountain. Unlike the local guy, Perriello's votes in Congress have help mitigate some of the damaging effects of the Bush recession and bring jobs not only to the 5th District but to all Virginians.

Although Tom won't be able to attend, these Valley Dems will have a cookout and cover dish to raise money for his campaign while talking politics and having a good time on a summer evening. Here are the details as provided by hosts, Marshall and Megan Pattie:
Come out and show your support for Tom Perriello! There will be live music, free food and drinks, roasting smores over a bonfire, and enjoy some conversation – don't forget to bring along your blankets, chairs, and favorite drinks! Also, feel free to bring potluck dishes! The distinguished senator Donald McEachin will be present to talk about Tom's accomplishments for Virginia. Take this opportunity to see how we can help Tom get re-elected. Volunteer to help canvass, make phone calls and donate to his campaign.
The fun, food, and politics will be Saturday, July 24 from 6:00 to 10:00 PM at their home, "Lazy Dog Mountain," at 3806 Shutterlee Mill Road, Staunton, VA. Map & directions. For more information and to RSVP, contact Marshall at 540.292.5243 or email him at marswp@yahoo.com. Can't attend? You can still help Tom Perriello by mailing your check payable to "Perriello for Congress" to the address above.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Summer reading

Hot summer days make for excellent times to read in a Pawley's Island hammock in the deep shade of our maples. Or, when it gets too blasted hot and still outside, under a ceiling fan (closest thing we have to AC). Recently I've gotten into several nonfiction books:

With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E. B. Sledge. On Memorial Day I posted reactions to Sledge's compelling account of his service as a Marine in WWII. I was inspired to learn more about the war in the Pacific and to read With the Old Breed after watching HBO's excellent miniseries, The Pacific that was based, in part, on With the Old Breed and on Robert Leckie's A Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific. Leckie's book will be a future read for me.

Loaned to to me by my brother-in-law, I just finished reading a fish tale, Hooked: Pirates, Poaching, and the Perfect Fish, by G. Bruce Knecht. Ever heard of the Patagonian toothfish? Perhaps you know it better as an offering on your favorite restaurant's menu - Chilean Sea Bass. Much of the story takes place in the treacherous waters of the Southern Ocean as Australia's Southern Supporter tracked poachers suspected of illegal fishing near Heard Island. But Hooked is a global fish story of how a little known fish was rebranded and became a runaway hit at trendy American restaurants. It is the story of pirates who feel they've done nothing wrong, of rich importers who go to great and often illegal pains to deceive regulators, and of lawyers who use every courtroom trick to make sure the pirates are back at sea using hi-tech means to take in huge hauls of fish. Ultimately though, Hooked is the story of how man's greed and technology has lead to the commercial collapse of many of the world's great fisheries.

On the fiction side, I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.
While I found it a bit slow at the start, the pace of this thriller quickly picked up and it was tough to put down until all the twists and turns of this thriller were exposed. If you find a murder mystery, financial intrigue, an offbeat love story, and a dysfunctional family intertwined in a sprawling novel to be of interest, you will enjoy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a fun read.

During the heat of yesterday afternoon, I started Larsson's The Girl Who Played with Fire. I'm not that far into it, but like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the author is taking some time setting the stage and introducing the characters. I'm still uncertain where this story is heading but am looking forward to getting back into the lives of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist later today.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Frack U

Gasland, a film by Josh Fox, is must-see-TV for folks in Rockingham County, Virginia. A drilling company is pushing to drill for natural gas in the Bergton area using a controversial technique that could adversely impact ground water resources. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves the high pressure injection of millions of gallons of water along with sand and chemicals into a deep well to fracture the shale and to allow the gas to flow more freely.

Fracking is permitted because the Bush Administration successfully got natural gas drilling exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Drilling companies are not required to disclose the proprietary chemicals that are injected into the gas wells, many of which are over 8,000 feet deep. This so-called "Haliburton Loophole" essentially means the EPA cannot regulate these wells. Fracking in an area of karst limestone and aquifers, such as found in much of the Shenandoah Valley, is especially risky since since a poorly cased gas well could contaminate many wells, even those located miles from the drilling site.

Gasland has won numerous awards and will be airing on HBO through 2012. Let's hope members of the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors and especially their chairman, Pablo Cuevas, who represents the Bergton area, take time to watch Gasland and thoroughly investigate fracking before making a decision. Recent events scream for caution - if drilling/fracking is permitted in the Bergton area, the company should proffer a emergency fund to be held in escrow to compensate anyone adversely impacted.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

DNR played by hate merchants

The Daily News Record was apparently scammed by the merchants of hate and intolerance at the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Well known for their absurd assertion that U.S. military deaths are God's punishment for homosexuality, the Westboro bigots told the DNR that they'd protest at the funeral of Army Spc. Brian "Bucky" Anderson in Broadway. The DNR obliged by giving the hate mongers prime space (log-in required) on the front page of the June 22 edition, thereby promoting hate while distracting from Anderson's funeral. Anderson was killed in Afghanistan on June 12.

Mr. Yates and Mr. Hunt... would it have been so hard to wait until after the funeral to then, and only then, report on any protests by the Westboro Baptist gang. Those guys played you like a fiddle, getting free front page publicity, not once but probably twice, for their venom of religious hatred. But, something tells me the DNR is proud of giving the assist!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Endorsement - Kai Degner for Delegate

CCC is proud to endorse Kai Degner in the special election for 26th House of Delegates district. After hearing from the candidates in the abbreviated campaign, it is clear Degner is the best candidate to represent the good people of Rockingham County and the City of Harrisonburg.

Degner has run a principled campaign and has done his best to address current issues of interest in the district. As I listened to the candidates' answers to the questions posed to the candidates on TV3, it was abundantly clear Degner was the best informed, most articulate, and most in tune with residents. If that isn't enough, Degner's experience and accomplishments alone put him head and shoulders above his opponents. If you live in the 26th, Kai Degner deserves your vote.

Tony Wilt's campaign has done just that... wilted. Questions about potential conflicts of interest with his land ownership and concrete business and the proposed gas drilling in the Bergton area trouble many voters. And, from this bird's roost, his answers on TV3 were uninspired, inarticulate, and at best party talking points that he couldn't even repeat very well. As some recent letters in the DNR have indicated, putting someone in public office is all about trust and Mr. Wilt has failed that ultimate test.

Carolyn Frank's campaign is mostly nonexistent. The gadfly is a joke. Who knows how many votes she'll draw... we should all hope they don't come at Degner's expense.

 Put principle and competence above party in this special election - Vote for Kai Degner for Delegate.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Cypress Creek - more questions than answers

Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC), of which Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative is a member, has proposed to build a new coal-fired power plant known as Cypress Creek Power Station in the Town of Dendron (pop. 300) in Surry County, Virginia. At a cost up to $6 billion ($9,000+ per household served), Cypress Creek would be the most expensive coal power plant in the country and the largest coal-fired plant in the Commonwealth. ODEC has already spent thousands of dollars in the ongoing permitting process. ODEC defends the plant by stating that coal "is still the least expensive way for us to make sure we have the electricity we need at an affordable price."

Others aren't so sure that ODEC's dollars make much sense. Wise Energy for Virginia commissioned a study by Synapse Energy Economics Inc. The respected analysts concluded that an uncertain economic climate and costs of meeting regulations related to carbon dioxide could mean even higher electric rates for consumers.

Of course, there are costs that aren't always measured in dollars and cents. A Chesapeake Bay Foundation study found that the plant would discharge significant amounts of mercury and other toxins into the James, Pamunkey, Blackwater, Nottoway, and Roanoke rivers and into the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation says the plant violates provisions of the Clean Water Act. Physicians for Social Responsibility and others have pointed out that air and water discharges from a coal-fired power plant will create a variety of environmental and health problems for the region. Cypress Creek is located just upwind and upstream from one of Virginia's most populated areas - Hampton Roads - which is also one of the state's major tourist destinations.

So far, ODEC has been touting the benefits but has been less than forthcoming about the costs, financial and otherwise, of Cypress Creek. SVEC members should be asking questions and demanding answers. A few of those questions:
  • How much will Cypress Creek cost? What will SVEC contribute? How with this be passed on to customers?
  • With many banks wary of the risks of financing coal-powered plants, how will Cypress Creek be financed? What are the borrowing costs? How will those costs be passed on to SVEC customers?
  • What are the alternatives to a mega coal-fired plant? Have those alternatives been completely explored?
  • Currently there is excess power on the PJM grid and an uncertain economy and greater conservation make future demand uncertain. Do we really need this mega power plant?
  • Since the beginning of the year plans for at least eight coal-fired power plants have been abandoned or put on hold. Most recently it was Wolverine Power Cooperative's plans for a coal-fired plant in Michigan. An air quality permit was denied and the Michigan Public Service Commission concluded that the plant was not needed and "would result in an estimated rate increase of $76.95 per month for the average Wolverine residential customer." What lessons can we learn from that case study? Will Cypress Creek mean customer's rates could increase by 50-60% a month?
  • The ODEC board of directors has yet to vote on the Cypress Creek plant. Why is ODEC moving forward on the project without formal approval of the board?
  • Can ODEC and SVEC assure customers that rates won't go up to pay for Cypress Creek?
Many questions and, so far, few answers from ODEC, SVEC, and the other member cooperatives. As customers of an electric cooperative, we are the owners... it is our cooperative. We should demand answers before ODEC moves forward with Cypress Creek.