Saturday, December 29, 2012

283 and counting

There was one in Harrisonburg a few days ago. And as of today, at least 283 across the United States of America since the Newtown massacre on December 14, 2012. That averages nearly 19 per day. We're talking about gun deaths. Afghanistan is safer.

Slate has partnered with @GunDeaths to, as much as possible given the haphazard national records, keep track of the toll of firearms on Americans. The murder of Ben Graessle was not on Slate's Gun-death tally, highlighting just how difficult it is to obtain up-to-date accurate information about this national tragedy.

Congress, are you awake and paying attention? President Obama, how about you? I won't even bother to ask about the folks convening in Richmond in a few weeks.

Friday, December 21, 2012

NRA floats a "good" idea

The NRA today called for "Congress today to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation."

Having an armed resource officer - a highly trained sheriff's deputy or police officer - in every school isn't such a bad idea. Malls have rent-a-cops. Government and private offices generally have security. Besides a resource officer in a school provides other benefits of community policing right in our schools. However, arming teachers or other school personnel, as some gun fanatics argue, is a horrible idea with far more potential for terrible consequences than saving a life.

The NRA didn't address how to pay the salaries and other costs for the security in schools. I suggest collecting a tax equal to 100% of the cost of the gun, to be collected at the point of sale, to be sent to an office within the Department of Homeland Security. These tax dollars will be directly distributed to local law enforcement agencies responsible for providing security in local public schools.

Of course, the NRA once again refuses to admit that guns are part of the problem and only can say that more guns are the solution. In this they totally miss the target.

So, in addition to beefing up security in our schools, how about these common sense steps:
  • Banning the sale, importation, and possession of all semi-automatic and automatic weapons
  • Banning the sale, importation, and possession of assault style weapons
  • Banning clips and magazines that hold more than 10 bullets
  • Banning armor piercing ammunition
  • Providing federal grant money for localities to buy back and destroy all of the above dangerous weapons
  • Requiring a background check on all sales of guns including private and gun show transactions
  • Implementing stiff penalties with required prison time for anyone who violates these sensible gun laws
  • Improving our mental health services in all communities
  • Putting heavy moral pressure on all areas of the entertainment industry to be more responsible citizens in depicting guns and violence.
I never expected the NRA to fully address the problem of gun violence in our society and I certainly never expected them to look within for answers. But, Wayne LaPierre's press conference amply demonstrated just how far they are into the world of self-deception. Groups like Mayors Against Illegal Guns offer a far more balanced and sane approach that has a chance of actually reducing gun violence in the United States of America.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bob McDonnell: "a coward and a wuss"

Tonight on Hardball, former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell and current pundit said that, while he likes Governor Bob McDonnell, the commonwealth's chief executive is being a "coward and a wuss" on the issue of common sense gun control.

McDonnell has suggested that he has no problem with assault weapons with huge magazines in civilian hands. He also suggested that teachers with training and concealed weapons permits should carry guns on school grounds. He stopped short of proposing legisation, as the complete idiot Bob Marshall (who somehow keeps getting elected from Prince William County - are voters there completely brain dead?) that schools should be required to have staff toting weapons.

Okay, first I gotta admit that McDonnell hasn't been quite as bad as my worst fears. But, on the issue of guns it seems that most Virginia Republicans have their collective heads up the NRA's arse. When that group farts, Republicans get diarrea and spew the most vile stuff. Especially the real crazies like Bob Marshall.

Rendell is right: Governor McDonnell is a "coward and wuss" because he suspends common sense about public safety when it comes to standing up to bullies. Bob Marshall is, by contrast, stupid and dangerous. Prince William County, and the commonwealth, deserve better.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Great music, greater cause
24 great songs and an even greater cause.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Roger Waters
Bon Jovi
Eric Clapton
The Rolling Stones
Alicia Keys
The Who
Chris Martin
Billy Joel
Paul McCartney

Buy the music. Donate to Sandy Relief.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Blowin' in the wind: common sense gun laws

You can feel change, hopefully meaningful change, to enact common sense gun legislation finally has a chance to succeed in our gridlocked national capitol. This morning at 6:00 AM Joe Scarborough of MSNBC's Morning Joe, a deeply conservative (but not crazy) Republican, condemned the "toxic brew of a violent popular culture, a mental health crisis, and a mix of combat style weapons." Joe said "Friday changed everthing...." His passionate lecture to America:

Virginia Senator Mark Warner joined West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin in stepping back from their earlier support of (and from) the NRA. Warner said, "I’ve been a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights. I’ve got an A rating from the NRA. But the status quo isn’t acceptable." Opinion leaders like presidents, pundits, and senators have big microphones, but it is up to we the people to keep the wind in sails of positive change when it comes to laws on guns, mental health, and societal violence. I'll be writing Senator Warner to thank him for his change of heart and to offer my support as the lobbyists from the NRA and Gun Owners of America spew their lies and venom in what will be futile attempts of confuse the issue and Americans.

I've signed the petition and made a donation to Demand a Plan to End Gun Violence, an initiative of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Co-founded in 2006 by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, the coalition has grown to more than 725 mayors, including Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, from major cities and small towns around the country. It has more than half a million (and growing) grassroots supporters and is the largest gun violence prevention advocacy organization in the country. Mayor Bloomberg, who is one of the more thoughtful people in the country on this issue, discounts the political power of the NRA and calls on Congress and the President to "stand up and do what is right for the American public."


"The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality." It is time for common sense Americans to get off the sidelines and demand real action for real change.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Report: Coal Has Negative Impact on VA Budget

A recent report, The Impact of Coal on the Virginia State Budget released by Downstream Strategies, takes an in-depth look the costs and benefits of the coal industry in the Commonwealth. While coal plays a fairly small role in the overall Virginia economy, it does contribute revenues and provide jobs in the southwestern part of the state, primarily in Wise and Buchanan counties. Coal production in the state peaked in 1990 when it represented about 4.5% of the total U.S. output. Since then Virginia's contribution has declined to 2.2% of national output mostly because of a reduction in underground mining. Destructive mountaintop removal coal mining, which is cheaper and requires fewer employees, has increased 23% since 1990 but has declined some in recent years.

So, what is the impact of the coal industry on Virginia's budget? Downstream Strategies' report concludes:
Overall, when taking all revenues and expenditures into account, we estimate that the total net impact of the coal industry on the Virginia state budget in Fiscal Year 2009 amounted to a net cost to the Commonwealth of $21.9 million.
Of course, this net cost to the Commonwealth's budget does not factor in the lasting impact and damage to the environment and our health caused by mountaintop removal coal mining and of the degradation of air and water quality caused by burning coal to generate electricity.

During this session of the General Assembly lawmakers should eliminate tax and other budgetary provisions that make a shrinking coal industry a drain on state finances and concurrently legislators must move Virginia ahead in renewable wind and solar energy. My hopes are not high - typically in Richmond more effort is spent looking backwards rather than forwards - a view promoted by lobbyists of King Coal and Dominion Resources.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Grassroots Momentum Growing to Keep the Ban
In spite of the lack of transparency (and objectivity?) of Governor Bob McDonnell's Uranium Working Group, there seems to be some momentum building to Keep the Ban on uranium mining in the Commonwealth. This fall several influential lobbying groups - the Virginia Municipal League, the Virginia Association of Counties, and the Virginia Farm Bureau - all stated their opposition to uranium mining in Virginia.

The mayors of both Virginia Beach and Norfolk expressed their strong opposition to uranium mining because of threat to drinking water sources for over a million residents. As they noted in their editorial in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:
While we have confidence in Virginia’s regulatory agencies, we understand the difficulties associated with implementing new processes in an area less than hospitable for uranium mining. This is not an appropriate project for our regulatory partners to learn "on the job." There simply is too much at stake and too much to risk. No amount of regulation can prevent the unexpected.
 And just this week, Lt. Governor Bill Bolling broke GOP ranks by announcing his opposition to uranium mining in the state. Among the reasons he cited in his official statement are the potential for adverse and chilling economic and environmental impacts as well as the strong opposition of officials in Pittsylvania County and the region.

But, there is big money on the side of the proponents of and the battle will be joined during this session of the General Assembly. Many legislators say they are undecided but "our representatives" are being lavished by the industry with huge campaign contributions and perks provided by their lobbyists. The corrupting and anti-democracy influence of money is estimated by the Southern Environmental Law Center to have reached nearly $750,000 already!

Keep the Ban - what YOU can do!
UPDATE 12/20/12 - Senator Mark Herring (Loudoun & Fairfax) announced his opposition to uranium mining in Virginia saying, "I will oppose legislation during the upcoming 2013 General Assembly session that would lift the ban. Additionally, I plan to introduce budget language that would prohibit any state funding from being used to promulgate regulations designed to circumvent the ban."

Friday, December 14, 2012

Open letter to Goodlatte, Warner, Kaine

December 14, 2012

Dear Congressman Goodlatte, Senator Warner, and Senator-elect Kaine:

How many more tragedies have to touch American families before Washington gets serious about gun violence? As we have seen, guns and crazy assholes transcend state lines. It is a national cancer that must be treated with national, bipartisan action. Now!

Your flock is watching,
Belle Rose

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bland white guy with glasses...

Colbert would have
roasted Bobblehead Bob
Over the years I'd hoped that Representative Bob Goodlatte would join Stephen Colbert for his Better Know a District segment. It would have been fun to hear the congressman describe Virginia's sprawling 6th District and see our area emblazoned in gold on the big board map of the U.S. The fightin' 6th - or not. I imagine we all knew that Bobblehead Bob's staff would never in a million years permit such a stunningly unequal match of personality and wit to grace our TV screens.

It isn't quite the same as an interview, but there was a little justice (pun intended) as Bobblehead Bob and 18 of his clones, a.k.a. the House Committee Chairmen, came under the intense scrutiny of Jon Stewart on last night's The Daily Show:

As Stewart points out, House Republicans chose their chairs based on its badly worn out but time-honored tradition of seniority. “So it’s seniority. "Let me get this straight. The party that hates the teachers union gives chairmanships based on tenure?” Stewart asked. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cuccinelli's cesspool

Ken Cuccinelli, the simultaneously idiotic, funny, and incompetent attorney general of the Commonwealth of Virginia, has stuck his foot in his mouth and his head up his ass again. During a recent interview on right wing entertainment radio WMAL he alleged that President Obama only won because lax voting laws (presumably Virginia's as well) allowed for voting fraud.

During the "interview" the host Cheri Jacobus suggested that Obama lost every state where photo ID is required. "He can't win in a state where photo ID is required, so clearly there's something going on out there."

Cuccinelli agreed saying, "your tone suggests you're a little upset with me (a photo ID is not required in Virginia). You're preaching to the choir. I'm with you completely." He went on to lament that inquiries into election issues can only be raised by certain local and state officials and as attorney general he could not act without a complaint.

As if it makes it difference on conservative entertainment media where the truth is a fiction, Jacobus was dead wrong - President Obama carried Michigan and Florida, states which have strict voter ID laws.

Every Virginian should be involved in Cooch Watching because this fool wants to be governor. Unfortunately, when NOVA dozes during gubernatorial elections bad things happen to the Commonwealth.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Help save the Chesapeake Bay

Help save the Bay.
Click here to take action.
The menhaden is a very small fish, but its importance to the Chesapeake Bay is huge. Overfishing has left the population at its lowest level on record and since menhaden is primary food source that endangers the entire Bay ecosystem.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is pushing fair and reasonable limits and fishing rules:

A 25 percent reduction of the menhaden catch as a first step toward eliminating overfishing. 
Reducing the fishing rate further to achieve the target level within five years. 
To avoid undue financial harm to local fishermen catching menhaden for bait, the allocation plan should split the new quota 70:30 between the industrial fishery and the local bait fishery. 
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is considering new fishing rules to ensure long-term protection of this valuable fish. It's accepting public comment only until November 16 so take action now!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

New neighbor

As I discussed in a previous post, in May I built and installed a screech owl nesting box on our property. From my research, I knew we might have a bit of a wait for our first owl - folks report that it often takes two or three years for an owl to inhabit a manmade nesting box.

This week an owl arrived and appears to have taken up residence!

The owl has been there at least two days. Observations are best made at dusk as it perches in the opening turning its head from side to side taking it all in. So far, it seems fairly tolerant of our nearby activities and I was even able to move within about 25 feet for this picture.

Eastern screech owls are usually 6.3 to 9.8 inches in length, weighing 4.3 to 8.6 ounces, and with a wingspan of 18.9 to 24 inches. Screech owls eat small mammals such as mice and voles, insects, birds, and various invertebrates. The daily regurgitation of bones and fur may leave the ground beneath the nest littered with pellets from which I may be able to learn more about its diet. We have yet to observe the owl singing its distinctive trill or whinny.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Silence is Golden

I spent the week prior to the election on a Sierra Club trip in the Florida Keys. Mercifully, the only TV we watched was about Sandy and my phone was silent. Reconnecting with nature, especially in an environment so different from my home turf, was totally refreshing for both body and soul.

In the weeks prior to leaving I, like everyone else in Virginia, had grown weary of the attack ads and phone calls from both sides, but especially those from Romney and his disgusting cohorts like Karl Rove. It is gratifying to know that the billionaires who tried to buy our democracy are POed at their bad investment in the man more responsible than most for dividing America.

Well, I didn't entirely escape the calls and ads. Returning home late on Sunday our voicemail was carpet bombed with a couple dozen messages - only three nonpolitical. There was Restore Our Future, the NRA, the Chamber, and an array of other more shadowy groups spewing lies and hate. Press #3 to delete. And trying to catch up on local news that evening offered more evidence of Sheldon Adelson's $53 million in what turned out to be an expensive bad investment. It is my belief that the volume, tone, lies, and hate blasting into our dens and kitchens actually helped turn the election in favor of President Barack Obama.

On election day I was again shielded from the last round of ads and calls as I counted absentee ballots for my county. It was uplifting (and exhausting) to be part of that experience - fellow citizens of both parties striving to make sure the most essential act of democracy is protected with honesty and integrity. Sure there were long lines and other problems, but Officers of Election and Electoral Boards met the challenges and made sure our voices were heard and accurately counted.

Emerging from the seclusion of this important civic duty at nearly 11:00 PM the radio told me the early signs were good. By the time I got home Ohio and the election had been called for President Obama. Surfing channels I landed on Fox just as Rove was ranting about calling Ohio too early and the fake news network sent Megyn Kelly hiking to its "decision room" to restore a tiny bit of dignity after its living-in-a-bubble pundits and polsters were just plain wrong!

Since then I've been enjoying the splendid fall weather, cleaning up leaves, and catching up around the house. Yesterday I got the opportunity to learn about banding of Saw-whet owls so it was yet another later night. A chilly hike to the ridge top to collect owls followed by lessons on aging, sexing, and understanding their lives and migration. I got home about midnight but once again nature, and the humans who spend time and energy helping to learn more and protect it, inspires.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Thoughts about Ballot Question 1

In addition to voting for electors for President and Vice President, for a United States Senator, and for a member of the House of Representatives, Virginians will be voting for two Ballot Questions concerning amendments to the Constitution of Virginia.

Ballot Question 1 states:
Shall Section 11 of Article I (Bill of Rights)of the Constitution of Virginia be amended (i) to require that eminent domain only be exercised where the property taken or damaged is for public use and, except for utilities or the elimination of a public nuisance, not where the primary use is for private gain, private benefit, private enterprise, increasing jobs, increasing tax revenue, or economic development; (ii) to define what is included in just compensation for such taking or damaging of property; and (iii) to prohibit the taking or damaging of more private property than is necessary for the public use?
Eminent domain - the power of government to take (with just compensation) private property for public use - has been on the public radar since the U.S. Supreme Court held that New London, Connecticut had every right to take a home that stood in the way of commercial development. The outrage was nationwide. In Virginia that anger was translated into 2007 legislation that prohibited government from condemning property for private purposes. This reasonable legislation is still in effect.

Some, like the Virginia Farm Bureau, fear the current law could be weakened legislatively and wants an amendment to the Virginia Constitution to assure its staying power. That's all well and good. But the proposed amendment adds provisions - provisions that could sink us in an expensive legal swamp - into the eminent domain cauldron. Before we look at that issue, voters should be aware that, if passed, this amendment would not affect the power of the federal government regarding eminent domain.

Ballot Question 1 contains the following language that raises questions about how the General Assembly will define lost profits and access:
Just compensation shall be no less than the value of the property taken, lost profits and lost access, and damages to the residue caused by the taking. The terms “lost profits” and “lost access” are to be defined by the General Assembly.
Current law awards compensation if the property is landlocked after the taking. Under the amendment any reduction of access might be grounds for compensation. So a new median blocking an easy left turn into a McDonald's or a farmer having to divert his hay wagon from a preferred lane might prompt a lengthy court battle and increase the costs of a new road.

The "lost profits" provision is even stickier. Lost profits for how long? How can the legislature or a judge predict future profits that are determined by supply and demand? If the "lost profits" are awarded to a restaurant that soon thereafter goes out of business does it get refunded?

While most Americans want to protect private property rights, they also want to have new roads or utilities such as water, sewer, and electricity done at the lowest possible costs to taxpayers and consumers. This amendment threatens the ability of state and local government to provide those improvements as cheaply as possible.

Ballot Question 1 will be a hay day for two groups - the lobbyists who will twist legislators arms about the enacting legislation and the lawyers who will argue the cases. Beware of the unintended consequences of well-intentioned legislation. The devil, as always, is in the details. Ballot Question 1 should go back to the drawing board.

North River Gorge

In the middle of a political campaign filled with lies, distortions, and flip flops it clears one's mind and soul to spend some quality time with the truth and beauty of nature. Pictures from a recent hike on North River Gorge Trail in the George Washington National Forest, Augusta County, Virginia.

North River seen from the swinging bridge.
Fall colors light up the trail.
A serene pool in North River.

What if you throw a party and nobody comes?

Photo: Mike Tripp/The News Leader
Americans for Prosperity and the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party threw a rally on a beautiful October Saturday at the Wharf in Staunton. But, what if you throw a tea party, call and invite everybody you know, and still nobody comes? What an embarrassment! A party crashed by apathy! A party crashed by empty seats representing those who refuse to associate with their message of racism and hate.

With empty seats and hollow rhetoric the organizers lamely blamed "Dancing with the Stars," "TV," and "too many other events going on..." for the poorly attended rally. Yesterday reminded me of an Americans for Prosperity bus tour in late June that drew virtually nonexistent crowds and petered out before the day was done.

The irony of the backdrop - the shell of a old building for lease - captures completely the crumbling and desolate movement that was the Tea Party.

Coverage of the "rally that wasn't" at The News Leader.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Just how bad is George Allen?--One more reason to Vote for Tim Kaine

Originally posted by: glenbesa on Article XI: To Preserve and Protect on Sat Oct 20, 2012 at 15:55:53 PM EST:
If you didn't live in Virginia when George Allen was Governor you may not understand just how anti-environmental he is. In the US Senate he had an abysmal record but those were only votes. 
It was as Governor where George Allen demonstrated his utter contempt for environmental laws. Right after he was sworn in as Governor, he gutted the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Allen, bringing in what we then caused "wise users" at the time to run this key environmental agency is today's equivalent of putting the Tea Party in charge. There were mass firings and mass resignations of agency staffers who refused to follow orders to ignore pollution violations. 
Allen also interfered with an on going EPA lawsuit against Smithfield Foods for water pollution. The CEO of Smithfield at the time, Joe Luter, gave Allen a $100,000 campaign contribution and after Allen was elected he had the state intervene in that EPA lawsuit, effectively neutralizing federal action against Smithfield. As unethical as this may sound, it apparently is not illegal in Virginia where there is no limit on campaign contributions. 
The Allen Administration even lied to the US EPA about the status of data collected on toxic emissions. When the EPA sought the toxic pollution data from the state, the response was that they did not have it, all the while it was actually locked in safe at the DEQ. 
If elected to the US Senate, George Allen will continue his war against the environment, attacking EPA funding and regulations and voting as he has before to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. We must not let this happen.
Coarse Cracked Corn stands in total agreement with this post. Returning George Allen to the United States Senate would be as disgusting as allowing mountain top removal coal mining in Shenandoah National Park.

Mitt's Magical Mystery Tour

Perhaps the best reason to not vote for Mitt Romney is that he doesn't know himself and we can't know him either. More importantly, because of his magical mystery tour through the Republican primaries and his uncanny ability to shift his marketing lines within hours or even minutes, even his supporters are left clueless about what kind of president he would make.

It is a time honored tactic for GOP wannabees to run right during their bizarre run up to the convention. Mitt, who'd been a Massachusetts moderate who collaborated with Ted Kennedy to pass RomneyCare had to make a neck wrenching hard right to get in the same rutted lane as Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Mitt trashed equality for women and trashed their reproductive and healthcare rights. Even taking the right ditch wasn't really enough, and it was probably Mitt's rich friends enabling him to run a barrage of ads pummeling his opponents that eventually locked the nomination for the Massachusetts chameleon.

As most observers figured would happen, following the nomination Romney solidified his base in the Republican Party, but most suspect that is more about hatred of President Obama than any real love for Mitt. It allowed the one time "moderate" who later sounded like a tea party reactionary to attempt to get all four wheels back on the road with a major assist from his billionaire friends (his top donor, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson donated $34 million,  three times more than Obama's top five combined).

But getting back to the middle of the road has made Mitt a liar on issue after issue. For example, he says he wants to reduce the deficit but his budget math doesn't compute. How can he maintain (or increase) defense spending while honoring his no tax pledge to Grover Norquist? On women's issues he has flipped more than a bass in the bottom of a boat. At times it sounds like he respects women's rights but then he goes into tea party appeasing mode by being blind to pay equity and threatening to eliminate Planned Parenthood, to restrict access to birth control, and to support a scary personhood amendment. This man has his boxers in a binder when it comes to protecting hard won rights of American women.

On foreign policy... do we even want to explore his foot-in-mouth missteps that have already damaged the U.S. overseas? On Libia and other issues Romney has tried to make political hay out of foreign policy and even some of his strongest supporters have reminded him that his extreme makeover political marketing should stop at the water's edge. It his hard to tell where Romney stands because all of his positions are so overtly partisan.

Here is the point -- as Election Day nears Romney's magical mystery tour still leaves most Americans, including many Republicans, wondering where he stands or if he stands for anything. It is one thing to change a position due to changing circumstances, but is is something else entirely to seemingly possess absolutely zero core convictions about anything. Mitt's magical mystery tour offers no compelling reason to vote for him. More importantly, if he happens to actually occupy the White House, it is no way to lead a great country where people hold deep and strongly held convictions.

UPDATE 10/23/12: Mitt continued on his mystery tour in last night's foreign policy debate as he tried to transform from a saber-rattling neocon and Cheney disciple to a more moderate and pragmatic approach where he agreed with President Obama more often than not. More than substance (Mitt didn't have all that much except to say "I agree with your policies only I'd do it better...), maybe you noticed his arrogant demeanor. Wonder how that will play with our friends and allies?

With apologies to the Beatles whose Magical Mystery Tour touted something Mitt will never be able to do: SATISFACTION GUARANTEED.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Schmookler/Goodlatte "debate"

The incumbent, Bob Goodlatte, and his challenger, Andy Schmookler, met in their second debate this morning at Turner Ashby High School in Bridgewater, VA. Rain showers were passing through as folks arrived at the school. The parking lot and sidewalks were lined with yard signs for each man - both use a blue/white theme - in about equal numbers. Inside the auditorium some rows were set aside for area high school students invited to attend - Eastern Mennonite HS, Spotswood HS, and Broadway HS - in addition to Turner Asby HS students who helped organize the event. I'd say the auditorium was about 85% filled and, based on the applause at the end, roughly equally divided between Schmookler and Goodlatte supporters.

After sound checks and other preliminaries, the "debate" started on time. Yes, I guess it was a debate, but due to constraints of the rules and all of the questions being presented by student panelists from the various schools it was hardly a debate that shed much new light on issues. Each candidate gave opening and closing statements of three minutes in length. Questions were directed to candidates in an alternating fashion with a one minute answer, a two minute rebuttal, and a one minute rebuttal to the rebuttal. Not much time to delve into the questions with any depth! There were no followups nor could the candidates question each other. I applaud the students' presence and participation, but this format made it more a joint campaign appearance than a debate.

Goodlatte's opening statement sounded his theme for the day - promote jobs and the economy by cutting taxes and regulations and reducing the debt. In nearly each answer to every question Goodlatte returned to these themes even if it meant few specifics or dodging the essence of the question.

Schmookler's opening statement returned to his often repeated belief that dishonesty in politics and a government captured by the monied interests has damaged our government of, by, and for the people. He revisited these ideas as he talked about government's role in advancing social mobility, promoting equality, and supporting a strong middle class.

The student generated questions asked about the cost of higher education, Social Security, fracking and uranium mining in the commonwealth, defense spending, transportation, health care, and the Dream Act. Several of highlights from where my perch:
  • Bob Goodlatte doesn't seem too supportive on much of a federal role to with the cost of higher education punting it mostly back on the institutions. Schmookler believes educational opportunity helps achieve the American Dream and upward social mobility.
  • On Social Security Schmookler believes tweaking and adjusting the system will keep it viable for decades to come. Goodlatte did say he would not support privatization but most of his response was about the debt.
  • Neither man addressed uranium mining but there was a clear difference on fracking with Goodlatte basically in the industry corner and Schmookler calling for an end to the Halliburton Exemption and (while responding to the next question on defense) pointing to Goodlatte as a climate change denier.
  • Schmookler questioned why the U.S. spends as much as the rest of the world combined on defense. Goodlatte didn't seem overly interested in significant defense cuts but he used the opportunity to get a zinger in on entitlements.
  • On transportation Goodlatte talked of "limited resources" and launched an attack on ObamaCare. Schmooker accused Goodlatte of voting against important transportation bills and said that, if elected, he'd understand the important difference between spending and investing - and he's support infrastructure investment as a way to create jobs now and a stronger country in the future.
  • Schmookler accused Goodlatte and the GOP of dropping the ball and/or opposing heath care reform for the last quarter century. For his part the congressman only said that ObamaCare is a budget buster and he cited some examples of health legislation he'd supported.
One takeaway for me is that Andy Schmooker is a big thinker who does indeed transcend partisan politics. He sees and understands interconnections and causes and effects. Unfortunately, a "debate" such as this and political discourse in general is not conducive to discussing big ideas.

Bob Goodlatte spent considerable time, without saying it directly, of preempting criticism that he is a hyper-partisan member of Congress. On a number of occasions he bent over backwards (almost to the point of kissing his own butt) to talk about his bipartisan "creds." It sounded good but that was a hyper-imagination at work - there is good reason this blog has referred to him as Bobblehead Bob for a long time. On issue after issue he nods his agreement with his GOP puppet masters.

I was seated behind the area reserved for Goodlatte's family and close friends and the bobblehead thing must be dominant in the Republican gene pool - I smiled more than once as 4 or 5 of them would nod, in perfect synchronization, to Bob's talking points. Even more impressive was their ability to shake their heads in perfect choreography when Schmookler said something they didn't like. It put a bold accent on Schmookler's using the famous Will Rogers quote to emphasize his desire to work across party lines to find common ground, "I belong to no organized political party; I am a Democrat."

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ryan disagrees with the NRA

Over the past two weeks I've gotten several robo-calls from the National Rifle Association asserting in a dire and urgent tone a horrifying message to gun owners: If Barack Obama is reelected, we will lose our Second Amendment rights to gun ownership.

Never mind that, as President, Barack Obama has not even remotely suggested or supported any legislation that would limit gun rights. In fact, the only gun legislation the President has signed actually expanded gun rights by allowing weapons to be carried in national parks and AMTRAK trains.

Even Paul Ryan seems to acknowledge that the President is not a threat to gun rights when he says early in this interview, "If you take a look at the gun laws we have, I don't even think President Obama's proposing more gun laws. We have good strong guns laws—we have to make sure we enforce our laws, we have lots of laws that aren't properly enforced. We need to make sure we enforce these laws."

The NRA is intentionally promoting fear and angst among gun owners (I am one) in this conservative part of the commonwealth where hunting is a cherished tradition. By using the time-honored Nazi propaganda technique of telling the Big Lie over and over again the NRA is demonstrating its complete lack of regard for the responsibilities inherent as we exercise our First Amendment rights.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Predator and prey

This past Friday a couple of us from the Headwaters Master Naturalist program were helping with a benthic stream monitoring hands-on demonstration for kids during a homeschool day at the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton. We got our tables set up and the net, tweezers, and other gear ready when what we believe is a northern water snake was spotted hunting bluegill in a deeper pool about 50 feet upstream.

Not very deep, the pool was fed by a waterfall just below a pond. Several 2-3 inch bluegill had washed downstream and were trapped in a relatively confined area. Laying on the bottom, the water snake was virtually invisible and it made several attempts to nap a passing bluegill. It didn't take too long for "Bob" the water snake (named by school kids last year) to catch a meal.

The water snake brought his catch into an area surrounded by roots, sticks, and leaves where the fish, even if it escaped, would be trapped and the water snake would be hidden from its own predators. A leisurely meal followed as the snake prepared to eat what was indeed a big gulp.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Shenandoah Valley Solar Tour

The self-guided Shenandoah Valley Regional Solar Open House Tour will be held Saturday, October 6, 2012 from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM (hours vary by location). Visit all or some of the locations as your time permits. The tour includes properties in Harrisonburg, Waynesboro, Rockingham County, and Augusta County. Learn how abundant and renewable solar energy could meet 20% of the commonwealth's future electricity needs. The tour is organized in conjunction with the ASES National Solar Tour.

Tours are also scheduled in Hampton Roads on October 6/7, in Richmond on October 6, and in the D.C. Metro area on October 6/7. Find other Virginia and national tours here.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Schmookler/Goodlatte agree to debate schedule

Democratic challenger Andy Schmookler and Republican incumbent Bob Goodlatte have apparently agreed to debate three times in October:

  • Saturday, October 13 at 1:30 pm at James Breckenridge Middle School in Roanoke County
  • Monday, October 15 at 10:30 am at Turner Ashby High School near Bridgewater
  • Tuesday, October 16 at 7:30 pm at Liberty University in Lynchburg

Bobblehead Bob has been dodging debates so it is good news that an actual debate schedule has been agreed upon even if it is compressed into just four days. Not yet known, and possibly not yet determined, are the length and format of the debates; will individual debates focus in certain issus; who will moderate each debate; how will questions be determined; and if there will be TV, radio, or internet broadcasts.

There may be an explanation, but the October 15 mid-morning timing seems a bit odd - difficult for working folks to attend and since that is a school day parking and just who gets in the auditorium might be problematic.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The season of the *

Although this blog mostly focuses on Shenandoah Valley issues, as a Packers fan and stockholder (one share) I am outraged that a blown call on the last play stole a win from Green Bay last night. And that doesn't even factor in other missed calls in the last few minutes - defensive pass interference that was actually offensive pass interference (or a no call) and a very questionable roughing the passer flag that took away an interception by the Packers - both of which were game changers in their own right.

This NFL season should be remembered with a giant * in the record books. This is season in which the league looses credibility, fans and brand with each game... sometimes each call. Unless the NFL quickly cleans up this mess,  I'll find other things to occupy my Sunday afternoons and watch other shows during those weeknight games - there is better officiating on American Idol. Even the fools on Fox News call it better than the replacement NFL officials.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Romney/Ryan BS express tanks in Virginia

It is quite telling when the Republican ticket has to campaign heavily in the Shenandoah Valley and other GOP strongholds in the commonwealth. It must be true that Romney's internal polls show the same thing as most published polls - President Obama has a strong lead in Virginia with Democratic coattails helping Tim Kaine.

After Ryan's visit to the Rockingham County Fair Grounds several local Repugs called on the ticket to "get tough." What does "get tough" mean? Call the President a "socialist?" Play the race card? Make up some new lies, a strategy that seems to be boomeranging on Romney/Ryan as the top dog keeps stepping in it?

Or perhaps blame the 47% for dragging America down? Jon Stewart calls out Romney, Ryan, and Hannity (he's the one wearing hip boots covered in sh*t) in "CHAOS ON BULL#%T MOUNTAIN" in the following clip from Wednesday night:

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Goodlatte playing dodgeball

Nearly every week there is a news story or editorial about Bob Goodlatte dodging debates with Andy Schmookler in the Sixth Congressional District election. Goodlatte has survived for 10 terms by doing little, meeting with constituents... err, I mean Republicans... mostly in highly controlled events, and representing us even less. Bobblehead Bob must figure that is a good recipe for electoral success in 2012. Unfortunately, it is a bad concoction for good governance.

Bobblehead Bob's campaign says he will debate but they won't even talk about when, or where, or how many. To many observers it is clear he wants to run out the clock by playing it personally safe even as he makes a sham of participatory democracy.

Coarse Cracked Corn's
Top Ten Reasons Bob Goodlatte is a Debate Dodger
  • The GOP is so strong in the the 6th District that he has grown lackadaisical by getting a pass in previous elections.
  • His opponent is a smart guy who has a good chance of embarrassing the incumbent in front of voters.
  • We may discover his voting record serves GOP masters more than his district.
  • Andy Schmookler may be seen debating an empty chair.
  • He choked on BBQ while talking to Joe "you lie" Wilson at a recent Republican gathering in Rockingham County.
  • Karen Kwiatkowski might show up and ask a question exposing Bobblehead Bob as a fraud.
  • Voters may discover he sips weak tea.
  • He might be asked to justify his repeatedly broken promise to serve only six terms.
  • He hasn’t had time to sit down with Boehner and Cantor to memorize his talking points.
  • He might actually be forced to engage with all constituents.
I'll wager you have other reasons Bobblehead Bob is virtually invisible to all except GOP activists. Add them in the comments!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Classic Hits? or Misses?

I used to listen to Star 94.3 Classic Hits broadcasting out of Staunton, VA. Today and tonight and tomorrow -- not so much. Not at all.

Something changed with the station about the time the derecho roared through the Shenandoah Valley in early July. We lost power for several days, Star 94.3 was basically static for about a week after that. When it came back to broadcasting the signal seemed a little stronger but the content went down the crapper like a turd seeking a septic tank.

For one thing it seems like they dumped the local DJs and are broadcasting something canned with spam. Like that horrible Delilah they have in the evenings. The emails linking me to a listener survey ended. And the music took a turn sharply south of "classic."

So, I'm listening to old CDs and to new mp3s in my truck and car. I tune into Star 94.3 once in a while, but it is increasingly getting to be only once in a very blue moon. I check out and listen to UVA sports and occasionally tune in for (stale) local news/weather but am looking elsewhere for information and entertainment.

Classic hits - it ain't chicken salad, it's chicken sh*t.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Good day sunshine!

On September 19 the State Corporation Commission will hold a public hearing on Dominion Resource's Community Solar Power Program. According to Dominion it includes "company-owned solar PV DG systems; both on leased roof space or ground-mounted installations, as well as the purchase of output from customer-owned solar PV DG systems." When fully completed Dominion would generate 30 MW of solar generated electricity - enough to power about 6,000 homes.

Solar generated electricity has made great strides in other states where laws and company policies encourage building for a cleaner and more secure tomorrow. For example, New Jersey, a state with less solar potential than Virginia, already has built 850 MW of solar and has another 600 MW in the works. Dominion's tiny step towards generating clean energy in the commonwealth would, by 2027, produce just 0.006% of the company's expected output.

Nevertheless, the Community Solar Power Program is a move in the right direction for improving the quality of our air and water and the health of our citizens. Construction of these facilities will create Virginia jobs and encourage more clean energy by Dominion and other electric utilities. Tell the SCC and Dominion that you support the Community Solar Power Program and you expect Dominion Resources to do even more to bring clean energy - solar and wind - to Virginia.

In other Dominion Resources news, the company is seeking permission to convert the 227 MW Bremo Power Station in Fluvanna County from coal to natural gas. It would be the ninth Dominion coal-fired plant to be converted to other fuels or closed in recent years. Although not nearly as clean nor renewable as solar and wind, in the short term these conversions signal progress in eliminating dirty coal from polluting our skies and threatening the well-being of our families and the climate.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Republicans against ballot access

It well known that the GOP is hell-bent on making it more difficult for people to vote. In nearly a dozen states Republicans have passed new voter ID and early voting laws specifically targeted at groups they fear may vote Democratic. Their cries of "voter fraud" are itself a fraud on the American people. Voter fraud is virtually nonexistent in the U.S.A.

Not content with keeping people from voting, Republicans in several states, including Virginia, are working overtime to keep candidates off the ballot. Yesterday, over objections and legal challenges by the Virginia GOP, the State Board of Elections ruled that former congressman and Constitution Party nominee Virgil Goode qualified for the presidential ballot in the commonwealth. The board also certified Libertarian Party and Green Party candidates for the ballot.

With some help from the Green Party in collecting signatures (Greens like his stand on increased spending for passenger rail), Goode submitted over 20,500 signatures to the State Board of Elections. The law requires 10,000 valid signatures of registered voters with a minimum of 400 in each congressional district.

Will Goode's presence on the ballot impact the outcome of the presidential contest in Virginia? Apparently the state GOP believes the former congressman's name recognition and extreme right wing views will be attractive to tea party and xenophobic types that are a major block of GOP support in the commonwealth. There is some evidence to support that point of view. Late spring and early summer polls that included Goode's name showed he might pick up 5-9% of the Virginia vote with nearly all of that coming out of Mitt Romney's political hide. Virgil won't lay that many eggs, but even if he only lays one or two, in battleground Virginia the yoke will be on Romney.

Mitt Romney is the nominee only because $$$ made him the last man standing in a field crowded with wackos. He's flipped and flopped on nearly every issue under the sun. His Mormon religion isn't trusted by the evangelicals in the GOP. The only reason Romney even has a chance is Republican's over-the-top fires of hatred of President Obama that are stoked daily by Karl Rove and the Koch brothers money and slick ads. With their nominee neither liked nor trusted it is no wonder Virginia Republicans are horrified that Virgil Goode is on the ballot - he is everything they want Mitt to be!

We can expect the GOP, with help from the wild man in the Attorney General's office, to keep the challenges going if for no other reason than to raise questions about Goode in voters' minds in hopes it will reduce his appeal. Goode will be their morning-after excuse (couldn't be a crummy nominee or a bankrupt party) when Virginia's 13 electoral votes end up in the Democratic column for the second straight time!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Staggered Terms for Augusta?

Should Augusta County's elected boards - the Board of Supervisors and the School Board - change to staggered terms where part of each board would be elected every two years rather than the current system in which the entire boards stand for election every four years? The short answer is YES.

Current chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Tracy Pyles, put this question before the former Board of Supervisors two years ago and got a thumbs down. It appears there were too many hard feelings and personality clashes for Mr. Pyles to move this good idea forward. In early August, the current Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to put the question out for comment at a September 26 public hearing.

Staggered terms are greatly preferred over the current system of electing all supervisors and school board members at the same time. Under the current system, it might be unlikely, but possible, that all new members would be elected at the same time. Continuity and institutional knowledge would be destroyed and the board might struggle to find its footing. Staggered terms also give voters, at least in some magisterial districts, the opportunity to sound off on issues facing the county that can be a barometer of sentiment not only for the newly elected members but also for those in mid-term.

Staggered terms will temper the power of voting blocks and special interests whose demagoguery or money might unduly influence the electorate, especially in a low-turnout local election. Hot button issues would be less likely to influence the stability and continuity of governance. Staggered terms provide a bit of checks and balances - a fundamental principle in American government at both the federal and state levels. Many cities and counties use staggered terms to bring it to local government as well.

If the change is made, in 2015 voters in selected magisterial districts would elect members of the Board of Supervisors and School Board for two year terms while voters in the other magisterial districts would elect representative for four years. In 2017 those selected magisterial districts would elect representatives for four year terms.

If the Board of Supervisors decides to move to staggered terms, its next decision will be to select magisterial districts that will elect representative for a two year term in 2015. That process should be as nonpartisan as is humanly possible.

It was totally inappropriate for Supervisor David Karaffa to volunteer to run for a two year term. Mr. Karaffa currently represents the Beverley Manor District, but he does not own the seat - the people of the district do. Perhaps Karaffa was just being generous or showing his support for staggered terms, but it is entirely possible that he, or another supervisor, could be making a personal political calculation if they have a say in which districts are on which election cycle. Maybe Mr. Karaffa wants to run for the General Assembly but doesn't want to give up his spot on the Board of Supervisors to do so. I am not saying it is so, but in politics appearances count for everything.

I suggest a lottery system - perhaps drawing straws or using ping pong balls like the Virginia Lottery uses - done before the sharp eyes of the media and the public. Done in a way that dispels any notion that a current office holder is manipulating the process for personal advantage. Only then will Augusta County move to the superior system of staggered terms without any suspicion that the system is being rigged for political purposes.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Green Colleges

The Sierra Club ranked 96 participating colleges on their commitment to improving the environment - things like cutting down on emissions, serving sustainable cafeteria food, responsible use of energy and water, and curriculum. A perfect score is 894.5 points and the top scoring school in the nation, University of California, Davis scored 709.17. Here is how the four participating schools in the Commonwealth fared:
  • VCU came in 21st with a score of 569.59
  • George Mason University came in 34th with a score of 554.50
  • University of Richmond came in 69th with a score of 402.26
  • Roanoke College came in 94th with a score of 147.11
So, my questions are: What about the other Virginia schools? Why didn't they participate in the survey? What steps are they taking to save the planet and pass on a sense of environmental responsibility to students and the larger community?

Eastern Mennonite University and Washington & Lee have installed solar panels. JMU has research into both wind and solar. Yet none of them participated in the survey. Why were the flagship schools - the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech - AWOL? How about other public institutions like Old Dominion University and Longwood? One private school, Roanoke College, participated but the remainder of state's many fine private colleges like Bridgewater, Emory & Henry, and Randolph Macon sat on the environmental sidelines.

Students, alumni, communities, and the entire Commonwealth look to our institutions of higher learning to show leadership and to set high standards guiding us into the future. Hopefully the next time the Sierra Club seeks out America's Greenest Colleges more of Virginia's institutions will participate... and score high!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Port Isobel service/adventure

Last week I joined with about thirty others to visit, learn, and work at Port Isobel, an educational facility of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). The 250 acres of island and marshes is located just east of Tangier Island and is shown on nautical charts as East Point Marsh. The educational facility consists of a dorm for up to 30 people and a conference center with kitchen. Living up to its commitment to environmental stewardship, the CBF facility has solar power, composting toilets, and water saving innovations.

Port Isobel as seen from the beach to the east.
We arrived in Crisville, Maryland about noon and loaded our gear aboard the Loni Carol II, a 40-foot Chesapeake Bay workboat for the journey to our island home for the next four days. Since few of us knew each other prior to that day, introductions were made as the Loni Carol II plowed through the Bay during our 45 minute voyage to Port Isobel. Arriving at the dock, teamwork quickly took over as we unloaded our personal gear and food/supplies for the four day stay. After a brief orientation we signed-up for our meal preparation/cleanup shifts and set out to explore the area. Many of us hiked the trail through a stand of bamboo and across the marsh to a small strip of beach... learning quickly that the flies were both numerous and ferocious. After dinner there are get acquainted activities and discussions about challenges facing the Chesapeake Bay.

Sunrise at Port Isobel
After breakfast on our first full day at Port Isobel we signed up for various repair and maintenance jobs in desperate need of attention. There were trails (laced with poison ivy) to clear and widen; painting of decks, rails, and door/window frames; gardens to weed and mulch; fire pits to build; and much more. Breaking into teams, everyone quickly found the necessary tools and supplies and got straight to work. 

Repairing and painting a deck and railing.
Working closely with others, conversations became lively as we got to know our news friends better. "Where do you live?" "What do you do for a living?" "Why did you pay to come to this CBF work and learn adventure?" This activity was apparently a first for the CBF and was modeled after "volunteer vacations" of the Sierra Club. For two days our mornings and about an hour after lunch would be dedicated to making Port Isobel a more attractive and safer place for students and teachers who visit to learn more about the environment, history, and culture of this national treasure.

Cleaning and mulching gardens.
The afternoons were for learning and adventure. There was canoeing and hiking for some. Others simply enjoyed the scenery and read on the dock. Loading crab pots on the Loni Carol II, we set 15 pots as the captain explained the challenges facing the watermen of Tangier and the environmental issues threatening the blue crab. We learned about the life-cycle of crabs, some history of bay crabbing, and the politics of regulation and crabbing along the Virginia/Maryland line.

After another great dinner (chicken stir fry) we met and had a conversation with Tom Horton, who for over 30 years, covered the environment and Chesapeake Bay for the Baltimore Sun and has authored numerous articles and books about life and culture in the region. Homespun and a great story teller, Horton brought us closer to life and loss in Tangier and Smith Island.

Friday we continued with our assigned jobs... and some new ones... anticipating our afternoon trip to Tangier. Walking the narrow streets, sampling the ice cream, visiting the museum, and chatting with locals gave us just a taste of the very different life of the people of Tangier. Leaving Tangier, we set a course for the crab pots we'd set 24 hours earlier. Our catch yielded about 100 keepers and CBF staff bought another half bushel plus some soft shell crabs and the evening's feast featuring a crab pickin' was on!! One thing was clear about this trip... we ate well... and so did the bugs!
The haul from our crab pots.
Saturday morning. You might think we'd be anxious to get home and away from all the sweat and bugs, but I think everyone was settling into the routine and would have gladly spent another day or two at work, just to stay on Port Isobel and take it all in. After breakfast we again boarded the Loni Carol II and headed for the grass beds for scraping, the process of harvesting soft shell crabs for sale (video). We caught crabs (didn't keep any) and we brought back other fish, shrimp, etc to put in Port Isobel's aquarium.

Sunset at Port Isobel
After a couple hours of cleaning the buildings and grounds, and taking the obligatory group picture, we loaded our gear, recycling, and trash on the Loni Carol II and headed for the marina at Crisfield. The waves and chop were a bit higher than on our trip out so the ride was a bit rougher, wetter, and longer. 
Like everyone, I was moved by what I'd experienced and learned at Port Isobel and intrigued by new friends whose daily lives are so different than my own. Many of the participants were from NOVA or the Baltimore and Annapolis areas... a couple even wondered if where I live is in the Chesapeake Bay watershed (yes, most of the Shenandoah Valley drains into the bay). It was too bad, but perhaps understandable, that not a single participant was from Pennsylvania - the largest contributor of water in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Rivers from 6 states and D.C. drain into a
tidal basin that averages just 21' in depth.
Perhaps the greatest lesson is that, in restoring and saving the Chesapeake Bay, as in climate change and all our environmental time bombs, we are all in the same boat. We inhabit the same earth, drink the same water, and breath the same air. Individually we can make a difference by being responsible children of Mother Earth and never, ever taking her for granted in our daily lives. Collectively... by working together and putting aside selfish motivations... we can solve all of these challenges and many more to come.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

This is bugging me

One of the really nice things about living in the central Shenandoah Valley is the absence of many biting insects cause welts, itching, and irritation that can ruin early mornings in the garden or an evening on the porch. I can recall many years in which I counted mosquito bites for the entire summer on my fingers and toes. And, we don't have the green head flies and black flies that infest some eastern areas of the commonwealth. It does seem though, that blood sucking politicians are found in all regions of Virginia.

Growing up in Tidewater, I can remember how bad mosquitos were on a sultry summer night. The city had a truck that patrolled neighborhoods fogging the air with some unknown mist to kill the nasty little devils. As kids we were glad to see the relief from itching coming down the road, but in retrospect it was probably some toxic witches brew that, while killing mosquitoes, is responsible for my memory loss in older age. When I stayed in the Valley after college, I didn't miss the mosquitos or flies of my childhood. Visits home often brought painful and itchy reminders of what I'd left behind.

But the nasty little vampires seem to be finding a niche in the Shenandoah Valley, or at least in my backyard, over the past couple summers. Perhaps this summer we can attribute it to the heat along with the rainfall and humid conditions. Many mornings and evenings I'm hit with multiple mosquito bites in just a few minutes. With some hesitation, I break out the Deet bug spray (the only thing that consistently works for me) and keep them at bay while rubbing a little anti-itch ointment on the  growing red bumps.

Manmade climate change and global warming may be responsible for some of the recent population increase in these nasty bugs in the Valley. And there is a bigger picture - we may just be on the cusp of a future with more bugs and diseases that aren't familiar to most folks in the U.S.A. An interesting  Mother Jones article, 7 Climate Change Diseases to Ruin Your Monday, highlights the science behind climate changes that are creating favorable conditions for odious and dangerous diseases to find their way into your home town. Check out just a few of these disagreeable and gross diseases spread by mosquitos and ticks:
  • West Nile Virus is spread by mosquitos. No cure.
  • Lyme Disease is spread by ticks. No cure but antibiotics help many.
  • Chikungunya is spread by mosquitoes. Currently found in Africa, Asia, and the Indian subcontinent, but is finding its way into Europe. No cure.
  • Rift Valley Fever is spread by mosquitos. Only experimental cures.
  • Dengue Fever is spread by mosquitos and has been found in Florida and southern Texas. It may be the most likely disease to spread in the U.S because of climate change.
The link above will give you more information about each disease (and others spread by algae and fungus) including symptoms and the forecast about them potentially spreading to North America.

In the meantime, pass the Deet. Maximum strength!

According to the CDC, the West Nile outbreak is the largest ever with four times the cases for this time of the year. There have been 41 deaths and 1,118 cases in 38 states - about half in Texas with ground zero being the Dallas area. There are probably many more cases since people with mild symptoms often don't go to a doctor. Ways to avoid the West Nile virus (other than staying away from Texas) include:
  • Use an effective mosquito repellant;
  • Wear long pants and long sleeved shirts when outside, especially at dawn and dusk when mosquitos are most active;
  • Keep screens on doors and windows closed;
  • Remove standing water from mosquito breeding places like buckets, barrels, and flower pots and change pet and bird bath water every day or so. If your gutters hold standing water, consider flushing weekly.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Cypress Creek coal-plant on hold... hopefully forever

Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) announced in a press release that it has suspended plans for a coal-fired plant known as Cypress Creek near Dendron in Surry County, Virginia. The announcement is a victory for cleaner air and water, especially in the Tidewater region of the commonwealth. ODEC cited more stringent EPA regulations and market conditions as driving the decision, but a broad coalition of groups, including Wise Energy for Virginia, had built a strong case that harm to air quality and water quality from the 1,5000 megawatt plant would outweigh any possible benefits. Less demand for coal also means less destruction from mountaintop removal coal mining.

ODEC supplies power to 11 electric cooperatives including Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative. This bird attended the SVEC annual meeting where ODEC's CEO, Jack Reasor, said the company would not be moving forward on Cypress Creek and looking at alternative sources. Coarse Cracked Corn had previously commented on the $6 billion threat to the environment here and here and is proud to have been a tiny "cluck, cluck" in the coalition of groups, local governments, and citizens in Hampton Roads that helped to put this toxic stew on the back burner.

Those of us who care about the environment need to keep minding the kitchen because the toxic stew isn't totally off the stove - ODEC spokesman, David Huggins, indicated work may resume in a couple years depending on the outcome of an appeal to the Supreme Court over the EPA's carbon emissions standards.

Glen Besa, director of the Virginia Chapter Sierra Club, called on ODEC to invest in "efficiency, wind and solar power now." For its part, ODEC says it is exploring "alternative sources of power supply" but that could mean more natural gas and hydrofracking. As citizens we need to keep the pressure on the General Assembly and utilities to put in place meaningful laws and policies to encourage efficiency and renewable energy. Virginia could look to forward-looking states where a variety of incentives make solar and wind energy affordable now.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Just say NO to uranium mining in Virginia
There is a widely held view across the commonwealth that uranium mining in Virginia is a bad idea. When Paul Locke, the chair of the National Academy of Sciences report, "Uranium Mining in Virginia said, " Internationally accepted best practices, which include timely and meaningful public participation, are available to mitigate some of the risks involved. However, there are still many unknowns."

Unknowns? Mitigate some risks?

Virginia's climate and geology does indeed present significant and scary unknowns to uranium mining and milling that have not been confronted in other places. As the report noted, Virginia is subject to extreme natural events, including hurricanes, tornados, and heavy rainfall. And, as we've recently witnessed, the commonwealth is not immune to earthquakes.

The risks to public health and safety are great, yet powerful economic interests led by Virginia Uranium, Inc. are pulling out all the stops to influence legislators and agencies who will make the final decisions about keeping or rescinding the 1982 statewide moratorium on uranium mining. Those decisions will affect the future of every Virginian and possibly people beyond the state's borders. Unable to get ban-lifting legislation through the General Assembly, the industry enlisted Governor Bob McDonnell to create a Working Group that is tilted towards industry views, lacks transparency, and has encouraged little public participation.

To date, many concerns and questions remain unanswered. For instance:
  • What happens to left over toxic wastes?
  • What is the impact on drinking water supplies for millions of Virginians?
  • What is the impact on air quality for the region?
  • How will hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation be affected?
  • What is the impact on key parts of the Virginia economy such as agriculture and tourism?
  • What plans are in place for extreme natural events?
  • What is the impact on property values near mines and mills and along transportation routes?
  • What is the impact..... (fill in your own concern or check these out)?
The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is conducting public meetings on issues of water quality and water recreation to assess the impact of uranium mining and milling in the commonwealth. The meetings scheduled (more info about these and other meetings) are:
  • August 7 from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at the Chatham Circuit Court Building in Chatham, VA;
  • August 15 from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at The Barn, Lord Fairfax Community College in Warrenton, VA;
  • August 29 from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at Meyera Oberndorff Library in Virginia Beach, VA.
If you can't make the meetings, you can submit comments directly to the Uranium Working Group online or by mail at 1100 Bank Street, 8th Floor, Richmond, VA 23219.

Another way to take action is to contact your legislators in the General Assembly. For those of us in the central Valley contacting Senator Emmett Hanger is vitally important. He has previously shown that he is willing to listen and he has been sensitive to environmental concerns on other issues. And, as a senior member of the Virginia Senate, he holds a position of power and influence. Not sure who your legislators are or want more ideas for your email to him/her - visit the Virginia Chapter Sierra Club.

Virginia faces many challenges in the commonwealth's diverse environment - cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, reducing the impact of burning dirty coal on air and water quality, mountaintop removal coal mining, and the uncertain dangers of hydrofracking in the huge watersheds of the George Washington National Forest. Each of these threats is very real and deserves the public's and policymakers' attentions. But, the unknowns and horrific perils of uranium mining and milling in Virginia are job #1 of all who care about a healthy future for the Old Dominion.