Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Better Choices for Virginia

A broad coalition of groups and community leaders have come together under the umbrella, Better Choices for Virginia, to promote a more balanced and people-oriented approach to the Commonwealth's short term and long term needs. According to their website, the following principles guide the coalition's efforts to influence policymakers' as they craft state budgets:
  • Take a balanced approach. A balanced approach to meeting Virginia’s current budget crisis will lead to faster, more sustainable recovery. Innovative funding and revenue solutions must be considered along with cuts to public services, as available resources are falling billions of dollars short of need.
  • Address the immediate crisis and plan for the future. Now more than ever is the time for long-term strategies and lasting solutions. Virginia must thoughtfully invest in education, public safety, health, and our natural resources to ensure that we honor our legacy of sound management and make the investments we’ll need to return to prosperity.
  • Craft revenue solutions that allow us to invest in Virginia’s future. Virginia is facing its fifth year in a row of budget shortfalls. The uncertainty that results from these shortfalls, along with the economic harm that results from a cuts-only strategy hurts working Virginians and Virginia businesses. We must reform our outdated revenue system if we’re going to have sustainable budgets.
Coalitions involve compromise and finding common ground. True, the seeds to disunion are sown in every coalition, yet it is remarkable that these groups have set aside differences to achieve goals for the common good that seem elusive to many in our current crop of indoctrinated-by-ALEC politicians:
AARP / AFL-CIO / All-Med Express Medical Supply / Comprehensive Health Investment Project (CHIP) of Virginia / Communication Workers of America / Housing Opportunities Made Equal / Laborers International Union / League of Conservation Voters / Legal Aid Justice Center / Mental Health America of Virginia / Metropolitan Business League / Virginia National Organization for Women / Progress Virginia / Social Action Linking Together / SEIU / Sierra Club / The Commonwealth Institute / Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations / Better Housing Coalition / Virginia Housing Coalition / Virginia Education Association / Virginia Executive Leadership Council / Virginia First Cities / Virginia Interfaith Center / Virginia Interfaith Power & Light / Virginia New Majority / Virginia Organizing / Virginia Poverty Law Center / Virginia PTA
As I scanned the list, I found that I am currently an active volunteer in two of the organizations, was during my career very active in a third, and have supported activities or attended events of several others. The organizations are grassroots and reflective of we the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Far more reflective of the state's diversity and cognizant of the needs than the governor or the 140 members of the General Assembly.

Find out more and get involved at Better Choices for Virginia.

Learn more about the subversive influence of ALEC in this New York Times article and at Common Cause.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Goode Deal

Virgil Goode, the eccentric former congressman from Rocky Mount, Virginia captured the Constitution Party's nomination at its Nashville convention yesterday. James Clymer, a Pennsylvanian who has been the party's chair for more than a decade will be Goode's running mate.

Goode promises to attract disaffected Republicans and Democrats, saying,"Romney's and Obama's positions are not all that different. There's not much distinction. My position would be significantly different from either of them." Mirroring the Constitution Party platform, Goode wants to close the borders and sharply curtail programs like food stamps, foreign aid, and defense. The platform, and presumably Goode, also support life begins at conception laws (like the controversial trans-vaginal ultrasound), repeal of the 17th Amendment, reversing the "surrender" of the canal to Panama, and reestablishing the religious basis of all education. Reading the platform is akin to jumping into a time machine and finding your way into the minds of men such as Edmund Ruffin.

The Constitution Party has qualified for the ballot in just 15 states, but Goode and party officials promise they will be on many more ballots by Election Day. In Virginia Goode will begin circulating petitions - he needs at least 400 valid signatures in each congressional district and 10,000 statewide.

Hopefully Goode will qualify for the Virginia ballot. He will prove attractive to the Fire-Eater types in the tea party who despise President Obama and who, with no other choice, might hold their noses and vote for Romney. With a close race in purple Virginia that could make all the difference for the Commonwealth's electors and the White House. Goode's presence on the ballot could stir the pot in the 5th District congressional race as well.

So Virgil, welcome to the presidential race. May your appeal be irresistible to the birds of a feather now flocking together in the Grand Old Party.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sending out an S.O.S.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is sending out an S.O.S. to radical right wing bloggers to save its scrawny ass. Facing the loss of an increasing number corporate sponsors and exposure from the usually lame MSM, ALEC is clearly hurting. PRWatch exposed ALEC's blogger training at the Heritage Foundation (another Koch brothers beneficiary):
ALEC Director of External Relations Caitlyn Korb spoke yesterday at a Heritage Foundation "Bloggers Briefing," begging conservative bloggers for help while prepping "a very aggressive campaign to really spread the word about what we actually do." Korb appears to be a new ALEC employee who recently worked for the Cato Institute. Both ALEC and Cato have received funding from Koch family foundations. The Heritage Foundation is an ALEC member.
Today, at a luncheon hosted by the Augusta and Staunton Democratic Committees, Delegate David Toscano and Senator Creigh Deeds briefly touched on ALEC's influence in the Virginia General Assembly. Each man noted that ALEC has recently removed previously public information from their website. Delegate Toscano said that he'd found some bills that were clearly modeled on ALEC's draft legislation. But, neither seemed to have first-hand knowledge with Deeds noting that "none of the legislators with whom I associate have attended their conferences...." Well, I didn't really expect either of these guys to have direct relations with ALEC, but many Valley Republicans are roosting with ALEC on a regular basis.

Along with the Citizen's United case, super pacs, and voter suppression laws ALEC threatens the very roots of our democracy by separating citizens from a meaningful say in their government. As I proclaimed in an earlier post, it is everyone's duty to stay informed and follow ALEC's  subverting and corrupting influence. If you patronize companies that support ALEC let them know your strong disapproval and take your business elsewhere. Sign PROGRESS|VA's petition to send a message to legislators to stand with constituents rather than ALEC. Join with Common Cause and the national campaign to expose the corrupting influence of ALEC.

Around here, when all the turkeys are removed from the poultry house the doors and windows are opened to allow breezes and sunlight to cleanse the fowl environment. That's exactly what we must do with the American Legislative Exchange Council - cleanse the foul environment. In politics as on the farm, bright sunlight is the best disinfectant.

More on ALEC at Mother Jones.

UPDATE 4/23/12: The New York Times exposes ALEC in a front page story, "Conservative Nonprofit Acts as a Stealth Business Lobbyist."

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Levon Helm - R.I.P.

Levon Helm passed away at age 71 after a long battle with throat cancer.

Why would anybody leave so quickly for?
The old neighborhood, just ain't the same.

Why do the best things always disappear?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hell No (I'm Not Alright) - Nanci Griffith in Charlottesville

Nanci Griffith performed in front of an appreciative crowd at Charlottesville's historic and beautiful Paramount Theater last night. The singer/songwriter, sang a few songs off her just released album, Intersection, but the show was dominated by classics like "Love At the Five and Dime," "The Flyer,"John Prine's "Speed of the Sound of Loneliness," and "Trouble in These Fields." As always, her version of Julie Gold's often recorded "From a Distance" simply has no peer. Performing a set of their own and then joining Griffith were The Kennedys.

Introducing her award winning "The Loving Kind," Griffith showed obvious admiration for Mildred and Richard Loving, the courageous couple who brought an end to the Commonwealth's anti-miscegenation laws in the landmark case Loving v. Virginia, 1967. As Griffith's lyrics remind us, "they changed the heart of my nation...." I can't imagine I was the only one reflecting on how today's politicians still want to peek into our bedrooms and tell us what we can do in our personal lives.

Her only encore was the upbeat "Hell No (I'm Not Alright)" which is building a large fan base in both Europe and U.S. and has become sort of an unofficial anthem of the Occupy Movement. Even some bankers claim it - in the long tradition of conservative politicians taking liberal songwriters' words and music to further their policies and campaigns.

Learn more about a too-little-known national treasure, Nanci Griffith, the singer/songwriter who builds deep connections with people from her place on high ground in this interview (you can even learn what bumper sticker she has on her truck). If you aren't familiar with the Loving case check out the 2012 HBO documentary, The Loving Story. Nanci Griffith reminds us that while everything seems beautiful "from a distance," we live life up close with greed, hate, and prejudice. It is up to each of us to listen to the "better angels of our nature" and make our communities and world a place fit for all of us.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Wild & Scenic Film Festival comes to Staunton

The Wild & Scenic Film Festival 2012 comes the the Visulite Theatre in Staunton on Thursday, April 19 at 7:00 PM. The event (along with one the previous night in Charlottesville) is sponsored by Wild Virginia, an organization working to protect public lands, especially the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, since 1995.

According to the festival website, "this year’s selections will not only take audiences to some of the most remote and beautiful places on the planet, but introduce them to the magnificent animals that inhabit these places and the courageous individuals who are working to protect and preserve both for future generations. The films instill a deep appreciation and a sense of wonder for the natural world that surrounds and supports us."

Tickets are $10. The Visulite Theatre is at 12 N. Augusta Street in Staunton.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Death to ALEC

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right wing lobbying group with ties to the Koch brothers, Exxon-Mobil, the NRA and others, has tentacles reaching deep into the Commonwealth and the Shenandoah Valley. But, ALEC isn't just your garden variety lobbying group trying to influence bills that legislators draft based on ideas from constituents; it actually writes the laws and recruits the legislators to sponsor and support them.

In Virginia alone, some 50 ALEC-drafted bills were introduced including ones designed to curtail voting; to change tax, environment, and education policy; and to end even the most reasonable and timid gun safety laws. Delegate Dickie Bell's Castle Bill is one modeled by ALEC as is the Stand Your Ground law that led to the tragedy in Florida.

So how deep is ALEC's influence in the Commonwealth? Among the findings of a recent report (download the full PDF report here):
  • Speaker William Howell is a member of ALEC's national leadership team. In 2009, he served as the group's national chairman. Howell asked several of his colleagues to carry ALEC bills and approved the expenditure of taxpayer money to send his colleagues to ALEC conferences.
  • Between 2001 and 2010, the Commonwealth spent over $230,000 of taxpayer money to send legislators to ALEC conferences in order to meet with corporate lobbyists behind closed doors.
  • ALEC spent over $70,000 directly lobbying legislators (and who knows how much more paying for conferences, meals, etc.).
In the Shenandoah Valley, Delegate Dickie Bell has especially tight ties with ALEC. In addition to the Castle Doctrine bill, Bell has introduced legislation to allow charter schools to circumvent policies of local school boards, to reduce regulations on greenhouse emissions, and a vague bill about rights with the intent of undermining and privatizing public education. His predecessor in the 20th District, Chris Saxman, had ALEC conference and registration fees paid so he could attend meetings in Washington and Texas. Saxman was also reimbursed, with taxpayer money, for travel to those meetings.

Delegate Steve Landes (District 25) and Delegate Ben Cline (District 24) cosponsored many of the same bills as Delegate Bell including bills pushing privatization in public education, the Castle Bill, and the bill to give tax breaks to businesses that create scholarships for students to attend private school.

Senator Emmett Hanger (District 24) received an $800 "gift" from ALEC to attend an ALEC health conference and used campaign funds to pay his $250 ALEC dues.

These Shenandoah Valley legislators' monetary and corrupting ties with ALEC pale in comparison to some the General Assembly's big dogs - Speaker Bill Howell, Delegate Kirk Cox, Senator Steve Martin, and many others are nestled so soundly in the ALEC bed that they probably only have vaguely charming notions of something called "constituents." Some legislators are feeling the heat - earlier this week Speaker Howell got testy (1:32 into the video) with the executive director of PROGRESS|VA and found himself apologizing (sorta) yesterday.

The danger inherent in ALEC's behind-closed-doors influence has recently been exposed with a bit of cleansing sunshine, both nationally and in many states. Some corporate sponsors such as Wendy's, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Kraft Foods have cut support and distanced themselves from ALEC. But so far ALEC has little to fear - many in corporate America simply set up a shell game of nonprofit political groups that do not have to disclose sources of funds.

So how do we, the "constituents" who have lost our clout in Virginia's "citizen legislature" fight back? First, get informed and follow this story into the muck and slime. Second, if you patronize companies that support ALEC let them know your strong disapproval and take your business elsewhere. Third, sign PROGRESS|VA's petition to send a message to legislators to stand with constituents rather than ALEC. Fourth, join with Common Cause and the national campaign to expose the corrupting influence of ALEC and to boot ALEC from the behind the closed doors of our legislative halls.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Death to My Hometown

Bruce Springsteen has announced more dates in the Wrecking Ball Tour including September 14 at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. This bird is accepting donations!!! Below is a live/rehearsal compilation (with Tom Morello) of the powerful "Death to My Hometown" placing blame squarely on the bankers and CEOs who sold out so many American towns (and would do it again and again):

 Now get yourself a song to sing and sing it ’til you’re done 
Yeah, sing it hard and sing it well
Send the robber baron’s straight to hell
The greedy thieves that came around
And ate the flesh of everything they’ve found
Whose crimes have gone unpunished now
Walk the streets as free men now

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Time for Augusta County to step up to the plate

As is predictable and inevitable, Pastures supervisor Tracy Pyles sent letters to the editor with his one-sided "facts" making the case against a modest tax increase to fund schools, public safety, and other essential services for the residents of Augusta County. Pyles and North River supervisor Marshall Pattie argue that Augusta County has enough reserves and should foot the bill for new expenses for K-12 education, for additional deputies and emergency services, and for unfunded mandates passed on by the fools in Richmond.

The Pyles/Pattie position is short-sighted and works only in the short... very short... term. All of the costs are recurring and will revisit Augusta County year after year. Paying for recurring expenses out of "reserves" is simply irresponsible fiscal management that passes the buck to future generations.

"Reserves" should be saved, and have been prudently set aside in a line-by-line fashion, for clearly identified projects such as 911 enhancements and other long range needs facing the county. Some of the "reserves," over $6 million according to estimates, are set aside to cover expenses during the rise and fall of revenues inherent in a June/December real estate tax collection cycle. The Pyles/Pattie positon could place those projects, indeed the county's budgetary solvency, in jeopardy.

Beverley Manor supervisor David Karaffa has a better idea - pay as you go. As Karaffa noted at his recent town hall meeting, draining Augusta County's reserves will mean taking out loans to cover needed and planned improvements for infrastructure, maintenance, and equipment. This blog hasn't always been nice to Mr. Karaffa, but on this issue he has clearly risen to the occasion and is right!

Even with the modest real estate tax increase Augusta County will be among the lowest tax burden localities in the Commonwealth. At stake is not only the long term stability and fiscal prudence of the county, but the quality of public education and public safety. Karaffa is demonstrating political courage for the good of Augusta County - we can only hope that trait is contagious.

Ag on the chopping block?

The farm bill, a huge and complicated plan for the federal government's agriculture and hunger policy for five years, is set to expire on September 30. In case you missed it, that is a scant six weeks before what promises to be a hotly contested presidential election and fierce battles for control of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. In this supercharged partisan environment, what are the chances for a good farm bill emerging from Congress? What are the implications for farming areas like the Shenandoah Valley?

Both parties are promising austerity and with the House Republicans wielding a particularly sharp budget axe, it is likely that we'll see most programs under Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food curtailed or eliminated.  This USDA initiative promotes sustainable local agriculture by assisting in the creation of farmers' markets and urban farms, extending the growing season for high-value crops through the tunnel program, and partnering with schools and government agencies, and other groups. Interested in learning more - KYF Compass will direct you to programs in your home town.

At the same time Big Ag is pushing for changes in support for "big commodity" crops like cotton, soybeans, and corn. Currently these (mostly large and/or corporate) farmers receive direct payments (totaling about $5 billion per year) based on acreage planted. In return they promised conservation strategies to reduce erosion and wetlands draining. The GOP is pushing a revenue insurance plan that "promises" to save $1.5 billion per year but has no conservation provisions. The insurance will likely guarantee fairly high prices and if the market dips taxpayers would be on the hook - the $1.5 billion "savings" could go poof. Even worse, the big players and their allies like Syngenta will be encouraged to use more pesticides and to use fewer conservation practices.

In the Shenandoah Valley where many farms harken back to the days of "family farms," a new farm bill may have negative impacts on developing farmers markets (and those fledgling small farms that often sell produce at such markets), the Shenandoah Valley Beef Initiative, and other activities. And since many of the farmers don't raise those big commodity crops, they may be left out in the cold by the "insurance." As the debate continues one wonders where Bob Goodlatte, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, will stand. Will he talk (and listen) to all segments of the farm community in the 6th District or will his vote be influenced by big donors and worn Republican talking points? If his past behavior is any indication, Bobblehead Bob will dance to the tune of of those who pay his piper.

For more about the farm bill check out "The Worst Farm Bill Ever?" and The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. If you think it is time to replace this entrenched incumbent, check out this guy.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Dominion: Time to Move Virginia Forward

Dominion emits more industrial carbon and mercury pollution than any other utility in Virginia. Dominion has developed clean energy in neighboring states, yet in Virginia it relies on dirty fuels that produce mercury, smog, and soot pollution which contribute to developmental disabilities in children as well as asthma, heart attacks, and cancer.

Tell Dominion to lead the way toward a cleaner and better tomorrow with clean, renewable energy by creating 3,000 megawatts - enough to power 700,000 homes - of new Virginia-made wind and solar energy and energy efficiency by 2020.

Sign the Virginia Chapter Sierra Club petition today. And after you sign, pass the link on to friends and family.

Friday, April 6, 2012

VA's Bay Watershed Plan Falls Short

Map from DCR website.
On March 30, the Commonwealth's Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) submitted Phase II of Virginia's Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan, (WIP Phase 2) to the EPA. WIP Phase II is intended to guide Virginia's bay restoration activities for the next 13 years, but it is so lacking in specifics, detailed data, and clear locality strategies for implementation that it is, as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Virginia Executive Director Ann Jennings said, "little more than a statewide wish-list of possibilities that, unless revised, falls far short of providing Virginia citizens with reasonable assurance Virginia can meet its Bay cleanup goals."

Although it runs some 80 pages, WIP Phase 2 (PDF) is filled with vaguely hopeful phrases like "seek opportunities," "promote," and "encourage" and is so lacking in specific implementation actions and targets that it is virtually meaningless. It is kind of like a fellow saying he will graduate from college but not having any specific plans as to how to pay for it, what courses he will take, what major he will pursue, or even what college he will attend. Perhaps this is by design and decree of the McDonnell administration? He and his party have resisted many of the EPA's bay cleanup targets and strategies from the beginning.

The public comment period runs through May 31 - contact DCR and tell them the plan lacks so many specifics it really isn't a plan at all. Tell DCR to describe specific locality-by-locality plans that will make Chesapeake Bay cleanup a reality rather than a pipe dream. You can email comments to vabaytmdl@dcr.virginia.gov or mail them to James Davis-Martin, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, 900 East Main St., 8th Floor, Richmond, VA 23219. Be sure to include your name, address, and phone number in all correspondence.

About 60% of Virginia's land area and more than two-thirds of the state population live the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Major river watersheds draining into the Chesapeake include the Potomac (including Shenandoah), Rappahannock, York and James rivers as well as coastal lands on the bay's shoreline.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Toxic Commonwealth

With over 15 million pounds of toxins dumped into the Commonwealth's waterways, Virginia "ranks" among the worst states for pollution from industrial plants posing a threat to human health and the environment. While we all think of southwest Virginia as being pristine wilderness, the New River ranked #3 in the nation for toxic discharges with 12,529,948 pounds purposely dumped in the water. The Roanoke River came in at #15 in the nation with 2,762,330 pounds of toxic discharges. Sadly, the facts and figures about toxic discharges don't tell the whole story - industrial facilities must report Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) only if they exceed certain limits. Smaller plants may never report anything, yet their discharges get stirred into the witches' brew that has become our streams, lakes, and rivers.

The major contributor of toxins in the New River is the Radford Army Ammunition Plant which dumps over 12,000,000 pounds of toxins into the water. That's the second highest toxin discharge in the nation.  Bringing death to our hometowns....

Nationwide, the largest category of releases are nitrates which may be toxic "particularly to infants consuming formula made with nitrate-laden drinking water...." And, there are many other sources of nitrates (agricultural runoff, over application of lawn fertilizers, etc.) that are NOT included in the TRI.

Of course the problem isn't only found in the Toxic Commonwealth (but unfortunately we are one of the big uglies) but in every state from sea to shining sea:
  • Pollution from just five states—Indiana, Virginia, Nebraska, Texas, and Georgia—accounted for nearly forty percent of the total amount of pollution dumped into our waterways in 2010
  • Food and beverage manufacturing (slaughterhouses, rendering plants, etc.), primary metals manufacturing, chemical plants, and petroleum refineries were some of the largest polluters. AK Steel dumped the most toxic pollution—nearly 30 million pounds—into our waterways in 2010.
  • In 2010, industries discharged approximately 1.5 million pounds of cancer-causing chemicals, like arsenic, chromium, and benzene, into America’s waterways. Nevada’s Burns Creek received the largest volume of carcinogens in 2010, while neighboring Mill Creek placed third.
  • Nitrates accounted for nearly 90 percent of the total volume of discharges to waterways reported in 2010. Nitrates are toxic, particularly to infants consuming formula made with nitrate-laden drinking water, who may be susceptible to methemoglobinemia, or “blue baby” syndrome, a disease that reducesthe ability of blood to carry oxygen throughout the body.
So, I guess the question is: are the governor, the General Assembly, and representatives like Bob Goodlatte and Morgan Griffith looking out for the people of Virginia or for the profits of their big donors? You decide. But, don't drink the water... or swim in it either!

For more information visit Environment America and read their report, Wasting Our Waterways 2012 Toxic Industrial Pollution and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act.

Springsteen tells it like it is to Washington, D.C. politicians

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band invaded the nation's capitol with a message of robber barons and greedy bankers, politicians failing to "take care of their own," and a better future in our "land of hope and dreams." It was a rousing performance that from my perspective was just about perfect. The sound and lighting crews did a fantastic job - better than I recall at JPJ during the Magic Tour. And, although I am easily intimidated by D.C. traffic, we got in and out easily enough although there are a couple of truly bizarre intersections that bring pedestrians, tourists, rookie urban drivers (like me), and aggressive taxi drivers into close quarters. I am surprised there aren't more bumps and bruises.

The packed house was an interesting mix of ages from preteens through greying and balding fans older than the Boss himself. Many were wearing T-shirts or other symbols of past concerts or their love of all things Springsteen. Some, like my daughter, were probably more curious than actual fans - but she did call the experience more "entertaining" than she'd expected. The most noticeable characteristic was the overwhelming whiteness of the crowd - the E Street Band has far more diversity than the fans.

I could not have designed a better playlist if I had been given the opportunity to tell Bruce and the band what I wanted to hear - 26 great songs, six of them (if you count "Land of Hope and Dreams") from Wrecking Ball:
  • We Take Care of Our Own
  • Wrecking Ball
  • Night
  • Death to My Hometown
  • My City of Ruins
  • Seaside Bar Song
  • Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?
  • Jack of All Trades
  • Trapped
  • Adam Raised a Cain
  • Easy Money
  • She's the One
  • Waitin' on a Sunny Day
  • The Promise
  • Apollo Medley
  • American Skin (41 Shots)
  • Because the Night
  • The Rising
  • We Are Alive
  • Thunder Road
  • Rocky Ground (with Michelle Moore)
  • Out in the Street
  • Born to Run
  • Dancing in the Dark
  • Land of Hope and Dreams
  • Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
The horn section is great and adds an unexpected dimension to the E Street Band. Jake Clemons has developed his own presence on the stage and he plays the sax pretty damn well. The fans seem to accept and love him. Nils Lofgren has always been a great guitarist and his talents shown brightly in a couple of jams - as the tour progresses I expect fans will hear more of his magic. He's the only one of the E Street Band I've met personally. In the early 70s Lofgren's band, Grin, performed at Bridgewater College. I was part of the student government that signed the newly formed Grin on the cheap hoping they'd hit the charts before the scheduled show. Despite his talent and some great songs, Grin never took off.

In spite of all the talent around him, the focus of everyone's attention was, as always, Bruce Springsteen himself. Whether it was wading into and being carried by the crowd, dancing with a young girl with bunny ears, or turning the mic over to a 9-10 year old boy during "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" the man has more energy and raw charisma than anyone who has not been to one of his concerts can ever imagine.

I'd been following the tour playlists. I thought I knew what to expect and was waiting in anticipation for favorites like "Thunder Road," "Dancing in the Dark," and (hopefully) "Land of Hope and Dreams" and I was not disappointed. Bruce and the band played them flawlessly. Classics like "Because the Night" and "Seaside Bar Song" thrilled the sold-out crowd! But, I was totally blown away when Bruce and the band dove into "The Promise," in my mind the most poignant and penetrating of all of Bruce's songs. Only the third time it has been played by the full band, "The Promise" haunts me - as soon as I think I've figured out an interpretation I think about another one or read something totally different from what I was thinking. Although the crowd seemed to appreciate the performance of "The Promise" I don't think most were that familiar with the song that coulda and shoulda been on Darkness on the Edge of Town. Here is a wonderful piano version of "The Promise" from a few years ago.

But the central theme of the performance was, of course, Wrecking Ball, and Springsteen's lyrics spoke truth to the deaf ears of power on Capitol Hill. He laid the blame for hard times (that come and go, come and go, and come again) at the "bastards" on "bankers' hill" and the "money changers." Tracks like "Easy Money" and "Jack of All Trades" tell stories of families finding different ways to make it through lost jobs and lost hopes. The gospel-like "Rocky Ground" urged the shepherd to "find your flock, get them to higher ground" with the promise of "a new day's coming." And the rousing opening song, "We Take Care of Our Own" taunted the D.C. politicians: "Where's the promise from sea to shining sea... wherever this flag is flown... we take care of our own." Clip below from the Grammy Awards 2/12/12:

Springsteen's lyrics also contained anthems and ideas of the path to a better future. The Irish marching beat of "Death to My Hometown" admonished people to stand together and be "ready when they (robber barons) come" and to "get yourself a song to sing, and sing it 'til you're done, sing it strong and sing it well, send the robber barons straight to hell." And the eerie lyrics and cadence of "We Are Alive" suggests that all those who fought for human rights and dignity through the ages are with us today "to carry the fire and light the spark, to fight shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart."

As The Washington Post noted, Springsteen "dove headfirst into the heart of America, and if what he found wasn’t always pretty, it sure was powerful."

Did Capitol Hill listen and heed voices from the heart of this great nation? I am sure at least a few representatives and senators were in the crowd along with their staffers, members of the media and shapers of opinion. New York Times columnist, Tom Friedman, was two rows in front of us and NBC's political guru, Chuck Todd a few rows in front of him. Like he has done for over 40 years, Springsteen delivered his message with energy, depth, and clarity.

Is there anybody alive out there?

Follow the Wrecking Ball tour at Backstreets.com.