Thursday, June 28, 2012

AFP a no-show

I got the robo call with a message on voice mail on Monday night. It was Americans for Prosperity letting me know they had a bus tour and rally coming to Court Square in Harrisonburg. I am not sure how I got on their speed dial, but I was glad to know the disgusting group would be in the area. Yeah, this is the Koch brothers funded "non-profit" that is running the TV ads filled with lies about Tim Kaine. No morals and no problem with distortions, lies, and damn lies.

As I was psyching myself up to attend as an observer, I got word late Wednesday that Tim Kaine supporters were going to rally 45 minutes prior to "welcome" Americans for Prosperity. I was encouraged -- there would be a few kindred souls willing to stand up to purveyors of the big lie.

Supporters of Tim Kaine chat
after AFP is a no-show
By 4:45 pm there were about 35 supporters of Tim Kaine for U.S. Senate clustered around the courthouse steps. Jazmin Bailey from TV3 was setting up her camera. Even in the late afternoon heat, Harrisonburg mayor Richard Baugh had on a tie and blazer -- most of us were far more casually dressed. I recognized folks not only from Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, but also from Staunton and Page, Shenandoah, and Augusta counties. Several groups of two or three more people showed up swelling the numbers past 40 -- not bad for last minute notice. Jazmin pinned the mic on the mayor and the camera began rolling -- it was then that we learned Americans for Prosperity would likely be a no-show. Seems they had several events on their tour but had been greeted by Kaine supporters at every stop, had failed to turn out many of their brainwashed supporters, and apparently they'd bagged their planned events later in the day.

I couldn't believe it. With the Koch money and organization I'd figured there would be a glitzy bus and lots of signs and people. When I walked to my car about 5:15 pm there was still no sign of AFP. So, I am left with several questions:
  • How does AFP, an obviously partisan group, get tax-favored 501(c)(4) "social welfare" nonprofit status?
  • Is it true that AFP and the Koch's deep pockets really can't buy grassroots support for their lies?
  • If AFP can make robo calls to tell me (and others) of an event, why can't they tell me it is cancelled? How rude!
It was fun chatting with Democrats supporting Tim Kaine and as a side benefit I got a Kaine yard sign. All in all a nice summer afternoon's work!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Senate Farm Bill - half a harvest.

The Senate passed the trillion dollar 2012 farm bill by a vote of 64-35 last week. All the ins and outs of this massive legislation are not yet clear, after all, much of the deal-making took place in a supercommittee that met in secret. The full Senate Agriculture Committee spent just three hours in deliberations.

Bob Goodlatte
for constituents or Big Ag?
According to analysts, the bill that finally emerged is, while not great, better than feared. It essentially preserves decades of policies that uses "insurance" to promote growing of soy, corn, and other commodities. Big Ag tried to knock out conservation provisions required for the insurance but an amendment that passed by a narrow 52-47 means farmers will have to meet some fundamental conservation guidelines to receive the taxpayer subsidized insurance. I already can hear Bobblehead Bob haranguing against too many regulations. But, I have to meet certain requirements for my car or homeowners insurance and it isn't even subsidized by taxpayers.

The bill also keeps many of the programs of Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food such as initiatives to help beginning farmers/ranchers and to help farmers realize more profits by adding value to their produce. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition highlights some of the good things that were preserved or added to the legislation on June 19 and on June 20. Since these programs are favored by the Obama administration, I imagine Bobblehead Bob, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, will automatically oppose them no matter what their impact on constituents. In this election year, politics will trump policy and I'm sure the House GOP leadership has already issued its marching orders.

We have a bicameral legislature and passage in the Senate doesn't guarantee anything. In the House of Representatives we can expect tea party wingnuts to push deep cuts to the Senate bill, especially for hunger programs like SNAP (food stamps), which was already cut in the Senate, and the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiatives. Big Ag, with its legions of lobbyists and deep pockets lavishing campaign and PAC contributions far and wide, will come out of this just fine. Their taxpayer subsidies and favorable treatment will assure their future profits. Ah, is that what you mean by "sustainable agriculture?"

More in a prior CCC post and at Mother Jones.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Warner/Webb on the wrong side of coal

CCC is extremely disappointed that Senator Mark Warner and Senator Jim Webb both voted for Senate Joint Resolution 37 that would have overridden Environmental Protection Agency actions to limit mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. You could expect a dirty coal shills like Bobblehead Bob or George "Macaca" Allen to cozy up with the dark polluted side, but both Warner and Webb usually exercise some independent judgement and keep constituents in mind. I can only conclude that, in this case, the big PAC donations or the sweet talk of industry lobbyists trumped good health and environmental policy. Shame on you!

Fortunately, that lamebrain resolution failed but there is no excuse for our senators putting the interests of King Coal and Dominion Resources and Appalachian Power so far ahead of the health of residents and the environment of the Commonwealth. The industry boasts of "clean coal," an oxymoron if there ever was one. But, these EPA standards would require clean(er) uses of coal and that is a big step in the right direction. Contact Virginia's senators today and share your disappointment in their shortsighted vote for Senate Joint Resolution 37. Or call Sen. Mark Warner: 202-224-2023 and Sen. Jim Webb: 202-224-4024.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bruce Springsteen and the working man

Excellent interview with Bruce Springsteen about his life, his connections to everyday Americans, and the social commentary that flows through his lyrics and music.

More at Bruce Springsteen and the song of the working man. Although CNN puts this in their entertainment section, Springsteen's insights into the lives of the American people and the currents washing through society make many of our so-called "leaders" seem like completely out-of-touch idiots... indeed, many are.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Primary reflections

The GOP primary, both statewide and in the 6th Congressional District, went about as expected. Both Allen and Goodlatte won going away.

I've served as an officer of election for a number of years. A few reflections on yesterday's experience:
  • It was a long day with slow dozy periods. Perhaps the early miserable weather had something to do with turnout. All the officers were turning pages in books and magazines and, in their boredom, eating way too much for such a sedentary activity. Kudos to all those who arrived at the polling place by 5:00 AM to set up equipment and stayed until 8:00 PM to be sure the votes were accurately counted and reported.
  • At this polling place, as was apparently typical across the district, about 7% of the registered voters turned out. Can't even hit double digits for a contested party primary in one of the most Republican leaning areas of the Commonwealth! That certainly says something...!
  • That said, yesterday's turnout nearly doubled that of the March presidential primary.
  • I didn't keep stats, but from observation I'd say the vast majority of those voting qualified for senior citizen coffee at McDonald's. Kudos for them for getting out and voting. There were several first-time 18 year old voters too.
  • The officers of election handled "situations" with professionalism and grace. Why do some (a minority but a vocal one) folks enter the polling place with a bone to pick with us? Fussin' about the voting equipment. Commenting on individual candidates as if they need to justify something to us? Fortunately there were way more pleasant chats than anything requiring diplomacy or deaf ears.
  • Voter comments confirm what anyone who follows elections knows -- a primary (as opposed to a nominating convention) works to a huge advantage of the incumbent or the candidate with better name recognition. Numerous folks were unfamiliar with or had never heard of some of the candidates. A few voters were confused thinking this primary also included candidates and offices they've heard some early comment about in the news -- next year's statewide races.
  • A little quick math reveals that with the low turnout and the minimal number of elections officers, in this precinct each vote cast cost the locality about $10.00 just for the officers' stipends. The more hidden costs of the technicians who set up the voting machines; the preparation and printing of poll books; all the posters, signs, official envelopes, and other materials required probably run operating cost up by a couple bucks per vote. That doesn't include electricity and other costs borne by the school, the fire house, or Ruritan Hall that provides the facility.
Yes, keeping the wheels of our democracy running straight and true requires dedicated citizens willing to man the polls and a considerable amount of taxpayer money -- in the case of a primary, public money spent for what is a political party function. Citizens should appreciate that fact and participate. In a county that typically votes well over 65% even for crummy GOP candidates in the General Election, you'd think more of those good Republican voters would want to help select their party's candidates. Yes, Allen and Goodlatte won the nominations, but apathy still rules.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Tuesday afternoon

Tuesday afternoon,
I'm just beginning to see, now I'm on my way
It doesn't matter to me, chasing the clouds away.
                                           The Moody Blues

The "main event" in Tuesday's GOP primary is the party nomination for U.S. Senate. Most believe this will be a snoozer with former Governor George Allen easily walking all over the field of three little-known and underfunded opponents. Allen has avoided mistakes like the Macaca moment of six years ago that exposed his hateful side... not that most Republican voters would care much about that anyhow. And, he's played dodgeball by refusing to answer any controversial questions. Allen will win easily probably garnering a solid majority of the votes cast.

There are several primaries, both Republican and Democratic, for House of Representatives. Here in the 6th District, entrenched incumbent Bob Goodlatte is challenged by conservative/libertarian Karen Kwiatkowski. Speaking of dodgeball, Bobblehead Bob is the master of the strategy. He refuses to even acknowledge his opponent, only shows up at well-controlled venues with party regulars, and has basically said nothing beyond the safe GOP talking points. He's had the money to run radio ads and put up big 4x8 signs in key locations. With fewer resources Kwiatkowski has relied more on meeting and listening to real people and talking about actual issues. While that strategy speaks to the core of our democracy, unfortunately it isn't one likely to carry the day.

In reading letters to the editor and and other commentary around the sprawling 6th, it is clear that many conservatives and liberals have found at least one area of agreement -- it is time... indeed past time based on his own promise... for Bob to come home from his D.C. career. I know, with the advantages of incumbency and power of money that is unlikely to happen. But, if we really want to retire Bob, Tuesday is the day to do so. If he wins the nomination, Bobblehead Bob will continue playing dodgeball all the way to reelection in November and folks in the 6th district will, for two more years, be poorly represented.

This Tuesday afternoon... or anytime between 6:00 AM and 7:00 PM... visit your polling place and vote to retire Bob Goodlatte. Let's chase the clouds away!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Roads to hell

I live on a winding and narrow country road that doesn't get a whole lot of traffic. If two cars meet each has to drop a wheel off the pavement and slow down (of course there are jerks who don't) in order to pass safely. The situation is made tougher when one (or both) of the vehicles is a large feed truck, farm equipment, or school bus. Then things come to a virtual halt as drivers carefully navigate past each other trying to avoid ditches and deep holes along the roadside.

Blind curves because of
lack of mowing/trimming
cause accidents!
A few days ago there was a head-on accident just up the road. Luckily both vehicles had air bags, speeds were low, and the injuries were minor. While driver inattention or unfamiliarity with the roads may have contributed to the accident, a major factor was the lack of mowing and years of neglected roadside brush/tree clearing that could have improved the line-of-sight for both vehicles.

While NOVA and Hampton Roads have their well-publicized congestion and other traffic issues, many in rural Virginia are facing potholes, branches and limbs, and other unsafe conditions on our rural backroads. Budget cuts and the increasing privatization of road maintenance services... decisions made by the governor and General Assembly... are responsible for the deterioration of our scenic country roads.

About this time last year I called VDOT to report that trees and brush encroaching on the road were becoming a safety issue, especially in the spring and summer when leaves are lush. A private contractor came out and surveyed the area and then... never returned. With a warm spring and good moisture weeds and thistles are four and five feet tall yet no mowing has occurred. This adds to the visual obstruction problem.

We didn't have much snow last winter but the private plow boys were still running... and I imagine charging their standard mileage rate to the state. One evening three plows went by (with plows down and scraping nothing except for the times they strayed off the road and gouged my lawn) this stretch of road to deal with a minor two inch snowfall that would have been gone early the next day. I'm sure the state received a bill... or bills... at least I wasn't the only one gouged.

Here is the point -- the failure of the governor and General Assembly to get serious about transportation funding and the GOP rush to privatize services has left many of us in rural Virginia less safe on roads. Needed maintenance is often delayed or neglected while private contractors may be double dipping and overcharging. We were far better off when VDOT did the road maintenance and snow removal themselves rather than managing private contractors. Beware the unintended consequences of Republican "good intentions."Profits in a few hands while shoddy services affect us all.

County roads take me home. But slowly.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Kwiatkowski/Schmookler debate brought out the best

Last night's "debate" between GOP candidate Karen Kwiatkowski and the Democratic nominee, Andy Schmookler gave the crowded fellowship hall at Community Mennonite Church a glimpse of how political discourse in a democracy could be, and should be, conducted. Sometimes agreeing but more often taking diametrically opposed positions, the two candidates sparred over the economy, foreign policy, the environment, the Fed and monetary policy, taxation, education, and the role of government. While the differences were often sharp, the elbows were not... both candidates were passionate about their ideas and views but, on a human-to-human basis, treated each other (and the crowd) with respect and dignity.

Karen Kwiatkowski
Kwiatkowski fervently believes in a smaller government and holds many positions I'll call, for lack of a more descriptive term, "libertarian." She was equally critical of Democrats and Republicans believing that the parties, especially at the state and national levels, are essentially the same. She'd abolish or curtail the Federal Reserve, believes private property rights (i.e. few regulations) are the best protection for the environment, cares little for public education and a federal role in schools, and would avoid alliances while promoting trade with other nations. If elected, Kwiatkowski's priorities included repealing both the 16th (income tax) and 17th (direct election of senators) amendments and various steps to assure representatives give due diligence to bills and taking away the perks that have made congressional service into a career.

This was my first time seeing and hearing Kwiatkowski in person and, while I disagree with many of her positions, I was impressed with her ability to clearly explain deeply held beliefs while answering questions directly and without evasion as well as the obvious fire in her belly to carry these views to D.C. She connected directly with my experience when relating how she'd written Rep. Bob Goodlatte only to receive a reply that didn't address the issues raised. So, she wrote again only to get a brush-off from the "representative." It was that experience that got her thinking about running for office. During her campaign she's discovered many folks around the district had similar experiences of Goodlatte refusing to listen. To chuckles and applause from the audience, she noted, "Bob is one of my best campaign workers."

Andy Schmookler
Schmookler has obviously engaged in deep thinking about powerful forces lusting for power and wealth and their relentless campaign of "divide and conquer" that is corrupting our democracy. One often repeated priority is a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision and return a semblance of equality to our political processes. On foreign policy, human rights, and protecting the environment he understands the historic role of the United States and how solving interconnected problems will require American leadership. Schmooker believes in public education and its power to open the doors of equal opportunity and break down increasingly rigid social/economic class structures. Running through many of his issues was a theme of finding common ground and setting aside hardened ideological differences to solve real problems affecting people and the nation.

I've heard Schmooker several times and was immediately impressed on his maturation as speaker and candidate. More than most, he has thought about and understands the big picture and the tenuous interplay between greed, power, democracy, taxes, compassion, and people's lives. In earlier events I thought Schmooker was too intent on getting all his ideas out and in doing so he was hurried and seen by many listeners as too lecturing. Last night he was relaxed and confident with a warm and genuine sense of humor. He answered questions directly with precision and clarity.

Karen Kwiatkowski and Andy Schmookler were both winners last night. But, the biggest winner was a notion that democracy should engage citizens in an honest and open discussion of compelling issues. That sharp political discussion can be engaging, cordial, and without vitriolic personal attacks.

The biggest loser last night was Bobblehead Bob Goodlatte. In spite of repeated and personally delivered invitations he rudely did not even respond. I assume he felt like giving a smack down to the organizers (Occupy Harrisonburg and the Harrisonburg/Rockingham Liberty Alliance), but that smack down was felt throughout the community. The message he sent and the voters received was - I am entitled to this office and I don't care about your views, your concerns, or your lives. 

Voters... Republican, Democratic, and independent... should send a message to Bobblehead Bob that politics as usual isn't good enough. For the first time ever this Democrat will vote in a Republican primary (open to all voters) for a candidate with honesty and integrity who is willing to stand before the people and debate the great issues facing us. We can retire Bob Goodlatte on June 12. Let's do it!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Stadium Woods... hopeful signs but not out of the woods just yet

The committee appointed by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors to study the Stadium Woods issue stood up to the athletic department and recommends that a new indoor football practice facility be built on a Washington Street lot where tennis courts and an indoor roller hockey rink are currently located. More details about the report and related issues at the Virginian Pilot.

Certainly this is good news for all who want to save Stadium Woods, but as Yogi Berra once said, "it ain't over till it's over." Football reigns supreme at Tech and I imagine there will be much more to this story before it is over. Keep the letters/emails going to the VT president and Board of Visitors and tell them to Save Stadium Woods.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Bobblehead Bob continues to duck and dodge

Bob likes his office but
he really doesn't care
much for the voters.

Bobblehead Bob Goodlatte continues his strategy of ducking and dodging his June 12 primary opponent, Karen Kwiatkowski, as well as the Democratic nominee, Andy Schmookler. In doing so Bobblehead Bob is also ducking and dodging interaction with voters in the 6th Congressional District of Virginia. His most recent bit of dodgeball involves an open forum in Harrisonburg at 6:30 PM on Monday, June 4 at Community Mennonite Church. Schmookler and and Kwiatkowshi have agreed to attend, to interact with voters, and to discuss issues of interest to the district, but not so Bobblehead Bob.
Perhaps this isn't much of a surprise. At his occasional "town hall" meetings the "representative" generally does far more talking than listening, he sticks to tired GOP talking points, and he gets evasive or even hostile when a constituent asks tough questions. Kwiatkowski and Schmookler may not agree on many points of public policy, but clearly they... and many people in the Shenandoah Valley... agree that Bobblehead Bob has lost touch with the people he is supposed to represent. Since he won't retire voluntarily (as he promised), now is the time for the voters to make that decision for this entrenched incumbent.

Kwiatkowski, a Tea Party and libertarian favorite, believes she could have carried the day at the 6th District Republican convention where delegates gave her an encouraging welcome. But, with the nominee being selected in a primary, it is probably advantage Bobblehead Bob who has money and manpower throughout the sprawling district to turn out his loyal vote while he continually refuses to engage.

For the Democratic nominee appearing at events like the forum is the way democracy is supposed to function and a means to have two-way communication voters. Schmookler noted, "... are these elections for people's career ambitions or are they to serve the voters of the district? I think it's to serve the voters."

As the old saying goes, "politics makes strange bedfellows." Those bedfellows, be they Republican, Democratic, or independent; Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street; conservative or liberal; or just someone who believes government should be accountable to the people can take a first step by voting in the open June 12 Republican primary.

Save Stadium Woods

An 11 acre tract of old-growth trees known as Stadium Woods is a well-known natural landmark at Virginia Tech. Some of the white oaks are over 350 years old and were saplings before the U.S. was the U.S.! As one of the few old-growth stands remaining on the east coast, this small forest is a ecosystem that provides migration sanctuary for migrating birds and valuable aesthetic and community benefits for students, Blacksburg, and Hokie Nation.

Amazingly, some are proposing to take chain saws and earth moving equipment to nearly one-third of the priceless tract in order to build an indoor practice facility for the football team. The Virginia Tech Board of Visitors will take up the issue today and tomorrow during its quarterly meeting.

Opposition has galvanized across the campus, state, and indeed across all of Hokie Nation. The controversy has erupted in the national media and CNN frames it as "football vs forest." Pitting trees against Hokie football isn't exactly accurate as there are other sites nearby where the facility could be built without destroying a significant part of a unique old-growth forest.

A group of Tech undergrads produced this short documentary explaining the issue.

Crucial decisions will be made over the next two days, so today is the time to make your voice heard loud and clear - Save Stadium Woods!
  • Visit Save Stadium Woods for more information and links to ways you can take action.
  • Send letters to the governor, president of Virginia Tech, and Board of Visitors at the Virginia Chapter Sierra Club.
  • Sign an online petition.