Friday, March 30, 2012

Andy Schmookler Town Hall Meeting

Andy Schmookler recently submitted petitions with more than enough signatures to qualify as the Democratic candidate for Virginia's 6th District - since no other candidate filed, the primary will be cancelled and Andy will be the Democratic nominee in the November General Election. Meet Andy at 2:00 PM on Saturday, March 31 at a Town Hall in the Staunton Public Library. Visit his website to learn more about the issues, other opportunities to meet Andy, and how you can help his campaign to replace Bobblehead Bob.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Coal Bucket Outlaw

Coal Bucket Outlaw examines a day in the life of a coal truck driver. Although set in Kentucky, it could be anywhere in Appalachian coal country, including southwest Virginia. The economics of the coal business pushes drivers to exceed the limits and break the laws every day. The documentary asks a fundamental question - if outlaws deliver half our nation's energy, don't consumers and policy makers share some of the responsibility?

For more information about Coal Bucket Outlaw and for complete programming details, visit Free Speech TV online or check it out 24/7 on DISH Network channel 9415 or DIRECTV channel 348. Also on FSTV, King Coal is Dead (Sorta).

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Morgan Griffith comes out against cleaner air

 Yesterday, Representative Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) opened fire on President Obama's administration because of new greenhouse emissions limits announced by the Environmental Protection Agency. Playing the fear card and reciting the GOP's well-honed anti-EPA screeds, Griffith stated, "In my opinion, these new regulations make it crystal clear that the Obama Administration wants to end the use of coal in our country. This is a very sad day for coal employers, coal employees, and coal customers... I believe this new rule will undoubtedly lead to higher energy prices for the average American family and the average American business. If the President has his way, coal will be out of business in America."

Well, Representative Griffith how about a few facts about the true costs of coal:
  • Virginia's coal-fired plants have earned the commonwealth a dubious ranking of 6th in the nation for health impacts on residents, including nearly 650 premature deaths and almost 900 additional heart attacks per year;
  • The Asthma and Allergy Foundation has "awarded" Richmond the dubious distinction of Top Asthma Capitol in the U.S. for the second year in a row;
  • Coal-fired plants pass on health related costs to everyone who lives in the state - to the tune of about 3.2 cents per kwh;
  • Mountaintop removal coal mining is a job-killer that destroys the ecology of the Appalachian mountains - so far 67 mountains have been blown apart, over 156,000 acres of forest clearcut, and 151 miles of streams contaminated and destroyed.
Dominion Resources, Appalachian Power, and other Virginia utilities could create energy and jobs by moving towards wind and solar power. Solar alone could provide nearly 20% of the state's electricity. Dominion is making a serious play to monopolize how and when off-shore wind power comes online. Dominion will use it deep pockets and friends in high places to block smaller wind energy companies and the proposed giant transmission cable that would service the off-shore turbines. Typical of Dominion, they want a monopoly and they are willing to use powerful political connections to get it... do they also want to drag their feet on clean energy while keeping others out of the business? Under the leadership of Tom Farrell, Dominion Resources has done just that. Should we trust Dominion, and Dominion alone, to move Virginia forward or will misplaced trust consign the commonwealth to perpetual first place in pollution caused asthma and to last place in clean, renewable energy?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Time to go solar?

According to an article entitled "Cost of Solar Energy Plummets" that I first read in the April/May 2012 edition of Mother Earth News, the cost of a residential solar power system has dropped about 40% in the last couple of years. The same article is posted online at a site called Academic Articles.

The writer, Dan Chiras, points out that conventional energy costs about 17 cents per kwh in New Jersey and in many major cities conventional electricity costs 10 to 12 cents per kwh. In the Midwest, the unsubsidized cost of solar has fallen to 13.7 cents per kwh and federal tax credits bring it to less than 10 cents. To sweeten the financial incentives even more, some U.S. utilities currently buy renewable energy credits from customers that help them meet state goals for renewable energy production.

I get my electricity from Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative and, since I'm just beginning to check this out I, don't know if it makes economic sense in my situation. At our pre-Civil War home I mostly heat with propane (and wood) and cook with propane. In addition to lighting, the water heater and dryer (we hang 75% of laundry on the line) are electric and one room has electrically warmed flooring. In short, we are far from a totally electric home. I do know that (including the basic consumer charge; riders, distribution charges, and adjustments; and local/state taxes) I am paying about 11.75 cents per kwh used.

At this point I don't know the viability and costs of installing a photovoltaic (PV) system at my location. I don't know how quickly I could recoup the upfront costs or how it would impact resale value. I don't know how cooperative my co-op will be, although I am reasonably impressed with their conservation programs and overall service. And, I certainly don't know if federal tax credits will make a PV system cost effective.

But, I recently watched construction nearby of a solar system to provide heating at a poultry house and I do know that with costs of PV systems coming down quickly, the current environment may be a good time start humming the 1969 George Harrison song, "Here Comes the Sun."

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Dominion Power’s wind and solar facade

By Ivy Main. Originally published in The Washington Post, December 30, 2011. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Perhaps you remember the Dominion Power print ads that ran last year. Big, glossy spreads showing seagrass bending in the breeze, with a picture of a wind turbine and the words, “Natural. Abundant. Renewable. Wind. That’s why we’re harnessing it to help power Virginia’s energy future.”

Only, it turns out, it isn’t. It never was. Forced to reveal the energy sources the company uses to meet Virginia’s voluntary renewable portfolio standards, Dominion admitted that its customers in Virginia are getting precisely zero wind power.

How about solar energy? Nope. Nada. Zilch.

And yet Dominion will be collecting millions of extra dollars from its ratepayers as a reward for meeting the goals of the state’s renewable portfolio standard, or RPS.

Mind you, Dominion isn’t required to include renewable energy among the generation sources it uses. It can choose to forgo the extra “basis points” (cash) awarded for meeting benchmarks. But if it meets the goals, by statute it is allowed to collect millions of ratepayers’ dollars for doing so.

So if Virginia has a goal for renewable energy and Dominion is pocketing money for meeting it, what is it selling us?

In addition to some hydropower projects that long predate the RPS law, Dominion uses some Virginia biomass (i.e., wood); to make up the rest, it buys “renewable energy certificates” from other companies that give it credit for energy produced elsewhere. The list of these certificates, released this fall in litigation before the Virginia State Corporation Commission, shows they relate to hydropower, biomass or landfill gas-to-energy, with the majority of them pre-World War II projects, and none of them placed in service in the past 10 years. Most states won’t accept these renewable energy certificates for their RPS laws, so they are very cheap.

Yes, the Dominion family owns some wind farms, one just across the state line in West Virginia. But we aren’t getting a single electron of that energy, because Dominion sells it to other states that have much tougher standards for what counts as renewable energy. For us in Virginia, Dominion buys cheap certificates that no one else wants.

That’s a great deal for Dominion. According to the Southern Environmental Law Center, $1.7 million could buy enough of these certificates to satisfy Dominion’s 2010 RPS targets, qualifying the company to collect an extra $76 million over two years from its ratepayers.

If Dominion actually builds the solar projects in Virginia that it says it plans to, it has said that it will sell certificates for the energy they produce into another state with a serious RPS, so it can maximize profit. Under the rules of the game, though, the buyer elsewhere will then be recognized as the owner of the renewable energy. Dominion could not also claim to be supplying its Virginia customers with wind or solar.

That explains why Dominion’s interest in Virginia wind and solar seems limited to its desire for great ad copy. But it doesn’t explain the company’s hostility to anyone else investing in Virginia renewables. The State Corporation Commission recently granted Dominion’s request to impose a “standby” charge of up to $60 per month on customers who install solar projects in the 10- to 20-kilowatt range (about twice the size of an average home’s usage). It’s enough to make these projects uneconomic and destroy the market for them. At a time when Dominion claims we need to build more power to meet demand, it is doing its best to keep small businesses from doing precisely that.

Even worse is its treatment of a Staunton-based solar company called Secure Futures, which has stepped up to the plate to put solar installations on university campuses, using a third-party power purchase agreement to ease financing. This summer, Dominion hit Secure Futures with “cease and desist” letters, claiming it can’t legally sell solar power to Washington and Lee University within Dominion’s exclusive service territory under Virginia law. Dominion, you understand, will not sell solar power to Washington and Lee, but it seems determined to make sure no one else does, either.

So watch for Dominion’s next renewable energy ad campaign, which will probably feature sunshine and promises of solar for Virginia. Just don’t make the mistake of believing it.

The writer is vice chair of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Friday, March 23, 2012

American Injustice

Racism and injustice are alive and thriving in communities, not only in Florida, but all across America. Bruce Springsteen reminds us in a song from the year 2000, "American Skin": " can get killed just for living in your American skin...."

Clearly, if the Florida case has been a black neighborhood watch man who killed a white teenager there would have been a quick arrest, high bail, and a spectacular trial showing the community's outrage. Lady Justice's only blindness is that American justice is not blind.

Earlier this year the General Assembly defeated Delegate Dickie Bell's Castle Doctrine Bill because it was overly vague and lacked bipartisan support. Bell promises to tighten the legislation and reintroduce it next year. While many people can support the notion self-defense of one's home, these bills are often the first step to enacting "Stand Your Ground" laws such as the one in Florida. Twenty-four states have a Stand Your Ground law on the books and the NRA is supporting passage of similar laws in all 50 states. With the "get tough" mentality of the majority in the House of Delegates and the muscle of the NRA, passing not only a Castle Doctrine bill but of a Stand Your Ground bill, is a distinct possibility.

In this clip, attorney Jonathan Turley explains the dangers inherent in passage of over-broad, poorly written self-defense legislation that may legally allow an irresponsible or vengeful person to use deadly force without justification.
Delegate Bell and the General Assembly should use extreme caution and heed the lessons of the Florida tragedy and other cases when reconsidering a Castle Doctrine bill and possibly considering a Stand Your Ground bill. In this regard, Common Law, with centuries of accumulated wisdom, has served the Commonwealth well. As recent events have confirmed, these vague new bills open the door to unintended and deadly consequences that make a sham of our deeply held American value of justice.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bobblehead Bob Ignores Defense Spending

Source: The International Institute for Strategic Studies

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R) stopped by Rowe's Restaurant earlier this week to talk with "leaders" (i.e. GOP activists) about spending and regulations, and I'd imagine, his reelection. Of course, he went after Medicare and entitlements and attacked the GOP's favorite boogeyman, the EPA. 
But singing in the GOP chorus apparently means the congressman will ignore the outsized defense budget of the United States. The numbers in the chart speak for themselves, but if you want more of the dirty details, check out the press release of the The International Institute for Strategic Studies. Does the military of the U.S. really need to be so out of proportion to the rest of the world? Could its size and our unwanted presence in so many places actually make us an inviting target and much less safe? If Goodlatte is serious about reducing the debt,  Pentagon spending should be on the table, too.
A career politician, Goodlatte is being challenged by Karen Kwiatkowski for the Republican nomination. Kwiatkowski is way off the rails with many of her beliefs, but at least the former Air Force officer is willing to question some defense spending and polices, saying "I believe that the number of military bases, the amount of military spending, and the number of men and women in uniform deployed around the world do not always make us safer...." She also believes that our military should not be committed to fight unless "...wars are constitutionally declared by the Congress...."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Virginia Gets a F in State Integrity Grades

According to a just released study of integrity in state governments, State Integrity Investigation, the Commonwealth of Virginia gets a big fat F and ranks 47th in the nation. The study is a first-of-its-kind, data-driven assessment of transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms in all 50 states. No state got an A and only five states scored as high as a B.

Surprisingly New Jersey received the highest score, in part because political scandals in recent years have resulted in some of the toughest laws in the nation being passed. Other states in the top five are Connecticut, Washington, California, and Nebraska. Nineteen states got Cs and 18 received Ds. Eight states earned failing grades.

So while our elected officials tell us they are "citizen legislators" who represent our views and that processes in the General Assembly are transparent and open, the truth is a good bit murkier. The back room deals on legislation and selection of judges, the influence of political money especially by big players like Dominion Resources, gerrymandering, toothless ethics laws, mismanagement of VRS, and lack of access to (what should be) public information give rise to the suspicion that Virginia government isn't really a "commonwealth" but is more of a government of, by, and for those in the power elite.

The fox is running the hen house. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Good conservation news in the Shenandoah Valley

Valley Conservation Council just sent out their 2011 Annual Report along with their February newsletter, Vision, and both contain great news for conservation efforts in the region. The headliner story - "Region Has Four of the Top Five Conservation Counties for 2011" touts the hard work and successes in acreage conserved by private landowners in cooperation with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF). Leading the list is Rockbridge County (11 new easements in 2011 comprising 2,260 acres bringing the county's total to 35,200 acres) and Bath County (eight new easements comprising 2,567 acres bringing their total to 23,956 acres).  Augusta County (17,777 cumulative acres) and Highland County (11,284 cumulative acres) are also in the Commonwealth's top five.

New Mole Hill Easement
in Rockingham County.
Photo from VCC website.
Virginia's largest agricultural county, Rockingham, is far behind its neighbors to the south with only 3,721 acres in conservation easements with the VOF. But the good news for 2011 is that seven new easements totaling 1,066 acres were added, a 40% increase. Keep in mind that other organizations like the Virginia Department of Forestry have easements (including one of 1,000 acres in Rockingham) that are not included in the totals.

The newsletter and annual report highlight other important work of VCC, which has focused on local and regional policies that, while allowing for inevitable growth, promote minimal impacts on the Shenandoah Valley region's environmental, agricultural, historical, and cultural heritage. You may not own land to place in an easement or be able to attend VCC's programs, but you can donate to their important work that helps sustain what we love about the Valley! Lots of small donations add up... and that ain't chicken feed.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Wind farm a "win, win"

The recent news that Apex Wind Energy, a Charlottesville company, is huntin' and peckin' at the Augusta Regional Landfill as a possible wind farm should be applauded and encouraged by residents of Augusta County as well as the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro. If studies prove favorable, Apex may lease plots on the landfill to build 15 or so wind turbines, providing a multi-use function at what is basically a single use facility (there is a law enforcement shooting range at the site). The lease will provide a new revenue stream to cash strapped local governments and the wind farm will be a showcase of government/business partnerships and highlight the potential of renewable energy right here in the Shenandoah Valley.

Landfills have a finite lifespan and there are limited uses once the site is closed. Many landfills are simply capped and closed and never used for any productive purpose. We've all heard landfills being converted and having a new and different life - for example Mount Trashmore, a Virginia Beach park, and some localities have installed solar panels at closed landfills. The wind farm would provide a "forever" use for the Augusta Regional Landfill that wouldn't necessarily preclude other potential development that might arise in the future.

Apex has considerable experience in wind power technology having worked on projects in 21 states and seems to be a growing and successful firm. Over the past two years Apex has acquired interests in various renewable energy companies and recently raised $10 million in venture capital. In short, Apex isn't some unproven start-up without a solid track record.

As the Chairman of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, Tracy Pyles, noted, "We would be able to take what is a huge burial site and turn it into a revenue producer for our county. That's just win-win across the board." I'd say it is something to crow about!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Prestigious colleges do it... should the Commonwealth follow suit?

It seems everything is for sale in the U.S.A. Seeing a chance to make $2,000 Dixie State College of Utah is doing it. So is the University of Colorado. Even Harvard Law School does it. And what is the it they are all cashing in on? Selling naming rights to bathrooms and even to individual stalls... hope they have the best toilet paper available.

So, I guess it should come as no surprise that the General Assembly is following the selling naming rights idea as a way to raise (according to the Governor's Office) up to $100 million a year. After Lt. Governor Bolling cast a tie-breaking vote, a bill to sell naming rights to highways, bridges, and tunnels is heading to the governor's desk.

Many Virginia highways are currently named for people and events celebrating Virginia's rich history. Bridges are named for fallen police officers and military heroes who gave their all for the safety of our communities. This practice lends dignity to the Commonwealth. It might even teach a little history - more than once I've Googled a name I read on a highway sign.

GEICO Squealing Pig Memorial Bridge?
Something stinks about both of these money-making ideas. The "Highest Bidder" bridge just seems... well... demeaning and wrong. I hope the governor will reject this idea.

Under the cover of darkness

Late on Saturday evening, the Senate and House of Delegates rushed through a 21 page conference report of SB 497, SB 498, and HB 1130 (Senate Finance Committee summary) that brought sweeping changes to the Virginia Retirement System. Passage came within minutes with little discussion and no fiscal impact statement. From early reports (many of which are vague because even those who voted on the bill aren't clear about the impact of all its provisions) it seems the General Assembly is putting the burden of reform on many local and state employees. Some key points -

Employees who are not vested (less than five years service) and those hired after July 1, 2010 will see three changes that will reduce benefits -
  • The multiplier used to compute benefits will be reduced to 1.65% from 1.70%,
  • The cost-of-living-adjustment will be capped at 3% rather than 5%,
  • Average Final Compensation will be based on the average of the highest five years instead of the current three years.
Employees with currently less than 20 years of service who retire before age 65 will have to wait until that age for any cost-of-living-adjustment.

Beginning January 1, 2014 new hires will have a pension system that is part defined benefit (with 1% multiplier) and part defined contribution. The employee will pay 4% of salary into the defined benefit portion and 1% into the defined contribution portion. The employer will match up to 3.5%.

It appears there are no changes for those who are currently retired nor for those with 20+ years of service.

According to the Virginia Education Association, teachers as well as state and local employees will pay more and get less in benefits -
The Joint Legislative and Audit Commission’s actuarial analysis indicates that a 60-year-old teacher making the average teacher salary will receive $9,129 less in annual benefit if they make the minimum required contribution and $874 less if they make the maximum contribution. In short, future teachers will pay more to get less.
Senator Creigh Deeds explained in a recent email newsletter why he voted against the VRS bills -
I am concerned that we are imposing on local governments a mandate with an unknown cost. I asked pointed questions during the briefing about the effect of the plans on retirement benefits and about the cost to local governments and did not receive answers that quieted my concern. I am also concerned that we are providing a disincentive for people to work in public service. It is important that we not only maintain trust with those people who are already vested in VRS (and these bills do not affect those people who are vested), but that we provide an incentive for highly qualified and talented people to come to work in public service. The bottom line is that there were too many unanswered questions for me on all of these bills.
Senator Deeds went on to state that the best way to restore VRS is to "simply pay into the system what the trustees propose" and what actuaries say is prudent.

Over many years the General Assembly and governors have intentionally underfunded VRS and used the money for other pet projects. The result is a retirement system having $24 billion in unfunded liability and falling below the sound benchmark of 80% funded. Now our "citizen legislators" want to balance the books on the backs of many state employees, local employees, teachers, law enforcement offices, and judges. And because of the rush job on these bills they can't even tell us the effects on the fund's viability or  on hiring and retaining a qualified workforce to carry out core services of the Commonwealth.

Even retirees and those with 20+ years of service, who apparently are held harmless by these bills, should remain vigilant. With so many unknowns and inadequate funding their benefits could be in jeopardy when the 2013 legislature convenes.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sweet and Sunny

Although there was a little chill in the air, bright sunny skies and buckwheat pancakes with maple syrup brought a big crowd to Highland County, Virginia for the 54th Annual Highland Maple Festival on its opening day. "Virginia's Little Switzerland" threw open the doors and "Virginia's Best Kept Mountain Secret" didn't quite seem seem quite so secret as hundreds of cars and trucks jammed the roads leading into Monterey, the typically quiet county seat which has only a blinking light at the intersection of routes 220 and 250.

We got up early and traveled back roads through Deerfield to Warm Springs and then straight up Route 220 to to Bolar Ruritan Club for pancakes, syrup, and sausage. Although we arrived shortly after they opened, there was a line of hungry folks in the cool morning air. But, the bright sun warmed our faces and the line moved steadily and we soon joined two couples from Lynchburg - they don't let a seat go unfilled in the jammed packed dining area. Both the buttermilk pancakes and buckwheat  pancakes were great, but I think the table consensus was... buckwheat!! The sausage was good, but not the best I've ever had - everybody has their favorite seasoning blend it seems. Proceeds from the meals over the two weekends support scholarships for students from Highland and Bath counties - or "snobs" in the world according to Rick Santorum.... what a dumb cluck!

After stuffing ourselves we traveled through the tiny village of Bolar to Southernmost Maple Products where we found them using their (unique for Virginia) piggy-back evaporator. Maple BBQ was available and there were a few craft vendors. Traveling the quiet backroads we spotted many buckets still hanging on spiles with sap still dripping although many of the sugar camps that aren't on the tour finished production last month. Over the years we have visited all of the camps on the tour.

As we approached Monterey the quiet backroads gave way to a huge traffic jam, something that only happens during the Maple Festival. State troopers were took over for the flashing light to bring some order to the chaos. Fortunately we were able to slip our small car in a parking spot about halfway between "downtown" and the high school.
Walking towards the courthouse lawn proved a bit challenging as we dodged rambling groups of people eating maple ice cream or maple donuts. Lots of young families with kids in strollers or senior citizens (like us) in clusters slowly checking out the booths selling food and crafts. Still full from breakfast, we passed on the donuts this time. We then hiked to the schools where two gyms were packed with vendors. In addition to various maple products a number of craft artists (many from outside Highland County) were selling wood products, art, herbal remedies, jewelry, leather goods, and all the other items you typically see at crafts fairs - but I will admit that, unlike some fairs I have visited, all of these craftsmen were selling excellent quality goods. In addition to the breakfast, we left a few dollars in Highland County buying a small piece of art, some jewelry, and two quarts of maple syrup.

Heading east on Rt. 250 we took a chance that friends who own a place near McDowell would be home... we found them relaxing and watching the ACC tournament after spending six hours that morning serving pancakes. As with the fellow we bought maple syrup from, their production was down somewhat this year. Reasons are unclear, but the warmer than usual winter with lack of significant snowfalls is cited.
We've probably been to the Maple Festival half a dozen times starting in the early 1970s and I think this was most accommodating weather we have ever enjoyed. More than once we bundled up under cloudy skies with blowing snow biting the cheeks. We enjoyed the pancakes at Bolar Ruritan Club, just as we have in Monterey, McDowell, and Blue Grass during other visits. The Maple Festival is fun and a huge boost to the local economy, but we most enjoy Highland's unique treasures when all the flatlanders are back at home. Luckily, we have the friends with a place near McDowell and others near Blue Grass so we can find an "excuse" to visit from time to time.... and I learned that another work colleague just bought a place near Bolar! And what are some of those unique treasures...?
  • Virginia's least populated county with about 2,300 people (population explodes during the festival),
  • Highland has one of the highest average elevations east of the Mississippi River,
  • The Battle of McDowell took place here on May 8, 1862,
  • Fishing, hunting, hiking, camping opportunities are spectacular,
  • The headwaters of both the James River and the Potomac River are in the county,
  • Wide open spaces.
If you missed the Highland Maple Festival this weekend, you can check it out again on March 17-18 when the weather looks to again be great with temps in the 70s!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Agree with Pat Robertson?

"I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol. I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded."
~ Pat Robertson, March 7, 2012              

There isn't much I've ever agreed with Pat Robertson on, so his recent statement about the failure of the war on drugs and the high social and penal costs on the American people came as a bit of a surprise to me and many others. But, he is right - the war on drugs has never and will never succeed. The costs enforcing the laws and locking up offenders are exorbitant and rising. And the damage to youthful offenders (and their families) far exceeds any benefits of the current "tough on crime" policy.

Perhaps Rev. Robertson's statement will open some Republican eyes and bring out the libertarian in all of us. We can empty some jail cells, improve people's lives, save and maybe even raise some tax dollars. Sounds like a win, win proposition to me.

Wrecking Ball

Wrecking Ball arrived on my porch earlier this week and I've finally had the opportunity to listen it multiple times, to ponder and to reflect upon the power of Bruce Springsteen's music and lyrics. Not since Darkness on the Edge of Town has Springsteen delivered such a powerful and angry commentary on the loss of the American Dream. While he doesn't delve into partisan politics, this is a political album that points a finger at the bankers and the powerful whose greed and avarice have left many Americans in an economic and emotional dustbin.

Springsteen pulls out all the stops in Wrecking Ball. There is his trademark rock as well as Biblical, gospel, Irish, and hip hop influences. While most of the songs carry his passion and outrage there are songs of a better tomorrow like the grittier version of "Land of Hope and Dreams." And he explores the mystery of love and friendship in "You've Got It."

Even the titles of many of the songs make Springsteen's disdain for the political and economic elite clear - "Shackeld and Drawn," "Death to My Hometown," "Rocky Ground," and "This Depression" just to name the most obvious. But his deepest passion and anger is found in lyrics that make it clear who Springsteen holds responsible for killing the hopes and dreams of so many. For example in "Shackled and Drawn" Springsteen laments -

Gambling man rolls the dice
Working man pays the bill
It's still fat and easy up on Banker's Hill
Up on Banker's Hill, the Party's going strong
Down here below we're shackled and drawn

In "Death to My Hometown" Springsteen holds the robber barons accountable -

They destroyed our families, factories
And they took our homes
They left our bodies in the plains
The vultures picked our bones

Other songs repeat the themes with different settings and musical styles, but among some there is a glimmer of hope and a call for individuals, communities, the nation to help one another. "Jack of All Trades," one of my personal favorites, especially when Tom Morello's guitar adds a bit of rage, lays the blame for our economic woes squarely on the "banker man," but reminds us of the resiliency of American families -

The hurricane blows, brings the hard rain
When the blue sky breaks
It feels like the world's gonna change
And we'll start caring for each other
Like Jesus said we might
I'm a jack of all trades, we'll be all right

In "We Take Care of Our Own" Springsteen expands on the notion of "caring for each other" to a national scale as he reminds us of all that the politicians in Washington are forgetting -

Where's the promise from sea
to shinning sea
Where's the promise from sea
to shinning sea

Wherever this flag is flown
Wherever this flag is flown
Wherever this flag is flown

We take care of our own

Check it out for yourself....

Springsteen's detractors (I guess there are a few dumb clucks) probably question his sincerity - after all he's obviously part of the 1%, in the video above playing to others of the 1% about the trials of those of us in the 99%. But Bruce Springsteen's heart and soul are clearly rooted in his working class family and upbringing. Powerful songs throughout his long, prolific career speak to day-to-day life and challenges faced by Americans trying to make it in life - "Racing in the Street," "The Promise," "Factory," "The River," "Youngstown,""The Ghost of Tom Joad,""American Skin," and many others. In Wrecking Ball Bruce Springsteen reminds us that life can be horribly unfair but that we all hope for a better future for ourselves and our children. In 2007's Magic, Bruce Springsteen reminded us that finding our national soul will be a "Long Walk Home." By helping one another, we will get there.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Bob, litter is part of the problem

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (VA-06) has introduced a bill to halt the EPA's Chesapeake Bay cleanup plans. Pointing to "more mandates and overzealous regulations," Goodlatte wants to turn the responsibility over to states and to rely on "voluntary efforts." He also calls for "nutrient trading" programs.

In response, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation issued a statement urging Congress to reject the legislation outright. The CBF said, in part, that the legislation will "undermine the pollution limits currently in place, derail cleanup efforts and undercut the federal government's role in making sure that all Americans have access to clean, swimmable, fishable waters."

Okay, let's keep it simple: Goodlatte's bill would result in uneven enforcement at best and a dirtier Chesapeake Bay. And a more polluted Bay impacts Virginia more than perhaps any other state.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed consists of 64,000 square miles and drains portions of six states (Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York) and the nation's capitol. Leaving enforcement up to each individual state could mean no enforcement at all - Pennsylvania, a major contributor of the Bay's fresh water, might decide there is nothing in it for them and the costs just aren't worth it. So even if Virginia and Maryland made heroic efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, it would all go for naught.

"Voluntary efforts" is laughable. Let's try voluntary speed limits on I-81. It is hard enough to keep trucks and cars at 70 mph with enforcement; can you imagine the chaos if it were voluntary. Drivers who voluntarily comply better have a huge and effective rear bumper! As someone who has waded streams collecting water and macroinvertebrate samples, I have personally visited farms that have voluntarily done wonderful things to stabilize stream banks and to keep excess nutrients and pollutants out of our waters. But, I've also seen that a few miles of protected stream can't make up for the others that continue to allow erosion and waste to spoil our precious water resources.

"Nutrient trading" programs may have some validity in the short term. Polluters who can't clean up as quickly or easily could, I imagine, buy/trade nutrient credits with others who have cleaned up their act. But, in the long term we need everyone to get it right and realize we can't keep treating our waterways as sewers. Besides, "nutrient trading" sounds a lot like "cap and trade" which I thought the congressman and his GOP colleagues detested. A bit of Republican hypocrisy and insincerity on display here?

Cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay will take the efforts of all 17 million Americans who live in the watershed. And I do mean all - while intensive agriculture is a major contributor to excess nutrients and pollution in the Bay we need everyone involved. That means enforceable regulations on homeowners (septic fields and overuse of fertilizers), municipal sewage systems, developers, manufacturers, and businesses large and small.

Want to get involved with water cleanup in the Shenandoah Valley? Check out these organizations doing good work in your community:
You can also contact Rep. Bob Goodlate and let him know you oppose his bill (it is probably more about grandstanding against the EPA and posturing for the election than it is about good public policy). I just squawked at at the old bird.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

But, will there be overdue fines?

Now that Virginia has some of the most lenient gun laws in the nation, a proposal has been "floated" to make guns even more available to folks who can't afford their own or just get caught temporarily without the Smith & Wesson in a time of need: Gun Lending Libraries.

Perhaps this idea should be expanded and improved. For example:

  • Will there be drive-thru windows?
  • Will there be overdue fines?
  • Will private guns be allowed in the library?
  • Will the library be allowed in a bar?
  • Will the library raise money by hosting a gun fair?
  • Will there be inter-library loans?

The morning after

The morning after a ho hum GOP presidential primary in Virginia. Most areas of the state saw turnout under 5% and some of those cast a blank ballot to protest the fact that neither Gingrich nor Santorum qualified for the ballot. That speaks in part to the Commonwealth's toughest ballot qualification standards in the nation, but more importantly to the lack of a good field operation by either campaign.

So the morning after the boring primary a Republican operative called for the General Assembly to lower the qualification standards for candidates. At the same time, Republicans in the General Assembly are making it harder for citizens to vote. Anybody see the irony, and hypocrisy, in that?

Guess it all fits in well with their battle plan following Citizens United: Fat cat donors bankroll candidates' (pay worker bees to circulate petitions) who will have to collect fewer signatures. Once their candidates are on the ballot, the fat cats and their super pacs bombard the airwaves and tweets with negative ads, character assassination, lies, and innuendo. And to drive the nail deeper in the coffin, they've disenfranchised segments of voter groups who have traditionally voted Democratic. Now that's a strategy to crow about!

Time to start spreading more Coarse Cracked Corn? I will admit the foul nature of politics makes it hard to get my feathers flying again. Some volunteering and other activities leave me feeling better when we turn out the lights each night. But, when the GOP litter starts getting deeper and deeper even an old bird has to crow every now and then. So, we will see how far this goes. Will the lights in the hen house stay on? Or not?