Wednesday, April 21, 2010

American Closes

Well, I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone in the Martinsville area. After a two-year will-they-or-won't-they waiting game, American of Martinsville has apparently closed its doors. From WDBJ 7:

It's lights out at one of Henry County and Martinsville's main furniture manufacturers. The question is, for how long?

Employees at American of Martinsville tell News7 their bosses sent them home from the Redd Level Plant at the end of last week. A security guard is now manning the front gate.

The front doors to the main headquarters in Uptown Martinsville were also locked on Tuesday and executives ignored repeated phone calls made by Your Hometown Station.

Henry County's economic development team seemed to be blind sided by the news as well when a call was made to them Monday afternoon by News7.

All of this is frustrating for the more than 200 employees at the Redd Level location. Many fear what this means for their retirement benefits since they say the company has not given them any clear answers on the status of the plants' operation.

The best part?

It's still unclear what will happen to a Martinsville furniture plant that's been shut down. But the company's president is headed elsewhere.

Trade magazine Furniture Today reports Noel Chitwood left his job as president of American of Martinsville. He's taken a job with a Chinese manufaturer called Lacquer Craft Furniture.

I don't begrudge Mr. Chitwood finding another job, but he knew about this closing long before anyone else did. He had time to get his affairs in order and my guess is he'll do fine financially at his new job. He has the luxury of moving and the industry connections to have some options. Everyone else was blindsided, apparently including the Economic Development Corporation. Moreover, American's former employees don't exactly get to have mobility and industry connections--after all, this is the 21st century and they are manufacturing workers. In the global economy, they're becoming the new serfs.

And that, in a nutshell, is why this economy will never recover until we get our trade policies in order. Globalization will destroy this country unless we change course. As long as the manufacturing sector continues to shrink because of unfair foreign competition--i.e. trading with countries that play by a 19th-century rulebook--the middle class will continue evaporating and the ranks of the working poor will grow. See how many cheap Chinese tables you can sell to someone who can't find a job.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

McDonnell Declares Confederate History Month

Imagine my joy when this story started to make the national rounds:

Virginia's Republican Governor Bob McDonnell has declared April to be "Confederate History Month," the first time in 8 years that such a proclamation has been issued in the state.

In the statement, McDonnell says that the Confederate history "should not be forgotten, but instead should be studied, understood and remembered," and that its leaders "fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth in a time very different than ours today."

I can almost understand the rationale for this if--and only if--it's done in an objective way. Let's assume for a minute that we do live in an ideal world where this is truly a study of the history of the Confederacy. What would that look like?

It might be good for us as Americans to remember how vulnerable freedom can be when powerful, unscrupulous interests take hold of a democracy, such as the slaveholding aristocracy that pushed the South into secession.

Maybe it would be instructive to recall that without rules to protect basic human rights, the free market might decide it's okay to do just about anything. Like when it decreed that it was okay to buy and sell other human beings as slaves, a practice that only ended after massive government intervention in the form of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments.

In this rancorous political climate, it would be especially salient to recall what happens when we give in to demagogues and the political process breaks down. Maybe the most militant Tea Partiers would do well to remember that the Confederacy lost one-fourth of its military-age male population in four years; another fourth was horribly wounded in the fighting. To this day, the Civil War is the single bloodiest conflict in American history, taking 600,000+ American lives. Maybe it would do Palin and Beck some good to know what they're really intimating when they use war rhetoric to frame their unhinged ideology.

But for some reason I doubt that's the point McDonnell is trying to make here. It sounds a lot more like a nod to the George Allen wing of the Virginia GOP. Under other governors, Confederate History Month has only served to divide, distract and inflame; unfortunately, it looks like the McDonnell/Cuccinelli team has been pretty good at that so far.

*Sigh*'s gonna be a long four years.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Music Monday: "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" by Spoon

This week's Music Monday features a song by Spoon. Here's "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb":

This one comes from 2007's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, supposedly named for the piano rhythm in the song "The Ghost of You Lingers"--if you've heard it, you know what I'm talking about. It's a great record, and I especially like the Motown-esque feel of this song. Another standout from that album is "The Underdog," which has sort of a Steely Dan sound to it. Lots of horns and laid-back rhythm section.

I saw Spoon last week at The National in Richmond. They put on a great show and I encourage you to see them if you can, but be quick about it--their shows sell out fast. At that show, I purchased an LP--yes, an actual 12" LP--of their most recent album, which comes with a coupon for an mp3 download. It's quite good as well, though I haven't picked favorite tracks yet. Anyway, check out Spoon if you're into good guitar-based rock 'n roll.

Friday, April 2, 2010

In Case You Missed It: Martinsville in the New Yorker

Just in case you didn't see this when it came out last week, give this a look. George Packer has written an article for the New Yorker that features Martinsville very heavily. It is a look at the frustration many of us still feel over the disastrous economy, especially in small towns like Martinsville.

Here's the link.

I suppose it's a good thing to have our problems finally receive national attention. After all, it took ten years for the rest of the country to realize that rural communities like ours were getting the shaft; maybe stories like this will keep things in perspective for the media and our policymakers.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

BREAKING NEWS: Texas Secedes; Alaska Declares Self Single, Ready to Mingle

WASILLA--The nation was stunned today as Texas and Alaska suddenly and deliberately severed their ties with the government of the United States of America.

The first state secession since the Civil War came as a surprise. Pull Out Now!, an organization of Tea Party activists, was responsible for organizing separatist movements in the two states, and organizers say they hope more states will pull out "before it's too late," according to lead organizer Levi Johnston.

Johnston later added, "Does anyone out there think I'm relevant yet?"

Speaking at a victory rally in Austin, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin said she was excited about the news that the two craziest states in America would soon be joining forces.

"Ya know, the folks in Washington need to take this as a wake-up call," Palin said. "Listen, Mr. President: We love America! And gosh darn-it, the only way to save it is to leave it! We're not gonna sit by and let you wreck our country anymore. Now it's our turn!" The crowd cheered enthusiastically and waved posters of Glenn Beck.

When asked how secession was patriotic, one protester responded, "Don't step on the white ones! Hot lava!" Several others refused to comment to the "communist media" and conjectured that reporters were there on the orders of Osama bin Laden.

In Washington, the Republican Party was in total disarray. One reporter caught up with NRCC spokesman Andy Sere while he was waiting for his Happy Meal.

"I mean, whatevs. Alaska's basically Diet Canada anyway, and I don't even watch Deadliest Catch. What? You said Texas too? TEXAS?! Holy crap guys! Crap crap balls crap! That's pretty much our entire base! And all those electoral votes!" Sere then uttered a string of obscenities that led to his removal from the ball pit.

Alaska and Texas have moved remarkably fast in ejecting most federal employees from the state. Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the next order of business was to proceed with building a border wall, and then continue "de-socializing" the state. Perry added, however, that Social Security and Veterans Administration workers would be allowed to remain in the state on the request of his constituents. Perry will also attempt to preserve Medicare, citing seniors' concerns about losing their government health care.

Palin and Perry will hold a joint press conference today announcing the War on Smut, a new trade policy aimed at keeping certain items from being imported into the new nations. Among the items to be declared contraband: beakers and other lab equipment; unapproved textbooks; telescopes; sextants; "nudie-pic textin' machines" (we think they mean cell phones); vegan cookbooks; calculators; hybrid vehicles of any kind, as well as biodegradable coffee cups; coffee; soy milk and other "liberal sissy drinks"; the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Audacity of Hope and other so-called "socialist screeds"; and finally, CNN, MSNBC and Comedy Central will be barred from broadcasting into the two states. Also, the Green Bible is a no-no.

When asked for comment, President Obama simply replied, "Seriously? They really did it this time? And y'all wonder why I smoke."

Vice President Biden echoed that sentiment. "These people are so f***ing ridiculous I can't even deal with it," Biden said.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hurt Backs Cuccinelli in Discrimination Flap

By now, you've probably heard about AG Ken Cuccinelli's reprehensible letter to Virginia's colleges and universities, in which he declared that they cannot prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. You may have also heard about the less publicized (but just as nonsensical) decision by Gov. McDonnell last month to strip gay and lesbian state workers of anti-discrimination protections afforded by the two previous governors.

What you may not have heard about is Sen. Robert Hurt's stance on what is rapidly becoming an embarrassment for the whole Commonwealth. From the Washington Post, linked above:

Some lawmakers called Cuccinelli's stand consistent with legal opinions offered by past attorneys general, who have advised local governments that they do not have the legal right to add sexual orientation to their policies without authorization from the General Assembly.

"It seems to me that he was trying to get out his legal opinion," said Sen. Robert Hurt (R-Pittsylvania). "It doesn't seem like a clarion call to discriminate against anyone."

There you have it, folks. In a desperate attempt to co-opt the wingnuts and strengthen his Tea Party cred, Sen. Hurt has planted his feet firmly on the wrong side of history.

You know what's really disappointing about this? I grew up in this area and Robert Hurt has represented it in various ways for almost a decade. I've never agreed with him about much of anything, but I've always kind of liked the guy. He never seemed like the culture warrior type; he always came off as a fairly bright, rational individual. The fact that he appeared sane was what made him such a strong candidate. But recently, he's allowing himself to drift closer and closer to the shores of Loony Land. If he's not careful, he'll crash on the rocks.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Remote Area Medical in Buena Vista

As we close in on (what appears to be) the endgame of the health care epic, here's a reminder of why it's so important to take action. From WDBJ7:

About 15 percent of Virginians do not have health insurance, making healthcare out of reach.

That's why forty medical pros from the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps, worked through the weekend, giving their time for those hurting most.

It all happened at Southern Virginia University in Buena Vista Saturday and Sunday.

Dr. Nancy Weiss, a doctor said, "There's no national health insurance, there are people around here who work, but cant' afford health insurance, and we need to help them out."

Optometrists fitted glasses.

Dentists pulled and filled teeth.

From mammograms, to blood work, to annual physicals, it was all free.

Sheila Pooley, "I would have had to have gone without until we could have gotten the money to do it."

Students at the university are to credit for pulling it all together.

Jacque Loving is one of the SVU student organizers.

"We've actually had a lot of people come from North Carolina and West Virginia come over."

Hmm. People traveling long distances and crossing borders to get better health care. I thought that only happened in Canada? *snark*

The organizers said they had 421 people show up for the event. Think about that for a minute. One weekend, in one little pocket of the richest nation in the world, 421 people came to get free health care because they couldn't otherwise afford it--either because of unemployment, underemployment or lack of good insurance. The fact that we're letting this happen (and have been letting it happen for decades) is disgraceful, outrageous and morally unconscionable.

This story reminded me of a 60 Minutes special about Remote Area Medical. They were started as a way of addressing poverty and health issues in third-world countries, but have found that they're spending quite a lot of time in the United States. Here's the video:

And part 2:

Next time someone tells you we have the "best health care system in the world," show them this film. And then ask them why things like Remote Area Medical are so necessary in the richest nation in the world.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Music Monday: "13" by Big Star

Music Monday today is a blast from the past--here's a 1972 tune by Big Star, called "13."

These guys have enjoyed a quiet resurgence in recent years, particularly in the indie music community. First a cover version of their song "In The Street" was used for the That 70s Show theme; Then Elliott Smith covered "13" on New Moon, his posthumous final release. And if you look around a bit, you'll start finding more and more indie rockers listing Big Star as an influence--Superdrag comes to mind, and if you paid close attention in the Music Monday where I featured Beulah, you may have noticed the lead singer wearing a Big Star t-shirt.

Armstrong 2013?

Here's an interesting clip from Anita Kumar's Washington Post blog Friday:

House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong (D) is considering running for statewide office -- perhaps governor or lieutenant governor -- in 2013, Democratic sources tell us.

Armstrong, of Henry County, has been holding townhall meetings the last couple of months throughout Southside and Southwest Virginia and we hear he has spoken to a handful of key Democrats about the possibility of running.

The outspoken and affable Armstrong had long been eyeing his chance to become speaker of the House of Delegates. Democrats had steadily picked up 11 seats in the House since 2003. Six more seats would have allowed them to take the majority and Armstrong to become speaker.

Those plans were quashed when a Republican sweep in November gave the GOP six more seats and solidified Speaker Bill Howell's tenure. (My emphasis)

Veeerry interesting. My understanding from local sources was that Del. Armstrong was happy being a delegate and planned to follow in the footsteps of the hyper-influential House Speaker A.L. Philpott, who had held Armstrong's current seat for years. But I suppose it's conceivable that November changed Ward's plans, and there certainly aren't many names which are immediately obvious for 2013. Armstrong could fill that vacuum, and I think we could do a lot worse than to nominate a guy like him.

I guess we'll see what happens; I will support whoever convinces me they can prevent a Gov. Bolling or--perish the thought--a Gov. Cuccinelli. If that's Ward Armstrong, then sign me up.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Lawson Steps Down; Tea Party Takes Henry County GOP

It seems that Southside is a bit of a microcosm these days. First came the breakdown of the manufacturing sector and complete overhaul of the economy; now it's the rise of the Tea Party to positions of power within the GOP. In today's Martinsville Bulletin, longtime Republican Committee Chair Don Lawson announced that he is stepping down in advance of Monday's GOP committee meeting. That makes his only opponent for the chairmanship, staunch Tea Critter Jeff Evans, the winner by default.

Now, you may remember Jeff Evans as Roscoe Reynolds's opponent in the 2007 Virginia Senate election. He was handily dispatched, winning only 38% of the vote. But here's an interesting clip from the article:
Evans, who won 38 percent of the vote in 2007, said he “has not ruled out” a second bid against Reynolds.

Lawson said he “advised him I could not support him for that.” Evans then decided to seek the chairman post, Lawson said.

Evans said that was not the case. He said he and Lawson have “different views” and have barely spoken since last spring. “I quit going to committee meetings so there would be no trouble between us,” Evans added.

Evans said he told Lawson last year that he thought change was needed on the committee. When he did not see anyone else stepping up to run for the chairmanship, Evans said he decided to run about three weeks ago.

When Evans took delegates’ applications for Monday’s mass meeting to Lawson before the deadline, a television crew was there, Evans said. He added that he does not know who called the crew, but he said he thought it was a good thing it was there.

That was done to sensationalize the event and make it appear “that somehow the party is being harmed by my being involved” in the process, Lawson said. “He had no clue I was not even a candidate.”
Step 1: Get owned in an election against a popular, entrenched incumbent.

Step 2: Make overtures about running again and demand changes to your party.

Step 3: When you don't get your way and the party doesn't want to run a losing candidate again, take over the party. Voila.

And that, in a nutshell, is why the Republicans remain in deep trouble. Despite the media narrative about 2010 being a GOP surge year, this is a perfect example of the fundamental problems that are still eating away at the Republicans. I'm not saying they won't pick up seats this year, but it doesn't change the fact that a large chunk of their base has gone off the deep end. Here you have open, public hostility between an established party leader and an insurgent Teabagger. What's worse, the level of discourse leaves no room for discussion and will only divide the party. All indications so far have been that ideological absolutism is the order of the day in the Tea Party, and there's no reason to think it will go away anytime soon.

As a moderate friend said to me when he heard this news, "I guess I'll be voting Democrat for a long time."