Wednesday, December 31, 2008

How Tom Won

Dem Bones has a great analysis of how Tom Perriello won the race for Virginia's 5th District. There are a lot of oversimplifications floating around about how we pulled it off, and having been in the campaign trenches alongside Drew, I can safely say he hits the nail on the head.

Monday, December 29, 2008


There's too much spin flying around for me to knowledgeably place blame on one side or the other, and I don't pretend to know enough about Middle East politics to offer a solution. What I do know is that a lot of people have died who had nothing to do with Hamas and just got in the way of a missile. The current claim is that Hamas had been firing rockets into Israel for a long time, and that Israel decided enough was enough--although it's interesting timing, given that Israel is slated to have an election in February. 

Launching rockets at civilians is inexcusable, but there's also something very disturbing about Tzipi Livni's unfortunately-these-things-happen approach to the civilian deaths in Gaza. Hamas has been responsible for some pretty nasty things, and there's no question they should be undermined. But it seems to me that the best way to bolster their organization is to provide an external threat--even Fatah, their rival faction with which they had a brief civil war, is taking Hamas' side in this situation. I worry that Israel is doing the same thing we did in Iraq--the minute we invaded, we provided a rallying cry and apparently knocked a lot of fence-sitters into the radical camp. I think for every militant the Israelis kill, they'll add 20 more recruits to the cause they're trying to crush. 

The irony is that according to this Washington Post article, Israel may have squandered an opportunity to weaken Hamas without using force, giving growing resentment toward the group since the 2006 parliamentary elections. 

The last thing I want to say is just a cheesy observation on how lucky we actually are. It's been 144 years since we've had to worry about civil war and 60 years since we've had to really worry about direct military invasion. We take it for granted that we fight with ballots instead of bullets, and that none of our neighbors will bomb us tomorrow. We shouldn't--because for much of the world and for most of human history, that has not been the case.

Apologies, and Coal Country

Apologies for being inactive the past few days, as I got quite wrapped up in the Christmas merriment and had little time to blog. 

I stumbled across this diary about Virginia's coal country in a sampler on Raising Kaine from this past weekend. I had not started this blog when it was initially released, so I thought now would be a good time to comment about it, given RK's impending demise. My dad and his family grew up in that part of the state, moving from Pennington Gap, to Grundy, and finally to Martinsville, and from what I can tell Eric's description of the Fightin' 9th's complex economic troubles is spot-on. The panhandle is dying of black lung, and there are tough questions to answer regarding the cure. Please read the link above, and talk amongst yourselves.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

NYT Misses the Mark on Gas Tax

The New York Times had an editorial in today's paper about how to reduce gas consumption in a time when its price is falling. Their thinking goes that as soon as the recession ends, folks will go right back out and start buying gas guzzlers again--apparently even if the Big 3 fail, Toyota will fill the demand for SUVs and the like. We'll all be right back where we started, and fuel-efficiency will take a back seat yet again. Their answer? Tax it: 

Who will buy all the fuel-efficient cars that Detroit carmakers are supposed to make?

The danger is that too few will, especially if gasoline prices remain low. Therefore, it might be time for the president-elect and Congress to think seriously about imposing a gas tax or similar levy to keep gas prices up after the economy recovers from recession.

...This also would serve as a signal to American automakers and American drivers that the era of cheap gasoline is not going to last.

That'll teach those selfish consumers not to use so much gas! 

Look, I totally agree that we have to encourage drivers to use less gas. The problem with a tax is that not everyone has the option of waiting for a bus or hopping on the metro. In places like the Southside, public transit is virtually nonexistent and it is very common for people to commute 60-100+ miles round-trip every day just to find work. Moving is often impractical, and will become even more so as a result of the mortgage meltdown. Moreover, such workers and families often cannot afford to buy a new car--if you're a victim of multiple factory closings and you're swimming in debt from years of paycuts and missed bonuses, you drive what you can afford, and you keep driving it until the wheels fall off. A national gas tax would be a betrayal of small towns and rural communities all across America. Not only is that bad policy, it's morally unconscionable. 

Instead, let's tax gas guzzlers at the source (Deep breaths, Jim Gilmore). Put a hefty fee on the low-mileage cars and trucks currently on the market, and enact stringent environmental and MPG guidelines for newer cars. The money earned could be put toward tax credits for fuel-efficient cars or used in infrastructure projects. The stimulus package could also address this issue--if you trade in your old SUV, the federal stimulus package will match, up to a reasonable limit, your down-payment on a cleaner vehicle. It sure beats taxing people who can't afford it and throwing money at Wall Street.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Goode Urged to Run Again

I'm not sure what to make of this. The Martinsville Bulletin reported today that some of Virgil Goode's die-hards held a dinner for him Monday night, where some urged him to run again in 2010. As with similar speculation that has arisen recently, Goode is taking a 'neither confirm nor deny' sort of approach. 

This is probably nothing more than kind words from long-time supporters, but just for fun, here are a few of my first-blush reactions to the possibility of Goode 2010:
  1. It won't happen. And if it does, there will almost certainly be a primary battle. There are too many other Republicans who could run in this district--Del. Rob Bell (R-58 - Albemarle, Nelson) and Sen. Robert Hurt (R-19 - Danville, Campbell, Franklin) are the two strongest candidates that come to mind. The 5th District GOP has over a year for Goode loyalties to wane, and they'll be gunning hard for this seat in two years. My guess is they'll want a fresh new face who can build the party and run a competitive race. Given the lackluster campaign he ran (his support came from long-time loyalists, including many "Goode Democrats," not a persuasive message) and the amount of support he lost (more on that below), it's not Virgil.
  2. Even if he were to get the nomination, he would have a much-diminished base of support even among Republicans. Goode's negativity turned a lot of people off; since the election, we've heard many accounts of people who had voted for him at every stage of his career--regardless of party affiliation--giving up on him because of his TV ads and debate performances. Couple that with resentment over a costly recount that didn't even come close to changing the outcome, and his political capital is currently in the red. On top of all this, Tom ran a positive, ideas-oriented campaign and is currently winning over influentials and community leaders who did not support him initially. Which brings me to this:
  3. Sign him up. If Goode can get the 5th District GOP on board, it probably means he'll have many of the same people running his campaign. That means no ground game, weak messaging and extreme negativity. Also, good luck fundraising as a defeated incumbent from what was perceived to be a safe district, even in 2008. If Tom does his job in Congress and runs a good campaign, he'll be able to weather Goode part 2.
  4. Goode is politically savvy enough to know all of this, and he'll play a supporting role in 2010 and beyond.
What do yall think? 

Cross posted to Blue Commonwealth

Monday, December 22, 2008

Wreck the Economy, Win a Bailout, Keep on Flyin' in the Free World

Sounds like the Wall Street bailout money is going to excellent use. Not only are the taxpayer funds not being used the way they were intended--i.e., for lending--but apparently no one is really sure where the money is going. Oh, and the firms themselves aren't talking. The one thing everyone is sure of? No matter how much you suck at running a Wall Street company, you still get to keep your corporate jet and you still get an outrageously high salary.

And auto workers are the ones who need to make concessions?

Give Barry a Break, or, Why the Warren Pick Doesn't Bother Me

Dem Bones has a great perspective on the Warren pick, and I find myself agreeing with it. Basically, Drew notes that Obama is just being Obama--the bottom line is that he's including someone with whom he vehemently disagrees as a counter-example to what our politics has been for so long. 

Yes, of course I would prefer someone other than Rick Warren to pray at the most significant inauguration of my lifetime. But Obama isn't just our guy anymore. He's about to be president of the most diverse democracy in the world, and the coalition that elected him reflects that diversity. There's a lot to dislike about Rick Warren's stance on gay rights, but I truly believe dialogue is a big part of "change." If we only listen to people who think like we do, then we're no better than what we fought to replace. All of us, particularly in faith communities, have friends on the other side of this issue, so who knows--maybe Obama's gesture will open up some productive conversations.

I basically think we need to cut Obama some slack on this one. There are huge battles looming, and in the meantime we should enjoy what will almost certainly be remembered as a truly outstanding inaugural address. 

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hunger Comes Home

Sometimes the human cost of this economy gets lost in the background; coverage of bailouts and blame-placing often trumps what is happening to those who were "the least of these" among us even before the bottom fell out. Recently, however, Roanoke's WDBJ7 reported on a story that will rip your heart out, and one that is indicative of just how bad things have gotten. 

Because Martinsville's unemployment remains the highest in the state (around 12.7 per cent), local children are feeling the strain at, of all places, food banks. The Community Storehouse distributes bookbags full of food to students from struggling families. But this worthy cause has fallen on hard times as the economy gets worse. From the story:
"We've heard stories of children on Fridays going through trash cans and getting cookies, whatever they could put in their pockets, and when they're confronted by teachers asking what are they doing, they say if I don't do this me and my brothers/sisters won't have any food at all," said Adkins. 
If you notice in the accompanying video, the reporter holds up a massive stack of referrals from the Martinsville City school system, noting that demand is set to increase as Henry County begins requesting the same service for their students. This story is not only appalling on a moral level, but also a chilling déjà vu--it reminds me of the girl from my grandmother's kindergarten class who cried because she was hungry and it was her brother's day to eat. As far as these kids are concerned, this is not a "downturn," a "correction," or even a "recession." This is poverty. 

I don't usually make fundraising asks and I don't intend to make it a habit. That said, if you can give anything to this cause, please head over to the Community Storehouse website, or find the equivalent organization in your community and give to them. We have it in our power to write our own legacy--how we respond to this level of poverty in our own backyards is a moral challenge. Let's not run away from it.

Cross posted to Blue Commonwealth.

Monday, December 15, 2008

"What IS Right for Virginia" endorses Brian Moran for Governor

Take a look at Jim White's endorsement of Brian Moran for Governor. Now I'm not ready to endorse anyone quite yet, but I will say that I've been at several of Brian's recent appearances in Martinsville, and he seems to impress a lot of people...and not just the people who will be voting in the primary. This could be significant, since conventional wisdom says Southside should be Deeds Country all the way. If Moran is making inroads here, Deeds has work to do. It's certainly going to be an interesting race, and I look forward to seeing how it evolves.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Powell speaks sanity, Republicans convulse

Check out this blog post over at Colin Powell made news this past week  by speaking what many moderate Republicans seem to be thinking: Rush Limbaugh is a terrible spokesman for conservatism in general and the GOP in particular. The best part of the CNN story is the reaction by conservatives on their comments section--it's as if their patron saint has been blasphemed, and they're out for blood. They're calling Powell, among other things that I won't repeat here, a "RINO," or Republican in name only. They use the same term against McCain--music to your ears if you want Obama to win in 2012. 

This episode gives me an idea: why not enact a trading policy between the two parties, much like what has developed in professional sports? We could even have a draft day with lots of lights and press conferences. We'll take Powell in exchange for Judas Lieberman, and everyone will be happy! 

Props to Dem Bones

I'm a bit late in doing this, but I wanted to give a shout-out to my former regional director from the Perriello campaign. You may have read Jim White's story about the new blog on What is Right for Virginia, but Drew is going to be lending a lot to the discussion about faith & politics. Please visit Dem Bones, Drew's new blog and put it in your rotation! 

Friday, December 12, 2008

Appomattox, Boones Mill lose 200 jobs

Cross-posted at Blue Commonwealth

From WDBJ7's newscast tonight: More bad news for Southside's job market today, as North American Homes laid off about 40 people in Boones Mill. Appomattox lost about 160 jobs total when Thomasville Furniture cut production

This story was all too common even before the Feds' shocking epiphany that we are (gasp!) in a recession. In the newscast, Appomattox Town Councilman Bryan Baine touched on a simple economic lesson that Southside has learned and that Senate Republicans would do well to learn: in small towns, every job loss hurts everyone else. Ripple effects shut down shops and close up storefronts, leading to more job losses, and the cycle repeats. A simple stroll through Bassett or Uptown Martinsville provides a perfect example of this phenomenon. 

This is what I worry might happen in small towns across the country if auto-related businesses are allowed to fail along with the Big 3. I hope and pray that the folks in Boones Mill and Appomattox will find new jobs quickly, and that the new administration can help put things back on track.

GOP unveils "Look as out of touch as possible" strategy for 2010 & beyond

As the economy continues its spiral of doom following two of the biggest electoral thrashings in recent memory, last night's failed auto bailout begs the question: just what, exactly, are they thinking? 

From NYT today: 

“It sounds like the U.A.W. blew it up,” said Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana.

Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the senior Republican on the banking committee and a leading critic of the auto bailout proposal, said: “We’re hoping that the Democrats will continue to negotiate but I think we have reached a point that labor has got to give. If they want a bill they can get one.”

This would be hilarious if it weren't so dangerous and infuriating--on the one hand you have smug ultimatum-like statements from a minority party that clearly doesn't get why it lost last month. On the other, you have the realization that one of our two parties is willing to risk not only the Big 3 auto jobs themselves, but hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country that depend on the auto industry. Why? By the looks of what Vitter and Shelby had to say, because they have an ideological point to prove regarding the UAW and labor unions in general--domino effects be-damned. After all, the fundamentals of our economy are strong enough that the market will sort things out, and they won't have that pesky UAW to worry about. Core principles, anyone?

As much as it pains me to think of handing out even more billions to incompetent businesses, we're now in a situation where I don't think we have a choice. Sure, there's a good chance these guys will come back for more money in March, and there's a good chance they'll end up failing anyway. But this is not the time to subject one of our largest employers to an economic experiment. 

The "little guy" wins for once

I suspect I'm not the only one in Southside who found this story a bit inspiring: The laid-off workers who occupied the Republic Windows & Doors factory in Chicago finally got what they earned: their severance package and other benefits. Good for them--they're still out of work, but at least they managed to cushion the blow for themselves and their families.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Gov. Kaine responds to Obama's plan, and so do I

From Blue Commonwealth on Saturday--Gov. Kaine says we have a list of projects ready to roll as soon as the cash starts flowing. It will certainly be interesting to see whether the GOP has the same conniption over federal transportation funds as they had in last summer's special session.

Here are two major areas where Southside's leaders should be pushing for funds in Richmond:

-Educational fairness: When my high school friends and I scattered across the Commonwealth for college, it didn't take us long to figure out that we were at an instant disadvantage to our peers from wealthier parts of the state. This is not an attack on our former teachers or even on our school division--they did the best job they could with the resources they had. But it is undeniable that an economically battered area like Martinsville simply does not have the tax base to compete with school districts in Fairfax and Tidewater. Not only is this unfair to the college-bound, it limits the vocational training that workers in this area need to survive in a transitional economy. That also has ramifications for where businesses choose to locate. An investment in technological upgrades, pay raises for the best teachers, and hiring new teachers could go a long way toward leveling the playing field. Patrick Henry Community College and the New College Institute should also regain the funding they lost because of recent budget cuts.

-Road and rail projects: There's been discussion for years about the need for a completed Interstate 73, which would cut through eastern Henry County on its way from Myrtle Beach, SC to Sault Ste. Marie, MI--anyone who has driven on U.S. 220 through Henry or Franklin County has doubtlessly seen the "Future I-73 Corridor" signs peppered along the route. Now, it is easy to fall for silver-bullet solutions in a place like Martinsville, and that's how I-73 is often portrayed. The new interstate will not arrive on a cloud and rapture us into prosperity, but it will provide an invaluable opportunity to improve the area's economic prospects if local leaders play their cards right. Our leaders should also fight for Martinsville, Danville and other Southside stops along the TransDominion Express passenger rail project. There is plenty of leftover rail infrastructure throughout Southside, and easy passenger transportation would be indispensable to those who must commute out of town. After the jobs left Martinsville, many were forced to commute to Roanoke, Danville, or other cities to find work. A dependable train would eliminate gas and car repair costs for struggling families, as well as provide a greener alternative to constant commuting.

The list could go on and on. If I've forgotten anything terribly egregious, feel free to leave a comment :)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Obama unveils massive infrastructure investments

This is good news. In his weekly YouTube address, President-elect Obama (rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?) announced a massive infrastructure plan to stimulate the economy and create 2.5 million new jobs. 

Already I've heard talking heads on the right criticizing Obama's plan as big-government interventionism that won't produce "lasting wealth" or permanent employment. What they fail to notice is that modern infrastructure coupled with world-class education and a healthy workforce will pay enormous dividends well into the future; this is about laying the groundwork for something better as much as short-term stimulus. After all, that invisible hand won't allocate much on a crappy dirt road.

Start your engines

This is my first attempt at blogging, so here goes. The reason for me starting this page is that I was reading Blue Commonwealth and noticed there were no articles under the "Southside" heading, so I figured I could be of some assistance. I want to talk about state & (especially) local/regional politics, because Southside seems to be underrepresented in the VA blogosphere. 

There are a lot of region-specific issues that are just getting lost in the shuffle--skyrocketing unemployment, a decade-long recession and youth flight have devastated Southside in general and my hometown of Martinsville in particular. I think there are solutions to the problems we face, but good ideas have to be exchanged before they can be implemented. I hope this blog will accomplish that; hopefully I can lend a new perspective to the dialogue about state issues and help put our area on the radar in the progressive online community.