Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!


Soon this will have fireworks over it.

Have a safe and happy New Year's Eve. I'll see you in 2010.

Darth Cheney Opens His Mouth Again


Yet again, former VP Dick "Dark Side" Cheney has flapped his irrelevant gums regarding President Obama's foreign policy decisions. This time, he's politicizing Obama's response to the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day.

From Politico:
"As I’ve watched the events of the last few days it is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war. He seems to think if he has a low-key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if we bring the mastermind of Sept. 11 to New York, give him a lawyer and trial in civilian court, we won’t be at war.

Local Soldier Gets Capitol Flag that Flew in Her Honor

It's always good to see this kind of story, as it shows the kind of commitment our soldiers have to their jobs. Whatever your opinions about the wars we're fighting, I hope we can all agree that it's pretty incredible to have these kinds of people serving in our armed forces. From Monday's Martinsville Bulletin:

Army Maj. Sherri Sharpe was honored recently for defending the United States and protecting Americans’ freedoms, while helping the citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sharpe, who grew up in Martinsville, was given an American flag that flew in her honor over the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 2 at the request of 5th District U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello. “I’m overwhelmed. I’m honored,” Sharpe responded Wednesday, as her parents watched the ceremony at Perriello’s office uptown. Kimble Reynolds Jr., regional director for Perriello, read a letter from Perriello, who was unable to attend.

...
Sharpe will be redeployed to Iraq in October 2010, and it will be her fourth tour of duty in combat.

Sharpe will be redeployed to Iraq in October, and she called that part of her job. She has been in the United States since 2007, and during that time, some soldiers have had two tours of duty.

“It’s my time to go again,” she said. “I believe in what we do there,” Sharpe said, adding that she has seen positive results.

This will be her fourth tour of duty and her third to Iraq. She also did a tour in Afghanistan, she said.
Hats off to Maj. Sharpe, and 'attaboy Tom for recognizing her accomplishments. Here's a brief list provided in the article. Again, these are quite impressive:
•Serving as a platoon leader in Afghanistan, predominantly stationed at Bagram Air Field, in 2002. She remembers the first day little girls were allowed to go to school because it had been illegal under the Taliban, and she remembers American soldiers handing school supplies to boys and girls. According to Internet reports, many schools had been closed for years because of civil war and political unrest.

• Serving as a platoon leader in Iraq in 2003, moving several places while providing air support for the U.S.-led ground invasion of Iraq and finishing in Balad. She remembers flying “hero missions” in which KIAs (those killed in action) were flown to Kuwait so they could be transported back to the United States. She said it was a meaningful mission. “We were taking care of our own,” she said. She also remembers flying a man who had been exiled from Iraq for 18 years back to his homeland. He didn’t know whether his family was alive or dead but was grateful to be able to find out. And there were others like him, she said.

• Serving as company commander in Taji, Iraq, in 2006, in which she said her main responsibility was to bring all the soldiers in her command home alive. Everyone under her leadership did make it back alive in all three of her tours, she said. She led about 65 soldiers as a platoon leader in her first tour in Iraq, about 65 in her tour in Afghanistan and 83 as a company commander in her second tour in Iraq.

• Flying Chinook CH 47 helicopters, the largest the Army uses, for most of her career.

• Serving as an assistant professor of military science at Virginia Military Institute from December 2007 to December 2009.
When you raise your glass to the New Year tonight, give a nod to people like Maj. Sharpe. Here's hoping 2010 will be the year we get closer to peace.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Music Monday: "I and Love and You" by the Avett Brothers

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, and that you're not finding it too difficult to trudge back to work. I for one had an awesome Christmas, wherein I received an Audio-Technica USB turntable--that is, a record player that can be used to convert vinyls to Mp3 format. Yes, in 2009 there are still bands that release new albums on 12" LP format, and it's becoming a more common practice. As CDs continue their inexorable slide into irrelevance, vinyl sales have actually increased over the last few years.

Today's Music Monday comes from one of my new vinyls. With a special nod to two of my Brosville-area readers, here's the Avett Brothers with the title track from I and Love and You.



The Avett Brothers hail from North Carolina, and over the last several years they've built up quite a devoted following in the indie music scene. They merged punk, bluegrass and rock instrumentations to create a unique sound that raised plenty of eyebrows, and by all accounts they put on a pretty kickin' live show. The album mentioned above is their first major-label release, coming out on American Records. Check out I and Love and You, and also look into their previous album Emotionalism.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas from Congressman Perriello

Dear Friend,Tom in the Snow

I hope this holiday season finds you warm and safe. As you know, a ton of snow fell on us in the Fifth District this past week, and many of us are still digging ourselves out (this is me getting my truck free!). As cold and frustrating as all this snow can be, these are the times when Virginians show our spirit of giving.

This weekend I was helping a friend cut up some trees that were down across our road when four more neighbors showed up with chainsaws to pitch in and clear the road. On road after road, people were lending their plows, shovels, and backs to pull neighbors out of ditches and clear driveways. This was one of those moments when a community really comes together and shows the real meaning and beauty of this holiday season, even if it might mean a big January for chiropractors.

This season is a time to be with the ones we love and be thankful for everything that has blessed our lives. In addition to my wonderful family, I am truly thankful to have supporters like you. It is with your help and inspiration that I have been able to go to Washington and fight for Central and Southside Virginia and challenge politics as usual. I am so grateful for the opportunity and trust you have given me.

I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday.

Blessings,

Tom

That's What Christmas is All About, Charlie Brown



Whether you're a reader or detractor, Democrat or Republican, thanks for reading my blog. Merry Christmas from Max at 220 South.

Kevin, You're What the French Call "Les Incompetent"


Well it's Christmas Eve, so that means it's time to take a break from politics and blog about the greatest Christmas movies ever. In no particular order:

Home Alone: The first one, and maybe the second one too. Home Alone 3 was an abomination of cinema.

Christmas Vacation: "Eddy, if I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet I wouldn't be any more surprised than I am right now."

Charlie Brown Christmas: See a forthcoming post

A Christmas Carol (the one with George C. Scott, who is still the best Scrooge of all time)

UPDATE: How could I forget A Christmas Story? (The one with the Red Ryder BB Gun) A classic, of course.

Obama, Krugman Respond to Left on Senate Bill


NPR interviewed President Obama yesterday and asked him about anger from the left over the Senate's health care bill. From Political Junkie with Ken Rudin:
And so I actually think that, considering how difficult the process has been, this is an end product that I am very proud of and is greatly worthy of support. This notion, I know, among some on the left that somehow this bill is not everything that it should be, that we still need a single-payer plan, et cetera, et cetera, I think, just ignores the real human reality that this will help millions of people and end up being the most significant piece of domestic legislation at least since Medicare and maybe since Social Security.
And in his New York Times blog, Paul Krugman pointed out that it could have been much worse:

Howard Fineman, last summer:

When the history of President Barack Obama’s first year in office is written, scholars will try to answer this puzzling question:

How did a gifted, charismatic young Democrat — who won the White House by a large margin and brought in huge congressional majorities — manage NOT to enact fundamental health care reform, a goal his party has been seeking since Truman?

Yes, I know, someone is going to tell me that this isn’t fundamental — but the truth is that the bill the Senate is about to pass looks a lot like the Obama campaign plan, so something real has happened. Give credit to Obama, or Harry Reid, or whoever; the fact is that four months ago the usual suspects were gleefully writing the obituary for reform, and have been sorely disappointed.

I have to say he has a good point. I still have big problems with the fact that the public option ended up being dropped and I think the Senate bill is deeply flawed. We should work hard to make sure the bill that comes out of conference committee looks better, and in a way that can actually pass through the sausage factory again. But I remember those miserable August days all too well--it looked as if Jim DeMint and the Republicans really were going to succeed in turning health care reform into "Obama's Waterloo."

Earlier this week I wrote that it might be a good idea to kill the bill and start over. It's now clear to me that not only is it flat out not going to happen, it would be a terrible idea--to start over now wouldn't mean starting over, it would mean giving up. I say that because the political will would be exhausted and the media would immediately set an "Obama failed" narrative that would be very difficult to overcome. Even if we could start over, it would add months to the process and stick a big fat do-nothing label on the current administration and congress, in an economy that is likely to generate anti-incumbent feelings anyway. On top of all that, we could still end up with a bad bill.

So let the bill pass. It's not perfect, but neither was the first Civil Rights Act--and barely a year later, activists forced Washington to pass something that actually had teeth. We can learn a lesson from that great legislative victory. Progressives should keep fighting for a single-payer system that would guarantee basic coverage to all Americans, regardless of ability to pay. But for now, we've pulled off something pretty impressive.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Just in Time for Christmas: The iGod Revolution?

I found this really interesting, especially given that we've entered the last Christmas season of the 2000s. Technology is moving at breakneck speed, and sometimes it's pretty cool to just look around and think about what that means for our daily lives.

Back at the beginning of this decade, Apple introduced the iPod portable mp3 player. Since then, that little gadget has revolutionized pretty much every aspect of the music industry, from major labels on down to independent local artists. On top of that, the iPod has a tendency to make its way into every facet of its users lives--I know that's true for me. Then Web 2.0 came along, and suddenly we had blogs, podcasts, Facebook and RSS feeds; the new web tools merged perfectly with the portable phones and music players we all started carrying around--think about the way you get your news, listen to music, keep up with sports, conduct business or keep in touch with friends. Now think about how you would have done those things fifteen years ago.

So it should be little surprise that the last decade's advances in personal entertainment would eventually have their effect on religion as well. NPR reports:

It's another Sunday morning at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in Southern California. But some congregants are holding more than just the printed page, thanks to their iPhones. That's because they have access to the entire Bible on the device.

Technology is producing a new form of religious interaction. There are over two dozen Bible apps for smart phones. And beyond Scripture, people are using gadgets for devotional purposes.

...

"We believe that technology can bring people closer together and closer to God," says Bobby Gruenewald, a pastor at Lifechurch.tv. The Web site brings worship services to approximately 60,000 computer screens each week. Gruenewald tries to allay fears of social and religious isolation by pointing to earlier concerns about telephones and VCRs.

"When they were invented, people made these bold predictions that people are no longer going to need to meet with each other," Gruenewald says. "But we have this history now to look back and say that humans are actually pretty capable of integrating technology into their lives." (My emphasis)

On top of that, podcasting seems to be a growing practice among churches, especially in the Emerging/Emergent Church (see emergingchurch.info, emergentvillage.com or Homebrewed Christianity for more info). For those of you unfamiliar with podcasting, it's basically like downloading a radio show (or in this case a worship service) to your iPod so that you can listen at your leisure. There are podcasts for just about everything you can imagine. I have some personal experience with this--never one to wake up too early, podcasting was pretty much the only way I could get to church in college!


Register-Bee Demolishes Danville Tea Party

The Danville Register & Bee had some pretty harsh words for Danville Tea Party leader Nigel Coleman. Apparently for all his group's pronouncements against taxes and government spending, one of Mr. Coleman's projects is receiving hefty taxpayer support--without a City Council vote.

For some context, the Danville Tea Party apparently paid for a plane to fly over rush-hour traffic last week with a banner reading "OBAMA STOP DESTROYING OUR COUNTRY" in tow. Quoth the Bee:

Perhaps the Danville Tea Party’s next meeting should be buzzed by an airplane towing a banner that reads — in five-foot-tall letters, of course — “FISCAL CONSERVATIVISM BEGINS AT HOME!”

In case members of the Danville Tea Party missed it, retired City Manager Jerry Gwaltney gave the Coleman MarketPlace project an extra $465,000 without Danville City Council voting on it. They should know about that, because two members of City Council — Wayne Oakes and Fred Shanks — have been spotted at local Tea Party events.

But for now, the only member of Danville City Council who seems willing to raise a stink about it is Adam Tomer, a Democrat.

So, the question we have to ask the high-flying members of the Danville Tea Party is why a Democrat is leading the charge for fiscal accountability on Danville City Council — and whether their group is even concerned with how taxpayer money is spent outside the Beltway.

Based on their latest stunt — and the group’s silence on the Coleman MarketPlace appropriation — it appears they have no interest in an issue so close to home. That’s too bad, because it’s all taxpayer money. (Bolding added by me for emphasis)

Yowzers, that's harsh! There seems to be a lot of this going around in the Tea Party movement--how many "Keep The Government Out of Medicare" signs did you see at town halls last summer? And let's not forget Rep. Kevin Brady's angry letter complaining that the DC Metro didn't adequately prepare for the Tea Party's anti-government protests back in September.

This is why "lower spending" and "small government" are brilliant as campaign slogans, but useless as policy. They're utterly meaningless and universally meaningful at the same time--everyone wants to cut everything except the program that benefits them, and it looks like the Tea Party is no exception. I guess it's true what they say: Where you stand depends on where you sit.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Palin Gets Politifact's "Biggest Lie of the Year"


Politifact.com is out today with its list of the Biggest Lies of 2009, and our favorite hockey mom sits right at the top. From the article:

Of all the falsehoods and distortions in the political discourse this year, one stood out from the rest.

"Death panels."

The claim set political debate afire when it was made in August, raising issues from the role of government in health care to the bounds of acceptable political discussion. In a nod to the way technology has transformed politics, the statement wasn't made in an interview or a television ad. Sarah Palin posted it on her Facebook page.

Ah, yes, the Facebook declaration. What's really amusing about her lie is that she not only repeated it numerous times, but actually managed to get her party's top dogs to chant it like a mantra throughout the summer. To be fair, President Obama and several other Democratic politicians made their way onto the list as well for broken promises or half-truths. But I think it's hard to argue that any lie was as blatant, cynical and underhanded as to tell the people who need health care reform the most that their government wants to kill them. If this is the great new hope of the Republican Party's renewal, then they're in big trouble.

Music Monday: "Put the Lights on the Tree" by Sufjan Stevens

Today's Music Monday will take a Christmasy twist. I posted this one last year, and I'm going to do so again. I can't say enough about the multi-talented Sufjan Stevens, so I'll just post the video and let you enjoy it:



This song is from the album Songs for Christmas. The five-disc compilation actually started as a series of Christmas presents to friends and family. Each year from 2001-2006 (except 2004 for some reason), Sufjan and company sequestered themselves wherever they could and self-recorded a Christmas EP. They performed holiday-themed originals as well as renditions of old classics, all with Sufjan's quirky-but-brilliant instrumentation. They then mailed out the results as Christmas cards. Fortunately, some ne'er-do-well leaked the results and the ensuing web phenomenon prompted a commercial release of the whole set. Here's a link to the buying emporium known as Asthmatic Kitty Records. It's well worth purchasing the physical product rather than buying on iTunes--you'll get some awesome stickers, a songbook and a swell comic book illustrating the story of Sister Winter! Standouts on this record are too numerous to mention, but a handful are "Sister Winter," "Christmas in July," "I Saw Three Ships," and "That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!"

Sufjan Stevens is also known for his ambitious quest to record a concept album for every state in the Union. So far he's gotten through Michigan and Illinois (or as he calls it, Come on! Feel the Illinoise!--critically acclaimed and often called the best album of 2005). I really believe this guy is one of the most talented and innovative musicians around today, and I highly recommend you check out his work.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tom Perriello: "An Outbreak of Courage on Capitol Hill"


Rep. Perriello is getting big props yet again for his courageous stands in Congress. Adam Clymer of The Daily Beast had this to say:
It is hard to think of this Congress, as it deals with the most important domestic legislation since the 1960s, as remotely related to the Congresses of that decade, when Republicans gave Lyndon Johnson the margin of victory on civil rights despite arguments they were surrendering a chance to embarrass him....

But every now and then, there are exceptions. Consider Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello, a 35-year-old freshman from Virginia, an upset victor in 2008 in a conservative, basically Republican district. ...Stuart Rothenberg, who writes the authoritative Rothenberg Report newsletter on election prospects, said Perriello was in “deep, deep trouble,” holding one of the 12 most vulnerable House seats.”

Yet Perriello voted for the climate bill. Then, after an August of 21 town meetings, typically lasting five hours with four different tea party groups weighing in, he voted for the health-care bill. Rothenberg wrote that he “seems more interested in doing what he thinks is right than getting reelected.”

Rothenberg may be right. At a town meeting in Buckingham in August, one listener told him that if Perriello voted for the health-care bill, he would personally work to ensure Perriello’s defeat next year. The congressman replied, “That is absolutely part of the democratic process and I encourage that. If the worst thing that happens to me is that I get to be part of the House for two years and part of the greatest democracy ever invented—I can live with that.”

...

He refers to intense town-hall meetings as “very exciting, a positive thing in a democracy.” He voted for the health-care bill, after supporting the Stupak antiabortion amendment, as a “moral necessity” to help Virginians. But, in an interview, he said he took as much satisfaction from a White House event where a community health center in his district got a $5 million grant.

Of 13 Democratic freshmen in districts won by McCain, Perriello was the only one to vote for both bills. Perriello acknowledges those votes could make him a one-termer. “If you want to stay here too much,” he says, “then you never get done what you came here to do.”

After watching the Senate butcher the health reform legislation, it's refreshing to see that there are still people in Congress who will do the right thing--whether they think it will get them re-elected or not.

And for what it's worth, I think the folks who make doom-and-gloom pronouncements about Tom's fate in 2010 are seriously mistaken. Virgil Goode learned a profound lesson last year: underestimate Tom Perriello at your own peril. We're talking about a guy who faced down warlords in Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. I don't think he's all that scared of the Republicans.

Christmas At the White House

I found a cool video of Christmas decorations in the White House on Vimeo.com. It's really neat to see it all decked out, and there's something special about the aura of national pride and classiness that the White House exudes. Enjoy:

Christmas at the White House 2009 from White House on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Chuck Norris Kicks Logic in the Face

I have to be honest. I'm a little apprehensive about calling out Chuck Norris on my blog. I can't see Chuck, and legend states that I may therefore be mere seconds from swift and terrible retribution.

However, I feel that I cannot pass up this little gem. Mr. Norris has politicized even the birth of Jesus by suggesting that He would have been aborted under the affectionately-known Obamacare. From Townhall.com:
Lastly, as we near the eve of another Christmas, I wonder: What would have happened if Mother Mary had been covered by Obamacare? What if that young, poor and uninsured teenage woman had been provided the federal funds (via Obamacare) and facilities (via Planned Parenthood, etc.) to avoid the ridicule, ostracizing, persecution and possible stoning because of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy? Imagine all the great souls who could have been erased from history and the influence of mankind if their parents had been as progressive as Washington's wise men and women! Will Obamacare morph into Herodcare for the unborn?
Good point, Chuck, and with unassailable logic. But as we near the eve of another Christmas, I wonder: what would Jesus have to say about the fact that we're taking money away from poor people in order to prop up multimillionaire bank barons? Or the fact that your ability to see a doctor depends on your access to money, or that we've so secularized Christmas that it's nothing more than a buying spree? What about the richest nation in human history allowing poverty, homelessness and hunger to persist while we build bombers and tanks?

I can read the Bible too, Chuck. And I think Jesus is a lot more concerned about our pharisees, our money-changers, and our outcasts than anyone on your side of the ideological spectrum seems to be. Abortion is a moral issue, and I have my own issues with it. But the fact that Chuck Norris and his ilk are exploiting faith to scare and provoke people into supporting a status-quo political ideology is reprehensible.

(H/T Drew, formerly of Dem Bones. Thanks for the link.)

UPDATE: Tripp Fuller has an excellent post on this topic over at Homebrewed Christianity.

Howard Dean: Kill the Bill

Howard Dean has come out in favor of scuttling the Senate's current health care "reform" bill unless it's given back its teeth--i.e. a public option and protections for consumers.
Any measure that expands private insurers' monopoly over health care and transfers millions of taxpayer dollars to private corporations is not real health-care reform. Real reform would insert competition into insurance markets, force insurers to cut unnecessary administrative expenses and spend health-care dollars caring for people. Real reform would significantly lower costs, improve the delivery of health care and give all Americans a meaningful choice of coverage. The current Senate bill accomplishes none of these.
...

Instead, it fines Americans if they do not sign up with an insurance company, which may take up to 30 percent of your premium dollars and spend it on CEO salaries -- in the range of $20 million a year -- and on return on equity for the company's shareholders. Few Americans will see any benefit until 2014, by which time premiums are likely to have doubled. In short, the winners in this bill are insurance companies; the American taxpayer is about to be fleeced with a bailout in a situation that dwarfs even what happened at AIG. (My emphasis)
He's right.

Almost immediately after the health care fight began, cowardly Congress-critters started selling out the core principles of reform and President Obama sat on the sidelines as his campaign promise was picked apart and betrayed. Apparently the "no-public-option" scare from earlier in the summer was simply a harbinger of things to come. After a months-long circular debate, the Senate bill is now nearly worthless. Without a robust public option, a national mandate is nothing more than corporate socialism.

It's time to either restore the bill to its former glory or start over completely. And here's a tip for President Obama and the Senate Dems: this time instead of coddling the very people who are profiting from the unmitigated national disgrace that is our health care system, stand up for the people. It's time for single-payer Medicare for all. Maybe once they water that down and compromise it away, we'll end up with something approaching the original version of this bill.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tom On Olbermann

So Tom and the Fifth District Teapots (which would be an excellent name for a band) got a mention on Monday night's edition of Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Keith was doing his "World's Worst" segment toward the end of the show and highlighted an amusing complaint from Charlottesville-area malcontents. John W. Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute recently sent Rep. Perriello a letter complaining that his Charlottesville office is in the wrong place and should be moved (presumably at taxpayer expense) to a place where it's easier to protest. Yes, really.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Va-05: GOP "Civil War"

There was a potentially explosive development over the weekend in the race to unseat Congressman Perriello. The Fifth District Republican Committee, under the noble and erudite leadership of Tucker Watkins, has decreed that the GOP will hold a primary on June 8th to choose its 2010 standard-bearer. Many of the party activists (and several of the candidates themselves) had supported a convention instead, thereby ensuring broader party support for the eventual nominee. This decision immediately prompted a conservablog meltdown, and has cast doubt on the legitimacy of the whole process. The link above leads to the conservative blog Virginia's Fifth District, and includes several interesting quotes:

If you want to talk about heavy handed actions, what about Watkins refusing to allow filming of the meeting, only after Hurt’s man LaCivita speaks with Tucker after a person starts setting up his camera. and then later throwing out one of the other candidates campaign manager for filming. What did Tucker have to hide?

...

It is obvious to anybody that Watkins is a spin artist of the first magnitude. Watkins could be the Joseph Goebbels of the 5th district. (My emphasis)

Wow...harsh. Nazi comparisons being turned against their own leaders? The times they are a-changin'. Having said that, throwing out cameramen does sound like something Tucker would do.

Laurence Verga was the first candidate to release a statement. He seems to be trying to position himself as one of the frontrunners among the Tea Party activists. Thus saith the Vergmeister:

“A primary will place an unnecessary burden upon localities, costing them thousands of dollars at a time when their budgets are already overly stretched.

“Based upon the current shape of the field, the primary will likely be won by a candidate with less than 20% of the vote, with Democratic voters potentially deciding the race.

Today only strengthens my resolve to run a vigorous grassroots campaign against the establishment and their preferred candidate, so that I may be able to fight for the conservative principles and values of the citizens of the 5th District in Washington.”

Wow, I actually agree with Laurence Verga about something. He raises a very good point: I doubt many localities budgeted for a June primary when they were trying to figure out how to pay their teachers. Moreover, any GOP nominee is almost certainly doomed to squeaking out a measly plurality and walking into the general election at a huge disadvantage.

I always knew the Fifth District GOP was lacking in some common sense. But they alienate their base at their own peril--Tucker and company are playing with fire.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Roanoke Schoolchildren: 200 Homeless and Rising

WDBJ 7 had a truly sad story last week. The number of homeless students in the city of Roanoke is now up to about 200, and is expected to reach 400 by the end of the year.

In the last three months, close to 200 students in Roanoke City have been classified as homeless. It's up 34 percent since last November.

...

"It's a struggle, a lot of families report [say] I didn't want to be here [in the shelter], this is embarrassing," says Horn who often talks with the parents facing financial difficulties.

It's a sign of the times in which we're living. I worry that too many folks in our government still don't understand how bad things really are getting out in the real world. Imagine if even a fraction of the Wall Street bailout money had gone toward addressing this problem--there is no excuse for a nation that remains as wealthy as ours to allow kids to go homeless. After all, it's pretty hard to pull yourself up by the bootstraps when you can't even afford them to begin with.

Please keep stories like this in mind and try to give whatever you can to local homeless shelters and charities.

Music Tuesday: "Whose Authority" by Nada Surf

Wow, long time no blog. I blame the hectic Christmas schedule, along with Comcast's questionable internet connectivity. Anyway here's Music Monday, but on a Tuesday this time.

Here's Nada Surf's video for "Whose Authority," from their most recent album Lucky:



If the cyclist looks familiar, that's because it's actor Michael Maronna, who portrayed the elder Pete in Nickelodeon's Pete & Pete. He was also in an E*Trade commercial several years ago. At about the time Pete & Pete was coming to a close, Nada Surf released the Ric Ocasek-produced High/Low, containing their big hit "Popular." Following the Great Music Purge of 1998, wherein the NSync/Limp Bizkit military junta seized airwaves across the country, Nada Surf began a productive career on Barsuk Records. In addition to Lucky, I recommend their albums Let Go and The Weight is a Gift. They also put on a great show--I saw them at Charlottesville's now-defunct Starr Hill music hall in 2006.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Vol Goes Fishing; Hilarity Ensues

A friend sent me this video, saying it was hilarious. I can't possibly disagree. It depicts a fishing show host and his many mishaps during filming. Adding to the hilarity, he's wearing a Tennessee Volunteers hat. You just can't go wrong.

Roanoke Times: Car Tax Renewal a Non-Starter

As an update to the story below, the Roanoke Times editorialized that Governor Kaine should be careful about building a renewed car tax into his biennial budget. They raise a good point, echoing McDonnell's anti-tax vows. Saith the Times:

Virginia's car tax rebate is a poorly conceived, inefficient, enormously expensive form of local tax relief that the state never should have taken on and no longer can afford. Yet getting rid of it is a political nonstarter.

That has been the conventional wisdom since Republican Jim Gilmore rode a "No Car Tax" bumper sticker into office in his 1997 gubernatorial campaign. The next year, he signed into law a convoluted taxpayer reimbusement program that was to start Virginians down a path toward a total phase-out. The effort stalled when the promised bite out of state revenues grew voraciously; lawmakers capped the damage to the state treasury at $950 million a year.

...

Still, we hope the departing governor will not leave the state with a budget dependent on eliminating this huge obligation -- only to have it restored immediately by lawmakers and a newly installed Gov. Bob McDonnell at the cost of cuts of their choosing.

Sigh. The last line of the editorial picks up a bit on the issue discussed below:

At some point, local governments know, spending cuts become as painful as tax increases to people in their communities.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

McDonnell Prepares to Gilmore the Budget

If you liked Jim Gilmore, you'll love Bob McDonnell.

A little over a month after cruising to victory against Sen. Creigh Deeds in the gubernatorial election, Governor-Elect McDonnell has announced how he plans to "balance" the budget: cut even more spending without raising a dime of additional revenue. From the Roanoke Times:

RICHMOND -- Governor-elect Bob McDonnell and a key legislative ally warned Tuesday that they will nix any efforts by outgoing Gov. Tim Kaine to increase taxes to balance Virginia's budget, and will rely on spending cuts to close a shortfall of as much as $3.5 billion.

"He [Kaine] and I have met and I've asked him, and I think others have as well, to balance the budget through a full range of spending cuts," McDonnell said during an appearance before state newspaper reporters and editors at the annual Associated Press Day at the Capitol.

I suppose Mr. McDonnell hasn't been reading the news over the past year or so. Otherwise he would realize that Governor Kaine has already cut billions from the budget--affecting pretty much every crucial state service, including education and law enforcement. Locally, both school systems have cut budgets and jobs, and the New College Institute and Virginia Museum of Natural History have taken big hits. I'm not exactly sure what else Bob thinks we can cut.

The most logical thing to do would be to find extra money somewhere. Maybe by re-instating parts of the car tax?

Kaine also is considering cutting the amount of money it sends to counties, cities and towns to provide car-tax relief, an idea that a senior Republican legislator dismissed Tuesday.

"I do not see it going anywhere, and that's why I think it's counterproductive to put it in the budget," said Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, during a panel discussion on the budget.

Lawmakers voted in 2004 to cap spending for the program at $950 million annually. McDonnell said Tuesday that he would consider any move to reduce those payments to be a tax increase.

Well, there you have it. McDonnell and the Virginia GOP have now restored their golden calf--the car tax rebate is off-limits! I suppose restoring the estate tax is off the table too.

My biggest worry is how this will affect our public schools and universities. I think Martinsville's best hope for recovery and renewal is embodied in the New College Institute, which has the potential to become a four-year university in the heart of the city. There currently does not exist such a public university in this area of the state, and it would provide a dramatic boost to the local economy--not only by creating a huge new market and bringing in a younger demographic, but by generating a knowledge economy in the Southside. As I mentioned above, they've already had to take cuts. I worry about the effect of the Republicans' starve-the-beast mentality on our most-needed public services. I guess if you destroy the state, then the market takes over, ushering in a Libertarian utopia....or something.

I've said it before on this blog and it bears repeating now. I don't like taxes either. No one does. But somehow or other we have to pay our teachers, cops and road workers. Somehow we have to build roads and bridges, otherwise there will be no way for the economy to function. We all benefit from those public services, and it's only fair to expect everyone to pay based on their ability to do so. But I guess that's not how things are going to work for the next four years.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mountaintop Removal Awareness is Gaining Steam

Imagine my surprise (and satisfaction) when I fired up the Google reader and found the same headline multiple times, from multiple news sources--including Fox News. Mountaintop removal coal mining is finally beginning to make its way into the public consciousness, and the AP has picked up the story. The article acknowledges that MTR is still far from becoming the new "offshore drilling." But the key is that environmental activists have made a great deal of progress:

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- Environmental activists gained more momentum this year than in the past decade against the destructive, uniquely Appalachian form of strip mining known as mountaintop removal, though they have yet to mobilize the millions of supporters they want.

The activists have harnessed the power of the Web, social networking and satellite phones. They've chained themselves to heavy equipment, blocked haul roads and climbed trees to stop blasting. They've marched for miles, hung banners and been arrested.

They've even enlisted support from celebrities like actress Darryl Hannah, country singer Kathy Mattea and attorney Robert Kennedy Jr., who is expected to attend a rally Monday at the state Department of Environmental Protection in Charleston.

Pay attention class; THIS is how you build a movement.

Perhaps the most telling anecdote about how much impact the movement has had can be seen in Big Coal's counter-efforts:

The industry fights back by equating support for coal with patriotism, and by portraying opposition to mountaintop removal as opposition to gainful employment.

Virginia-based Massey Energy organized a ''Friends of America'' rally on Labor Day. A ''Faces of Coal'' ad campaign focuses on people whose jobs the industry says are at risk. TV ads tout the ways the industry benefits communities.

''Although the industry has always had challenges,'' Hamilton says, ''I'm not sure they've been quite as dramatic or as threatening as they are today.'' (My emphasis)

That's peachy, isn't it? Poor coal, getting picked on by those mean ol' tree-huggin' pinko commies. Too bad one of the anti-MTR activists quoted in the piece is an ex-Marine living in the shadow of a mining site. In the quote above you see the most egregious of the Rovian tactics adopted by anti-change special interests: if anyone disagrees with you, they hate America. This is exactly how the insurance industry has managed to turn well-meaning Teabaggers against their own economic interests in the health care debate. It's an incredibly cynical line of attack, and it also betrays the hypocrisy of their free-market rhetoric--apparently politicians should never intervene in the free market, unless it's to protect existing industries and wealthy campaign contributors.

And what about that Marine who is now fighting mountaintop removal? He had the most insightful quote of all:

''It's not part of the national conversation yet, but it definitely needs to be because it's an indication of what's wrong with our country -- corporate greed,'' says ex-Marine Bo Webb, whose Naoma home sits below a mountaintop mine and within 10 miles of three coal-waste dams.

Well said. Corporate greed is what wrecked our economy, first by shipping manufacturing jobs overseas and freezing middle-class wages, then by obliterating the stock market and demanding taxpayer bailouts.

I'm always fascinated to think about how "mainstream" political issues get that way. This will certainly be an interesting movement to watch as it gains momentum, and I'll personally do whatever I can to help. Please visit ILoveMountains.org for more info on how to get involved and take action. Let's save our mountains.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Infamy

It's a week of anniversaries, apparently. Sixty-eight years ago today, Japanese forces bombed the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, bringing us into the global conflagration of World War II. I can't imagine what it must have felt like, only that it probably resembled our feelings on 9/11.

The early 1940s were a unique time, when I think our nationhood and territorial integrity truly were at stake. Take a moment some time today or over the next few days to think about what it must have been like to live in those times. Then make a conscious effort to exercise one of your freedoms, and really think about it while you do. Too often we take our freedoms for granted, and we shouldn't forget how close we came to losing them.

New River Second Dirtiest in the Country

I had intended to blog about this last week, but life caught up with me. WDBJ in Roanoke ran a disturbing story about how the New River is apparently the second dirtiest waterway in the country. According to an Environment America study, the chief culprit is the Army ammunition plant in Radford, which is blamed for 13.6 million pounds of pollution entering the river in one year. Not to place all the blame on the ammunition plant, George Santucci of the National Committee on the New River says there are other large polluters along the river as well.

What's really scary about this is how many people use the New River for recreational purposes, either fishing or watersports. Moreover, how much of that pollution makes its way into other waterways, including our fisheries?

As a side note, it's truly depressing to read the comments on this story at the link above.

Double Music Monday: Remembering John and George

Normally I'm hesitant to use a Beatles song for a Music Monday, simply because I wouldn't know where to start. The Beatles were and are the greatest rock band of all time. Period. Trying to sift through all their work and find one song to highlight is an almost impossible task. But I've decided to make an exception for this week, given its historical significance.

Twenty-nine years ago tomorrow, John Lennon was shot dead outside his apartment in New York City. I wasn't around for that, but I've heard plenty of folks talk about where they were or how they found out. What I do remember is December 1, 2001, when George Harrison passed away after a long struggle with lung cancer. Two talented lives that changed music history were sadly cut short.

For that reason, I've picked out two of my favorite Beatles songs featuring John and George. The first is the video of "Rain," prominently featuring John's laid-back, psychedelic vocal delivery.



There's not much in the way of a Beatles video for the second song, but I found a stellar George performance from the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh. Arguably the best song on the White Album, here's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."



And there you have it. I agonized over this decision, mind you.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tom is a Rock Star at DPVA

A pair of videos began making their way around the blogs yesterday after the DPVA dinner in Staunton. In the films, Rep. Perriello is standing up in no uncertain terms for the middle class. Tom's speech, in two parts:



And part 2:



My favorite quote:
"It's not enough just to get the stock market up above 10,000 again, we've got to get those unemployment numbers down, we've got to take the bailout money that's coming back and reinvest it in a real jobs agenda."
The media betrays its cluelessness every time they refer to an uptick in the stock market as a sign of recovery. The fact is, the poor and middle class were struggling mightily long before reality caught up to Wall Street. There are plenty in Washington who haven't made that connection, but it's an enormous relief to know that Perriello gets it. Not only does he get it, but folks are starting to take notice, and I think it can only help him next year.

H/T: Left of the Hill, Blue Virginia

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tultex: Ten Years Later

Ten years ago today, I was an eighth grade kid being picked up after school. I walked out to my mom's car and got in. I'll never forget what came next. "Well, it's official," she said as we pulled onto Starling Avenue. "They told me today that I've been terminated." Terminated. They actually used that word.

And with that, globalization came home for me in a very real way. I didn't quite understand it yet, but my family had just walked into a much different world. And for my hometown of Martinsville, it was only going to get worse.

On that day, the former textile giant Tultex filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, putting more than 1,100 people out of work. Literally overnight, Martinsville's unemployment rate shot to nineteen percent. By the time the company finally closed down several months later, 3,300 former employees had lost their jobs.

No job, no severance, no health care. Just in time for Christmas.

My family didn't end up losing our house, and my mom found another job in Danville a few months later. But to this day, my parents still struggle as a result of what happened at Tultex. After working at Tultex for twenty years, my mom never received her severance package, nor did any of the other employees who lost their jobs in 1999-2000.

Today the Martinsville Bulletin began a series of retrospectives on the fall of Tultex and the absolute devastation it wrought on our community. Today's article reminded me of the most reprehensible part of the whole saga: the reaction of then-Governor Jim Gilmore, who not only did nothing, but actually went out of his way to betray the unemployed.
“One of the biggest letdowns was the sense of disbelief at how the General Assembly and the governor turned their backs on us,” said Paula Burnette, Iriswood District member of the Henry County Board of Supervisors now and a decade ago.

Former governor Jim Gilmore was in office when the company closed in 2000 following the layoff of 1,130 people on Dec. 2, 1999. When he learned of the economic devastation in Henry County because of the closing, Gilmore said he was unable to help because “‘If I do it for one group, I’ll have to do it for others,’ or something like that,” Burnette said.

Gilmore “never even came to visit or see the people. He never bothered to look them in the eye and at least say, ‘I’m sorry for what you’re going through.’ That utter lack of compassion for a fellow human being was beyond belief,” she said. (My emphasis)
The General Assembly, especially with the leadership of Delegates Ward Armstrong and Brian Moran, tried to pass an extension of unemployment benefits for the laid off workers. Gilmore vetoed it. Last year, I talked to a staunch Republican acquaintance of mine about Gilmore's Martinsville appearance early in his senate campaign. His exact words were, "I can't believe that man even has the nerve to show his face in this town." But hey, at least the unemployed didn't have to pay the car tax.

Among the indignities the Tultex closing inflicted was the way the company treated its departing workers. As mentioned above, severance and other benefits were out of the question. But this quote from today's article highlights an especially disgraceful aspect of the closing:
Ideally, the closing “would have been handled in a different manner,” Vaughn said. As it was, employees were told to leave and not take anything with them.

Later, when the Tultex building was for sale, Vaughn recalled the company he worked for considered buying the facility. Vaughn was among those who walked through.

“I always kept photos of my wife and kids on my desk to kind of remind me why I was working,” Vaughn said. Apparently, many Tultex employees did the same thing.

The one thing I remember from when I walked through the building was all those personal items I saw around work stations and on desks,” Vaughn said. “It was kind of like walking through a battlefield or a ghost town.” (My emphasis)
Not only that, but the employees who were allowed to clear their desks were watched intently by company personnel. I guess the higher ups didn't want anybody getting out with an extra stapler.

To this day, Martinsville has not recovered. Instead, even more jobs have left due largely to outsourcing and other problems. There are signs of hope and undercurrents of change; the focus of the article was how Martinsville-Henry County as a community came together to help each other during the aftermath. I remember that clearly, and that same spirit is helping us redefine ourselves now. Renewal will happen, but there's no denying that we took a big hit and there's still a long way to go.

In future posts, I will go into greater detail about what caused the collapse and how we can address those issues. In the meantime, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Afghanistan

The speech that everyone, from MSM to blogs, is talking about tonight:



Overall, I liked the speech. I think President Obama did a very good job of explaining why we're there to begin with and why it's worth staying a bit longer. I still remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard that the Twin Towers had been hit; I remember the fear (as well as the unity) that followed the attacks, and the overwhelming sense that my generation had just walked into its defining conflict. Let there be absolutely no doubt that the threat of terrorism is very real. I don't pretend to have all the answers for what needs to happen, but from what I've seen and read recently, it seems to me that we just flat out haven't taken Afghanistan as seriously as we should have. I think invading Iraq will be remembered as the biggest foreign policy blunder of the early 21st Century, because that's where most of our resources and energy have been directed over the last eight years. We never should have allowed ourselves to be distracted by a threat that could have been contained.

So basically I see this surge as the US finally doing what we should have in 2001. For the sake of our own security as well as that of Afghans, I think President Obama is making the best call, and for that matter the only call he can make. Leaving now would be repeating the mistake we made after the Soviets left: allowing a state to fail after flooding that state with guns and trained insurgents. After eight years, hopefully we're getting back on track.

I will, however, admit that I'm nervous--I'm skeptical that we can secure the Graveyard of Empires by 2011. I worry that Americans and our allies may not have the stomach for the kind of stay that might actually be required. Building states is not a quick or easy task, and Americans have understandably lost a lot of interest in fighting this war. I also wonder if this is the right number of troops; the last thing we need is more of the "Rumsfeld Doctrine" nonsense that sent US troops into Iraq with inadequate strength; I hope that line of thinking is long gone and the commanders truly believe this is the necessary number of troops.

Ultimately, though, we have to remember that both Iraq and Afghanistan are wars the president inherited. He had a series of less than desirable options to choose from and he would have been heavily criticized regardless of the strategy he picked. President Obama had no choice but to respond in the way he thinks is best for our troops and best for America. Give our soldiers a mission and let them have what they need to accomplish it, then get out. While he was "dithering," it seems that Mr. Obama was considering his options, talking to his generals and agonizing over what decision to make. That's the leadership we should have had in the runup to the war in Iraq. I trust and hope that he made the right call; only time will tell.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Music Monday: "Crooked Legs" by The Acorn

No, The Acorn is not in any way related to nefarious videos which may have surfaced. They're a band from Canada, and this is the video for "Crooked Legs," from their 2007 album Glory Hope Mountain:



Glory Hope Mountain is a concept album about the lead singer's mother and her journey from Honduras to Canada. The album name is a rough translation of her Spanish name, Gloria Esperanza Montoya. In this song, she's apparently escaping from an abusive father and violent family background under cover of darkness. It's a very compelling and complex album, and one I highly recommend. It's easy to make a concept album sound cheesy, but to be such a young band (this is their first full-length LP), The Acorn pulls this one off quite expertly. "Hold Your Breath" and "Antenna" are also standouts on this record.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

FAIL: U.Va. Fires Groh

Come on. Did anyone even doubt this at all? The answer is no. And yes, this does merit its own post, apart from the "quick hitters" listed below.

As an alum, there is an element of sadness about it. I don't think there's any doubt that Groh bleeds blue and orange, and I hate to see a fellow Hoo get so drastically owned. But everyone had high expectations and he consistently failed to meet them. It sucks, but it was time. Plus, the 42-13 score against Tech yesterday and 1-8 record against them overall makes this a no-brainer, and a call that should have been made sooner. The $4.3 million contract buyout removes any sympathy I might have for him.

Thanks for trying, Al. Now go coach defense in the NFL.

Happy Belated Thanksgiving; Happy Advent

Busy busy week, with family and turkey and what not. I hope you've all had an excellent Thanksgiving holiday. Between the copious quantities of turkey and stuffing I ate and my disgraceful performance in at least two pickup football games (from which I'm still recovering), I lost every shred of dignity over the last several days. Nice.

But seriously, I had a great Thanksgiving and I hope you did too. Today is also the first Sunday of Advent, the preparation for Christmas. Huzzah!

Here are a few quick hits that I found interesting over the last few days, but didn't have time to write about:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Perriello Props: Tom Co-Sponsors Anti-Hunger Legislation

This past Sunday, local churches and poverty activists held the STOP Hunger march in Uptown Martinsville. As part of the weekend's events, president of the Bread for the World Institute Rev. David Beckmann spoke to the Morning Star Holy Church on Sunday morning. Here's a bit of what he had to say. From the Martinsville Bulletin:
“For Christians who care, because God does, it is not enough to support a local food bank, as important as that is. We have to let Congress know we care about” hunger on a larger scale, Beckmann said.

Fifth District U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello, D-Albemarle County, is a co-sponsor of foreign aid reform legislation to relieve hunger and poverty, but neither of Virginia’s senators, Jim Webb and Mark Warner, are co-sponsors, Beckmann said.

...

According to the Bread For the World Web site, the “Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act of 2009” would strengthen the capacity, transparency and accountability of United States’ foreign assistance programs to adapt and respond to challenges of the 21st century. It includes a statement on the reduction of poverty and hunger as U.S. policy.
The article continues to point out that Rev. Beckmann and Rep. Perriello were to appear together at Bethel United Way of the Cross in Danville.

Many Americans, including myself, are taking a big hit as a result of the Great Recession. But as tough as things are, we cannot allow ourselves to forget how the economy is impacting the "least of these" all over the world. Not only is hunger spreading throughout our communities here at home, but nearly half the world's population lives on less than $2 per day. That was true long before anyone had even heard of derivatives.

The issue of global poverty may well be the defining moral problem of our time. It's good to see that Congressman Perriello grasps the gravity of the issue, especially as we head into the holiday season. Let's hope this legislation makes a difference in the lives of people who need it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Stunner: Imported Chinese Drywall is Toxic

You may be familiar with the old axiom that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same things and expect different outcomes. Take a look at this clip from CNN and ask yourself why we as a nation have not applied that knowledge to our trade policies:

It's been barely a year since the media firestorm over lead showing up in Chinese-made toys, and now this has come to light. At what point are our leaders going to step up and realize that our trade agreements are not only destroying our economy, but actually threatening our health?

This is not about "free trade" versus "protectionism," and the problem is much larger than NAFTA or CAFTA. First, the current rules for international trade are anything but free--because of the WTO's anti-democratic negotiating structure, poorer and less developed countries are drastically under-represented while larger, more developed powers run the meetings. But even with a numbers advantage, the developed countries still do not even represent the interests of their own people; they represent the interests of their top companies. Moreover, the WTO prefers to hold its meetings behind closed doors, away from the cameras and any shred of accountability. We end up with a system that favors the profits of large multinational corporations over basic fairness and human rights. Suddenly it's okay to make your goods in China, where environmental and labor laws are barely a shadow of what they would be in the US or Europe. Hire kids and pay them $1 per hour if you like, and dump your waste wherever. Thousands of middle-class American workers find themselves without a job, and many are forced into poverty. And if they find another job (probably for much less than they made before), then when they go to the store to buy drywall for their house or a toy for their children, they're putting their health on the line. It's a global race to the bottom, with everyone ultimately losing.

Conservatives threw a hissy fit when President Obama put a tariff on Chinese tires, saying it was just a handout to the unions. (They apparently don't have a problem with $400 billion handouts to insurance companies as part of Medicare supplemental insurance, which health reform will abolish.) I think what we need is more tariffs at higher percentages--say 99%--on things like furniture and textiles. Not only that, but we should renegotiate all of our agreements to favor fair trade practices. After all, the problem isn't trade itself, but trade rules that favor 19th-century working conditions. The only way you revive the economy is to stop the hemmorhaging of American jobs into other countries. If the manufacturers won't do it themselves, then we'll have to give them a little push.

Music Monday: Andy McKee Plays "Drifting"

Andy McKee is a better guitar player than you.



Ridiculous.

Friday, November 20, 2009

In Case You Missed It: Flooding and Uranium

There was an interesting article in the Danville Register & Bee several days ago regarding how last week's flooding might have impacted a proposed uranium mine in Pittsylvania County. It didn't really attempt to offer an answer to that question, basically just quoting people for and against mining. But it does raise a lot of serious questions that mining advocates should have to answer.

Dueling quotes; cue the banjos!

Jack Dunavant, head of Halifax-based Southside Concerned Citizens, which opposes uranium mining, said alpha radiation from tailings, which contain 86 percent of the radiation found in natural uranium, would be washed downstream in a flood and be deposited in fertile low lands where animals graze and crops grow.

“All the animals would be subject to it,” Dunavant said.

Alpha radiation is “the most insidious and dangerous of all” types of radiation that causes birth defects and affects the genetic code, Dunavant said. It can be ingested when consumed in food, drank from water or breathed from mist while a person takes a shower, he said.

To be fair, gamma particles are actually the most dangerous, and those wouldn't be an issue while the uranium is being mined. But Dunavant is exactly right that alpha particles are still pretty nasty things once they get into your system, and they have a variety of ways to do so. Alpha particles are a big reason why Homeland Security is worried about dirty bombs. The Coles Hill site where uranium may be mined is part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which extends into North Carolina and ends up on the coast. If alpha-laden uranium tailings made their way into the floodwaters, they could eventually contaminate an enormous area, including farmland, fisheries and recreational areas.

Now a quote from Patrick Wales of Virginia Uranium:

VUI would build a tailings-management system meeting stringent guidelines under the Environmental Protection Agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and other agencies, Wales said.

Tailings-management facilities have separated the tailings from interaction with the environment at locations all over the world, Wales said. Tailings are typically covered and lined underground with multiple layers of synthetic and clay liners to prevent interaction with surrounding groundwater, Wales said.

“These facilities are designed for severe weather,” Wales said.

A few feet of water can also be kept on top of the tailings to prevent dust.

All that sounds fine and dandy. But my biggest concern is the very real fact that things break. What if those tailings aren't contained properly? What if the containment systems themselves turn out not to be as good as originally thought? What if those regulatory agencies fall victim to budget cuts or overzealous deregulators? Even the most well-designed facility is going to have some flaws. If something were to go wrong and nuclear material were released into the watershed, there would be no undoing that damage.

Area farmers have built primitive ponds to successfully contain water with no government oversight, Wales said. In addition, rains have occurred for hundreds of millions of years and VUI’s operation would not increase the amount of radiation already in the rock, Wales said.

Huh? Farmers build ponds? I really wish the author had included the exact quote here instead of a paraphrase. I seriously hope Wales is not suggesting that open ponds would be a good place to put mine waste. We saw how well that worked out for the coal ash pond near Harriman, Tennessee, where a dam broke and flooded the town with toxic sludge. And as for the second part of his quote, I think what he's trying to get at is that the uranium in question is already part of the water table, but again I wish the actual quote were there. Even if that's his point, I still don't see why it's a good idea to bring that uranium to the surface.

One closing statement from a concerned area resident, who summed it up nicely:

Karen Maute, a county resident and uranium mining opponent, said last week’s flooding should “give pause” to people downstream and give notice to everyone of the consequences of the long-term storage of waste.

Mining and milling will be a finite operation, but the resulting waste will be around for thousands of years, she said.

Well said.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Levi Johnston is a Jackass

Say what you will about Sarah Palin, her supporters, and their delusional view of American politics. You're certainly entitled to your opinion, as are her supporters. Were she ever to become president, I personally would lose all faith in American democracy and gnaw off my own leg. But I've always said the one caveat to that is to leave her kids out of it; President Obama was absolutely right to reject those who wanted to make Bristol Palin's pregnancy into a campaign issue, and as far as I'm concerned it's still off-limits.

The one guy who most aggressively refuses to respect that line, though, is Levi Johnston. Every time he opens his mouth he embarrasses himself, Bristol, her family and their child. What a narcissistic, self-serving tool. I mean, take one look at this guy:


My snap judgment, knowing nothing else about him, would be something like, "Hey, that guy looks like a giant douche." All he's really missing is a popped collar and a sideways Boost Mobile hat. Now take this caricature of a teenage male egomaniac and add the fact that not only did he knock up the governor's daughter, then abandon her and their kid before going on to badmouth her family to the national media, he's now actively trying to make money off of it. Not only is he having his little media tour and stripping for Playgirl, he has also appeared in a Wonderful Pistachios commercial. The ad makes a not-so-subtle quip about how now he uses "protection," i.e., the protective health benefits of eating pistachios. Tee-hee, that has two meanings! Ugh. Really? Did they have a fifth grader write that? What an unmitigated jackass. And way to make light of a serious social issue. Stay classy, Wonderful Pistachios.

I actually have a lot of respect for how Sarah Palin has handled this situation; she's certainly shown a lot more patience and restraint than the little twerp deserves.

Rep. DeFazio: Fire Geithner

Interesting story over at HuffPo, and consistent with similar rumblings I've heard out in the interwebs. Here's a video from MSNBC of Rep. Peter DeFazio (D - OR) suggesting that President Obama's two top economic advisers be fired:
Money quotes:

"We think it is time, maybe, that we turn our focus to Main Street -- we reclaim some of the unspent funds, we reclaim some of the funds that are being paid back, which will not be paid back in full, and we use it to put people back to work. Rebuilding America's infrastructure is a tried and true way to put people back to work," said DeFazio.

"Unfortunately, the President has an adviser from Wall Street, Larry Summers, and a Treasury Secretary from Wall Street, Timmy Geithner, who don't like that idea," he added. "They want to keep the TARP money either to continue to bail out Wall Street...or to pay down the deficit. That's absurd." (My emphasis)

Huh. Imagine that. Paying people to work on roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects allows them to support themselves and put money back into the economy. And not only do those projects put people back to work, they create the engines for future prosperity and economic growth. I've been wondering for a while now if it would be smarter to simply re-start Depression-era programs such as the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps. Conservatives will undoubtedly cry foul, but there's no question that those programs benefited our country during the Depression and helped millions of families stay afloat when workers could find no other jobs. And with the real unemployment rate (see bottom line on chart) now at 17.5%, soon there may be no other choice. When the economy runs out of buyers for a good or service (in this case, employees), sometimes the government is the only buyer left. We may have reached that point.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New Ad: Keep Fighting, Tom

Americans United for Change has a new ad running in the Charlottesville and Roanoke media markets. Glad to see a counter to the reprehensible U.S. Chamber of Commerce/Americans for Prosperity ads which distort the bill and demonize our representative.

Schilling Show Fail

Conservative Charlottesville radio host Rob Schilling is up in arms. He has posted a blog decrying the fact that UVa College Republicans were not allowed to protest at Rep. Tom Perriello's Charlottesville office. The group showed up hoping to protest Tom's vote in favor of health care reform and were met by police, who told them to leave. Here's the video of the apoplectic College Republican chair, Joshua Lambert:



Never mind that there already was an Americans for Prosperity protest (and simultaneous counter-protest) at that same office. By all accounts, it was so obnoxious that nearby business owners made it clear they wanted the protesters gone and the protests to stop. What it comes down to is that the police were there at the request of property owners, not on the orders of Tom or anyone associated with his office. Charlottesville business owners asserted their private property rights; isn't that what conservatives are supposed to be all about?

And as Lambert noted in the video, they were not told to get off the premises, they were simply told they could not protest in the parking lot. Police let them know they were welcome to share their concerns inside the office, but apparently that wasn't the appropriate venue--in the video, Lambert actually said, "we can't really say what we want to say if we walked in the front door." Huh?

But my favorite quote is this, from Schilling's blog:
Lambert and other aggrieved citizen groups are seeking legal support to assist in re-establishing their abridged rights.
Sigh. I'm reminded of all the times I've heard someone like Rush Limbaugh accuse liberals of having a "victimization complex."

By the way, does anyone else find this whole thing ironic? This same group of people just elected an attorney general who sees the Establishment Clause as an impediment to his dominionist worldview, and now they're worried about their First Amendment free speech rights. Beautiful.

Terrible News Out of Ferrum

Tragic hunting accident near Ferrum College. From WDBJ7:

Students at Ferrum College gathered Wednesday morning for a private memorial service to remember the student who was shot and killed Tuesday.

Twenty-three-year-old Jessica Goode of Northern Virginia was shot in an apparent hunting accident Tuesday. Another student was injured in the shooting.

Jason Cloutier allegedly fired on them Tuesday afternoon about a mile from campus. Regis Boudinot was hit in the arm with the same bullet that killed Goode.

The students had been in the woods working on a science project.

"When the blast went off he said she looked at him and said 'I'm going to die,' and she collapsed before he could do anything and she died almost instantly," said Kimberly Boudinot, Regis' stepmom.

Cloutier is facing three charges, including manslaughter. Authorities say he was trespassing on county property. He's currently being held on $20,000 bond.

Truly horrible. My thoughts and prayers go out to the victim's family and friends, and all the students at Ferrum. Nobody should have to deal with this kind of thing.