Wednesday, April 21, 2010

American Closes

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

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

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

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

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

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

The best part?

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

McDonnell Declares Confederate History Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 5, 2010

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 2, 2010

In Case You Missed It: Martinsville in the New Yorker

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

Here's the link.

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

Thursday, April 1, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hurt Backs Cuccinelli in Discrimination Flap

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Remote Area Medical in Buena Vista

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

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

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

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

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

Optometrists fitted glasses.

Dentists pulled and filled teeth.

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

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

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

Jacque Loving is one of the SVU student organizers.

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

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

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

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

And part 2:

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

Monday, March 8, 2010

Music Monday: "13" by Big Star

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

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

Armstrong 2013?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 5, 2010

Lawson Steps Down; Tea Party Takes Henry County GOP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tom on Morning Joe: Senate "Elites" Don't Get the Recession

Tom Perriello went on Morning Joe last week to discuss the Health Insurance Industry Fair Competition Act, which passed the House last Wednesday.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Perriello's blunt statement about the Senate's elitism is especially prescient after the last few days, when two Republican senators made known their disdain for the unemployed. First, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) repeatedly blocked efforts to extend unemployment benefits, even going so far as to tell one Democrat "tough shit" and complain about having missed the Kentucky-South Carolina basketball game while making his objections. So not only is he completely contemptuous of the needs of his constituents, he's arrogantly so. Stay classy, Jim--and great family values.

Then, we got the wizened words of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who basically accused unemployment beneficiaries of being lazy and not looking for work:

Unemployment insurance "doesn't create new jobs. In fact, if anything, continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work," Kyl said during debate over whether unemployment insurance and other benefits that expired amid GOP objections Sunday should be extended.

"I'm sure most of them would like work and probably have tried to seek it, but you can't argue that it's a job enhancer. If anything, as I said, it's a disincentive. And the same thing with the COBRA extension and the other extensions here," said Kyl.

Wow, what an unbelievably condescending thing to say. As someone who spent six months struggling to find work, I'll be glad to tell Sen. Kyl all about incentives and disincentives. Simply being unemployed is plenty of incentive to find work. When you have to borrow money from family to pay your health insurance, constantly have to defer student loans and can never afford anything, you don't have much incentive to stay unemployed. Trouble is, it's damn near impossible to find a decent job with stable income. Maybe if these pompous, pathetic excuses for lawmakers could pull their myopic heads out of the sand and live in the real world for five minutes, they'd understand that. I guess that's too much to expect from the House of Lords.

What's especially puzzling is that the CBO has absolutely pulverized Kyl's argument, as Sen. Max Baucus, hardly a progressive darling, pointed out:

He added that Kyl's economic argument was flawed, as well. Unemployment benefits do create jobs because the recipients cycle the money through the economy. He cited a Congressional Budget Office analysis that said the Gross Domestic Product grew $1.90 for every dollar the federal government paid out.

The more I hear from the Senate, the less faith I have in its relevance as an institution. The words and actions of Sens. Kyl and Bunning have only multiplied this effect. I find myself more and more grateful every day that at least our congressman gets it--even if he seems to be the only one in Washington who does sometimes.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Perriello to Insurance Companies: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Among the things that slipped through the cracks last week while I was too busy to blog about anything was a huge legislative victory by Congressman Perriello. Tom co-sponsored a bill to end antitrust exemptions for insurance companies; that bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the House. Since 1945, health insurance companies have enjoyed an exemption from antitrust regulations, allowing them to collude and fix prices while reaping billions of dollars in profits. The only other industry that enjoys similar antitrust exemptions is Major League Baseball.

Well, if Tom's bill gets through the Senate, then the insurance companies may finally have to play by the same rules as the rest of America's companies. Tom addressed the health insurers in his floor speech:

"Be afraid. Be very afraid." I do believe our congressman is a badass.

Hurt Denies Climate Change, Blames Rate Hikes on Regulations that Don't Exist Yet

There's an interesting development floating around the interwebs today, and it originates from a Tea Party/GOP debate held in Lynchburg this past Saturday night.

In an apparent attempt to counter the Hurt's-not-crazy-enough meme coming from the Tea Party folks, state Sen. Robert Hurt (R-Chatham) denied the science behind climate change, dismissing the biggest environmental threat of our time as “scientists who have given us something that is not true. It is faulty information and it has real consequences in the 5th District, in the loss of jobs and in power bills from Appalachian Power Co.” TheGreenMiles has a great post about it.

What's especially interesting about Hurt's new-found climate fundamentalism is this little gem from the Danville Register-Bee, wherein Sen. Hurt blames the recent Appalachian Power Company rate hikes on a bill that hasn't even become law yet:
Sen. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham, said state and federal environmental regulations have played a role in rising energy rates. The federal “cap-and-trade” passed by the House of Representatives last year is an example of the “devastating policies” that affect people’s lives, forcing companies to raise rates to revamp their facilities to follow environmental rules.
Even the most die-hard deregulator would have a hard time making the case that people have lost their jobs and seen their utility bills skyrocket because of a regulation that doesn't even exist yet. The Senate hasn't even voted on the ACES bill yet, and if it passes in the same form that the House passed last year, it will actually create jobs in the district Mr. Hurt wants to represent.

If I were advising Sen. Hurt's campaign, I'd tell him to quit pandering to the wingnuts and start focusing on things that will bring jobs back to Southside. Being anti-science may impress the Beckophiles, but it won't win over the independents and it certainly won't reflect very well on the Fifth District GOP.

Music Monday: "Amber" by 311

After a brief hiatus, Music Monday returns this week with 311's "Amber." Enjoy:

Yes, I realize it's a summer-y tune, and the beach scenes may in fact be depressing when you look outside and see the bare trees and, in some parts of the Commonwealth, piles of sooty, brown snow. I realize that. But it's now March, the month when winter starts to end in our part of the country. Moreover, this is just a cool song.

You may remember 311 from their mid-1990s hits "Down" and "Beautiful Disaster." I honestly thought they had vanished like all the other bands that were around when I was in middle school, but imagine my surprise when this song turned up on Pandora one day. "Amber" appeared first on 2001's From Chaos and again on the 2004 311's Greatest Hits album.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Tom's Stimulus Projects: Searchable by Google Map

Quick note: I'm still around and have no plans to shut down the blog. The lack of posts lately is entirely due to my overwhelming schedule and the overall craziness of February. Things should calm down by early March.

I wanted to pass along something really cool that Congressman Perriello's office put together last week. Behold a searchable Google map of all the Recovery Act/Stimulus projects in the entire Fifth District:

View 5th District Recovery Act Projects in a larger map

This does two things: first, it debunks the thoroughly preposterous narrative that the Stimulus didn't benefit the Fifth District; and second, it provides some transparency on what those projects are. Say what you will about the Recovery Act--the Right loves to thrash it, but there's virtually no doubt that it kept the economy from going completely off a cliff. Without it, unemployment would have been much higher and our public services--especially education--would be in shambles. To borrow a Tea Party slogan, that truly would have been "stealing from our grandchildren."

Big props to Tom for securing the funds for these projects, and big props to Jessica for taking the time to put together this map.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Music Monday: "Penny on the Train Track" by Ben Kweller

Here's Ben Kweller, playing "Penny on the Train Track" live on David Letterman:

This song came from the 2006 album appropriately titled Ben Kweller. As you might imagine, the rest of the album also evidences a strong Tom Petty influence, and I highly recommend it. The production is a departure from his earlier albums--it's more wall-of-sound than his previous efforts--and it comes across very well. His songwriting and lyrical creativity reached a new level on this record, and if I'm not mistaken, Ben Kweller played all the instruments on this one himself.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Va Dems Secure Broadband Grants for Southside, SW

As if to put an exclamation point on the previous article, the news broke today that Congressmen Perriello and Boucher as well as Senators Warner and Webb have come through for us with two stimulus grants. The funding will go toward expanding broadband infrastructure throughout Southside and the Southwest. From the release:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner and Representatives Tom Perriello and Rick Boucher today announced two grants totaling more than $21.5 million to expand broadband Internet infrastructure in Virginia. The grants, awarded through the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), will support the deployment of broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas, enhance and expand public computer centers, and encourage sustainable adoption of broadband service. These investments will help bridge the technological divide, boost economic growth and create jobs.

The grants are funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, supported by Senators Webb and Warner and Representatives Perriello and Boucher.

The two grants announced today will add 575 miles of new high-speed Internet infrastructure in Southern Virginia. The grants were announced during a press conference call with White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner, and Representative Tom Perriello.

Webb and Perriello have especially good quotes:

"These projects are valuable in terms of attracting new businesses, allowing medical professionals to give better care, and giving tens of thousands of local residents access to the internet," said Senator Webb. "Southside and Southwest Virginia have been hit hard by the economic downturn. It is our duty to provide this part of the Commonwealth with a fair shot at the future. I have consistently fought for the expansion of high speed internet in Virginia's rural areas and I am pleased the American Recovery and Recovery Act prioritized this funding."


"This is a huge boost for Southside Virginia, benefiting our kids' educational success in the short term and building our region's long-term competitive advantage for the 21st Century," said Representative Perriello. "I'm thrilled these stimulus funds will expand Internet access for consumers in our small towns and rural communities, giving our workforce the competitive edge they deserve."

Rep. Boucher also pointed out that all major infrastructural improvements in our nation's history have required a boost from the federal government--subtly demolishing the "wasteful spending" argument that will inevitably be leveled by the right. No, Tea Partiers, not all government spending is bad, and I for one am glad our elected officials want our communities to be included in the 21st century economy.

"If any Democrat can win in 2010, it's Perriello."

The Danville Register & Bee wrote an absolutely glowing editorial about our congressman today. After all the vein-popping hyperbole coming out of the Tea Party/far right in this district, it's encouraging to see this sort of thing:

In his first year in Congress, Perriello has worked on behalf of veterans, green energy jobs and, like Goode, he has helped to steer federal dollars to Fifth District projects. He has voted against President Barack Obama on some issues and supported gun rights and worked against federal funding for abortion. But he has also voted for the federal stimulus, cap and trade and a health care bill.

His opponents are stumbling over one another to get rid of him. They may succeed. We shifted our longtime support from Goode to Perriello two years ago because it became clear that Goode, for whatever reason, no longer believed he could be effective in Washington. Perriello had no such qualms about “working a double shift” for the Fifth District. He has done that — and more — over the past year.

Perhaps most telling is what the first man to enter the race against him had to say:

“Tom Perriello is a man of principle,” said Bradley Rees, a Bedford County FairTax advocate, blogger, radio host and possible independent congressional candidate. “He will come out and state his principles on any given agenda item and you can expect him to vote that way … I admire his principles. I admire his stance on what he believes. I just happen to not believe the same thing.”

That’s some of the fairest criticism of Perriello we’ve heard over the past year. Ironically, Perriello is as frustrated with Washington as some of his most strident opponents.

“I have several major disappointments,” Perriello said of the past year. “I think the Democratic Party screwed up a lot in Washington, but it was very clear the Republicans were directed not to work with us in any way. I understand it’s a nasty place; it’s a political place. I’ve got thick skin. But when your country’s on the verge of depression, that’s not the time to say ‘Let’s tee up in 2010.’ It’s time to come together.”

The hypocrisy and vitriolic anger of these times doesn’t change the fact that Washington was spending too much money before Perriello’s party won control of Congress, and problems like health care and energy independence were ignored for years.

None of that will matter to those who have already made up their minds, so Perriello’s political future will rely on turning out his political supporters — not an easy task in a midterm election.

But this is a man who has already surpassed expectations. If any Democrat can win in 2010, it’s Perriello.

The Register-Bee picked up on something much of the media either can't see or refuses to see--whether you agree with him or not, Tom Perriello is working his butt off for his constituents. He has the courage to state what he believes and stand by it, even if he takes flak for it. And as the article notes, he goes out of his way to listen to people who disagree with him. People respect that, and it resonates well across the district.

All through the 2008 campaign, people told me there's no way Tom could win; he was toast before he even started. The same people are now calling him "one-term-Tom." We'll see. The right underestimates Tom at their own peril.

Robert Hurt Votes Against Jobs Bill; Also Opposes Mom, Apple Pie

In what can only be described as a thoroughly baffling move, Sen. Robert Hurt has voted against a bipartisan bill that would have extended unemployment benefits for laid-off workers. The bill, S.B. 239, was specifically directed at workers enrolled in retraining programs, and qualified those workers for up to 26 weeks of additional benefits. In today's vote, all 22 Senate Dems voted in favor of the bill, and yes, to their great credit, half the Senate GOP voted yes. It was actually introduced by Republican Sen. John Watkins of Midlothian. Special thanks to Martinsville's own Roscoe Reynolds, who was a co-sponsor.

Sen. Hurt, however, was one of nine Republicans in the State Senate to vote against the bill. More importantly, he was the only senator from the Southside to take that stand. For some reason, Hurt turned down a bill that should have been a political no-brainer. There are just some things you NEVER vote against under any circumstances, and unemployed workers certainly fall into that category. Moreover, the bill is funded by stimulus money, so Hurt can't even pull out the "we-don't-have-the-money" defense. I'd be very interested to see his statement when this inevitably becomes a media storm. For Robert Hurt to represent Southside and vote against helping unemployed workers is not just a terrible strategy, it's also woefully out of touch.

I'm not even angry about this. Just very, very puzzled. The only explanation I can think of is that Sen. Hurt is doing damage control with the Tea Party/extreme anti-spending wing of his party--maybe he thinks voting against anything connected to the stimulus will undo some of the damage he's taking for his vote on Mark Warner's budget. The problem? It won't work. He has just demolished his "sane moderate" image and, if this becomes a big story, he has alienated countless voters in what should be his strongest region. I wonder how much of this has to do with campaign consultant Chris LaCivita?

Now the bill will go to the House of Delegates. Will Morgan Griffith and his merry band reprise their notorious anti-stimulus/anti-middle class vote from last year? Only time will tell.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Music Monday: "The Real Me" by The Who

I think the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake "Wardrobe Malfunction" was the best thing to happen to the Super Bowl in years. Ever since then, it seems the NFL has had no choice but to put real musicians on for their halftime show--Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, The Who, etc. I guess when you can't cover up an abject lack of talent with sex and fireworks, it narrows the field. Anyway, I thought The Who did a stellar job last night, playing classics from their heyday. I don't know who he is, but their drummer fit in quite well; it can't be an easy task to fill John Bonham's shoes.

There was, however, one song I thought they should've played. Here's "The Real Me," from the chronically-underrated Quadrophenia album.

Don't get me wrong, Tommy is a classic. It was the first rock opera and has rightfully earned its place in music history. But as a fully realized, conceptually straightforward and coherent narrative, Quadrophenia is a far better album. Tommy has a tendency to ramble toward the end, and I personally still don't get how a deaf, dumb and blind kid could be redeemed by a pinball game. On the other hand, Quadrophenia hits you with "The Real Me" right away and builds into a few more rockers before the close of side 1. The album is energetic and more well-developed than its predecessors, and the whole thing just flows really well.

On top of that, the storyline is excellent--it presents an image of an adolescent British kid trying to fit into the youth culture of the day (is he a Mod or a Rocker?) and find his way in society. It is specific to 1960s/70s England, but the themes are pretty universal.

And as for the music itself...well, I mean it's The Who, man!

Congrats to the Saints

In honor of the Saints' victory in the Super Bowl, I've decided to post this video. A friend of mine sent it to me, and I don't think you can go wrong with a funny dog.

Though I was pulling for the Colts, I find it very difficult to be upset at a Saints victory. There's no doubt New Orleans could use a pick-me-up in light of the devastation that still exists in much of the city. Plus, I have mad respect for Drew Brees--not only is he a great player, but by all accounts he's also a good guy who does a lot for his community.

It sucks that football is over...but now it's only a few weeks until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.

Friday, February 5, 2010

McEachin Nails It on the Budget

State Sen. Donald McEachin absolutely throttled Gov. McDonnell for his myopic no-new-revenue-ever mantra in the face of the worst budget crisis in decades. This originally appeared at Blue Virginia and I wanted to pass it along, because frankly I think this needs to be VA Dems' operative message going forward in the McDonnell Administration. Below is some text from the film if you don't quite have time to watch the whole thing.

Mr. President, I for one cannot cotton, cannot accept the notion that we are about to even begin to conceive of crafting a budget that contains no new revenue. I'm happy to work with any member of this body in moving towards that reality. But make no mistake about it, Mr. President, we are morally bankrupt if we decide to balance this budget on the backs of the poor, on the backs of those who are vulnerable, on the backs of those who live in the margins. We are morally bankrupt, Mr. President, if we decide to balance this budget by putting more people out of work.

We all said we were for jobs, Mr. President, but what we have failed to tell the people of Virginia is that these budget cuts, we're no longer talking about fat, we're down to bone. As the Senator from Fairfax has said, we're down to amputations, Mr. President. We cannot put more people out of work, it is wrong, we ought not be about that business, and the words coming that have been coming from this side of the aisle, by those who have taken to this floor, have been trying to draw the connection between these budget cuts and loss of jobs.

We need 8,000 jobs a month just to catch up with the 201,000 jobs we've lost since 2007. I do not see any leadership from the third floor in that regard, and quite frankly Mr. President, after this past campaign, when we saw "Bob for Jobs," I expected better, and I do consider that to be a failure of the standards of leadership.
"We're down to bone" is something Richmond Republicans apparently don't understand--they seem hell-bent on wrecking even the most fundamental state services until nothing is left. Are conservatives the new anarchists?

Big hat tip: Lowell at Blue Virginia.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I-73 Clears a Hurdle; What Greens Should Learn

Those of you who have spent time driving along this blog's namesake between Roanoke and Martinsville may have noticed something: the smattering of road signs labeled "Future I-73 Corridor." As I've stated before, those signs have been there so long they've become almost a joke--in fact, I've given thought to re-naming this blog "Future I-73 Corridor." Maybe on April Fool's Day? We'll see.

Anyway, after over a decade of talking about and planning for the eventual construction of Interstate 73, the project cleared a significant legal hurdle last week. From the Martinsville Bulletin:

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has dismissed the appeal of Virginians for Appropriate Roads over construction of Interstate 73.

The court’s order was filed Monday.

The appeal was of U.S. District Senior Judge James C. Turk’s ruling in July against Virginians for Appropriate Roads, which sued federal and state highway and transportation officials.

The citizens group challenged the Federal Highway Administration’s Record of Decision on March 30, 2007, approving construction of I-73 between Interstate 81 near Roanoke and the Virginia/North Carolina state line.

The suit claimed that the highway administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by not adequately considering alternatives to the approved corridor, including an upgrade of U.S. 220; not postponing environmental impact statement until construction funds for I-73 were available; and not considering the environmental impacts of the interstate project, according to court records. (My emphasis)
Pay attention, fellow progressives; there's a lesson here for environmentalists. I'm as green as they come--I completely support alternative energy, smart growth and cleaner lifestyles. I thoroughly oppose offshore drilling, uranium mining and nuclear power among other things. I'm also a big fan of the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed by the House last year. But I think sometimes well-meaning Greenies are guilty of oversimplifying the ease with which our favored changes can be made.

For example, in the above quote, Virginians for Appropriate Roads wanted to see if U.S. 220 could simply be upgraded instead of building a new interstate. Anyone who has driven 220 for any amount of time can tell you how damn-near-impossible that would be. Route 220 is basically an old dirt road that got paved over, with steep hills, narrow lanes, hairpin turns and all. Throw in the fact that it's crawling with 18-wheelers and it becomes a remarkably unsafe and unsettling place to drive. Upgrading it would require just as much work (and probably just as much environmental impact) as building a new road altogether. Moreover, using a lawsuit to stall I-73 was a terrible idea from a strategic standpoint: holding up a project that would bring tangible economic benefits to places that badly need them is not exactly a PR win.

I guess what I'm saying is that we need to be honest about the fact that this is still an incredibly complicated issue; there's still a delicate balance between industry and environmental progress. Yes, we're trying to make a cleaner, greener world that will ultimately benefit all of us, but there are a lot of working-class people in our state who depend on the current economy for their livelihood. The biggest example of that is coal, which is basically the entire economy of the Southwest--it will take a long time to dislodge that, and we have to have an alternative to offer the folks who will lose their jobs when the mines close. Environmentalists should focus on promoting economic growth through green jobs and go into the big battles with a sense of humility. The I-73 case is a teachable moment, and I think we'd all do well to learn from it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Music Monday: "Blue Ridge Mountains" by Fleet Foxes

After a one-week hiatus, Music Monday returns with the Fleet Foxes playing "Blue Ridge Mountains" live on Letterman. Here's the video:

The Fleet Foxes' self-titled debut album drew rave reviews and put them on the indie music map. I'm not really sure how to categorize the songs or what genre they fit into--maybe a bit of country/folk-rock? Whatever you want to call it, it's pretty excellent. It doesn't really sound like this, but for some reason it reminds me of Rubber Soul. The full instrumentation and intricate harmonies give the album a really unique sound and I highly recommend giving it a listen. "Sun it Rises," "Quiet Houses" and "Blue Ridge Mountains" are songs that stick in your mind. It's smooth, mellow and complex, and it's a great soundtrack for driving around the Virginia countryside. See you next Music Monday, and enjoy the Fleet Foxes.

Friday, January 29, 2010

WaPo: 5th District Tea Party, GOP Hold Foot-Shooting Party

This article in the Washington Post speaks volumes about the division in the Fifth District GOP. For the most part, the article gets it right--although I think it drastically overestimates Tom's vulnerability and makes the Fifth sound like an oversimplified backwater. Still, give this a look:

As in New York, Republican leaders in Virginia are backing a moderate state lawmaker, Sen. Robert Hurt, whose record enrages many conservatives, including a disparate band of Tea Party activists. To them, Hurt is not a real conservative because of his past support for tax increases, and they're promising a third-party challenge if he wins the nomination. And lurking on the sidelines is Virgil H. Goode Jr., the former GOP congressman who lost to Perriello by 727 votes and has hinted at running as an independent.

"We want a conservative, not a situational Republican," said Laurence Verga, a business owner from the Charlottesville area and one of five Tea Party candidates in the Republican primary. "I really believe the 5th District congressional election is about the soul of American politics." (My emphasis)

But that's nothing compared to this:

It started when national and state Republican leaders began urging Hurt, an affable lawyer from rural Pittsylvania County, to get into the race. Hurt had name recognition and a political base. And his moderate views -- he voted for a $1 billion tax package in 2004 and for smaller tax increases in a roads plan in 2007 -- might play well with independent-minded voters.

But many conservatives were angered not just because they oppose Hurt's moderation but also because they are deeply resentful of being told who their candidate will be by party leaders in Richmond and Washington. Their anger grew when Hurt's supporters successfully pushed for a primary over a convention, giving him a more inclusive format that tends to favor moderates. Hurt also received $7,000 from U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House minority whip, confirming Tea Party suspicions that the GOP was fully involved.

"The fact of the matter is that Robert Hurt is the establishment candidate, and it appears that the GOP is doing everything it can to make sure he is the nominee," said Bill Hay, who leads the Jefferson Area Tea Party organization in the Charlottesville area. "That's causing a whole lot of bad blood right now between some of the Tea Party people."

Wow. Robert Hurt = the establishment. I never would have thought I'd hear conservatives throwing around that meme. Far be it from me to tell the righties how to run their primary, but I'd be embarrassed if 5th District Dems had this kind of discord.

But this is the most beautiful quote of all:

One option is to unite behind a single candidate. But they also discussed the possibility of recruiting Goode, who has not ruled out an independent bid. That would almost certainly split the Republican vote and deliver the victory to Perriello, which doesn't bother some.

"If Robert Hurt wins, then we have an ideologically inconsistent congressman for a couple of decades," said Bradley S. Rees, a conservative blogger and talk-radio host in Bedford. "I would rather we had an ideologically consistent Democrat who we can hammer on their records. We'll get Perriello in 2012 -- with a stronger, more consistent candidate."

Sure thing, buddy, we'll do that. We'll be happy to take you on with two more years of incumbency under our belt. Who is giving these guys their advice? I'm starting to think the activists have reached a saturation point where nobody's really sure what the right move is anymore. I can kind of respect the idea of demanding some sort of ideological commitment from a nominee, but their comes a point when it's just too much too ask of a general electorate. I never thought I'd see the day when Robert Hurt would be vulnerable from his own right--it will certainly be an interesting one to watch.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tom on Southside's New Energy Economy

Congressman Tom Perriello gave Southside Virginia quite a shout-out from the House floor this past Tuesday, and I wanted to pass it along:

My favorite quote from the whole speech: "...and spending one billion dollars every day on oil that goes overseas to some of the countries that hate us the most is one of the dumbest strategies imaginable." Call it like it is. Way to be, Tom!

State of the Union

Last night I gathered with about 20 or so Martinsville-Henry County Democrats to watch the State of the Union and Governor McDonnell's response. The crowd was very receptive and enthusiastic, and I think they'll be energized for the coming election. I don't want to simply echo what the rest of the blogosphere is saying about SOTU, so I'll try to keep my comments fairly brief.

Overall, I think the President did a pretty good job. It was encouraging to see him out front, in his element, delivering a pep talk we all desperately needed to hear. I was especially glad to hear his plan to give the $30 billion in repaid bailout money to community banks--McDonnell's line about the closest government to the people being the most effective could also be applied to financial institutions. I'll expound on this in an upcoming post about the "move-your-money" phenomenon, but I trust my local credit union a lot more than I would ever trust Bank of America.

I was also glad to hear Obama talking up Stimulus/Recovery Act projects and the huge middle-class tax cuts his administration has put in place over the last year. By the way, Dems need a major PR blitz on these issues--why we cede the "cutting taxes" line to the Republicans is beyond me, especially since the Bush tax cuts mostly benefited the wealthiest Americans and helped create the massive deficit they're suddenly so concerned about. We also need major damage control to defeat the "the stimulus failed" meme; imperfect as the bill may have been, the fact remains that it very likely kept a lot of cops, teachers and road workers out of the unemployment line. Without it, there's little doubt that unemployment would be much higher and state and local governments would have fewer resources to deal with that burden.

The export-oriented language was good to hear, though I do have some concerns. Obviously it's desirable to shoot for more American exports, thus creating more jobs here at home. Ending corporate tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas is a common-sense policy we should have been pursuing years ago. (It was a major applause line for Dems, but GOP Inc. stayed silent and seated. To any conservative Tea Party readers, that should tell you everything you need to know about who really cares about saving American jobs.) However, I would have liked to hear more about fundamental trade reform. If we really want to bring back some manufacturing jobs, we have to renegotiate NAFTA (as he promised during the campaign) and we need to use our leverage in the WTO to make trade fair. That means no more child labor, uniform environmental restrictions and labor laws comparable to those of the U.S. and Europe. President Obama did mention a lack of enforcement in the current trade agreements, so hopefully we'll be moving in a positive direction.

The spending freeze? I'm skeptical. The cynical part of me says it's a gimmick that plays too much into the Republican narrative. On the other hand, it is true that our deficits are a serious problem--though it's blatant hypocrisy for Republicans to blame Obama for the deficits they built over eight long years. Yes, the stimulus is a big part of it, but that's what we call emergency spending--and it would have been a lot more manageable if we hadn't already been in a big hole. Regardless, I do admit that we need to address the deficit or it will eventually bankrupt us. So let's build roads, pay teachers, and create a better health care system, but let's pay for those things with real money.

As for McDonnell's response...*yawn*. It was standard Republican trope after standard Republican trope. It's as if Bob studied "Reaganomics 4 Dummies" flash cards before he went into the GOP-only HoD Chamber last night. He might as well have just yelled out "Drill, Baby, Drill!" over and over again--by the way, did anybody else get a really ominous feeling when his General Assembly colleagues got so excited about oil drilling off Virginia's coast? I hope they realize that one accident would turn our fisheries into toxic sludge and destroy our coastal tourism.Oh, and McDonnell's comment about defeating terrorists instead of protecting them was simplistic, jingoistic, inflammatory, and dishonest. For a governor to spout such nonsense on a national stage is inexcusable.

Although I guess it's pretty cool that a Virginia governor has given the SOTU response twice in the last four years. Anyway, I'm breaking my promise about a short post.

UPDATE: Rep. Tom Perriello nails it in his response to the State of the Union address:

“Tonight, I heard our President talk about jobs. I heard our Governor talk about jobs. I won’t stop until we turn this talk into real action and results for working families.

A year ago, we took dramatic steps to stop the bleeding and we’re starting to see the signs of recovery. Now we must be the change we promised by getting lending going to our small businesses, investing in our transportation infrastructure, and educating our workforce. It’s time to change our economic strategy from speculation on Wall Street to job creation on Main Street.

America can out-compete any country in the world if we reward innovation instead of failure, get our fiscal house in order, and restore the promise of the middle class.” (My emphasis)

Well said, Tom.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sierra Club Campaigns for ACES

Last night I attended a really interesting meeting at the Danville Public Library auditorium. The event was put on by the Sierra Club, which is building grassroots support in the Fifth for the American Clean Energy and Security Act, also known as Cap and Trade. Congressman Perriello took a courageous stand earlier this year by voting for it--even though the pundits all said he shouldn't. The Danville Register-Bee covered the event:

About 30 people brainstormed ideas to build support of the American Clean Energy and Security Act — also known as the cap-and-trade bill — which aims to reduce pollution and create green energy jobs. The legislation has received both strong praise and criticism for its plan to reduce greenhouse gases.

Trieste Lockwood, clean energy field organizer for the Sierra Club, said the organization has not had a strong presence in Southside for some time. Lockwood said the Sierra Club’s goal in Southside was to support 5th District Rep. Tom Perriello’s vote for the bill in June 2009.

“We’re working to support this bill because of all the clean energy jobs it will create in the country,” Lockwood said. “It will create a million jobs in the country and 45,000 in Virginia. I feel this area specifically will largely benefit because of the agricultural and manufacturing history.”

Local companies such as Red Birch Energy in Bassett and Piedmont BioProducts in Gretna are aiming to repurpose the local agricultural sector, transforming former tobacco fields into clean energy production in Southside. Lockwood and others said the ACES bill would further increase the green energy industry locally.


Lockwood said she was happy with the turnout and seemed optimistic for establishing a grassroots base in Southside in favor of the ACES bill.

“It’s good to know that people in the Southside care about the energy plan and the jobs it will create,” she said. “It’s this set of smart policies that will help clean energy happen in Southside.” (My emphasis)

This is very encouraging--Tom has taken a lot of flak from the righties over his ACES vote, even though the legislation will create forty-five thousand jobs in the state and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. It's ironic that the supposedly security-minded Republicans would oppose something that will stop billions of dollars from going to unstable countries that don't like us. Then of course, there's the whole "clean" aspect of clean energy; it would be nice to stop ripping up the atmosphere and polluting our rivers.

Props to Trieste and all the Sierra Club volunteers who came out last night!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Verga Supports Uranium Mining

Over at the Republican blog Bearing Drift, Laurence Verga has come out in favor of repealing Virginia's "irrational, unconditional" ban on uranium mining in the state. He says mining at Coles Hill in Chatham would create jobs.

Pittsylvania County has the largest deposit of undeveloped uranium in the country, grabbing editorial attention from such heavy hitters as the Wall Street Journal. If uranium mining in the region is found to be environmentally safe, we must mine there if we are serious about energy independence and economic development in a region with an unemployment rate far above the national figure.

The National Research Council is finally set to begin an environmental impact study, which is expected to take 18 months. In the meantime the General Assembly should repeal its irrational, unconditional ban on uranium mining and replace it with code that awards immediate approval upon projects that successfully complete an environmental impact study. (My emphasis)

My first instinct is to say Verga's sealed his fate in this end of the district--he has walked into a massively controversial issue and put up his flag on the side of the mining company. It's true he left some wiggle room when he appealed to environmental safety, but my suspicion is that mainstream Pittsylvania voters won't buy it. The Chatham area seems at best evenly split on uranium, and the anti-mine crowd may have a slight lead in public opinion.

I've posted before about why I think it's very unlikely that mining can be done safely, and why it wouldn't necessarily be good for Chatham even if safety were not a concern--in the post, Verga says the mine could generate $8-10 billion of economic development cash "in an area that so desperately needs good-paying jobs." Well, there's the rub: who gets that cash? How much will the miners be paid? Generally speaking, mining towns aren't exactly hubs of commerce--one look at Appalachia can demonstrate that. Once the mine is empty, the miners lose their jobs and the towns are right back where they started--most of the profit goes to the mining company and their shareholders.

But for me, the biggest concern regarding uranium mining is Mr. Verga's deregulate-everything economic ideology. There are smart people out there who say uranium mining can be done safely with the proper oversight. Okay, for the sake of argument, let's assume they're right. How much regulation and oversight will Mr. Verga tolerate? Some estimates say there is forty years' worth of uranium beneath Coles Hill. In that time, how many Laurence Vergas will come along and decide that such regulation is simply an unnecessary burden on the free market, and that it would be best to get out of VUI's hair? With that $8-10 billion in revenue, how many politicians will VUI attempt to influence?

We can't leave something as delicate as a uranium mine vulnerable to the political winds--perhaps after the environmental safety study is done, we can conduct a study on political safety.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

McDonnell Punts on Transportation

The Roanoke Times ripped Governor Bob McDonnell today for his apparent reversal on transportation. During the campaign, it was one of the most crucial issues facing the state, and he lambasted Creigh Deeds for his plan (or lack thereof). But the Times points out that suddenly it can wait, and now Mr. McDonnell is sounding an awful lot like his old opponent:

On the campaign trail last fall, Gov. Bob McDonnell promised Virginians he had a plan to fix the state's broken transportation system.

In 19 pages, he detailed how he would fund highways, rail and other improvements without raising taxes. Now, when it is time to put his plan into action, he punts.

Last week, he announced he would not pursue transportation reform during the General Assembly session. He said lawmakers would not have enough time to evaluate his plan, and he would not have enough time to sell it.

No offense intended, but the plan is not very hard to evaluate. It is loaded with the same gimmicks Republicans have talked about for years. Everyone is familiar with them.


He could at least try to deliver and make transportation funding the priority he claimed it was.

Instead, McDonnell says he might call a special session of the assembly later in the year. First he wants to spend time working with lawmakers and using the persuasive powers of his office to find a deal that all sides can agree to.

If that sounds eerily familiar, it is. McDonnell's opponent, Creigh Deeds, said that was what he wanted to do. McDonnell dismissed it as no plan at all then.

The article then concludes that McDonnell may be coming clean with the public, but I'm not sure that's quite it. For the sake of our own future prosperity, I hope the governor is finally being honest with himself--has Mr. McDonnell looked at the balance sheet and realized the unsettling truth that in order to pave our roads and pay our teachers, a tax hike may be inevitable? Has he seen what's becoming necessary and begun preparing for a long fight? Will he abandon his ideological instincts and do what's in the best interests of Virginia? If he does, it certainly won't make him the next RNC chair.

But it will make him a good governor.

Perriello Responds to MA-Sen

Congressman Perriello nails it yet again in his response to last night's election results. This quote embodies Tom's strengths as a legislator, and shows why the righties have a much tougher fight on their hands than they realize. From
And already, some Democrats were trying to quash the impulse Bayh and Lieberman had Tuesday, and rejecting the idea that the solution for 2010 would be to play dead. "What people are upset about is a lack of leadership and a lack of solutions -- not doing too much," said Rep. Tom Perriello, a freshman Democrat from southwestern Virginia, who is one of the GOP's top targets for defeat in November. "There's certainly an omnipresence of risk aversion among politicians that prevents us from doing what's necessary. We need wartime consiglieres, not risk-averse politicans right now." Perriello won election in 2008 by defeating a six-term incumbent Republican by 727 votes -- you might expect him to be one of the most risk-averse politicians out there. But he told Salon Tuesday he wanted more action, not less: "We should stop worrying about protecting our own jobs, and start worrying about protecting the jobs of the American people." (My emphasis)
He's absolutely right. What happened in Massachusetts (and for that matter what happened in Virginia and New Jersey) have a lot more to do with stasis than change.

There's plenty to be said about the poor quality of the candidates involved in Democrats' recent losses, but it has now been a full year since President Obama took office. Think about what's happened since then--continued bank bailouts while homeowners lose everything, resulting in a banner year for the very fat cats who caused the crisis; impotent attempts at re-regulation on Wall Street; continued offshoring of jobs; skyrocketing unemployment and a mismanaged stimulus; and, perhaps most importantly, a pathetically inept attempt at health care reform that has now consumed more than half of President Obama's first year in office.

I don't think anybody expected the economy to turn around overnight, and I think Americans are inclined to be forgiving on the Afghanistan escalation. But when you win historic majorities on the strength of campaign promises that you don't even come close to delivering, your support will evaporate very quickly. It is now clear that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi do not have the intelligence, forcefulness or spine to lead the party's legislative branch. They should be replaced as quickly as possible, and President Obama needs to get off his duff and take ownership of his own agenda. He'd better show some passion and drive, the way he did during the campaign, or he will be a one-term president.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Coakley FAIL

Wow, Massachusetts. Just wow.

Boston, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Republican Scott Brown has won Tuesday's special election for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by liberal Democrat Ted Kennedy, CNN projects based on actual results.

Brown, a Massachusetts state senator, had 53 percent of the vote to 46 percent for state Attorney General Martha Coakley, the Democratic contender, with 69 percent of precincts reporting in results from the National Election Pool, a consortium of media organizations including CNN. Independent candidate Joseph Kennedy, a libertarian who is not related to the Kennedy political family of Massachusetts, had 1 percent.

As Lowell Feld tweeted during the immediate aftermath, "Ted Kennedy replaced by a teabagger. Think about that." Indeed.

UPDATE: Peter Daou on MA-Senate: Dems squandered support through inaction, ineptitude and over-compromising. From HuffPo:

It took more than half a decade, countless American and Iraqi deaths in a war based on lies, a sinking economy and the drowning of an American city to finally kill Bush-Cheney-Rove's dream of a conservative realignment.

Democrats, controlling the White House and both houses of Congress, have managed to kill their own dream of dominance in 12 months.

How did it happen?

Theories abound, but two diametrically opposed narratives have taken hold:

The first, promulgated by conservatives, is that the new administration has moved too far to the left and alienated a large swath of independent and moderate voters.

The second, pushed by progressive activists and bloggers, is that the administration hasn't been true enough to fundamental Democratic principles, has embraced some of Bush's worst excesses on civil liberties, and has ditched popular ideas (like the public option) in favor of watered down centrist policies, thus looking weak and ineffectual. (My emphasis)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Music Monday: "The Breeze" by Dr. Dog

Today's Music Monday comes from the new album by Dr. Dog, Fate. There's no proper video, but check out the album cover based on an old Bonnie & Clyde picture. Here's "The Breeze."

To me, this whole album has sort of an Abbey Road feel to it, mainly because of the harmonies and guitar tones. There's also a really neat reprise at the end of the record that pulls in elements from all the songs, including the Strawberry Fields-ish keyboard part in this one. Give it a listen and you'll see what I mean. It also has a cleaner, less lo-fi sound than their earlier albums--though still distinctively Dr. Dog. I first got into these guys when their previous album We All Belong came out, and it became obvious very quickly that they've listened to their share of Beatles records. They're quite capable guitarists and again, I can't say enough about the three-and-four-part harmonies they put together. Standouts are "Ain't it Strange" and "We All Belong" from the We All Belong album, as well as "The Breeze," "The Old Days" and "My Friend" from Fate.

Dr. Dog is from Philadelphia and has made a name for themselves in the indie music scene. I've highlighted some of their songs above, but really you can't fully appreciate them until you listen to a full album. It appears the boys are already working on a new album, titled Shame, Shame, which will be out in April. Await it patiently.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Is Goode Preparing a Run?

The rumors have been flying around for a while, and now the Washington Post has lent credence to the possibility:
Former Virginia congressman Virgil Goode said in an interview today that "a couple of groups" have asked him to run for his old seat in central and southside Virginia's 5th Congressional District -- and while he didn't say he would, he didn't say he wouldn't, either. Goode, a lawyer from Rocky Mount, said he's paying close attention to the seven candidates seeking the Republican nomination to challenge Democrat Tom Perriello, who unseated Goode two years ago by fewer than 1,000 votes. (My emphasis)

Goode said his hope is that Republicans will nominate a candidate "who shares most of my beliefs and my ideals." Goode demurred when asked whether that description describes Robert Hurt, the state senator from Chatham County who enjoys the backing of a number of state and national Republicans but is not viewed as sufficiently conservative by local Tea Party organizers. Conservative activists are also rankled that party leaders have anointed Hurt without regard to the views of local Republicans. (Last week, House Minority Whip Eric I. Cantor disclosed that he had given Hurt $7,000 from his leadership and campaign committees.)
Hmm, how bout that. Other than the fact that there's no Chatham County, this was a pretty interesting piece. I certainly think Goode would enjoy a good deal of residual support if he were to run, and frankly I'd be surprised if he didn't. Is the chaotic GOP/Tea Party scene in the Fifth about to get even crazier? Let's hope so; for sheer entertainment value, this thing is better than Survivor!

Governor McDonnell

Bob McDonnell was sworn in as Virginia's 71st governor yesterday in front of an enthusiastic Richmond crowd. I'll save my criticisms for another post, because frankly I don't envy him. He's walking into a storm of problems that any governor of either party would have a tough time facing. Moreover, I don't think anyone who watched last fall's campaign would deny that he and his campaign earned it. They worked their buts off, ran a smart campaign and made a case that won Virginians' support. So today, congratulations are in order. I truly hope Gov. McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bolling and Attorney General Cuccinelli can make some sense of this catastrophic economy and bring Virginia through as a stronger state.

I actually thought it was a pretty great speech, and it can be viewed here; for some reason I can't embed it successfully.

Congratulations, McDonnell and the Republicans. Good luck, and we'll be seeing you in the fall.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Kaine & Armstrong Nail It at State of the Commonwealth

At Gov. Kaine's final State of the Commonwealth Address this past Wednesday night, he pointed out one of the biggest problems facing Virginia and the biggest roadblock (pun unavoidable) to addressing that problem: Transportation and the Republicans, respectively. From the speech:
The largest obstacle to solving our transportation needs is a philosophy, espoused by some, that it is always wrong to raise taxes or fees. Thank goodness that previous state leaders did not hold that view—if they had, we would have no community college system, dirtier rivers, a lackluster school system and even fewer roads. Virginia is a state with a very favorable tax burden and we should do all we can to keep it that way. But, no state or nation can maintain its economic edge with a declining infrastructure. Eventually, we need leadership in this collective body to find a path toward responsible advances in road investments.
Our incoming governor is one of those who espouses that philosophy. In a WDBJ-7 interview, House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong brought home in very real terms what that means for Southside residents, saying, "There are huge transportation needs that aren't being met and sooner or later you're going to feel that." Armstrong went on to reference the real harm that will come from a lack of revenue--not just more congestion in NoVa and Hampton Roads, but lost opportunity in rural communities.

For a long time now, we've been promised that Interstate 73 would be built and US 58 would finally be four-laned from Stuart to Hillsville. We've been given more IOUs than we can count, and we're starting to lose track of them. I-73 would run through Henry and Franklin counties on its way from South Carolina to the northern tip of Michigan; a fully four-laned US 58 would skirt the North Carolina border from the Port of Virginia all the way out into the heartland. Those two road projects could give the Southside a fighting chance to get back on its feet and finally start growing again.

Sadly, it looks like Bob McDonnell and Richmond Republicans are about to hand out another stack of IOUs. Kaine and Armstrong are absolutely right--no one likes taxes, and we should do everything we can to keep them as low as possible. But there comes a point when there's nothing left to cut. There comes a point when doing nothing costs a lot more than investing in the future.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Va-05: Hurt's Fundin' Conundrum; Verga Makes it Rain

It looks as if the Republican circular firing squad is in full swing here in Virginia's Fifth District.

Last week, State Sen. Robert Hurt's campaign said it was likely that they will raise money during the upcoming General Assembly session. Under state law, it is illegal for legislators to accept money for state-level campaigns during the session; since Hurt is running for a federal office, that law will not apply to him. Though he's not technically breaking any laws, raising money during the session would certainly fly in the face of those ethics rules, and that point was not lost on the Verga camp, which promptly let him have it:

"Does anyone think that a lobbyist in Richmond wouldn’t give Hurt a donation to his federal campaign in an attempt to influence him?" said Matt Mackowiak, a Verga consultant. "It might be legal under the letter of the law, but not the spirit of the law."

Couple that with today's press release from the Verga camp and you've got a veritable catfight:
"On Senator Hurt's brand new website he has the bold-faced lie that he has 'consistently opposed tax increases that did not put the people
first.' Does he think that the people are dumb enough to forget that he voted to raise your taxes by $1.4 billion, the largest tax increase in Virginia history, and he even tried to raise taxes unconstitutionally? Shame on Senator Hurt for belittling the citizens of the 5th District who certainly haven't forgotten as we are still paying for his tax hikes daily. People are tired of career politicians like Senator Hurt who distort their atrocious record to further their own aspirations."

Senator Hurt has voted 6 times for higher taxes. Below is a summary of those votes:

In 2002, Hurt Voted To Increase The Excise Tax On Soft Drinks. "Increases the amount of tax in the current top bracket from $6,000 to $7,200 for gross receipts exceeding $10,000,000 but not more than $25,000,000. It also adds two additional brackets: for gross receipts exceeding $25,000,000 but not more than $50,000,000, the tax is $18,000 and for gross receipts exceeding $50,000,000 the tax is $33,000. The soft drink excise tax is imposed on every wholesaler or distributor of carbonated soft drinks." (HB 193, Passed, 84-Y; 12-N, 01/24/02, Hurt Voted Yea)

In 2004, Hurt Voted Against Lower Tax Rates For Businesses. "Phases in lower rates based on growth for each of the four BPOL categories by five cents and allows only a $25 fee rather than $50, for businesses that start up in the last six months of a taxable year. These changes are effective for taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2005." (HB 461, Defeated: 38-Y; 60-N, 02/17/04, Hurt Voted Nay)

In 2004, Hurt Voted For The Omnibus Tax Bill Proposed By Mark Warner That Raised Virginia's Taxes. (HB 5018, Passed: 52-Y; 46-N, 04/13/04, Hurt Voted Yea)

In 2006, Hurt Voted To Increase The Fees In Order To Obtain A Hunting Permit In State Forests. "Increases the fees to obtain a hunting permit or a trapping permit in a state forest from $10 to $15." (HB 260, Passed: 89-Y; 9-N, 01/23/06, Hurt Voted Yea)

In 2006, Hurt Voted For A Bill That "Conforms The Amount Of Virginia Estate Tax Due From An Estate To The Maximum Amount Of The Federal Estate Tax Credit For State Estate Taxes..." (HB 40, Passed: 93-Y; 7-N, 02/02/06, Hurt Voted Yea)

In 2007, Hurt Voted For Tim Kaine's Unconstitutional Transportation Bill that Would Have Imposed Taxation Without Representation Through Unelected Regional Taxing Authorities. It Also Imposed A Diesel Tax Increase. (HB 3202, Passed: 64-Y; 34-N, Hurt Voted Yea)
Wow, them's fightin' words, and that's quite an impressive list. So Verga's beef with Hurt is that he helped Mark Warner balance the state budget and asked millionaires to pay their fair share, i.e. the estate tax. I'm curious as to how Mr. Verga expects to pay teachers, soldiers, sailors, cops and road workers if not with tax revenue.

If his campaign finance practices are any indication, then maybe he'll pay them out-of-pocket. Last week, CQ Politics reported that Laurence Verga has loaned himself nearly $227,000 since the end of December 2009. It's certainly his prerogative to do that, but it should offer some perspective on his campaign's claims about his fundraising prowess.

Two things are becoming very clear about this race: Verga is taking great pains to establish himself as the anti-Hurt, and Hurt is on the verge of pulling a Creigh Deeds and trying to run a front-porch campaign. I guess we'll see if there are enough Tea Partiers at the primary to torpedo Hurt's ambitions.