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.

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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.