Judge Garland deserves a hearing

Editors Note: this article is reprinted with the author’s permission, and appears here in the Culpeper Star Exponent.

The president of the United States has performed his Constitutional duty, under Article II, Section 2, to nominate a replacement, Judge Merrick Garland, to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Now, it is the duty of the president to appoint Judge Merrick to the Supreme Court, “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate.”

Senators don’t have to approve the nomination, but they shouldn’t draw salaries for doing nothing. The Majority Leader, Senator Do-Nothing Mitch McConnell, only “speaks” for 54 Republicans, not for every senator, but so far, he has refused to allow the Senate to act.

GOP Supreme Court

The cases that come before the Supreme Court are as wide and varied as our people and say volumes about our ideals over the past two centuries. March 1857’s Dred Scott decision ruled that Americans of African descent, whether free or slave, were not American citizens and could not sue in federal court. The Court also ruled that Congress lacked power to ban slavery in the U.S. territories. Finally, the Court declared that the rights of slave owners were constitutionally protected by the Fifth Amendment because slaves were categorized as property.

It was not a stellar moment in American history.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, almost 100 years later in Brown v. the Board of Education, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark unanimous decision declaring state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional. The court stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” and as a result de jure racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

Cases that come to the Supreme Court often have high stakes and are not without controversy: Roe vs. Wade, marriage equality, the Affordable Care Act, personal ownership of handguns, eminent domain, to name just a few instances. We all know that various groups feel passionately about these important issues.

There are a number of very important and controversial cases now before the court that are of particular interest to Virginians: Republican gerrymandering of Congressional districts, and “prison or not” for former Governor Bob McDonnell, to name just two.

If the court splits four-to-four, the lower court rulings will stand – McDonnell will go to jail and we’ll all be voting in redrawn districts in November. Apparently, throwing the former governor under the bus is a small price to pay for blocking the president’s nomination.

The current controversy, ignited unnecessarily by McConnell before Scalia’s body was even cold, seeks to preserve the previous conservative advantage on the court by denying the president the opportunity to appoint his own nominee, with the hope that a conservative will win the presidency in November and nominate somebody like Scalia to fill his vacancy. The first part of McConnell’s strategy, to deter through political bombast the president from even making a nomination, has already failed.

Despite his continued posturing, there appear to be cracks in the wall of opposition (the second part of McConnell’s strategy) to even giving the nominee a hearing, as several Republican Senators have indicated a willingness to talk with Judge Garland.

Everyone agrees that Garland is eminently qualified, though the Freedom Caucus would rather have a nominee to the right of Attila the Hun, and progressive Democrats would rather have a nominee far to the left of Teddy Kennedy. Incredibly, McConnell recently expressed his opinion that any nominee would have to win the approval of the National Rifle Association. Really? Really?

Bloomberg Politics reports that the Republican blockade “isn’t about Garland, or even really their newly invented talking point that the public should get a chance to weigh in in November. It’s about the balance of power at the court. They don’t want to let it swing from a majority of Republican-nominated justices to a majority of Democrat-nominated justices for the first time in decades if they can do anything to stop it.

In fact, the voters have already spoken, by reelecting the president to a second term that does not end until Jan. 20, 2017. McConnell’s desire to reverse the 2012 election or shorten the president’s term is pure House of Cards political fantasy. He is trying to gamble with America’s future. Several polls have shown that the American people do not want the Supreme Court to remain toothless for the next several months.

McConnell’s strategy may backfire. If he continues his practice of obnoxious obstructionism, strident partisanship, and mindlessly blocking every single thing the President proposes, including this nomination, it could likely result in an electorate that grows tired of the Ship of State not only being dead in the water, but in danger of sinking during the next eight months. It would serve the Republican Party right to lose, not only the presidency, but their majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives. Enough, indeed, is enough.

Mike McClary

Obstructionist thinking doesn’t serve the country well

Editor’s comment: It should be noted that in contrast to many local papers, the Culpeper Star Exponent regularly features lengthy commentary from both sides of the aisle.  In fact, they increased their word limit by more than a third for this rebuttal letter at the bottom of this page. 

And while our local paper, the CV gives their local commentators ample room for their thoughts, they rarely allow for any concerted rebuttals to any letters or their syndicated content.

So if you’ve been following the CV’s on going coverage of the county’s budget with possible tax increases and budget cuts, you might have also noticed that while their stories are filled with quotes and factoids there are rarely any follow up questions. Like, why is this necessary, or what other options have been considered?

Perhaps because it’s easier to give the appearance of informing, to reinforce cultural assumptions than to ask what’s holding them together

Just after posting their annual (3/17) op-ed for  “Sunshine Week,” which

FOIA_Free

talked about openness and transparency and how vital it is for effective and responsive local government they went in the opposite direction after re-printing Rich Lowery’s syndicated op-ed?

Where he loudly, if not proudly hailed Trump as this generations George Wallace, claiming that what he has accomplished during this primary is worthy of Wallace’s “respect and envy,” words that for better or worse appear to reflect many local sentiments. A perspective reinforced by their featured (3/17) “Chuck Wagon” column which rambled on about the “lesser of many [presidential] evils.

Apparently Mr. Moss expects us to believe that if voters were “thoughtful — and — true to [their] feelings,” that they would somehow find a way to make “… informed and personal choices.”  Perhaps, but wrapped up in all of that mumbo-jumbo is a prideful core of self-righteous scapegoating, which blames “outsiders” for everything that is wrong in their lives.

One which is dangerously oblivious to the reality that by setting the bar so low that any drunk, or demagogue could stumble over it they are debasing the very notion of responsible government — perhaps beyond recognition and redemption.

So I’m curious how the CV reasonably expects their audience to go about making those informed choices?

anger and marginalize

Perhaps because it’s easier to give the appearance of informing, to reinforce cultural assumptions than to ask what’s holding them together. And while for many magical thinking … I mean going with one’s feelings has always been the easiest choice, it has not always proven to be the wisest course of action.

Especially since the thoughtful part of the decision making process means taking the time to actually examine all of the available information — not just talking about it — or ignoring it.  Making thoughtful, informed choices does involves some heavy mental lifting.

So how many folks are likely to be motivated enough to sift through the information scattered throughout their stories, and follow those breadcrumbs, or even re-examine their own cultural Wallace-ism’s?

So, I’m wondering if by providing us with a steady diet of factoids and disjointed information, if the CV isn’t confusing the difference between political commentary and social indoctrination?

Jon Taylor

______________________________________________________________________________

Editors Note: this letter which appeared in the Culpeper Star Exponent here is the latest Democratic rebuttal to right wing commentary which appeared in their paper.

My Dear Airman Updike, we all honor your Air Force service (and MBA). Mike McClary is a West Point graduate and wears Jump Wings with a Ranger tab. He commanded an Armored Cavalry Troop in combat in Vietnam. He has an MA in International Relations and spent almost 30 years working in nuclear nonproliferation, spending the last 10 locking up loose nukes in the former Soviet Union. Perhaps before you attack this man you should lay your bonafides on the table.

I particularly like your Kool-Aid comment since it was a Christian cult that drank the Kool-Aid and died. Liberals don’t drink the Kool-Aid; they think for themselves. It is the right wing guys who are in lock step.

The failure in the last seven years has been Republican Mitch McConnell’s pledge to make Obama a one-term president, no matter how much damage it did to the American people. In spite of McConnell’s and his party’s efforts, the Dow is at 17,600 instead of 6,500, the American automobile industry is healthy, and Bin Laden is dead.

Speaking of Bin Laden, when his Saudi-funded, Al Qaida based in Afghanistan attacked on 9/11, Bush and company attacked Iraq on cherry picked and made up intelligence. They attacked the wrong country at the cost of $2 trillion and the loss many thousands of lives. They sent the Iraqi army home with their guns and no means of support for themselves or their families and created ISIS. These are your guys, Updike?

The Republican Congress under W. Bush was the biggest spender in the history of the world. They spent or authorized the continued spending of our wealth and squandered the surplus left by Bill Clinton. How about that Republican Medicare part D, written by drug companies who get to charge retail price without negotiation at the cost of $1.7 trillion added to the deficit.

I’ve heard your ilk complain about Executive Orders — Obama 226, W. Bush 291, and Reagan 381. Or the Presidential Signing Statement where the president states he will not follow a law. These really started with W. Bush who had 161 Signing Statements affecting more than 1,100 provisions of the law in 160 Congressional Enactments. Obama has done 32.

Perhaps when Airman Updike points to Robert Bork he forgets he was given a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, was not recommended and was then voted down by the Senate with 12 Republicans voting against. He got a vote in the Senate. He was voted down, not blocked for political purposes.

More than 30 federal judge appointments are being blocked in an unprecedented attempt by the Republicans to restructure the federal courts in violation of the intent of the U.S. Constitution, which gives the president the role of appointing judges. And the president is the one the people chose to do this with an election. What lying, shameful deceptions you guys perpetrate.

Trump is the guy who said on Feb. 24, “I love the poorly educated! … ” I’ll bet he still loves you and your MBA.

George DeSerres, CW4, U.S. Army, retired

Rebutting the lies

Editors Note: this article is reprinted with the authors permission, and appears here in the Culpeper Star Exponent.

In addition, please note that immediately below this article is a response to an earlier op-ed by Mike McClary which spawned these two contrasting letters.

The purpose of posting them here is to highlight the similarities between the many “arguments” that Republicans use here and in our local paper the Central Virginian, along with the difficulty in rebutting their egregious claims with anything less than a featured op-ed.

______________________________________________________________________________

There are many teachable moments in life and Mr. Updike has brought us one with his March 17 letter which attempts to be insightful, but is, instead, disappointing. Insightful, however, as representative of how some of our neighbors approach public issues, but disappointing in the use of straw men arguments and inappropriate labels.

His letter would have been less disappointing if he had read Mike McClary’s recent column more closely. Mr. McClary did not write that Trump supporters were “undereducated.” He wrote that the media and pundits used this, and other terms, to describe Trump voters. In contrast, his March 13 article called for looking “…at this voter with some sympathy, rather than the image presented by pollsters’ demographics.” The article then listed areas and policies where the average citizen might rightly be disappointed in the performance of the legislative branch of the government.

Everyone knows Congress has the lowest rating in years. Everyone knows instead of rebuilding the transportation infrastructure, for example, which would have improved the economy and provided jobs, the Republican-dominated legislative branch wasted money and time on projects of principle, such as working hard to see that millions of Americans don’t have health insurance.

Mr. Updike also is quick to pull out his labels. He wants us to focus on “…the failures of your (Democrat) political party for the last seven and a half years…” He fails to explain however, if the legislative branch has been dominated by the Republican Party for the last five and a half years, everything is not the Democratic Party’s fault. Assertion is not evidence.

I thought the quote from the former Secretary of Defense’s book about the handling of his budget was an accurate description of what has been going on under the Republican-dominated Congress. It takes considerable mental agility to place all blame for 2013 government shutdown and no budgets on the smaller party.

In fact, Mr. McClary’s article only repeated the thesis of Gov. Nikki Haley, who provided the Republican response to the president’s State of the Union address, that “We (Republican Party) need to accept that we’ve played a role in how and why the government is broken.

From his other holster, Mr. Updike fired off another label about Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, who was nominated in July 2013 and confirmed by the Senate in December 2014 well after the emergence of the Ebola crisis. The surgeon general is responsible for communicating the best available scientific information to the public regarding ways to improve personal and public health. He also oversees the operations of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, comprised of approximately 6,700 uniformed health officers who serve in nearly 800 locations around the world to promote, protect and advance the health and safety of the American people.

We better hope Mr. Updike does not become the hiring officer for the Culpeper hospital. Dr. Murthy, the son of a doctor, received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard and his M.D. and M.B.A. degrees from Yale. He completed his residency at prestigious Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School where he later joined the faculty as an internal medicine physician and instructor. Dr. Murthy has cared for thousands of patients and trained hundreds of residents and medical students. Mr. Updike labels Dr. Murthy as “inexperienced.”

With another pull of the trigger, Mr. Updike labels Dr. Murthy as claiming “gun ownership” was a disease. Unfortunately for Mr. Updike, that is not true. The NRA, which wants to stand between you and the Public Health Service, found a 2012 tweet at the time of the Sandy Hook shooting in which Dr. Murthy said guns were a “health-care” issue. The parents at Sandy Hook might agree. Emergency room personnel dealing with patients coming in from movie theaters might agree.

For himself, Dr. Murthy personally sat down with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to make his case that he planned to focus on obesity and chronic disease, rather than guns. The NRA is a powerful lobby and a respected (by some) organization, but in the end Dr. Murthy’s appointment was approved, with Republican votes. It is fair to ask why the delay in fulfilling this important position? Whether you conclude that the NRA is all powerful and can destroy anyone’s career at will but in this case held back, or this appointment was one of hundreds that experienced excessive delays in the Senate, it is all sand in the gears of government.

Mr. Updike used other labels and unsubstantiated assertions in his letter, but as Halley said originally, there is enough responsibility to go around. We all know that civility, respect, compromise and self-awareness are needed to make any social arrangement, from marriage to government, function with some degree of success. Sometimes we forget to apply those time-honored tools, and that is disappointing, too.

Harold A. Boyd

Chairman, Culpeper County Democratic Committee

_______________________________________________________________________________

As an officer of the Culpeper Democrat Party, Mike McClary has spewed his biased anti-Republican venom for so long that he has lost all credibility in any rational political discourse.

Apparently, McClary has become so intoxicated with the Obama and Democrat kool-aid that he will say anything regardless of facts to demonize all Republican candidates and their supporters. Case in point. McClary called Trump supporters “undereducated.”  Mr. McClary, I hate to burst your fantasyland bubble, but there are highly educated people who think for themselves and are fed up with the failures of your political party for the last seven and a half years under Obama.

McClary decried the Senate’s delay in confirming the current surgeon general. He failed to admit that this doctor was very inexperienced and that he claimed that “gun ownership” was a disease. Now, McClary is bemoaning the Republicans’ call for the new Supreme Court justice to be appointed by the next president. Need I remind McClary that Senator Schummer, Senator Obama and Senator Biden proposed the exact same action by Democrats when a Republican was in the White House? Remember the hatchet job by Democrats on Judge Robert Bork in the ’80s under President Reagan?

I guess McClary feels obligated to criticize Republicans because the two Democrat presidential candidates are beyond pathetic — a Socialist and an under-FBI-investigation proven liar. Wow! I can’t blame him for trying to deflect scrutiny.

Wouldn’t it be great to see the same amount of energy expended on what’s good for the country versus what’s good for any given political party? Sorry, that was only wishful thinking.

While Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders argue about who can promise the most “free stuff” to win votes, McClary and his Democrat colleagues should ponder the following quote from one of our greatest founding fathers: “The democracy will cease to exist when you take from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.” –Thomas Jefferson.

Not that you care, Mr. McClary, but I am an Air Force veteran and earned an MBA.

Francis Updike                                                                                                                              Culpeper

Addicted to Bio-solids, Ideology and Authoritarianism

Editor’s Note: this is an expanded version of a letter to the editor which appeared in the 3-17-16 edition of The Central Virginian.

In his March 3rd letter to the editor in the Central Virginian, C.W. Williams wrote about how local users of bio-solids have become “addicted” to them, and in a related article titled “Board may wash it’s hand of bio-solids oversight,” his claims that their now postponed proposal to completely eliminate the County’s bio-solids regulations would leave Louisa County without “…without any protection whatsoever,” are not hyperbole.

They are an indictment of the Board’s unwillingness to protect public health and safety in Louisa County and their inability to act in the best interests of their constitutients.  Supervisor Wade’s claims that Louisa has no regulatory authority over bio-solids are not remotely accurate.

They deliberately omit the fact that since 2008 the County has the legal authority to test them. And since it is still unclear if they have ever requested testing for any of the County’s fields it says a great deal about their commitment to public safety.

While many local residents and farmers may indeed be culturally and financially addicted to bio-solids, the Boards apparent “…denial in face of sound science…” represents a more dangerous kind of dependency.

One which Mark Chapman in a March 10th letter to the Central Virginian talking about Dave Brat’s “… moral consciousness [as] nothing more than an attempt to justify and to advance unregulated capitalism [with] no ethical bounds,” could have been easily describing what the Board is trying to do.

Where according to County Administrator, Christian Goodwin, the purpose of this hearing was to explore “public sentiment” for turning the county’s regulation of bio-solids over to the states Department of Environmental Quality.

And as quasi-official statements go, it’s a claim that which conveniently overlooks the fact that among the DEQ’s requirements for bio-solids is that the companies applying them “certify” that the sludge (aka bio-solids) they picked up from the sewage treatment plant meets certain criteria for levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, along with some heavy metals.

However any “monitoring” of bio-solids after they have been applied to fields is an entirely different matter. Where the “field inspection” is all about complying with the states “Nutrient Management Plan,” that only monitors  for unsafe levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, nutritional elements which can be toxic at higher levels.

These inspections were never intended to protect public health,  let alone  protect the environment because they are concerned only with chemicals that have traditionally affected farming productivity.  They do not taking heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury into account, or that the concentration of those heavy metals is likely to increase as bio-solids continue to be applied to those fields.

Nor do the regulations require any testing of sludge for metabolic residues from antibiotics and drugs, common household chemical byproducts, and the presence of viruses, and prions, or as the DEQ calls them “emerging trends.”

While this bare bones information is supposed to be available to the public well before these bio-solids are ever applied to fields few people will ever see those reports.

For example, the latest publicly available information (2004) from a JLARC (Joint Legislative Audit & Review Committee)shows that the Virginia Department of Health who used to oversee bio-solids in the state before the DEQ took over in 2008 conducted follow up “inspections” for just 19 out of ~ 1,100 sites .

Since there doesn’t appear to be any comparable data from field inspections since the DEQ took over in 2008, it does raise some questions about the DEQ’s commitment to both transparency and public safety.

And keep in mind that a field inspection is not the same thing as field testing. An inspection is making sure that the bio-solids are applied within proscribed “set backs” from property lines, roads and wells.

And in no way addresses the inevitable flow of the contaminants found in bio-solids into the air, ground and water supply. Nor does it cover their uptake into the crops and the farm animals which feed on these fields, which are in turn, eaten by an unsuspecting public.

These basic realities should make it clear that the states ability to monitor bio-solids and to ensure public safety is not just broken, but it is fundamentally broken at virtually every step.  So what does this say about the Louisa Board of Supervisors or the County’s Executive Officers commitment to protecting public safety?

Apparently not much, since it’s not too difficult for officials in the Louisa County’s Community Development Department to use the information contained in the bio-solids application permit to contact the  specific sewage plant  or “generator” in DEQ parlance well in advance of when these bio-solids will be applied to Louisa County fields and request another test be performed on the bio-solids that will be applied to Louisa’s fields.

In fact, the “hauler” in DEQ parlance, and in Louisa’s case Synagro, is legally required to provide this information to the County 100 days before any bio-solids are applied. Currently the regulations say those notices should go to the  County’s executive officer,  Christian Goodwin.

While the hauler has been complying with this requirement, it has never been clear if the County has ever requested an independent test from the generator (sewage plant) for any of their bio-solids permits, or if it has ever exercised their authority to request post application testing … not field inspections where bio-solids have been applied.

And while such uncertainty could easily be cleared up with an FOIA request, it remains to be seen if the latter two records are even being kept.

open government

While the Boards proposal to completely eliminate the County’s bio-solids regulations may reflect their collective ideological addiction to the notion that less regulation and less government is always better. It doesn’t change the fact that ceding all local control over bio-solids to the DEQ leaves public health and safety entirely in the hands of the foxes guarding the hen house.

And it is typical of how authoritarian’s think — reacting to any potential changes to the existing status quo with the most uncompromising of “solutions” — with local representatives and officials apparently valuing maintaining their sense of solidarity above all else — seemingly without any thought about the long term consequence of their actions.

Nor should anyone be fooled by this hearing being “postponed,” it is simply a delaying tactic intended to take advantage of the public’s short memory about this — and apparently a host of other local issues.

Like their latest “forced choice” budget proposals, either they slash vital social services, or dramatically increase taxes, all without any explanations — at least until after it becomes a done deal.

In contrast to this authoritarian approach Spotsylvania County Supervisor Greg Cebula says the Spotsylvania Board is trying to moving towards allowing only class A bio-solids, and eliminating class B bio-solids. Calling it a compromise “that moves us towards eliminating the most harmful effects [of bio-solids], while recognizing the political reality” that neither the farming community nor vendors like Synagro will willingly give them up.

So if you don’t care to see any more uncompromising “solutions” to the county’s many and complex problems make it your business to contact your supervisor and to attend these meetings and let them know what you think.

Jon Taylor

 

Wrap up of General Assembly’s budget

If one were to take Delegate Peter Farrell’s claims in his latest email to the faithful at face value, that “the House of Delegates passed a conservative, responsible, and structurally-balanced budget that invests in the core functions of government while protecting precious taxpayer resources,” one might actually believe that those comments were accurate.

And tucked amongst his highlights of the positive things in the recently passed state budget HB30, was this statement that “the budget does not include Obamacare’s Medicaid Expansion or Governor McAuliffe’s Medicaid provider tax.” It is a remark which manages to leave out the fact that the Commonwealth is throwing away roughly $5 million dollars a day in money which they already paid to the Federal Government.

Even after taking the fact that the current federal reimbursement rate will decrease from 100 to 90% after three years into account, the fiscally responsible House of Delegates is still throwing approximately 7-8 % of the states bi-annual FY 2016-18 budget away.  Somehow managing to completely avoid answere the question of how they intend to make this difference up.

During the negotiation over the state budget, HB30 was amended several times and it passed through the House by a 91-8-1 margin with Delegate Farrell voting for it. And over in the Senate they agreeing via a conference report to pass it by a 38-1-1 margin with Senator Reeves voting for it, and Senator Garrett inexplicably deciding not to cast any vote.

Whether his many non votes and votes against spending packages this legislative session is part of an effort to favorably position himself with the fiscally and socially conservative voters of the now vacant 5th Congressional seat is unclear.

Another thing that remains unclear is what the impact of various bond packages, and particularly those in GO Virginia will have on the states ability to stay within their 2016-18 budget.

Originally, these bond packages were intended to be part of the states new 2 year budget package that Governor McAuliffe proposed in December, and after the House and Senate chambers were adopted last month, this bond spending was no longer included in their budgets but in separate legislative proposals.

But what no one knows is what final package will look like, since it also proposes huge capital investments in state parks, juvenile justice, and research and development. The Governors initial $2.4 billion proposal was trimmed down to $1.6 billion in the House — and down to $1.8 billion in the Senate, with largest part of the remaining packages consisting of various educational bonds like HB1063 & HB1344, and SB61.

Even still, Governor McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy says that “It’s probably the biggest mystery of the budget.” Considering that are billions of dollars and states long term economic development plans are stake, the General Assembly is asking the taxpayers to swallow a lot of “mystery meat.”

Caught up in the political wrangling are major projects sought by Virginia Commonwealth University and other educational institutions. With both chambers’ proposals including construction funding for VCU to erect a new building for the School of Allied Health Professions on the university’s medical campus.

The House package includes money to plan, but not build, a School of Engineering research facility and a new STEM laboratory. The Senate proposes construction money for the engineering school but nothing for the science, technology, engineering and mathematics lab.

Perhaps the most politically ticklish of the governor’s budgetary concerns is the House plan to use the governance structure of the pending Virginia Growth and Opportunity Act, or GO Virginia, to oversee the disbursement of $50 million to $100 million in debt financing, based on the competing bond packages, to build research facilities for new technologies to drive economic development.

The oversight of GO Virginia, as proposed by the House, would give veto power to representatives of the House and Senate on the GO Virginia board. With Governor McAuliffe saying that “The proposed governance structures contain multiple reviews which could slow down progress in releasing the authorized funds,” and that “…this is essentially an executive function, and it needs to remain so.”

Both of the GO Virginia bills passed each legislative chamber with veto proof margins. With SB449 passing the Senate with Reeves voting for it and Garrett voting against it. It passed the House by a 90-7 margin with Farrell voting for it. While its companion bill HB834 passed the House by 86-9 margin with Farrell voting for it and passing in the passed the Senate with a substitute by a 35-5 margin, with Reeves voting for it, and Garrett voting against it.

Jon Taylor

Regulatory Capture and the General Assembly’s Environmental Negligence

In a previous post the Republican controlled General Assembly’s attempt to micromanage the Department of Environmental Quality’s ability to implement the new EPA’s regulation of emissions coming from existing power plants was dealt a serious blow when the Senate failed to over ride the Governor’s veto of SB21. While a companion bill HB2 is sitting on the Governors desk, he has until April 11th to pass it or, or veto it.

The common thread between these two bills and a multitude of environmental and energy bills which died in the General Assembly this session, often by unrecorded voice votes in various committees is Dominion Power.

Dominion Warms

 

Who has been quietly working behind the scenes to extend their influence, when last week their media relations manager forwarded a letter to the Daily Press that was sent by thirty-three lawmakers from both parties calling including every representative on the Tidewater Region to Virginia’s two U.S. Senators, Warner and Kaine.

The letter asked for their support of the pipeline, claiming that “The need for this project is urgent; to put it bluntly, our region’s natural gas transportation system has reached a tipping point,” and “Without new infrastructure, the abundant, economical supplies of natural gas being produced just a few hundred miles away will remain virtually inaccessible for our communities, crippling our prospects for economic growth.”

Many environmental groups oppose this pipeline, as do a number of landowners along the pipeline’s path, particularly in western Virginia. With Glen Besa, the director of the Sierra Club’s Virginia Chapter saying “this pipeline is really, incredibly – an incredibly large emitter of greenhouse gases from beginning to end, including the smokestacks,” and that those emissions should be a particular concern in Hampton Roads, where flooding already is a problem for state and local governments, as well as the military, who are already planning for impacts from sea level rise.

Adding that since Dominion delayed a pilot project last year which was meant to demonstrate the viability of a large wind farm off the coast of Virginia, “If these same legislators were to pressure Dominion to move forward on offshore wind, it would create more jobs and actually address climate change.”

And when it comes to addressing climate change, Dominions small scale “demonstration” solar facilities here in Louisa is another example of their attempt to create the illusion that they are moving towards renewables . When in fact they are doing everything in their power to have the General Assembly legislate their competition out of business, as well as slow walk their own development of any alternative energy sources.

And when the General Assembly isn’t able to get the  job done, they know they can always count on Governor McAuliffe to do their bidding.

Last October, Virginia’s State Corporation Commission turned down an application from Dominion Virginia Power to build a 20-megawatt solar facility on land it owns near Remington, Virginia. The SCC told Dominion it had failed to meet its statutory obligation to consider third-party market alternatives that could save ratepayers money.

So Dominion found another way to build the project, with what is being billed as a “public-private partnership,” Dominion will sell the power from the project to the state of Virginia, who will then will sell the associated renewable energy certificates (RECs) to Microsoft to help it meet its renewable energy goals for its data centers.

Governor McAuliffe said at an event in Richmond, that this facility would “reduce Virginia’s carbon emissions and diversify our energy portfolio.” And in the process, allowing Dominion to avoid having to consider less expensive means of acquiring solar energy, such as power purchase agreements or bids from third party developers.

Dominion like many other electrical utilities in the country is moving towards not generating electricity, but towards controlling the distribution of energy .

While doing their damnedest to preserve their broken economic model regardless of the cost. Like how they paid David Paylor, the head of the Department of Environmental Quality way to the 2013 Masters’ golf tournament. A trip valued at $2,300, along with his $1,200 party tab at a nearby Irish pub, as shown in this video.

And since he is the top state official responsible for regulating Dominion’s coal ash disposal plans, these disclosures have lead Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network to say that “Dominion’s influence over Virginia’s General Assembly has been apparent for years, but now it appears to extend to the same regulators entrusted to police the company’s pollution,” adding that “… Paylor vacationed on Dominion’s dime while he was simultaneously entrusted with protecting the public from Dominion’s pollution. This is a stunning conflict of interest.”

Even before these revelations, Paylor has come under fire for the agencies lax oversight of Dominion. For months, he had misinformed the public about Dominion’s secretive and potentially illegal dumping of nearly 30 million gallons of untreated coal ash wastewater into Quantico Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River. Paylor had repeatedly claimed that “no water was discharged,” a claim that was later proven false by Dominion and DEQ’s own admission.

Leading the Potomac Riverkeeper Network to call for a criminal investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency, with Tidwell adding “The decisions Paylor is making now will have a huge impact on the health of Virginia waterways and citizens for years to come. How can we trust he is putting the health of Virginians above the profits of Dominion?” Or whether public hearing like the one regarding Dominions permit to dump coal ash into the James River at Dutch Gap will make any difference in their lax oversight.

And the DEQ’s apparent state of regulatory capture will also be affecting the people of Louisa County, since Dominion’s Bremo Bluff facility lies upstream of where the new James River pipeline will be taking in water for the Zions crossroads area. Making it likely that their request to dump more coal ash into the James River from this site, and into the states waterways’ are actions will generate a host of “unintended and unrevealed consequences” for years to come.

Fortunately, the Republican dominated General Assembly is not in an immediate position to do anything about Interior Secretary’s Sally Jewell’s recent announcement that the Atlantic Coast will NOT be included in their 2017-2022 offshore drilling lease plan. With Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly saying that “the Department of Interior to remove the Atlantic Coast from its 2017-2022 offshore drilling lease plan is a responsible and important victory for all Virginians.”

And “I’ve repeatedly made the case that drilling off Virginia’s coast poses significant and irreversible consequences to Virginia’s economy, jeopardizes the Defense Department’s presence in the region, and threatens our coastal communities and natural resources.  More troubling, the flawed draft proposal asked Virginians to bear all that risk for less than a few months of national oil and gas supply.”

Jon Taylor

Wrap Up of General Assembly – Part 1

Despite claims by Republican’s in the General Assembly that this recently concluded legislative session was “a productive and successful” session in which “conservative values” prevailed, the so called civility among Republicans was hardly reassuring. It was far closer to that moment in a Batman or Superman cartoon when all of the villains decide to work together.

Like the recent debacle over an open State Supreme Court seat, where there was a straight party line approval of the eventual Republican nominee, Stephen McCullough. Who according to the Virginia Bar Association was the “least qualified person” for the Supreme Court. The fact that his judicial philosophy was barely removed from what Ken Cuccinelli promoted while he was in office, seems to have been the General Assembly’s only consideration.

With Democratic Delegate, Rip Sullivan saying not only had the process gone off the rails,” but that he was “…concerned that there actually are no rails.” So next year, expect to see a number of bad bills which were tabled for the 2017 legislative session shuffle return from the dead.

One of the Republican’s biggest successes during this legislative session was the introduction of 127 gun bills, with a 3 bill package revolving around Virginia’s recognition of out-of-state concealed carry permits, that reverses Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s decision last year to sever ties with 25 states which have looser permitting rules than Virginia.

This bill HB1163 and two other gun bills were amongst the first that Governor McAuliffe signed. The first HB1391 requires domestic abusers under permanent protective orders to give up any guns in their possession within 24 hours, and the second HB1386 requires Virginia State Police to be at every gun show to perform voluntary background checks. if requested by unlicensed sellers who lack access to the database that federal gun dealers use.

Whether this latest bit of protecting gun rights at all costs, represents the usual political one size fit all ideological solution to the problem of gun violence remains to be seen. But when it comes to protecting the citizen of the Commonwealth from the evils of fantasy sports, it was a bi-partisan effort all the way around. With HB775 easily passing both chambers and becoming the first bill in the nation to regulate on-line gaming.

Although it should be noted that Senator Reeves voted against it, and Senator Garrettrefused to vote one way or another. This bill says fantasy players in Virginia must be at least 18. While states like California and Maryland are considering bills with a minimum age of 21, and Massachusetts is also looking at a 21-year minimum, through a rule-making initiative outside the normal legislative process.

This bill has been criticized by both smaller fantasy site operators and anti-gambling addiction advocates. With smaller fantasy sites that operate full-season fantasy games rather than one-day contests like Draft Kings and Fan Duel saying the $50,000 registration fee is prohibitively expensive and will force them out of Virginia. Raising questions if the real purpose of this bill was to protect the industry, or consumers?

With Republican Sen. Ryan McDougle, claiming with a straight face that “Virginia is leading the way in establishing strong consumer protections while sending a clear message that, with the proper oversight, playing fantasy sports is a skill-based hobby people should be allowed to enjoy.”

As mentioned in previous BlueLouisa posts, one of the most interesting dynamics of the General Assembly is the extent that both parties go out of their way to promote business interests.  Last year, it was Dominion who got whatever they wanted. This year they managed to pass the coal tax credit bill, SB44 by veto proof margins in both chambers. So even if the Governor vetes this bill, the General Assembly will likely override it at their earliest convenience.

And when it comes to bi-partisan kowtowing to big business, the Governors signing of the proffer bill, SB459 on the 8th will make major changes to how local governments extract cash and other concessions from residential developers. And since it bars localities from denying rezoning based on “unreasonable” proffer requests, it is a bill that only a litigation attorney could like.

While other business … I mean pollute at all costs bills, HB2 and SB21 which would requires the Department of Environmental Quality to receive approval from the General Assembly for any state plan to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants prior to submitting the plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval passed both chambers along partisan lines, SB21 was vetoed by the Governor March 1st, and his veto was sustained on the 3rd when the Senate could only muster 21 votes. And presumably HB2 will suffer the same fate.

In fact, numerous clean energy and pollution bills died, as the General Assembly punted on a number of renewable energy bills while the good folks from Virginia Tea Party Federation were busy passing out “Global Warming Survival Kits ” which mocked the very existence of any crisis. So perhaps we all should all be thankful that these plastic doodads weren’t as offensive as the tinny plastic fetuses that Senator Dick Black passed out in 2003.

And with such entrenched pattern of avoiding any responsibility for their actions; like leaving a critical “non partisan” redistricting bill SB59 which passed the Senate 36-3 with Senator Reeves voting for it and Senator Garrett being one of the 3 votes against it, only to see it die without a single recorded vote in Delegate Cole’s infamous Privileges and Election committee.

With such staunch leadership, one can only wonder what kind of promotional kits we will start to see being passed around in the General Assembly in the years to come when the Tidewater area starts to slip beneath the waves.

Jon Taylor

 

The Trump voter versus the Republican mainstream

Trump voters handed more victories to the leading candidate last Tuesday night. Donald Trump now has 15 wins to Ted Cruz’s seven and Marco Rubio’s mere two. The media has spent much talk and text characterizing these Trump voters. Everyone agrees that they see Trump as the anti-Republican establishment candidate. Another image that appears is that this voter is undereducated, mostly white, low-wage and very angry.

Does the Trump voter have a basis for his anger in diminished present and future prospects? Should we look at this voter with some sympathy, rather than at the image presented by pollsters’ demographics?

The Trump voter is correct that the government hasn’t been working for him or her. Senator Mitch McConnell famously said seven years ago that he wanted to make President Obama a one-term president. How do you do that? You pour sand in the gears of government at every opportunity. The Republican-led Congress has utterly failed to do anything worthwhile to improve this voter’s status — no jobs bills, no reeducation or training for better work, no funding for our crumbling infrastructure, which in itself would create jobs, and meager assistance to veterans.

Why shouldn’t these voters be angry?

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates writes in his recent book, A Passion for Leadership, that “not once … did Congress approve our appropriations before the beginning of the fiscal year in which the money was supposed to be spent. In a couple of instances, we did not know how much funding would be available until mid-way through the year, and once (and several times since I retired) Congress never did approve our annual appropriations. And when you toss in mindless acts of congressional misgovernance — such as shutdowns, furloughs and sequestration — and micromanagement masquerading as oversight, just keeping the doors open is a challenge.” And he is talking about just the defense budget, which the Republicans prioritize before anything else. Sand in the gears of government.

The Republican establishment has been talking lofty principles for ages, but down here on the ground with the voter, things have not been so grand. In order to halt the expansion of medical insurance under the Affordable Care Act, Cruz was crucial to engineering the 16-day 2013 shutdown of the government which cost the economy between $12-24 billion. That is a significant opportunity cost for the furloughed, undereducated and low-wage worker, but it’s pocket change to the high rollers who subsidize this year’s Republican candidates, all of whom say it is in their DNA to cut taxes for the rich and cut spending for everyone else. Sand in the gears.

As the citizens of Flint, Michigan, found out, the focus on money alone means not focusing on people and not focusing on their health. The state of Louisiana is a larger example of mindlessly cutting budgets and not caring about people. An article in last week’s Washington Post goes into great detail about how Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, over eight years, cut taxes for the rich, created subsidies to lure business, gutted university spending, drained the rainy day fund and cut 30,000 employees, including those working in foster care. Yet the economy tanked and the nation’s second poorest state now needs nearly $3 billion over the next 16 months just to maintain what services are left. The future looks grim because 18 percent of the population lives in poverty and the median income is 20 percent below the national average. Sand in the gears.

So maybe those Trump voters have a point. The good news is that these voters are fed up with “the government” throwing sand in the gears and bringing the country to a grinding halt. The bad news is that they haven’t actually figured out that it is Republicans in the Congress, primarily the establishment including people like McConnell, Paul Ryan, Cruz and Rubio, but also the Freedom Caucus, including our very own Dave Brat, that are actually throwing the sand.

Having created the conditions for an angry electorate, stomachs are churning in the Republican establishment as they frantically trying to contain the Trump phenomenon and right the GOP ship in this storm.

Mitt Romney, “Mr. 47 percent,” recently railed against the electorate: “You, the Trump voter, are being conned.” This voter may not appreciate the suggestion that he is naïve and foolish. He knows he’s a victim. He’s being told the government sent his job overseas, when in fact this is a business decision in which he has no say. Similarly, the government isn’t telling companies to park trillions of dollars overseas so they don’t have to pay taxes. This is a business decision in which neither he nor the IRS has any say.

Perhaps his anger at the corporations and the establishment are well placed. If so, where will the Trump voter go after the Republican Party succeeds in blocking Trump’s candidacy? Who will they choose? Another Republican sand-thrower?

Mike McClary

Editors Note: reprinted with authors permission and appearing here in the Culpeper Star Exponent.

Disaster Economics

In December 1984, toxic gas and liquids leaked from the U.S. owned Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal, India, killing 20,000 people. Afterwards, their executives determined that it was cheaper to pay off the disaster victims than to clean up the leak, and settled out-of-court, with the victims of this disaster receiving about $4 a month compensation.

Meanwhile the contamination of the regions ground water leaves approximately 120,000 locals to deal with an epidemic of cancer, birth defects, emphysema, and early deaths.

Disasters like Bhopal happen when personal and environment safety standards are reduced or eliminated in favor of corporate profits. The downsizing of government regulations that preserve our environment and personal safety is a disastrous immoral effect (some would say evil form) of capitalism, one perpetuated by our Republican-led Congress under their banner of “Free Markets.”

At a recent Town Hall Meeting 7th District Congressman David Brat spent the first 15 minutes telling us that “morality is essential for representative government” and that “we have lost our commitment to our free market system,” and that “less government regulation will help businesses.” So why did I find Brat’s presentation so objectionable?

Because his moral consciousness is nothing more than an attempt to justify and to advance unregulated capitalism that knows no ethical bounds. The unregulated “Free Market” capitalism which Brat promotes is what allows disasters like the chemical leak in Bhopal to happen. It is a morality which eviscerates our Environmental Protection Agency, transfers jobs overseas, deregulates industry, and downsizes American workforce in the name of “Free Markets.”

It is a world where money replaces the best interests of American citizens. What does Congressman Brat’s voting history tell us about his moral allegiances to citizen health and our environment? He voted against Clean Air Act (HR 4557) to curb hazardous cancer causing emissions from brick manufacturers. He voted against a federal rules (HR1644) protecting our drinking water from pollution from mountain-top removal coal mining, pollution which causes lung cancer, heart and kidney disease in communities near mining sites.

He voted against a new EPA rule (SJ Res 22) that protects waters and wetlands. He voted against requiring gas and oil company’s vs taxpayers to clean up pipeline leaks. He voted against the factoring of carbon-emission costs (HR 348) into national environmental decision making.

True to his immoral “Free Market” economic policies he voted against bi-partisan budget bills and would like to shut our government down (HR 240, HR 22, HR 2029, HR 1314), he voted against labeling of potentially harmful GMO foods (HR 1599), and he voted against sensible gun legislation to protect innocent victims (HR 3293, HR 1217).

Brat voted against improvements to our health care system (HR 3762), voted against immigration reform (HR 3009), voted against the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons (HR 3662, HR 3461), voted against equal pay for women (HR 758, HR 3442, HR 3134). The only bill of Brat’s that he (HR 348) and which become law was to rename a Richmond arboretum.

Policies like those Congressman Brat promotes continue to destroy our air, water and land…his Orwellian notion of a “moral” government is how he keeps voters off-balance and lethargic by saying what voters want to hear and then promoting policies against their best interest.   At the Louisa Town Hall meeting, he tells voters he wants “to keep jobs from going overseas where corporations pay less taxes and where American workers must then compete with low production costs and wages.

Yet he offers NO legislation to prevent this because he is busy promoting immoral unregulated “Free Market” economics that neutralizes the Environment Protection Agency, transfers jobs overseas, downsizes American workforce, and hinders Congressional efforts to make improvements. Congressman Brat has no clue about translating his economic education into a morally responsible democracy without the evils of unregulated Capitalism; perhaps he should return to his university teaching profession to destabilize his students’ minds instead of our Congress.

Brat and his Tea Party supporters of disaster economics have no place in our Legislature. Let us remember this when he campaigns for reelection this coming November.

M. S. Chapman

Editors note: a shorter version of this letter appeared in the 3-10-16 edition of the Central Virginian.