Giving Dominion Credit Where Credit Is Due, but Not Where It Isn't.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

As you probably know, Blue Virginia - and RK before it - has not exactly been a big fan of Dominion Virginia Power. In fact, we're the ones who coined the slogan, "Dominion: Global Warming Starts Here." In general, I think it's fair to say that we look at anything and everything Dominion does with skepticism at best. Still, there are times when it's important to give credit where credit is due.In this case, as you can see from the graphic, Dominion Virginia Power's emissions of major pollutants - SO2, NOx, and Mercury (Hg) have been plummeting, and are forecast to continue plummeting in coming years. Now, obviously, a lot of that is due to Dominion simply complying with what the law makes them do, while another part is due to Dominion switching away from dirty coal to cheaper - and also cleaner - natural gas. In addition, I'd really like to see a similar graph for what's arguably the most important emission of all - carbon dioxide, which is contributing to potentially catastrophic global warming. Still, what this graph displays is progress, and I think it's fair to give Dominion at least some credit for that. 
lowkell :: Giving Dominion Credit Where Credit Is Due, but Not Where It Isn't.
Since we're giving Dominion credit today, we might as well mention this program, which Dominion says will allow "utilities to deploy incremental grid-side energy management that requires no behavioral changes or purchases by end customers." My understanding is that this program, where it has been tested, has resulted in a 4% reduction in energy use. That's not huge, but it's something at least, and Dominion deserves at least a positive mention for moving ahead with this.On the other hand, we simultaneously have this situation, in which a 450-KW solar power project at Washington & Lee University, and specifically Secure Futures - the company helping put together the "complex deal for [the] project" - "received cease and desist letters from Dominion Virginia Power demanding the project be halted." Believe it or not, Del. Terry Kilgore of all people has legislation that could fix this problem, but it faces a major obstacle -- Dominion opposes the bill. Not cool.
So, the bottom line here is this: Dominion Virginia Power deserves credit when it does the right thing - even if it's because the law requires it, or the economics are compelling - and it deserves criticism when it does the wrong thing. Having said that, we all have to realize that Dominion's far from the only player here. The fact is, the Virginia General Assembly could, if it wanted to, pass any number of laws affecting Dominion, such as a strong, mandatory Renewable Portfolio Standard; "decoupling;" or whatever else it wanted to do. If the General Assembly did so, then Dominion would have no choice but to comply.
So why haven't our fine leaders in the GA done so? In part, I'd argue it's because of all the money pouring in there from companies like...well, Dominion, among others. But it's definitely not clearcut, no absolute "villains" in this and no "heroes" on white horses. In the future, we will be looking at what all these actors - Dominion, the State Corporation Commission, the General Assembly, etc. - do (or don't do), and judging them accordingly.  

Is Barack Obama the Greatest President Since JFK?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Is Barack Obama the greatest president of our lifetimes? According to an aggregate ranking by presidential scholars, the answer is yes: President Obama is ranked the 14th best president ever, tied with LBJ and just slightly behind JFK (ranked #11 by the presidential scholars). Of course, this ranking is only through 2010, so it doesn't count an additional 12 months of job gains and economic growth in 2011, not to mention the decimation of Al Qaeda and the killing of Osama bin Laden, also in 2011. Given that 2011 was generally a good year for President Obama, it probably would be fair to ratchet up his rating by 2 or 3 points, putting him in the range of JFK (#11), John Adams (#12), James Madison (#13), and James Monroe (#14).But wait, you say, those are a bunch of presidential scholars, what do they know? (being snarky here, but that's probably what right wingers would try to claim, just like they believe climate scientists don't know anything about...climate). OK, fine, so what about public opinion, if you're one of those who believe that the people always know best? How about this 2/11 Gallup poll, which ranked Barack Obama #7, behind Ronald Reagan (uhhhhh...this is why I go with the scholars over the public; you MUST be freakin' kidding!), Abraham Lincoln, Bill Clinton (to be bipartisan here, you MUST be freakin' kidding me; Clinton's a greater president than George Washington, FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson? Riiiight!).
Now, forget the polls and just think it out for yourself. Clearly, since JFK, we've had a string of less-than-Mount-Rushmore-level presidents. First, we had LBJ, who did some great things (Great Society, Voting Rights Act, Civil Rights Act) but also was basically destroyed by Vietnam and bowed out for reelection in 1968. Then we had Richard Nixon, who also did some good things (opening to China, detente with the Soviets, established the EPA, enforced desegregation of southern schools), but of course was brought down by the Watergate scandals and his own paranoia, insecurity, and other demons. I'll skip over Gerald Ford, as he was neither elected nor reelected, and move on to Jimmy Carter, a good man who negotiated the Camp David Accords, but was brought down by stagflation, the Iran hostage crisis, and an oil crisis.  
lowkell :: Is Barack Obama the Greatest President Since JFK?

Then there's Ronald Reagan, whose administration accomplished much, some of it good (e.g., his $165 billion expansion and bailout of Social Security; his support for expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit; his comprehensive immigration reform, including granting of "amnesty" to 3 million "illegal immigrants;" his multiple tax increases aimed at cutting the deficits he had incurred with his foolish "voodoo economics;" etc.) and some of it bad (racking up enormous structural, long-term deficits; the Iran-Contra scandal, for which Reagan probably should have been impeached; a dangerous escalation of the Cold War; the Lebanon military fiasco, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of U.S. Marines; the skewing of the tax code - aka, "class warfare" - away from the middle class and towards the wealthy; his war on unions and working people; an egregious record on the environment, AIDs, and many other issues; etc.). In my book, Reagan was certainly a consequential president, but in terms of making American a better, fairer, more just and more secure country, overall it's very hard to see how he did that. Plus, the Iran-Contra scandal was impeachable, and it's amazing Reagan wasn't impeached and convicted. For all those reasons, I wouldn't rate Reagan higher than the lower half on a list of U.S. presidents.As for George HW Bush, in hindsight he actually wasn't so bad, especially compared to the extremists we've got running the Republican asylum these days. Although Bush 41 can in no way be considered a great president, he did preside over the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ouster of Saddam Hussein's troops from Kuwait, and a significant tax package that helped get the budget deficit under control after the reckless Reagan years. Still, I can't see how George HW Bush accomplished nearly as much as Barack Obama has.
What about Bill Clinton? I know a lot of Democrats worship him, but I never have. To the contrary, Clinton was probably my fourth or fifth choice among Democratic candidates that year (Tsongas was my first choice, with Tom Harkin, Jerry Brown and Bob Kerrey all ahead of Clinton in my book). As for Clinton's presidency, I'll give him credit for trying to push health care reform through in his first two years, and most of all for the deficit reduction plan he barely got through Congress in 1993. Unfortunately, Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994, and after that, it was pretty much Dick Morris "triangulation" the rest of the way. Blech. Sure, the economy boomed during Clinton's two terms in office, and he should get some credit for that (although how much credit ANY president should get for a good economy, and how much blame ANY president should get for a bad economy, is highly questionable). More than anything, honestly, I give Clinton credit for not screwing up a strong economy - in part due to a tech boom - and for not getting us enmeshed in any disastrous wars. Compared to many other presidents, that's actually pretty darned good, so I'd rank Clinton fairly high in the grand scheme of things, but again, the problem is that he failed with his big initiatives - health care reform, increased spending on infrastructure, a "BTU tax," etc. - in the first two years, then was playing defense and "triangulation" the rest of the way.
I'll just briefly mention George W. Bush, who arguably was the worst president in U.S. history. Simply abysmal, what else is there to say, and Barack Obama was elected in 2008 to help clean up the huge mess left to him - and to all of us - by that 8-year debacle.
So, which of our presidents since JFK deserve a higher rank, in terms of accomplishments (see the graphic at the beginning of this unexpectedly lengthy article), than Barack Obama? In addition, consider that the Obama administration has been far "cleaner," ethically speaking, than Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and Bush 43. We've also seen nearly two years of economic growth after recovering from the freefalling economy Obama inherited. We've had no new wars started, and in fact we've wrapped things up in Iraq and are moving to ramp down in Afghanistan and hand things over to the Afghans. We've had numerous, major foreign policy successes, including the decimation of Al Qaeda, much better relations with countries in Asia and Europe, a "reset" with Russia (although that relationship has always been, and will continue to be, highly problematic), continued progress on expanding trade relations, continued progress on nuclear arms reduction, etc, etc. And, of course, we finally got important, although far from perfect (I'd much prefer single payer, or expanded Medicare, or at least a robust public option). We've made significant progress on consumer protection, Wall Street reform, and equal rights for LGBT citizens, although clearly there's a lot more to get done. My major problems with this administration: 1) failure to push through a comprehensive clean energy and climate change bill; 2) failure to ditch the Bush tax cuts, which cost $4 trillion a decade and really make no sense at all. On those two points, though, I'd place a great deal of blame on Senate Republicans, and much less on the Obama administration. Still, those two are frustrating and damaging.
The bottom line, though: in three years, Barack Obama has arguably accomplished more than any president in the past 50 years, and without a major scandal (it's hard to even think of a minor one; and no, I don't count Solyndra as a scandal), screwup, or disaster. By that accounting, I'd say that the answer to the question asked in this diary's headline, "Is Barack Obama the Greatest President Since JFK?", is a clear "yes." Anyone care to argue why that isn't the case? I'm all ears.

Redistricting: Where We've Been, Where We Are, and Where We're Going

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

by FreeDem

(Great diary, VERY helpful - thank you! - promoted by lowkell)

Lowell already brought to our attention the good news that the courts handed the Republicans a defeat in the first round of what may prove to be a long legal fight over redistricting in Virginia. I am no legal scholar, but I was excited by the news that the judge dismissed the Republican argument that "shall" doesn't really mean "shall" and found that the group of Virginia citizens had standing for the lawsuit to move forward. But Governor McDonnell is moving forward with the same incumbent protection plan that the House Republicans (with a few unfortunate Democratic allies) pushed through last year in 2011. With redistricting still a big question mark moving forward, just months away from the November election, I wanted to take some time to sort through the entire mess. Where we've been, where we are, and where we're going.Where We've Been
Going back over a decade ago, Virginia Republicans in 2001 had the "privilege" of controlling redistricting for the first time in the modern era. They leveraged this advantage into pressuring Virgil Goode, already a Democrat-In-Name-Only who had voted to impeach President Clinton, to officially leave the party and begin to caucus with the GOP. They also worked to shore up newly elected Congressman Randy Forbes in the 4th, who had won a special election by a very close margin.
Below, I've calculated the partisan lean of the post-2000 census drawn district based on the 2000 Presidential numbers relative to the national average. So a R +6 district is one in which George W. Bush ran 6 points ahead of his national showing (47.87%, or rounded to 48%), which as we all know was less than Al Gore's popular vote national...
FreeDem :: Redistricting: Where We've Been, Where We Are, and Where We're Going
1:  R + 9.5
2:  R + 6
3:  D + 17
4:  R + 5
5:  R + 7
6:  R + 11.5
7:  R + 12
8:  D + 9.5
9:  R + 6.5
10: R + 7
11: R + 3.5
STATEWIDE: R + 4Republicans managed to make 8 of the 11 districts more Republican leaning than the state, with only two Democratic leaning (3rd and 8th) and the 11th just a bit more Democratic-leaning than the statewide average. The 4th was the second least Republican of the GOP districts.
Here's how the districts were BEFORE the Republican gerrymandering, based on the same 2000 numbers:
1:  R + 9.5
2:  R + 4
3:  D + 16.5
4:  0 (Even)
5:  R + 8
6:  R + 9.5
7:  R + 13.5
8:  D + 7.5
9:  R + 6.5
10: R + 9.5
11: D + 1
You can see how the Republicans used redistricting to shore up their vulnerable incumbents. Schrock in the 2nd had won a narrow race over Jody Wagner in 2000, Forbes narrowly won a special election earlier in 2001, and the 11th was seen as a trending Democratic target. The 10th was actually made less Republican as part of the plan to shore up Davis in the 11th.
Let's have a quick look at the partisan trends in each district over the next two elections under the Republican drawn lines. First, here's how the state trended. I go back before 2000 to show how things have slowly been moving in the Democratic Party's direction, at least at the Presidential level.
1988: R + 6
1992: R + 5
1996: R + 5
2000: R + 4
2004: R + 3
2008: 0 (Even)
Slow, gradual shift to the Democratic Party, with a more sudden shift in 2008.
Now the Congressional districts from 2000 onward.
1st District
2000: R + 9.5
2004: R + 9
2008: R + 5
Nothing significant in 2004, but a sharp shift to the Democrats in 2008.
2nd District
2000: R + 6
2004: R + 6.5
2008: R + 3.5
Another sharp shift to the Democrats in 2008, but nothing much in 2004 . . .
3rd District
2000: D + 17
2004: D + 18
2008: D + 22.5
Democratic district, but same story. Sharp shift in 2008, but nothing too significant in 2004.
4th District
2000: R + 5
2004: R + 5.5
2008: R + 3
Noticing a pattern? Nothing much in 2004, but big surges in 2008. I wonder . . .
5th District
2000: R + 7
2004: R + 5
2008: R + 5
Woah, a change! We see more of a shift going in 2004, but no shift in 2008 itself. Could it be John Kerry winning Albemarle County, the first Democrat since 1948? Or Danville, again the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the locality since 1948? But then no surge in 2008? Curious.
6th District
2000: R + 11.5
2004: R + 12
2008: R + 11
Nothing exciting here . . .
7th District
2000: R + 12
2004: R + 10
2008: R + 7
Interesting, about a decade of trending Democratic, even if it started from a deep ruby red lean and ended up still crimson.
8th District
2000: D + 9.5
2004: D + 16
2008: D + 16
That's a big shift going into 2004, with less of a shift in 2008. I'd argue that Arlington and Alexandria really hit peak Democratic performance in 2004 in organizing against Bush, and beyond that it's hard to push the envelope much further.
9th District
2000: R + 6.5
2004: R + 8.5
2008: R + 13
Look at that. The 9th started out at about the same partisan leaning of say the 2nd, but ended the decade as the most Republican leaning district statewide.
10th District
2000: R + 7
2004: R + 4
2008: 0 (Even)
Remember that Republican gerrymandering that made the 10th more Democratic to help Davis in the 11th, because Wolf was so safe? Well look what happened to his district . . .
11th District
2000: R + 3.5
2004: R + 1
2008: D + 4
And the other end of that shift? The 11th continued to trend Democratic, more than reversing the effects of the gerrymandering.
We can see the following groups.
Trending Republican: 9th (Both 2004 and 2008)
Trending Democratic: 7th, 10th & 11th (Both 2004 and 2008)
No Trend: 6th (pretty much flat)
Pro-Dem in 2004, Flat in 2008: 5th and 8th (for very different reasons I'd say)
Flat in 2004, Pro-Dem in 2008: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th (What a difference a presidential campaign that invests resources in Virginia can make!).
This fits intuitively with our gut feeling looking back at the last decade of Democratic defeats in several state legislative districts in Southwest Virginia (9th) with gains in Northern Virginia (10th and 11th).
Why does all of this matter? Because of the proposed incumbent protection plan coming from Virginia Republicans. Here's what the plan would do, based on 2008 numbers, with the old lines in parenthesis.
1:  R + 7 (R + 5)
2:  R + 4 (R + 3.5)
3:  D + 24.5 (D + 22.5)
4:  R + 5 (R + 3)
5:  R + 6 (R + 5)
6:  R + 12 (R + 11)
7:  R + 10 (R + 7)
8:  D + 13 (D + 16)
9:  R + 13 (R + 13)
10: R + 3.5 (0, Even)
11: D + 8 (D + 4)
The deal makes the 11th much more Democratic in exchange for shoring up Wolf (and his possible GOP successor) in the 10th. It also tries to work some magic in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, and even 7th.
Look back to the past Republican gerrymandering. Most vulnerable district then was the 11th, R + 3.5. Then the 4th, at R + 5, and then the 2nd, at R + 6. What happened? The 11th was still in a trending Democratic area and went Democratic when it opened up. The 2nd was a competitive seat in 2006, 2008, and 2010. And the 4t? Well, I guess that's where we didn't get lucky.
Now look at today. Here the most vulnerable is the 10th, at R + 3.5, and again it's in a Democratic trending area where I think we can still be optimistic when the seat opens up. The 2nd is next, at R + 4, more competitive than a decade ago and we already have a great candidate for 2012 there.
Here's the big difference from 2000/2001. Back then, the GOP had to focus on only three incumbents/districts (2nd, 4th, and 11th). They had the luxury of having safe incumbents elsewhere. Today, they are trying to juggle a host of incumbents and their demands, meaning they've only been able to make minor attempts at shoring up the 2nd or 5th. And it's questionable that their trade in Northern Virginia between the 10th and 11th will last.
Assuming their incumbent protection plan even holds, which brings us to where we are now . . .
Where We Are
The recent court ruling isn't really the beginning of the end, but it is hopefully the end of the beginning. The ruling removed the major hurdles to the lawsuit, mainly attempts by the Republicans to have it dismissed from the start.
The General Assembly did have an obligation to address redistricting in 2011, and it did fail to do so. And more importantly, average Virginia citizens just like you and me have the opportunity to go to court to hold the General Assembly accountable for its failure.
That's the easy part.
Now, what to do about it?
That's not entirely clear.
Again, I'm no legal scholar, but I've read with great interest the recent Supreme Court decision dealing with redistricting in Texas. Here, you can go read it.
First, I like reading some passages about the "unwelcome obligation" of courts having to step in and address redistricting if the state has in some way or another failed to do so. Here's a passage I found interesting:

To avoid being compelled to make such otherwise standardless decisions, a district court should take guidance from the State's recently enacted plan in drafting an interim plan. That plan reflects the State's policy judgments on where to place new districts and how to shift existing ones in response to massive population growth.
In this part, the Supreme Court is unanimously finding that even when the courts have to step in and draw lines, they need to take guidance from the recently enacted plans .  . .
But what if there isn't a recently enacted plan, which was the argument of the Texas Courts given that the new plan hadn't done through the full rigors of the Justice Department's Voting Rights Act preclearance?

But that does not mean that the plan is of no account or that the policy judgments it reflects can be disregarded by a district court drawing an interim plan. On the contrary, the state plan serves as a starting point for the district court. It provides important guidance that helps ensure that the district court appropriately confines itself to drawing interim maps that comply with the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, without displacing legitimate state policy judgments with the court's own preferences.
What does all this mean?
Well, I'll try to come up with analogy.
Let's put aside the issue of the General Assembly's failure to address redistricting in 2011 aside and let's just assume their incumbent protection proposal passes. It's still vulnerable to objections about packing minorities in the 3rd district. The courts are asked to intervene and settle the dispute. Even in drawing new interim maps, the courts can't just go and say "We don't like how Salem but not the city of Roanoke was put into the 9th, we're going to change that too." The courts can only specifically address the issues related to the Voting Rights Act, which would be primarily the 3rd, 4th, and some parts of the 1st, 2nd, and 7th in order to ensure equal population.
But here's the kicker. The ruling is that the General Assembly should have addressed redistricting in 2011, and it did not. Can the new 2012 plan really be seen as the "enacted plan" under these circumstances?
It is very hard to say.
The problem is that there are several potential challenges to Virginia's redistricting. One is that the General Assembly failed to fulfill its obligation to address redistricting in 2011. There are also questions about proposed lines under the Voting Rights Act.
There are two important aspects of the Voting Rights Act that address Virginia, and I'll try to explain them as simply as I can.
First, there is a Section 5 that covers states like Virginia with a history of racial discrimination through our electoral system and voting laws. This means the state has to get approval, or preclearance, from the Justice Department before new electoral systems (including maps) or voting laws that effect. Recently DoJ blocked a voter ID law in South Carolina because of this provision.
To be honest, given that we have one minority-majority district right now, and all proposed plans continue one minority-majority district, I don't see Section 5 being an issue...
But Section 2, which is the section of the Voting Rights Act that is commonly seen as "requiring" minority-majority districts where possible, could be of issue to Virginia.
With African-Americans making up about 20% of Virginia's population, the math is there that a fair and equitable redistricting would have two minority-majority districts. Unfortunately, population patterns make this apparently difficult. Historically, the courts don't like seeing a very extreme gerrymandering in order to come up with minority-majority districts. But some degree of creative line drawing is fine if the goal is to unite communities of shared interest. What's the difference? Well, the courts know it when they see it...
The Republican-backed incumbent protection plan does not create a second minority-majority district. The Democratic-backed plan does not create a second minority-majority district either, instead going for what they call a minority-influence or minority-opportunity district. This is great from the perspective of promoting a more just and equitable Commonwealth, and no court would strike it down if it were signed into law in Virginia. But trying to convince a court to draw an interim map based on this proposal will be difficult, because nothing in the Voting Rights Act compels the state to consider such a district.
But there is another possibility.
The ACLU argues that Virginia can draw two minority-majority districts. You can see their proposed maps here.
Legal precedent essentially argues that Section 2 requires minority-majority districts when a district can be drawn that contains enough minority population to elect a candidate of the minority population's choice. That means that minorities must make up at least 50% of the district's voting age population.
With me so far?
Here is the ACLU's argument:

Under the ACLU plan, 52.92% of the population in the third district and 52.40% in the fourth district identify themselves as African-American alone or in combination with other races (referred to as Any Part Black or AP Black).  The AP Black voting age populations in these districts are 50.02% and 50.24%, respectively.  The voting age populations for individuals who identify as single-race Black or African-American are 48.77% and 49.40%, respectively, although it is possible to increase both numbers to over 50% by splitting additional precincts.

Two minority-majority districts, right?Well, maybe not.
Note that they've counted "any part Black" for their statistical analysis. As Senator McEachin and others have noted, the Justice Department prefers to look at a strict "Black only" metric when interpreting the Voting Rights Act. So Black and Hispanic? Not Black enough for the Justice Department. Maybe your father was from Kenya but your mother was from Kansas, and so you want to mark down two or more races?. Nope, not Black enough for the Justice Department.
Yes, it is the 21st Century, and we're still debating the modern day equivalent of "one drop of blood."
I think it's absurd, but it's how the law is interpreted. Or at least it's how the Justice Department interprets it. There's no court precedent on how to deal with interracial individuals. The ACLU could actually be in a position to win a court fight over its argument that any part Black is enough for the Voting Rights Act, in which case it's ability to draw two minority-majority districts matters. It will be a very interesting development to watch in the future.
So to recap where we are now.
The court agrees that the General Assembly dropped the ball in 2011. But it's not clear what the outcome will be. Will the courts step in to draw their own lines? If so, based on what? The old lines? The proposed incumbent-protection plan? Trying to split the difference between the Democratic and Republican proposals? But what about the Voting Rights Act?
Or will the courts say the General Assembly should have drawn new lines in 2011, but since they worked really fast in 2012 to do so it doesn't matter? Better late than never? That still doesn't resolve issues regarding the Voting Rights Act that might still result in another minority-majority district in Virginia.
Pop the popcorn, there's going to be some legal excitement to watch!
Where We're Going
Look back at the Republican gerrymandering from the start of the decade. The goal was to shore up Schrock, Forbes and Davis. Well Schrock had his own problems. The 2nd was eventually won by a Democrat in 2008, and was competitive back in 2006. Forbes remain safe, but Democratic trends in Charlottesville/Albemarle and Danville/Southside caught up with Goode in 2008. And Davis, once he retired, had to hand his seat over to a Democrat. Elsewhere Wolf, who once occupied a safe Republican district, had to start to worry about the next cycle and what would happen when he retired.
Even if the Republican gerrymandering passes, I think we'll see their efforts to protect Wolf and his successor come to naught. Northern Virginia is growing too fast and too Democratic to keep the 10th safely Republican for the next ten years, especially given a likely Wolf retirement at some point. That's not to say it won't be a real barnburner when he does retire. Heck, Gen. John Douglas may be ready to give him a barnburner this year.
The 2nd you'll notice receives only a small Republican nudge under the gerrymandering. It is positioned to continue to play the role of a swing district over the next few cycles, unless one part or another begins to establish a permanent edge in the south Hampton Roads area. Paul Hirschbiel is an excellent and exciting candidate in this seat for the 2012 cycle.
Democrats are well positioned in at least two additional seats in the next decade. I'm sure someone in 2001 or 2002 could have seen Democrats winning the 2nd and the 11th over the next decade, but might have been surprised that it would be the 5th and not the 4th that would be the third seat to swing during the decade. Both seats might be competitive in the next decade, but if the incumbent protection plan passes my money is on the 5th.
Charlottesville is growing and is trending Democratic, acting as a mini-Northern Virginia in the 5th District. Other parts of the district, primarily around Lynchburg and Roanoke, are trending Republican and so far seem to be balancing out the northern part. Their growth isn't going to keep up with Charlottesville's though. And adding new exurbs around 66 near Warrenton may be the undoing of Hurt later in the decade, if the Republican plan is upheld.
I know it is far away, but Virginia is right on the cusp of a 12th congressional district in 2020. We'd have a 12th already if the House of Representatives had 445 members instead of 435; we're that close. Continued growth in Northern Virginia, coupled with the decline of other Rust Belt and Northern states, could well position us for a 12th seat in 2020.
What does that mean?
First, with 12 instead of 11 seats the math behind a second minority-majority seat becomes much easier, especially with projections still seeing African-Americans making up 20% of the population in Virginia in 2020.
Second, continued growth in Northern Virginia means that three, not just two, Democratic-leaning districts are likely. I believe Wolf's seat will go Democratic later this decade, and much like Republicans today are willing to accept Connolly in the 11th in order to shore up their other seats, I think in 2020/2021 accepting a third Democratic member in Northern Virginia in order to shore up Republicans elsewhere will make sense to the GOP.
If the Republican gerrymandering passes, it means that both the 1st and the 5th will see a growing portion of the district in the Northern Virginia suburbs. By the end of the decade, if these districts are still Republican their incumbents will love to shed the areas. That probably means the new district will wrap around "surplus" areas from these districts, potentially going as far south as Charlottesville, and would be very competitive between the two parties.
And again, unless one party begins to build a significant advantage in southern Hampton Roads, the 2nd will continue to be competitive for the future.
Two minority-majority districts, three Northern Virginia districts, and at least two swing districts. It's hard to say how the rest of the state would look, after another decade of population shifts, but that would probably leave at least Republican-leaning districts around Southwest (9th), the Valley (6th), Richmond (7th) and an assortment of white suburbs in the Peninsula, Richmond, Northern Neck, and south of Northern Virginia (1st).
If you have a new majority-majority district it might stretch all the way to Danville. If you've dumped Charlottesville into a new district it might leave a very small rump portion for a Southside 5th district, which would have to take in a lot more of Richmond to work out. I don't know if it would work out, again I'm just projecting forward ten years, but it's worth considering.
In Summary
How can I sum up all of these odds and ends?
First, it's important to understand that ten years ago Republicans were trying to rig the lines to keep Tom Davis elected in the 11th and they didn't have to worry about Frank Wolf at all. Today, they are cutting deals to make Gerry Connolly safe because they are that worried about Wolf's seat. Northern Virginia continues to grow and trend Democratic and we need to ride that wave as much as possible.
Second, the Voting Rights Act establishes a line regarding what is legal, not what is right. We might not win the fight over a second minority-majority or minority-majority influence/opportunity district this time around, but we all know that a second district favorable to Virginia's minority communities is the right thing to do. I believe the arch of history is on our side. Continued outreach and mobilization of Virginia's African-American community is a good long-term investment for Virginia Democrats.
Third, the 2nd District around Virginia Beach and Southern Hampton Roads will continue to be a tossup seat. I've read a lot of political pundits bemoan the difficulties Virginia Democrats face in rural areas of the state. But what about metropolitan areas outside of Northern Virginia? I'd rather see strong, unapologetic Democrats in Hampton Roads who can tackle the real issues of the harm from proposed offshore drilling, what uranium mining means for Virginia Beach, or how to build a new energy economy through wind energy.
Fourth, our dear Charlottesville community friends may feel temporary setbacks after 2010 and the proposed Republican gerrymandering to make Robert Hurt safer, but I think in the long term the growing influence of Charlottesville and Albemarle will keep the 5th competitive and ensure that Hurt can't take his seat for granted. We might not elect another Tom Perriello, but maybe being the thorn in Hurt's side means Charlottesville/Ablemarle will top the list of likely areas included in a new, more competitive district in 2022?
And finally, thank you so much for reading to the end of this diary. I welcome your thoughts and would love to entertain discussion and debate in the comments.

Arlington County Board Caucus: Winners and Losers

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Arlington County - Got an excellent new board member, one who will be independent, hard working, and honest. Good job, Arlington!
Mary Margaret Whipple - She's been on somewhat of a roll recently in terms of her endorsements (e.g., Barbara Favola, Libby Garvey). Whipple also got the Democratic nominee for governor she wanted in 2009, although Creigh Deeds then went on to lose in a landslide to Bob McDonnell in November, so that one was a mixed bag. But today, at least, Whipple's a winner!
Libby Garvey as an Arlington powerhouse: As her 2005 (House of Delegates), 2011 (State Senate) and 2012 (County Board) runs - plus her crushing victory for reelection to the Arlington School Board in 2008 - have shown, Garvey is a powerhouse in Arlington, not so much in Alexandria and Fairfax.
Libby Garvey's team: Clearly, running for office isn't an individual endeavor, it's a team effort, and Libby's team - James Stretch, Dave Leichtman, etc. - obviously did a great job getting out their vote. Nice job, guys!
Lee Hockstader (aka, Washington Post Editorial Board) - I've certainly been critical of Hockstader in the past, but I think he nailed this endorsement (of Libby Garvey), and Garvey won big time. I'm not sure that I'd generalize from this to say that Post endorsements are extremely important, but this one seems to have boosted Garvey to a bigger victory than many expected.
Barbara Favola - She got the person she wanted - and endorsed - to succeed her on the Board.
Local blogs, online newspapers: Coverage of the board race was far and away concentrated in blogs like Blue Virginia, NLS, and Arlington Yupette, plus online newspapers like ArlNow, the Patch, and Arlington Mercury (and even, as much as I hate to say it, the Sun Gazette politics blog). In comparison, the dead tree papers like the Kaplan Post were left far, far behind. Also, I'd point out that both NLS and yours truly endorsed the winner, Libby Garvey.
lowkell :: Arlington County Board Caucus: Winners and Losers
The folks at Arlington Yupette, whoever they may be (and the widely-held belief is that it's a combination of Jim Hurysz, Audrey Clement, and probably other Greens, Change of Government supporters, and probably a disgruntled Democrat or two) - Whatever you might think of that blog, they almost singlehandedly demolished Melissa Bondi's candidacy with research into, and revelations about, Bondi's tax issues.
Terron Sims - Far outperformed many peoples' (mine included) expectations, setting himself up for (or at least not killing his chances of undertaking) possible future runs. If Sims had finished last, as he did in his run for School Board, his political career would have been in deep, deep trouble.
Arlington County Treasurer Frank O'Leary, Rep. Jim Moran - They both endorsed Terron Sims, who did much, much better than his last-place finish in 2008 for School Board. Also, O'Leary blasted Melissa Bondi in the newspapers, essentially as a tax scofflaw, and Bondi finished a distant second. For O'Leary, that's Mission Accomplished, apparently. Moran also has no love lost for Chris Zimmerman, from what I hear, plus he proved that he's loyal to his friends. For an old Boston-style pol, that's all important, whether it really benefits him or not in terms of getting things done.
Arlington County Board members Jay Fisette and Mary Hynes - Given that they will (almost certainly) be working with whoever won the Democratic caucus, they smartly stayed out of this race. It will be interesting to see how Board dynamics play out in coming months.Losers
Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman - To a large extent, the opposition to Melissa Bondi really seemed to be aimed at Zimmerman and his perceived (by many) power grab on the Arlington County Board. That appears to have backfired, big time. As one smart friend of mine put it, "the instances in which Zimmerman's backing has been either a net negative or the kiss of death have been [where] the perception [has been] that he is trying (via his endorsement) to achieve an objective like gaining enough votes on the School Board or on the County Board to have a working majority. In those instances, there has been an instinctive, negative adverse reaction to the candidate receiving Chris' endorsement no matter how good or otherwise qualified that candidate is." Agreed.
Arlington County Board member Walter Tejada and Arlington Clerk of Court Paul Ferguson - Both endorsed and campaigned hard for Melissa Bondi, who lost by a wide margin. In both cases, they'll now be working with Libby Garvey, who they obviously did not support, so we'll see how that goes.
Columbia Pike streetcar advocates - The good folks at Greater Greater Washington and elsewhere definitely didn't get the clearly pro-streetcar candidate they wanted. Not that Garvey's against it, but she's much more skeptical of the cost than Bondi appeared to be.
Kim Klingler and Peter Fallon - Both are good, smart people with a lot to offer, but clearly their campaigns went absolutely nowhere. In Kim's case, I was never clear on the rationale, and in Peter's case, let's just say - for better or worse - he's NOT a politician! ;)
Peter Rousselot - A great friend of mine, also someone who's done tremendous work over the years for Arlington Democrats (and Democrats in general!), so I'm loath to put him on any "losers" list, but Peter campaigned hard for Kim Klingler, even did a robocall for her, and...well, let's just say, it didn't help. Sorry, Peter. :(
Turnout - It wasn't worse than usual as far as Arlington Democratic caucuses go, but it was still pathetic in the broader scheme of things. I mean, we're talking about 2% of Arlingtonians choosing the next County Board Member for Life (most likely, barring a huge Republican or Green upset in March). The other 98% of Arlingtonians apparently aren't too concerned which Democrat replaces the departing Democrat on the Board.
One more thing about Melissa Bondi: I don't want to pile on Melissa at all, because I like and admire her a great deal (and think that some of the criticism of her was over the top, absurd, outlandish, unfounded, etc.). However, in general, before running for office, it's probably a decent idea to do some "self research" (as it's called), make sure you've got your ducks in a row, that you don't have any skeletons in your closet, etc. If you find that you've got those things, you might want to either reassess your run, or at the minimum make sure you clear up as many of them as possible before you throw your hat in the ring. Just sayin'...

Senate Black Caucus Members Rip House Black Caucus Members Over Redistricting Vote

Saturday, January 21, 2012

In the current edition of the Richmond Free Press, there's an article entitled, "Congressman Scott's district safe, but he continues to push for fair representation." As I read it, I was amazed at the level of heat, vitriol, division, even anger, between the House and Senate black caucuses. Here's a sampling:
In a surprise move, six members of the Legislative Black Caucus broke ranks with Rep. Scott and fellow Democrats to support the House plan as the best option.Hampton Sen. Mamie Locke, the Caucus chair, blasted those members in a strongly worded statement.
"Well over 300 years ago, slave owner William 'Willie' Lynch devised a plan through which he assured Virginia slave owners that if they adopted his practices, slaves/black people could be controlled for centuries," Sen. Locke declared after the House vote.
"It seems that this prediction is alive and well in the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus in 2012," she continued.
Norfolk Delegate Kenneth C. Alexander, former Caucus chairman and one of the six, called that criticism "over the top" and unwarranted. Among the 21 Democrats who voted against the House plan were seven members of the Legislative Black Caucus.
Among them was Richmond Delegate Jennifer L. McClellan, who passionately argued against the plan on the House floor. On Monday, she told the
Free Press that she opposed the plan because "it packs too many African-Americans into the 3rd District, diluting their voting strength in the other congressional districts."
The full House vote is here. As you can see, the black caucus was deeply split, even within the House, let alone between the House and Senate.With regard to the Senate, the Free Press notes Sen. McEachin and three other black senators, L. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth. Henry L. Marsh III of Richmond and Yvonne B. Miller of Norfolk, are committed to opposing the House plan." I asked Del. McEachin for further comment, and I received the following statement:

Libby Garvey Wins Arlington Democratic Caucus for County Board

I just received this press release from the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC), announcing that Libby Garvey won the Democratic caucus for County Board overwhelmingly (44%-22%-21%-8%-4%) over four opponents. Congratulations to Libby, who almost certainly will be the next Arlington County Board member!
Libby Garvey Wins Arlington County Board CaucusArlington, VA - The Arlington County Democratic Committee is pleased to announce that Libby Garvey will be the Democratic nominee in the special election for County Board being held on March 27, 2012.  Ms. Garvey was the winner of the Arlington Democratic Party's County Board Caucus, held over two days on January 19 and 21.  Out of 4,314 ballots counted, Ms. Garvey secured 1,915 votes.
The final vote counts were as follows:
Libby Garvey 1,915 votes
Melissa Bondi 966 votes
Terron Sims 922 votes
Kim Klingler 333 votes
Peter Fallon 178 votes
"This County Board contest was one of the hardest fought in recent memory, featuring five great candidates from various constituencies in Arlington," said Arlington Democratic Chair Mike Lieberman.  "We are proud that Libby Garvey emerged from this caucus as our nominee.  She has been an outstanding School Board Member, and we know she will make an excellent County Board Member as well.  We look forward to committing our full party resources behind getting Libby elected on March 27."

South Carolina Teapublican Primary Open Thread

Polls close in South Carolina at 7 pm. Feel free to use this as an open thread to discuss the results of this primary, and also of the Teapublican primaries in general. Interesting, the early exit polls indicated that "Nearly 2/3 say recent debates -- where Gingrich got rave reviews -- were an important factor," and also that "about 1/2 of voters made up their minds in the last few days, backing up Gingrich poll gains." Looking good for Newton over Willard, but we'll see soon enough! By the way, if Gingrich does beat Romney in South Carolina tonight, that will mean Romney's only won a single primary, and that was in his de facto home state, so it really shouldn't count for much. Not impressive.UPDATE 7:01 pm: ABC and NBC News call it for Newt Gingrich.  Hahahahahahahaha. Lovin' it. :) :) :)
UPDATE 7:02 pmCNN exit polls have it at Gingrich 38%, Romney 29%, Santorum 17%, Paul 15%. Will Santorum drop out? If so, then it will essentially be mano a mano between Newton and Willard. Boy, would that be a hoot!
UPDATE 9:12 pm: According to CNN, with 68% of precincts reporting, it's Newton 41%, Willard 26%,  Mr. "Man on Dog" 18%, and the crazy conspiracy theory/racist/"get off my lawn!" guy 13%.
UPDATE 9:17 pm: As Loudoun Insider points out, "Of course the collapse of Mitt Romney in the South Carolina polls had little to do with Bob McDonnell, but it certainly does not help McDonnell's VP campaign to endorse and campaign for Romney there just as Romney collapses and loses pretty significantly." Hahaha.
UPDATE 9:18 pm: According to Intrade, Willard now has a 66.9% chance of being the Republican nominee, compared to 26.0% for Newton and 0.7% for Surging Santorum. Willard was over 90% just a few days ago.
UPDATE 7:08 am Sunday: With 99% of precincts reporting, Newton Leroy won with 40% of the vote to Willard "Mitt"'s 28%, Surging Santorum's 17%, and Conspiracy Freakazoid 13%.
UPDATE 11:41 am Sunday: Check out Andrew Sullivan's fascinating thoughts on Newt Gingrich, Willard Romney, and the "crack-up" of the Republican Party. That includes this comment, with which I agree wholeheartedly: "If I were a Republican, I'd be ashamed. But Gingrich won, I think, because shame is alien to him. Especially when it comes to race."

New Campaign Exposes Climate Science-Denying Weatherzombies, Like...Topper Shut

Think Progress Green informs us of an important new campaign against climate science deniers on our TV screens:
America&'s television meteorologists are the primary source of climate information for most Americans, and are second only to scientists - who have much less access to the general public - in the level of trust they are given. Yet more than half of TV weather reporters don't believe in human-induced climate change, even as our poisoned weather grows more extreme.Forecast the Facts, a new campaign of, the League of Conservation Voters, and the new Citizen Engagement Lab, aims to turn the tide. The first call to action challenges the American Meteorological Society to vote next week for a strong climate change statement that rejects science denial...
So, I looked through the list of science-denying meteorologists (you'd think that would be an oxymoron, but nooooo...), and surprise surprise, guess who I found there? That's right, none other than the DC metro area's own Topper Shutt (of WUSA-TV). Among other ignorant, crazy things Shutt has said, is this tweet: "What percentage of the atmosphere is CO2 ? 0.03 % !! That's driving climate?"Actually, yes it is, as 99% of climate scientists will explain to Mr. Shutt if he'd just "shutt" up and listen for a change, instead of spewing forth his own hot air (that's heating up the newsroom, if not the planet). For more Topper-of-the-charts idiocy, see here and here.

In sum, Topper Shutt is using his position as a popular weather dude in the Washington, DC area to push his anti-science, pro-dirty-energy-industry, ideologically-driven agenda. Which is 100% what the anti-climate-science movement is all about, because it's certainly not based on reality, empirical evidence, or anything like that.By the way, speaking of empirical evidence, 2011 worldwide "was hotter than every year last century except 1998." Also, "Both NASA climate scientist James Hansen and University of Victoria's Andrew Weaver said they expect that in the next few years the world will set yet a new record high temperature. 2010 tied for the hottest on record." I'm sure it's all just a fluke, though, or sunspots, or aliens, or spaghetti monsters, or...something, anything other than humans spewing out massive volumes of greenhouse gases year after year. Duh.
So why is Topper Shutt still employed by WUSA TV? There's seriously noone else they can find to read us the (frequently incorrect, as today's was - earlier this week they were saying it would be warm and dry today; great job, guys!) forecast for the next few days, without the corporate/extreme ideological agenda? What next, is WUSA going to hire a sportscaster who doesn't "believe" that football's a sport, or that a touchdown is worth 8 points not 6, or that a grand slam only scores 3 runs, or what? That would make as much sense as employing a "meteorologist" who doesn't "believe" in anthropogenic global warming (on that topic, see Humans Are by Far the Dominant Cause of Global Warming: A Comprehensive Review of the Science.  

Are We Better Off Today Than We Were Three Years Ago? Uh, Yeah!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Three years ago tomorrow (1/20/09), Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan's famous question, "Are we better off today than we were three years ago?" Short answer: yes! Longer answer: yes yes yes! How about some evidence? Here you go!1. Jobless claims: According to Reuters, "The number of Americans filing for new jobless benefits dropped to a near four-year low last week, pointing to some building up of momentum in the labor market and the economy." The Labor Department reports that "Initial claims for state unemployment benefits plunged 50,000 to a seasonally adjusted 352,000, the lowest level since April 2008" -- and also "the largest drop since September 2005." Back when Barack Obama took office (on January 20, 2009), new unemployment claims were around 600,000. Thus, today, new unemployment claims are down about 40% from three years ago.
2. Factory output: As this article points out, "U.S. factories are roaring back from the depths of the recession, cranking out more machinery, vehicles and energy. Factory production has surged 15 percent above its lows of 2½ years ago and is helping drive the economy's recovery."
3. The stock market: On January 20, 2009, the Dow closed at 7,949.09, while the S&P was at 805.23. Yesterday, the Dow closed at 12,578.95 (up  58% from 1/20/09) and the S&P was at 1,308.04 (up 62% from 1/20/09).
4. Unemployment rate: This is a trickier one, as we're now at 8.5% unemployment, up slightly from 8.3% in February 2009 (the first full month of Obama's presidency). However, given that there was tremendous negative economic momentum built in/baked into the cake from the Bush/Republican Recession when Obama took office, that the American Recovery Act wasn't signed into law until February 17, 2009 -- and didn't fully kick in for many months -- it seems a lot more fair to look at the unemployment rate perhaps 6-9 months or so after Obama took office. At that point, we were at 9.5% unemployment. Thus, today, unemployment is down 1 percentage point from 2 1/2 years ago, a relatively fair point to start measuring President Obama's performance (unless you're totally, wildly biased against him, in which case you'll ignore economic reality, etc.).

5. U.S. auto industry: When President Obama took office, the U.S. auto industry was teetering on the verge of ruin, with estimates that "Closing the Big Three would mean loss of 240,000 very highly-paid jobs at the Big Three,[42] a loss of 980,000 highly-paid jobs at the suppliers and local dealers, plus the loss of 1.7 million additional jobs throughout the economy-a total loss of 3 million jobs." Disaster, in other words. Today, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Obama administration, the Big Three U.S. auto companies - GM, Ford, Chrysler - are booming, and this growth is buoying all of the U.S. economy. Yeah, I'd say that's "better off than three years ago!" :)6. Housing market: U.S. housing prices peaked in early 2006, then started falling -- "On December 30, 2008 the Case-Shiller home price index reported its largest price drop in its history." Today? According to this CBS Money Watch report, "CoreLogic's latest MarketPulse report, released Wednesday, suggests 2012 could be the year of the housing turnaround. Improved unemployment figures, low mortgage interest rates and inexpensive homes could be just the kick the housing market needs to begin a recovery." Again, huge, huge improvement from January 2009. As in, not even close. We are wayyyy better off than three years ago in this area.
7. The Economy: Bottom line -- when Barack Obama took office three years ago, the economy was in free fall, in danger of descending into another Great Depression. Today, the worst has been avoided, and we're growing again, with 22 straight months of private sector job growth, a healthy stock market and auto industry, a stabilizing housing market, and all the other indicators listed above. Not too shabby, especially given the hole we had to dig ourselves out of following 8 years of wildly irresponsible Republican policies.
8. Energy: According to EIA, U.S. net oil imports today are down sharply from January 2009 (8.2 million bbl/d in November 2011 compared to 11.2 million bbl/d in January 2009). Also according to EIA, U.S. oil production is up sharply, from 6.9 million bbl/d in January 2009 to 8.1 million bbl/d in November 2011. That's right, far from killing U.S. oil production, the Obama administration has presided over a spike in output. Same thing with natural gas, with U.S. dry gas production up from 1.8 trillion cubic feet (tcf) in January 2009 to 2.0 tcf in October 2011. Note that U.S. natural gas production has now increased more during President Obama's three years (+221 billion cubic feet - bcf) than during President Bush's 8 years in office (+110 bcf). What about renewable energy? U.S. wind power production in 2011 will end up around 1,000 Btu, nearly double the 546 trillion Btu of U.S. wind power produced in 2008. Solar PV production is also up in 2011 compared to 2008, although not as dramatically as wind. Finally, energy prices: natural gas prices are down sharply from late January 2009 (about $4.70 per million Btu) to mid-January 2012 (about $2.97 per million Btu); gasoline prices are up slightly, from $3.30 per gallon in 2008 to about $3.45 per gallon now, mostly due to the fact that the economy's recovering and demand is picking up.
9. Health care: Thanks to Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress, every Americans is benefiting from health care reform. Among other things, we now have a closure of the "doughnut hole" for seniors, "free screenings for cancer and other diseases" for seniors, young people covered under their parents' plans until they turn 26 years old, no more lifetime limits on benefits, no more pre-existing condition restrictions for children, access to insurance for people with pre-existing conditions, and no more of the "abusive practices whereby health insurance companies rescind existing health insurance policies when a person gets sick as a way of avoiding covering the costs of enrollees‟ health care needs." Oh, and so-called "Obamacare" will also reduce the budget deficit substantially, according to the non-partisan CBO. Plus, we're on track for providing tens of millions more Americans with access to affordable health care coverage that they didn't have when President Obama took office. Again, I'd say we're not just better off than we were three years ago, but greatly so! (note: for now at least we've stopped the absurd, destructive Keystone Big Oil Boondoggle)
10. Taxes: In short, 95% of Americans have had their taxes lowered by President Obama and the Democrats since January 2009. The other 5% haven't seen their taxes go up, either. Damn socialists! LOL
11. Iraq: There were about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq when Barack Obama took the oath of office, three years ago. Today, there are zero. Which do you prefer? :)
12. GLBT: If you're a GLBT American, or if you simply support equality for GLBT Americans and believe our country is greatest when we live up to our ideals, then we're much better off than we were three years ago. Today, GLBT Americans can serve openly in the U.S. military. Also, the Democratic Congress passed - and President Obama signed - the "Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded existing United States federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability -- the first positive federal LGBT legislation in the nation's history." The HIV entry ban's been lifted, benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees have been extended, etc, etc. Again, as a nation, we are MUCH better off than we were three years ago because of all these positive actions on behalf of GLBT Americans. Thank you, Democrats, and thank you President Obama!
13. Consumers: We are all much better off because we now have Richard Cordray on the job, heading up a new consumer watchdog agency, part of "an effort to protect the interests of middle-class Americans who have suffered as a result of the Great Recession, which stemmed in part from abuses in the financial system."
14. Wall Street Reform: We are all better off due to passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which "brought the most significant changes to financial regulation in the United States since the regulatory reform that followed the Great Depression...representing a significant change in the American financial regulatory environment affecting all Federal financial regulatory agencies and almost every aspect of the nation's financial services industry." Should we go even further? Yes, of course. But this isn't a bad start, certainly much more than we had three years ago!
15. Torture: Ending the Bush/Cheney policy; our country now has a no-torture policy, and as such is in compliance with the Geneva Convention. It's hard to believe we ever strayed from that, but thankfully, we're significantly closer now to where American should always have been.
16. Terrorism/Al Qaeda: The Obama Administration has essentially wiped out Al Qaeda, killing or capturing most of its leadership - including, most spectacularly, Osama bin Laden - and decimating its ranks. Perhaps not coincidentally, there hasn't been a significant, successful terrorist attack on the United States in over 10 years. Again, we are much better off than we were three years ago with bin Laden dead and Al Qaeda nearly wiped out.
17. Illegal Immigration: This isn't a huge issue for most Americans, but for many on the right it is. Well, they should be happy, because today, illegal immigration is at a historic low point. Again, if you're concerned about this issue, then - if you're honest about it, anyway - you've got to admit we're significantly better off than we were three years ago (and no, it's not all due to the economy, which again, is recovering).
18. CrimeCrime rates in the U.S. are at their lowest levels since...wait for it...1963. In other words, we're not just better off than we were three years ago, we're better off than we were 48 years ago.
OK, look, we could go on and on with this all day,  but it's almost starting to feel like bragging. Not that there aren't still problems in our country - of course there are, and there always will be - but today, almost every trend is moving in a better direction than it was three years ago, when George W. Bush left office as the Worst President Ever. In contrast, today, we have real leadership in the White House, and until November 2010, we had real leadership in Congress as well.  The question is, will the American people be sensible enough to give Democrats control of Congress again, and of course (no brainer here) to reelect President Obama? I mean, this really doesn't take a rocket scientist, but Republican'ts and their Koch brother/dirty energy/right-wingnut allies are going to spend the next 10 months spewing out disinformation, lies, slanders, etc. Still, I'm hopeful that the tremendous accomplishments of the past three years, and the fact that we're so much better off than we were then, will carry the day. How about you?

Photos: Arlington Democratic County Board Caucus

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I got back about 1/2 hour ago from the Arlington County Board Democratic caucus at Washington-Lee High School. As far as I could tell, there was fairly heavy turnout, with long lines (see photos on the "flip") to get in and vote. Of course, that might be partly due to the fact that tonight's caucus was just 2 hours long, and perhaps most people decided to vote tonight instead of Saturday? We'll see. One other observation: the crowd for this caucus appeared to be overwhelmingly white and...let's just say "older" -- very few young people, very few Latinos, very few African Americans, etc. As I looked around, I kept thinking, "what is this, the Republican Party?" All I can say is, I sure hope that voters on Saturday more closely resemble the diverse community that Arlington is proud to be. (Note that the racial/ethnic makeup of Arlington County is: "64.04% non-Hispanic White8.23% Non-Hispanic Black or African American, 0.20% Non-Hispanic Native American, 9.52% Non-Hispanic Asian (2.0% Indian, 1.7% Chinese, 1.1% Filipino, 0.9% Korean, 0.7% Vietnamese, 2.7% Other Asian), 0.08% Pacific Islander, 0.29% Non-Hispanic other races, 2.55% Non-Hispanics reporting two or more race. Hispanics or Latinos made up 15.11% of the county's population.")Now, on to the photos - candidates Libby Garvey (photo courtesy of Clifford's Photography) and Melissa Bondi "above the fold;" candidates Terron Sims, Kim Klingler, Peter Fallon, Clerk of the Circuit Court Paul Ferguson, Revenue Commissioner Ingrid Morroy, and County Board Member Mary Hynes "below the fold."
lowkell :: Photos: Arlington Democratic County Board Caucus

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Yay Libby! (3.00 / 1[delete comment]
Go Libby go!  Kinda mad the caucus made her take down the balloons I bought her, but it's all good.  Thanks for the pics, Lowell.

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A few more photos by Clifford's Photography (0.00 / 0[delete comment]

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Cuccinelli Announces Settlement with Fraudulent "US Navy Vets," Totally Omits Own Involvement!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Well, well, well, isn't this interesting?
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli announced today that his office has reached a settlement with a company that solicited funds from Virginians for the now defunct and fraudulent United States Navy Veterans Association.[...]
USNVA claimed that it assisted disabled and needy war veterans and that it sent care packages to U.S. troops stationed overseas, among other charitable work.  However, on March 21, 2010, the St. Petersburg Times began publishing a series of articles regarding USNVA that questioned its legitimacy.  By the end of June 2010, USNVA ceased operations and its founding director, Bobby Thompson, disappeared amid allegations that USNVA was a fraud.
"The U.S. Navy Veterans Association defrauded people in the name of veterans, and this fraud diverted needed money from veterans' charities," said Cuccinelli.  "This office will continue to work with our law enforcement partners at the state, local, and federal levels to find 'Bobby Thompson' and any other cohorts, to ensure that those responsible are held accountable for what they have done.
So, great job by Cuccinelli, right? Well, uh...not exactly. Why  not? First and foremost, because Cuccinelli completely omits his own involvement in this scandal, as if his hands are clean. Well, they most certainly are not. Back in June 2012, NLS and Steve Shannon laid it all out. Here's an excerpt from the sordid scandal (one which the media has done an absolutely horrible job of investigating):

Four days after Thompson gave Cuccinelli's campaign for attorney general $5,000, Cuccinelli publicly announced he would attempt to consolidate the responsibilities of the Office of Consumer Affairs under the Office of the Attorney General should he be elected. He later held a news conference to make the same pronouncement, less than three weeks after accepting another $50,000 from Thompson.Earlier this year, two Republican legislators introduced bills to do just that - to give the attorney general primary authority for investigating and resolving consumer complaints related to the Virginia Solicitation of Contributions Law, which includes the reporting requirements and exemptions for charitable organizations soliciting in the state. One legislator served on Cuccinelli's transition team, and the other legislator - ironically - was recently appointed the state's new commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs.
Neither bill garnered the necessary support in the state Senate. Had either bill passed as introduced, Cuccinelli's office would have become the primary point of contact for investigating and resolving consumer complaints such as the one against U.S Navy Vets.
A great deal more background on all of this is available at our "What's that Stench?" page. Also, check out Cuccinelli's juvenile, defensive response to Steve Shannon's charges against him -- calling Shannon a "sore loser." Well, that settles that, huh?The fact is, there's a lot of stench here, even if it's never been fully investigated, and even if Cuccinelli responds with 3rd-grade-level playground taunts aimed at anyone who questions him on this. As NLS' chronology clearly lays out, this was "pay to play" if there ever was such a thing. Yet, apparently, "the Cooch" has escaped scot-free from any legal or political repercussions from his apparent corruption. Again, that's a failure of the media to do its job, but also a failure of Bob McDonnell, Bill Bolling, and other prominent, Virginia Republicans to utter a peep about any of this (what are they, afraid of Coochy Cuckoo?). It's truly appalling.

Meet Willard "Mitt" Romney's For-Profit Pal in Virginia

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Several of my Virginia progressive friends have forwarded me this New York Times article on Willard "Mitt" Romney and his love affair with the for-profit "education" industry/scam, so I thought I'd say a few words about it. First, here are a few key points from the article:*Romney's receiving a great deal of financial support from the for-profit "education" industry/scam.
*Returning the love, Romney is urging that "students should consider for-profit colleges like the little-known Full Sail University in Florida." Tuition at Full Sail (yes, that's really its name), by the way, is $80,000, "for a 21-month program in 'video game art,'" although it comes with a "spotty graduation rate" (like most of the for-profit "education" industry/scam of just 14% on time and 38% total (see here for more on that subject).
*Romney's enthusiastic support for the for-profit "Education" industry/scam marks a significant difference with the Obama Administration, which "has imposed tighter regulations on for-profit colleges and limited the role of private companies in student lending."
For more on this heinous industry, see For-Profit Colleges Scam Military for $521 Million, Report SaysPassing the Buck on Default RatesABC News Investigates For-Profit Education Again: Recruiters Caught Offering Bad AdviceExecutives Collect $2 Billion Running U.S. For-Profit CollegesReport: For-profit colleges cashing in on veteransThe For-Profit Education CesspoolBlistering FRONTLINE Story on For-Profit Education Industry Features Chief Lobbyist Harris Miller, etc., etc. Also recall that last June, Harris Miller was fired as  president and chief executive of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU), and was replaced by Brian Moran. Yes, the same Brian Moran who is also chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia. By day, he heads up a scam industry that rips off veterans and poor kids, engages in predatory recruiting practices, scams the taxpayer out of tens of billions of dollars (while rewarding its "university" presidents - not to mention the head of its chief lobbying organization - lavishly). As one of my Virginia progressive friends wrote:
DPVA, heal thyself! When our Chair and Mitt Romney have the same sleazy friends, something is very, very wrong.
As another wrote, "Not good news for Brian Moran when you (or your clients) are being touted by Romney and you are the Democratic chair..."  I couldn't agree more. Unfortunately, most Virginia Democrats seem either oblivious or uncaring about this situation. What I fail to understand is why that's the case. Any ideas?

Court to Perry, Gingrich, etc: 50 "Laches" with a Wet Noodle

Friday, January 13, 2012

So, as you probably know by now, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has rejected the attempts of four Republican't candidates - Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, and Rick Santorum - to use liberal judicial activism sue to get their way on the Virginia Republican't primary ballot. That's not surprising, but the reasoning of the court is interesting. Click here for the complete ruling. A few key points:1. The plaintiffs definitely have legal standing to sue, so the case is fine on that ground.
2. According to the court, Virginia's residency requirement for petition gatherers is likely to be declared unconstitutional, so the plaintiffs are on strong ground there.
3. The 10,000-signature requirement is found not to be a legal problem. According to the court, "No one can seriously argue that the rule is unduly burdensome." The plaintiffs would fail on that argument.
4. The court definitely finds that the plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm from not being able to appear on Virginia's Republican primary ballot.
5. The public interest "weighs heavily in favor of the plaintiffs," as voters should have the "ability to cast a ballot for the candidate of her choice."
6. However, despite several strong arguments for the plaintiffs, their case was thrown out. Why? Because of something I'd never heard of previously: the "equitable doctrine of laches." This doctrine holds that if a plaintiff has "slept on its rights" by waiting too long to seek relief. As the court writes:
The plaintiffs could have challenged the Virginia law [many months ago]. Instead, they waited until after the time to gather petitions had ended and they had lost the political battle to be on the ballot; then, on the eve of the printing of absentee ballots, they decided to challenge Virginia's laws. In essence, they played the game, lost, and then complained that the rules were unfair.
In other words: Perry, Gingrich, Hunstman and Santorum are sore losers, emphasis on the word "losers." They failed to get on the ballot, then suddenly decided Virginia's rules were unfair, then came crying for some judicial activism (which they usually decry) on their behalf. For all of that heaping bowl of FAIL, according to the court, Perry/Gingrich/et al. deserve 50 "laches" with a wet noodle. Actually, the court didn't say that, but I thought it was a fun play on words, so what the heck. :)