Where ethics and utility profits intersect, a stain spreads across the "Virginia Way"

Friday, February 28, 2014

by Ivy Main

(For an explanation regarding why subsidizing nuclear power is such a dumb idea, see here. For an explanation of why we should be focusing on energy efficiency instead, see here. - promoted by lowkell)

The Virginia General Assembly has punted on ethics reform, preparing to pass watered-down legislation that does very nearly nothing. At the same time, legislators are about to pass just passed a law that will cost Dominion Power's customers more than half a billion dollars as a down payment on a nuclear plant that hasn't been approved and isn't likely to be built.These are not separate issues.
Virginia has had an ethics problem since long before Bob McDonnell met Jonnie Williams. As many people have noted, the real scandal is how hard it is to break our ethics laws. So long as you fill out a form disclosing the gift, it's legal for politicians to accept anything of value from anyone, to use for any purpose. By this standard, McDonnell's biggest failure was one of imagination.
The legislation that appears likely come out of the General Assembly merely puts a $250 cap on the price tag of any one gift, with no limit on the number of lesser gifts and no limit on the value of so-called "intangible" gifts like all-expense-paid vacations. The mocking of this bill has already begun.
Conveniently, the bill deals with a tiny side stream of tainted cash compared to the river of money flowing from corporations and ladled out by lobbyists. Corporations don't usually give out Rolexes and golf clubs. Instead, they give campaign contributions. Here again, Virginia law places no limits on the amount of money a politician can take from any donor. Five thousand or seventy-five thousand, as long as your campaign reports the gift, you can put it in your wallet.
And here's the interesting part: you don't have to spend the money on your campaign. If gerrymandering has delivered you a safe district, you can use your war chest to help out another member of your party-or you can buy groceries with it. The distinction between campaign money and personal money is merely rhetorical. A spokeswoman for the State Board of Elections was quoted in the Washington Post saying, "If they wanted to use the money to send their kids to college, they could probably do that."

In an eye-popping editorial, the Post ripped into one Virginia delegate who charged his campaign more than $30,000 in travel and meals, and another $9600 in cellphone charges, in the course of just 18 months.As with taking the money, the only rule in spending campaign funds is that you file timely paperwork showing what you spent it on; the reports are not even audited. The theory originally may have been that the threat of public disclosure would keep a gentleman from taking money from unsavory persons. If you took it anyway, the voters would learn of it and throw you out. How quaintly respectful of the energy and capabilities of voters! How pre-gerrymandering.
And how pre-corporation. The smartest companies today spread the wealth around: more to the legislators in charge of the important committees, less where they just need floor votes. The largesse is bipartisan, making everyone happy but the voters. Certainly, a legislator who accepts thousands of dollars from a lobbyist would be churlish to criticize the company writing the check.
So what do you call someone who pays for his meals out of the check he gets from a company?
How about, "an employee"?
Environmental groups and good-government advocates have long decried the influence of corporate money in Virginia politics. In their 2012 report, Dirty Money, Dirty Power, the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, and Chesapeake Climate Action Network documented the rising tide of utility and coal company contributions to Virginia politicians, coinciding with a series of votes enriching these special interests.
Dominion Power has consistently led the "dirty money" pack. As the single largest donor of campaign funds aside from the Republican and Democratic parties themselves, its influence in Richmond is widely acknowledged, even taken for granted.  Most legislators will not bother to introduce a bill that Dominion opposes, even if they like it themselves. Critics joke that the General Assembly is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dominion Resources.
According to Dirty Money, Dirty Power, Dominion's contributions to elected officials totaled $5.2 million from 2004 to 2011. The Virginia Public Access Project shows another $1.4 million in 2012 and 2013. The contributions overall somewhat favor Republicans, but often the contributions are so even-handed as to be comical, like the $20,000 each to Mark Herring and Mark Obenshain in the Attorney General's race last fall. These contributions are not about supporting a preferred candidate; they are about buying influence.
Note that much of the donations don't go directly to General Assembly members but to the parties' PACs, which then dole out the money. This gives Dominion extra influence with party leaders-again, on both sides.
The result has been spectacularly successful for Dominion, which rarely fails to get its way. Bills it opposes die in subcommittee (witness this year's bills to expand net metering). Bills it wants succeed.
That brings us to this year's money bills. As you may have read, Dominion has been "over-earning," collecting more money from ratepayers than allowed by law. In the ordinary course of things, this would result in both a rebate to customers and a resetting of rates going forward to produce less revenue for the utility.
For Dominion, the solution is a bill that lets the company charge ratepayers for expenses it isn't entitled to pass along under current law. (Indeed, in a nice touch, the bill actually requires Dominion to pass along these expenses.) Presto: it's no longer earning too much, owes no rebate, and doesn't have to cut rates.
In return, the ratepayers get the satisfaction of assuming the sunk costs of a new nuclear reactor that will probably never be built, plus whatever more money the utility spends on it going forward. I believe the technical parlance for this is "blank check."
"But we must have nuclear," our legislators murmur as they sign our names on the check. Um, why? Nuclear energy today can't compete economically. Just last year Duke Energy gave up on two nuclear plants it had been building, after billing ratepayers close to a billion dollars in construction costs. (BloombergBusinessweek headlined its article on the subject, "Duke Kills Florida Nuclear Project, Keeps Customers' Money.")
Dominion itself understands the wretched economics of nuclear perfectly well; its parent company, Dominion Resources, just closed an existing nuclear plant in Kewaunee, Wisconsin, because it couldn't produce power cheaply enough to attract customers. And that's from a plant that's paid for; energy from new plants is now more expensive than natural gas, wind, and even some solar.
Memo to Democrats: when the cheaper alternative is renewable energy, no self-respecting progressive signs on to nuclear.
The steadily falling price of wind energy, and more recently, solar energy, help explain why nuclear is on its way out nationwide. The only nuclear plants under construction in the U.S. today are over budget and reliant on billions of dollars in federal loan guarantees.
Memo to Republicans: no self-respecting, Solyndra-bashing conservative signs on to nuclear.
The State Corporation Commission also understands the economic picture, and it has been skeptical of Dominion's nuclear ambitions. On top of that, there are serious concerns whether a third reactor at North Anna could even get a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the wake of the earthquake that shut the existing units for four months in 2011. (For a good short history of the North Anna reactors, including the fine Dominion paid in 1975 for hiding the existence of the fault line, see this fine article in the local Fluvanna Review
So there's a pretty good chance that Virginia ratepayers will find themselves following in the path of Duke Energy's customers, with many hundreds of millions of dollars thrown down a rathole and nothing to show for it.
The elected officials voting for this boondoggle, on the other hand, will have plenty to show for it, unfettered by rules of ethics.  

Gov. McAuliffe Should Veto Dominion "Global Warming Starts Here" VA Power Corporate Welfare Bill

This morning, Vice Chair of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club Ivy Main wrote scathingly about a just-passed bill "that will cost Dominion Power's customers more than half a billion dollars as a down payment on a nuclear plant that hasn't been approved and isn't likely to be built."As Main notes in her article, "environmental groups and good-government advocates have long decried the influence of corporate money in Virginia politics," including a "rising tide of utility and coal company contributions to Virginia politicians, coinciding with a series of votes enriching these special interests." Dominion Virginia Power is, by almost any standard, at the head of this tawdry list, having spent over $6 million since 2004 to essentially purchase Virginia's political system for the benefit of...well, not you and me, that's for sure.
The result, as Main points out, "has been spectacularly successful for Dominion, which rarely fails to get its way" on anything it wants. That includes this latest monstrosity of a bill, which "lets the company charge ratepayers for expenses it isn't entitled to pass along under current law," with ratepayers (that's you and me) getting "the satisfaction of assuming the sunk costs of a new nuclear reactor that will probably never be built, plus whatever more money the utility spends on it going forward." Great deal, huh?
Making matters even worse, if that's possible, is that this corporate welfare is going towards a really bad company (dirty energy Dominion) and a power source - nuclear - which is extremely expensive, thus can't compete economically and must rely on enormous government subsidies. Which is why there hasn't been ground broken on a new nuclear power plant in the U.S. since 1974. That's right, 40 years ago, when disco was all the rage, Gerald Ford was taking over from Tricky Dicky, the Soviet Union was still going strong, and the Vietnam War was winding down. This power source is just outrageously expensive, not even close to competitive at this point with other alternatives - including solar, wind, energy efficiency, you name it pretty much.
I've written about this subject extensively over the years (and worked for 17+ years at the U.S. Energy Information Administration as an energy economist), but it bears repeatingnuclear power is at the bottom of the energy heap in terms of cost-effective energy solutions (it trails energy efficiency, wind, solar, geothermal, natural gas...pretty much everything.
So, why on earth did a bunch of Democrats - including strong progressives and environmentalists - vote for this corporate welfare bill to help subsidize Dominion's costly nuclear boondoggle? I asked around, and got a few responses.

*Virginia environmental groups inexplicably didn't raise the red flag on this bill, with the Virginia League of Conservation Voters actually marking this one down in the "monitor" (not "oppose," as it should have been) category. Huh?
*Virginia's part-time legislators are forced to deal with thousands of bills in a few weeks each year, meaning that they "go by in the blink of an eye," with "no time to sit and study bills" - including highly technical, complicated ones like this. That's why "ethics reform" should include a complete re-think about how we run our government here in Virginia. Right now, it's pretty much government of the lobbyists, for the corporations, by the super-wealthy people.
*I heard from multiple sources that this nuclear bailout bill somehow got linked to another bill dealing with wind power, and that apparently confused the heck out of legislators (clever, clever, Dominion lobbyists!).
*There's an almost total lack of expertise on energy issues among Virginia legislators, leaving Dominion's expert lobbyists to happily write the legislation, tell legislators how to vote, and generally game out the best strategy for getting what they want.
*To sum it all up, as one person told me: "there wasn't a concerted effort by the environmental groups, and the progressive lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, are not accountants" (or energy experts)...A total f@#@ up by the environmental movement, progressives, etc. This is perhaps the worst legislation to pass this year."Great, huh? I know I'm feeling inspired and idealistic today, how about you? Nope, didn't think so. The last hope? Gov. McAuliffe should veto the "worst legislation to pass this year." But will he? After what we just saw in the Virginia General Assembly, and having seen the same type of thing for so many years now, I'm most definitely not optimistic.

Dwight Jones Coronated As DPVA Chair

by Dan Sullivan

Dwight Jones photo DwightJones_zps12020cd2.jpgSensing a rising tide of sentiment against the prospect of Mayor Jones' candidacy for DPVA chair, it seems the "powers that be" have chosen to short-circuit the process. This further solidifies the argument that Jones is no more than a strawman for whomever feeds his self-perceived competence.While this certainly will save the Central Committee substantial time and effort at the meeting on March 15, if true, the announcement will come as a pre-emptive strike that is not so surprising, yet will serve to allay any illusion that the DPVA functions for the benefit of its members. And it will be good news for the Republican Party of Virginia, despite themselves, because it would guarantee that the DPVA will lack the focus required to maintain control of the State Senate beyond 2015.
The best part of this ham-handed move is that it alienates the party members who reside in districts that are currently held by Republicans; as in the grassroots members who the DPVA needs the most to accomplish any gains anywhere. While a competent, experienced, incumbent Executive Director would be able to manipulate a marionette Chair with one hand, it will probably require both hands just to keep the ship steady in the heavy rolls that can be anticipated with the staff changes that have already taken place.
Advice to the powers that be: don't ask for unanimous consent or acclamation at the Central Committee. It doesn't exist.
Update: The revised version from the RTD.

Will Wonders Never Cease? Top VA Repubs Call for Fitzsimmonds to Resign Over Misogynistic Remark

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William Howell and two of his lieutenants are calling on the state Republican Party's treasurer to resign over his use of a slang term for female genitalia in a Facebook discussion about a female GOP legislator."The comments made recently by Bob FitzSimmonds are offensive and have no place in mainstream society or our political discourse," reads a statement issued by Howell, Majority Leader Kirk Cox of Colonial Heights and Fairfax County Del. Tim Hugo.
"These comments are not representative of the House Republican Caucus or the Republican Party of Virginia," continued the statement issued Thursday. "They do not reflect our values or principles and they are deeply inconsistent with the tone and tenor we believe is appropriate for public debate."
Of course, Fitzsimmonds is just one of many, many Virginia Republicans who have made misogynistic and otherwise bigoted (e.g., homophobic) remarks. For instance, Sen. Stephen Martin (R) earlier this week called women "the child's host (some refer to them as mothers)," while raging against pro-choice advocates as "very sick people." When are Republicans going to denounce HIM or call on HIM to resign?!?Let's also not forget that House Speaker Howell himself had this little incident, in which he demeaned ProgressVA head Anna Scholl as  apparently not being smart enough to understand anything but "little enough words." Finally, we haven't even mentioned the actual policies Republicans push with regards to women's health and reproductive freedom, most of which seem to be aimed at wildly unhelpful things like defunding Planned Parenthood, requiring intrusive and medically unnecessary ultrasounds, selectively harassing women's health clinics, and keeping poor women and their kids from gaining access to high-quality and affordable health care. Hence, the "war on women" phrase, which Republicans get so indignant about, probably because they know they have no substantive response to it, and also because it kills them politically. And yes, they richly deserve to be hurt politically for this extremist, anti-women lunacy.
P.S. The sad thing is, Fitzsimmonds' comments (and Martin's, and Howell's towards Anna Scholl, and so many others) actually ARE "representative of the House Republican Caucus or the Republican Party of Virginia" and actually DO "reflect {their} values or principles."
UPDATE: RPV Chair Pat Mullins, who has never seemed bothered by all sorts of offensive remarks (e.g., by Ken Cuccinelli, EW Jackson, Mark Obenshain, etc, etc, etc.) has commented and revealed the REAL reason why top Republicans are calling for Fitzsimmonds to resign -- because his remarks "give the media and Democrats an excuse to talk about anything other than the impact of their disastrous policies on our Commonwealth and country." Hahahahaha.

First Major 8th CD Straw Poll Coming Up in Mt. Vernon: Expected Order of Finish

Monday, February 24, 2014

One of my fondest memories of the 2006 Jim Webb for Senate campaign was Webb's shocking upset of Harris Miller at Gerry Connolly's St. Patrick's Day "Fete" and straw poll. In addition to being a great deal of fun, that one might actually be an example of a straw poll that: a) made a difference in the race; and b) fairly accurately predicted the results (Webb won the straw poll 58%-42% and went on to win Fairfax County 61%-39%). But Webb's straw poll victory in 2006 was probably more the exception than the rule, as I wrote about here.Having said all that, two Democratic 8th CD straw polls are coming up soon - the Mt. Vernon Democrats' event on Saturday evening, March 1, and Rep. Connolly's St. Patrick's Day "fete" on...yep,  you guessed it, St. Patrick's Day! :)  Here are my expectations for the candidates at the Mt. Vernon straw poll (note: last year, Aneesh Chopra and Mark Herring won this poll, with Justin Fairfax doing very well). Obviously, there's a lot of uncertainty in straw polls, so this post is more to get a conversation started than anything else. Still, these are my best guesses. What are yours?
1. Don Beyer: The event is being held at Don Beyer Volvo in Mt. Vernon (note that this fundraiser has been held at that location for years, and is not being specifically held there this year for any reason, such as to benefit Don Beyer). My understanding is that Beyer has been very helpful to the Mt. Vernon Democratic Committee for years, so obviously he knows a ton of people there. Plus, Beyer should have the highest name ID, given that he was Lt. Governor of Virginia and the Democratic nominee for Governor in 1997. That's a pretty big "home-field advantage" as far as I can tell. Beyer should certainly be a favorite to win this thing or come very close to winning it.
2. Lavern Chatman: She has deep ties to Alexandria, including the fact that she attended Mt. Vernon High School. Mt. Vernon/US1 also has a large African American population, so an African-American candidate like Chatman certainly could perform well at the Mt. Vernon straw poll - obviously, if she can get her people out. Also, Chatman also has Mt. Vernon native (and former House of Delegates candidate) Jack Dobbyn, who was the Master of Ceremonies at last year's Mt. Vernon Democratic Committee Mardi Gras party and straw poll, as her finance director. Finally, I've been told that Chatman has boatloads of money, so she certainly can afford to help supporters attend this event. She really should finish in the top 2 at this event.
3. Sen. Adam Ebbin: His State Senate district takes in a good chunk of Mt. Vernon (my understanding is that the Mt. Vernon precincts vote fairly heavily in primaries), and he is well known in the Mt. Vernon area. In 2011, Ebbin won the Mt. Vernon straw poll in the 30th District State Senate Democratic primary. Although he's busy in Richmond, where the General Assembly remains in session for a couple more weeks, Ebbin should do well (e.g., top 2 or 3 candidates) in this straw poll.
4. Del. Mark Sickles: His district includes parts of Mt. Vernon, and he also has been endorsed by Sen. Toddy Puller, who represents parts of Mt. Vernon. Sickles should also be a favorite to do quite well (top 3 or 4) in this straw poll, with the only caveat that he's busy in Richmond right now, with the General Assembly in session. It will also be interesting to see if Sickles' support for car title lenders will hurt him in Mt. Vernon, where anti-car-title-loan sentiment is strong. {UPDATE: Del. Sickles called me to argue that he isn't any different than a number of Democrats, including some running against him, on bills like this one (96-2 vote on "SB 606 Motor vehicle title loans; establishes requirements, penalties." - Ebbin, Herring and Hope all voted for it). On the other hand, on this bill ("SB 1367 Motor vehicle title loans; loans to nonresidents"), Sickles voted yes, while Ebbin, Herring and Hope voted no. To read more about that bill, see Rosalind Helderman's article here. In general, I think it's fair to say that Del. Sickles believes these types of loans are necessary because there aren't viable alternatives for a lot of people, so we need to regulate the industry as long as it exists. I'd argue that the government needs to provide viable alternatives so that godawful industries like this aren't needed and go out of business. The question is whether or not Sickles is substantively different from his opponents on car title lending and/or payday lending. Clearly, he voted differently than his Democratic opponents on SB1367, so I guess in the end it comes down to what you think of SB1367. I hope this issue is thoroughly debated in coming months.}
There's More... :: (26 Comments, 506 words in story)

5. Mayor Bill Euille: He's been Mayor of Alexandria for over a decade, so you'd think he'd have support (or be able to convince his supporters to drive) a few miles south in Mt. Vernon. Euille should at least do decently in this straw poll.
6. Del. Charniele Herring: She's from Alexandria, although not Mt. Vernon, but she's had a chance as DPVA Chair (and as a major campaign surrogate for Terry McAuliffe) to get a lot better known all throughout Virginia the past 14 months or so. Currently, she's tied up in Richmond as the General Assembly is in session. Still, she should do pretty well in this straw poll. If not, it's probably a sign that her campaign has not really gotten going yet.
6. Del. Patrick Hope: Represents North Arlington in the House of Delegates, with no ties to Mt. Vernon as far as I'm aware. Also, as with Del. Lopez, Hope is tied up in Richmond to a large degree until session ends in a couple weeks (although obviously he has a campaign team that isn't in Richmond and can focus on this event and others). Overall, I wouldn't expect Hope to finish towards the top of this straw poll, but demonstrating an ability to motivate 100 or so supporters to make the drive to Mt. Vernon would really show something positive here about his organization.
6. Del. Alfonso Lopez: Represents South Arlington in the House of Delegates, with no specific ties to Mt. Vernon as far as I'm aware. On the other hand, this is an opportunity for Lopez to show he can seriously compete in one of the most heavily Latino areas of the 8th CD. As with the other General Assembly members on this list, Lopez is still tied up in Richmond for the most part, so one question is how much time his campaign has put into preparing for this.[NOTE: That was not a mistake; I put the last three candidates in a 3-way tie for 6th place...]
9. Derek Hyra: He's from Alexandria, but I'm not sure he's very well known there. Also, he just announced his candidacy, so it would be surprising if he'd be able to get organized for this straw poll. I'd expect him to finish towards the bottom in this one.
10. Mark Levine: He might be known somewhat through his hosting of a popular political show at Fairfax County Public Access TV, but other than that, I'm not sure Levine has any ties to Mt. Vernon or much name recognition. I'd expect him to finish towards the bottom of this particular straw poll, unless he pays to bring in a (large) bunch of supporters.
11. Bruce Shuttleworth: From Arlington, with no ties that I'm aware of to Mt. Vernon. Also, I doubt many people in that part of the district know who Shuttleworth is. He should finish at or near the bottom, unless he pays to bring in a (large) bunch of supporters.

Virginia GOP Sen. Steve Martin Calls Women "the child's host (some refer to them as mothers)"

Another Republican shows his utter contempt for women, referring to them as "the child's host (some refer to them as mothers)."  Note that Sen. Steve Martin (R, of course) has attempted to cover his tracks, changing "the child's host" language to "the bearer of the child." Unfortunately for Martin, there's such a thing as "screen shots," so he can run but he can't hide.  Here's the current language on his page...we'll see how many more times he tries to change it, or delete it or whatever. Also, I can't wait to hear the condemnations from other Virginia Republicans for Martin's appalling misogyny. We're waiting...
P.S. Martin also calls pro-choice advocates "really sick people."
I received a Valentines Card today with a two tone red heart on the front above the words, "Don't break our hearts." Inside was the following message:
"On behalf of women's Heath advocates across Virginia, we are disappointed in your record of voting to restrict access to critical healthcare for women and families. All women deserve access to their full range of reproductive health options - including preventing unintentional pregnancies, raising healthy children, and choosing safe, legal abortion - and your votes only make it more difficult for Virginians to plan and provide for their families. We are watching your actions closely, and hope that you will reconsider your position on this critical issue. Please don't break our hearts.

- The Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition" 
~ How very heart warming - all while using ill defined terms. "Raising healthy children" in the context of access to abortions speaks only to the ability to "kill unhealthy children." Do they not see the sickness of that argument?

If it's your expectation that I should support such nonsense, I will be breaking your heart.

You can count on me to never get in the way of you "preventing" an unintentional pregnancy." I'm not actually sure what that means, because if it's "unintentional" you must have been trying to prevent it. And, I don't expect to be in the room or will I do anything to prevent you from obtaining a contraceptive. However, once a child does exist in your womb, I'm not going to assume a right to kill it just because the bearer of the child (some refer to them as mothers) doesn't want it to remain alive. 

We finally get to to the truth at the end of that same line. What they want is access to "safe, legal abortions," any time one might be desired. Okay, then why did you write all the rest of that bologna about raising healthy children (by killing the unhealthy ones), having access to healthcare (which you do), and preventing unwanted pregnancies (don't have unprotected sex)?
Such nonsense, supposed adults have written, to celebrate love, on Valentines. These folks are really sick people! 

Virginia 10th CD: Democrats Unite Around John Foust; Republicans Splinter Among Extremists

Saturday, February 22, 2014

It's fascinating to watch what's been going on in Virginia's 10th Congressional District, where Rep. Frank Wolf is retiring after many, many, many years in office (the last few of which have been focused on the non-scandal of Benghazeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!). As recently as a few weeks ago, it looked like it would be a coronation, essentially, for Republican "attack dog," Del. Barbara Comstock, while Democrats might fight it out in a tough contest between highly popular and respected Fairfax County Board member John Foust and Shenandoah University Professor Karen Schultz. Well, what a difference a few weeks makes! A few items since then.1. Washington Post reporter Ben Pershing tweeted on Wednesday that "In email, Karen Schultz publicly confirms she's not running for #VA10 Dem nod." That makes it extremely likely Foust will be the Democratic nominee, that the party will be united heading into the General Election, and that we'll have our best shot in many years to take back this "swing" ("purple") Congressional district.
2. Meanwhile, on the Republican/Tea Party side, it's gotten a lot more entertaining - popcorn please! - as former 11th CD GOP Congressional nominee Keith Fimian has endorsed Del. Bob Marshall over Barbara Comstock (and apparently signed on as Marshall's finance chair - Fimian says "I'm confident that Bob can win the 10th Congressional District. I intend to help him raise the funds to attain that objective."), taking a bunch of hard shots at the latter, such as:
*"We don't need more Republicans in Congress who have spent careers inside the beltway in government, lobbying and politics."
*"We don't need more Republicans in Congress who will promise one thing on the campaign trail or take a few good votes at the state or local level in order to climb the political ladder."
*"We don't need more Republicans in Congress who will vote with John Boehner over the interests of the people they serve in order to secure a leadership position."
Ouch - the truth hurts! Fimian adds that he's "proud to announce that I will serve on Bob Marshall's Finance Committee." Again, lots more popcorn is in order. :)
3. Comstock has basically been shut out in Richmond, with almost every one of the bills she's patroned being "continued" until 2015, "left" in committee, or otherwide deep-sixed.
4. Marshall has gotten a lot of positive publicity and kudos among far right wingnuts for his strident defense of Virginia's anti-LGBT-marriage amendment (which he co-authored). While crazy from a non-homophobe's perspective, this kind of stuff could play VERY well among the hard-core electorate likely to vote in a Republican "firehouse primary," which is how the 10th CD will select its 2014 nominee for Congress.
5. The Comstock vs. Marshall fight has already prompted one blog war in the Virginia  right-o-sphere (between supporters of the two main Republican candidates for the 10th CD GOP nomination, with accusations of payola being thrown around), with likely more to come. Gotta love it. :)
Bottom line: Comstock remains the odds-on favorite for the nomination, mainly because she has access to large sums of money from connections she made in the George W. Bush administration, as well as work she did for Tom DeLay, for Dick Cheney's pal "Scooter" Libby, and for Willard "Mitt" Romney. Still, Marshall has a shot, and if nothing else he could force the already right-wing Comstock even further into the far-right-wing fever swamps, while distracting her for several months and making her spend money to fight off his challenge. For Democrats, it certainly will be fun to watch. Meanwhile, a strong Democratic nominee - John Foust, almost certainly - will await whoever emerges from the Teapublican meat grinder.

Del. Patrick Hope Wins First Blue Virginia 8th CD Poll with 33% of Vote

With 102 votes in our first poll of who Blue Virginia registered users support in the 8th CD Democratic nominating contest, Del. Patrick Hope finished in first place with 33% of the votes. Hope was followed by Sen. Adam Ebbin (23%), Mark Levine (18%), Don Beyer (10%), Del. Alfonso Lopez (8%), Del. Charniele Herring (3%), Mayor Bill Euille (2%), Lavern Chatman (2%), Del. Mark Sickles (2%), and Bruce Shuttleworth (0%). Of course, no online poll is scientific in any way, but they can be interesting in the sense of which campaign tries hardest to win them (and is the most organized/determined to do so).P.S. For my reviews of all these candidates, see the upper left corner of the page and click on the candidate(s) you're interested in. Also note that this poll began prior to Derek Hyra's announcement, so he was not included.

A Better DPVA in Depth - Part 1: Money

by Dave

Part 1 of my series (leading up to the next DPVA meeting) examining how DPVA can be the best state party possible.
Dave Leichtman is the DPVA Vice-chair for Technology and Communications
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how DPVA could seize on the opportunity created by our current leadership transition to become a better, stronger Party (Read: "A Better DPVA"). I think we're off to a decent start. The current Chair has mostly recused herself of day-to-day duties, and the selection of the next ED appears likely up to her successor - both good things. But the most worrying development during this transition has been the lack of communication and dialogue. For some reason, people seem to think it's heretical to discuss how Virginia Dems can do better. To that I say, we cannot afford to be silent. The election of a new Chair is just 3 weeks away, and with exactly 0 publicly declared candidates, I fear we're headed toward another coronation orchestrated by the Powers That Be - one accompanied (like last time) with no conversation and no discussion. The least we can do is talk about it here!
This week a Politico editorial bemoaned the waning importance and increased irrelevance of state parties around the country (Read: "Last call for state parties?"). I agree that if we do nothing, if we remain silent and nobody listens, then yes we'll be headed that way. But state parties can play a vital role in how we train and build local committees. And they can provide crucial ground game and long-term cost savings if only higher-ups can see the benefits and invest wisely.
The first step in any successful venture is dialogue. So let's talk! I'd like to examine various aspects of DPVA in depth over the next t3 weeks leading to the Chair's election. Today, let's start with Money.

Two troubling things have occurred with DPVA's monetary situation over the last few years, and I've covered them before:1) The statewide Coordinated Campaign has branched off into its own shadow party. This is unaccountable and dangerous. There are staffers hired by non-DPVA personnel who are managing giant budgets, to which the current DPVA leadership are completely blind. There is no oversight or accountability, and at some point this will lead to trouble - jail time or fines. Alarmist, you say? It already happened about 10 years ago when the Coordinated didn't file proper FEC paperwork. This led to massive fines levied against DPVA, in whose name the money was being spent. The current situation makes this, and worse, even more likely to happen.
2) The statewide campaigns have sucked the fundraising air out of the room. By actively giving the current Chair and the Party no fundraising goals, Terry McAuliffe essentially became DPVA's "sugar daddy." Sounds cushy - somebody else does all the fundraising for you? What's not to love? But that means they get to decide how much you spend. One would like to think the statewide campaigns are high-minded. But the second they feel threatened - say a former RNC Chair decides to run for Senate - well, then they're almost obligated to keep all the money for themselves and make no investments in the Party.
Now this situation isn't irreversible. It simply takes the will to fix it, and a few people in power to realize the potential inherent in the Party. Here's a few ways we could solve this dilemma.
1) Give the DPVA Steering Committee at least some amount of insight into the Coordinated Campaign budget. Honestly, the DPVA by all rights should have to approve the entire budget of both entities. Assuming that's a non-starter, the Coordinated could at least give the Steering Committee quarterly updates on fundraising and spending.
2) And while we're at it, DPVA's Central Committee should require the same for its own budget. Currently, it approves a yearly budget with no interim updates. So the approved budget is essentially worthless as it goes right out the window the second anything material changes.
3) Let DPVA fundraise! Give the next Chair, ED, and Finance Director robust fundraising goals. Believe it or not, fundraising isn't a zero-sum game. People who give are more likely to give again - nonprofits often see up to 1/3 of their yearly fundraising come from repeat donors. A donor who gives to DPVA or to a statewide campaign does not do so exclusively. In fact giving to one primes them for giving to the other (counter-intuitive, but true). So let DPVA do its thing; let it raise money toward funding the kind of committee-building efforts it can successfully execute.
4) Solidify a sustained giving program. The gold standard in philanthropy is the locked-in recurring donor. The Arlington County Democratic Committee funds the largest part of its operation through the $10+/month Roosevelt Society (of which I'm a proud member). The previous DPVA ED floated a program called "20/20" - $20/mo sustained gift toward the goal of goal of taking back the House of Delegates in 2020. This is the best thing we could possibly be pushing right now, but it was given almost no promotion in 2013 (see Item 3 above). At $20/month, it would only take 5,000 sustainers to fund the entire current yearly budget of DPVA. Did that just blow your mind? It should. The Central Committee alone is almost 300 people, and I bet each of them could sign up 15-20 others. Even if we got halfway there, we could make a huge dent and make it possible to increase the yearly budget.
5) Stop spending to $0. We've been promised this every year: "this is the year we stop spending to $0." And every year, we do it anyway "because this election is too important." We'll probably have the same excuse next year. We have to break that vicious cycle. Every year in January, DPVA has to cut staff and scrimp every penny and is often saddled with Coordinated debt that was unplanned for (see Item 1 above). A sustainer program would go a long way toward easing this "necessity" and making the excuse harder. Regardless, we have to plan a cash reserve and resist the urge to spend it.
Those are my thoughts on DPVA's money situation. I'd love to hear your opinions. Let's keep the conversation going over the next three weeks. Together we can work toward a better DPVA. But first we have to at least discuss what that means.

How Ignorant Are Republicans? Check Out This Map.

Friday, February 21, 2014

As Media Matters explains: "Conservative media have been casting doubt on climate change because of a colder-than-average winter in the lower 48. But theglobal temperature in January was the fourth warmest on record, 1.17°F warmer than the 20th century average." Apparently, this is too difficult a concept for "conservatives" like Charles Krauthammer and George Will (aka, fossil fuel tools, "useful idiots") to understand. Of course, it's kind of hard to understand something when you are in bed with an industry that has a HUGE economic stake in making sure that people do NOT understand that very something. Amazing how that works, huh?

Tom Perriello Moves to State Department, Pledges to Make Climate Change Central Focus

Congratulations to my friend Tom Perriello on his move to the State Department. I find this to be particularly encouraging:
Former Rep. Tom Perriello is leaving the Center for American Progress to head the State Department's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, which analyzes U.S. diplomatic and development efforts abroad......Perriello said one of his top objectives will be to make sure the reality of climate change is integrated into the State Department's strategic vision. The review, produced every four years, was first launched in 2010 by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and is modeled after a similar Department of Defense project. The 2010 review includes only passing references to climate change.
"Anyone who looks at conflicts around the world understands the role changing climate is playing," Perriello told HuffPost, adding that such an understanding should be "integrated into all aspects of diplomacy and development."
Perriello's exactly right about that; climate change is by far and away the top crisis/challenge facing humanity right now, even if the corporate media, the fossil fuel industry, and the politicians they've bought and paid for don't want you to know that. Question #1 for Tom Perriello (who is a great pick for this job, by the way): does the centrality of climate change to U.S. foreign policy mean the State Department will do an about face and reject the Keystone XL Canadian tar sands export pipeline? For the sake of our planet's environment, let's hope so...

Applying My 8 Criteria to the 8th CD Candidates: Derek Hyra

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Two Saturdays ago, I listed my 8 criteria for choosing the Democratic nominee in the 8th CD race. How do these criteria apply to specific candidates? I started with former Virginia Lt. Governor Don Beyer, continued with Del. Mark Sickles and Del. Charniele HerringBruce ShuttleworthDel. Patrick HopeLavern ChatmanSen. Adam EbbinDel. Alfonso LopezMark Levine and Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille. I now turn to Derek Hyra, who just announced yesterday as candidate #11 for Rep. Jim Moran's House seat.1. The next Representative from the 8th CD should be a strong, rock-solid progressive.
On his campaign website, Hyra discusses his views on several issues.
*Environment: He supports "[s]trengthening the Clean Water and Air Acts, reducing our carbon footprint, and fighting against any efforts to gut the Environmental Protection Agency;" "[s]upporting public transportation options to help solve Northern Virginia's traffic congestion challenges;" and "[e]nsuring underserved communities do not disproportionately suffer environmental risks."
*Education: He supports "universal pre-K for all,"  ensuring that "college is more affordable" and "reducing student loan burdens," expanding "technical education, ongoing job training, and adult education programs."
*Economy: Supports raising the minimum wage, "[s]trengthening our social safety net," "extending unemployment insurance benefits," and taking measures to " create quality jobs in our communities, especially for women-, minority- and veteran-owned businesses."
*Social and Economic Equality: He supports "women's rights and LGBTQ rights," "innovative healthcare policies," "[e]qual pay for equal work, and family-leave policies that provide real flexibility for working parents;" and "[e]quitable access to opportunities, skills enhancement and career development initiatives for underserved communities."
These are certainly all solid, progressive policies. The question is, would Hyra fight effectively for these things in Congress? His track record (see below) and professed values certainly would indicate that, but given that I'd never heard of Derek Hyra prior  to his announcement for Congress, I'd like to hear a lot more about him before coming to any conclusions.

2. I want to see a tenacious, indefatigable FIGHTER for progressive values 
See #1.3. We need a Representative who will fight for the 8th CD.
Hyra has certainly been involved in his community (Alexandria), but it's hard to know exactly how that would translate to fighting for the 8th CD overall. For instance, Hyra touts the fact that he fought for "the recent relocation of the National Science Foundation." That may be a good thing for Alexandria, but it's certainly not going over too well in another important part of the 8th CD - Arlington County, which is where the National Science Foundation headquarters has been located for several years now.
4. We're going to be losing some big-time seniority and need to build it back up. 
Hyra is 40 years old, so would have plenty of time to make up the seniority we're losing with Jim Moran's retirement.
5. We want, need, and deserve a Representative who has the highest ethical standards and who makes us proud every day. 
I am not aware of any ethical concerns regarding Derek Hyra.
6. A superb, impressive track record of accomplishment over the years.
According to Hyra's bio, he has served as "Chair of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority and member of the Alexandria Planning Commission," as well as "on the housing and urban policy advisory teams for then-Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign," after which "President Obama later appointed Derek to the U.S. Small Business Administration Council on Underserved Communities." Hyra, an "associate professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Virginia Tech," also says he "provided extensive policy expertise on critical issues such as the subprime lending crisis and community development concerns while at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development." Hyra is the author of The New Urban Renewal: The Economic Transformation of Harlem and Bronzeville. That's all good stuff, and I look forward to finding out more about Derek Hyra.
7. Obviously, we want someone who will do a great job on "constituent services." 
I have no specific basis to rate Hyra on this criterion.
8. I want to see a "heavyweight" in this job -- someone who is a serious policy wonk, someone who really loves diving into the weeds of legislation, someone who can go toe-to-toe with Republicans and Tea Partiers (and conservative and/or corporate Democrats for that matter) in the battle of ideas. 
Hyra's an author and professor, which certainly tends to indicate "policy wonkish" tendencies. :) What I don't know is how he'd be on a wide variety of national and international issues in Congress, or how he'd "go toe-to-toe with Republicans ant Tea the battle of ideas."
Overall: For now, I'm going to give Hyra an "incomplete." He certainly looks good on paper, but I'd like to learn a lot more before venturing a "grade."

Ranking the Presidents Since 1961

Monday, February 17, 2014

President Obama was born in 1961, so I was thinking it might be fun on Presidents Day to rank the U.S. presidents since 1961 from worst to best. I'll also explain my reasoning.10. George W. Bush (2001-2009) - No doubt, one of the worst U.S. presidents in our history, a disaster on almost every front (starting with massive tax cuts to the wealthy and failures to heed major warnings about a potential terrorist attack on the U.S. in the months leading up to 9/11). The only saving grace, really, was his reaction to the financial meltdown in the fall of 2008. For once, instead of just doing the right-wing ideological thing, he actually did what was necessary to save the U.S. (and world) economy from total meltdown. Other than that, he was horrible: turning budget surpluses into deficits for no good reason, misleading the country on the reasons for war with Iraq, failing to take action on climate change, allowing freakin' torture to take place on  his watch, the Katrina debacle/disaster, letting Dick Cheney and others corrupt/buy the government for their cronies, screwing up the North Korea situation big time, on and on and on...near-total #FAIL.
9. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) - The Iran-Contra scandal alone puts Reagan down towards the bottom of the list. Then add to that the Lebanon fiasco, in which 241 American servicemen were killed after the Reagan Administration pretty much did everything wrong -- mission creep, no clue what we were doing there, an indefensible position, inadequate security, "cutting and running" as the right-wing would say if it were a Democrat in office, etc, etc. (also note that the Lebanon disaster was a gazillion times worse than the Benghazi tragedy, yet Democrats did NOT pile on Reagan for it). Then add to that Reagan's disastrous economic, environmental, and many other policies. Plus, he raised tensions with the Soviet Union to dangerous levels; invaded Grenada for no good reason; helped lay the groundwork for the rise of Al Qaeda by heavily funding and supplying the Afghan mujahadeen; putting the horrendous Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court; etc. The saving grace of Reagan, ironically, was that despite the worshipful attitude towards him by many on the right, he committed a series of heresies: raising taxes multiple times, increasing government spending and the size of government, offering to get rid of all nuclear weapons, granting "amnesty" to 3 million undocumented immigrants, etc.
lowkell :: Ranking the Presidents Since 1961
8. Richard Nixon (1969-1974) - Nixon actually did some good things, including detente with the Soviet Union, the opening to China, "shuttle diplomacy" after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, OSHA, desegregation, getting the U.S. off the gold standard, etc. Unfortunately, these were outweighed by the disasters on foreign policy (e.g., Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Chile) and of course the Watergate scandal, which led to Nixon's resignation in disgrace (although he still somehow claimed "I'm not a crook"). Plus, the guy was a paranoid, bigoted nut in many ways.7. Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) - Good intentions overall, but it just didn't work out for a variety of reasons (some in his control, many outside his control - the fall of the Shah, the Iranian revolution, oil price shock, and hostage crisis; the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan). His post-presidency has been more consequential than his presidency in many ways, although I certainly have had differences with him. Sometimes I think if only the hostage rescue mission had succeeded, Carter would have been reelected and done some good things (if nothing else, he would have headed off the Reagan debacle). But that's not what happened, and thus Carter's relatively low ranking.
6. Gerald Ford (1974-1977) - Will be most remembered for becoming "the first and to date only person to have served as both Vice President and President of the United States without being elected by the Electoral College," and also for pardoning Richard Nixon. Other than that, Ford presided over the disastrous end of the Vietnam War, the continuation of detente with the Soviet Union and thawing of U.S.-Chinese relations. On domestic policy, there was the laughable "Whip Inflation Now" campaign and the "swine flu" fiasco. And, of course, he lost his bid for election to the presidency in 1976. Overall, a decent man, but not an outstanding president.
5. John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) - Another one who's very hard to rate. What did JFK actually accomplish in his short time as president? The Bay of Pigs was a disaster, and we almost ended up in a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union that could have wiped out our country, but JFK managed to wriggle out of that one courageously and brilliantly in the fall of 1962. JFK also increased U.S. involvement in Vietnam, putting us on an inexorable path towards disaster there. The economy did well under JFK, but on the other hand I'm not a fan of his fiscal and tax policies (e.g., he cut marginal rates for the wealthy). In my view, JFK wasn't nearly forceful enough on civil rights for a long time, although in June 1963 he DID stand up to Alabama Governor George Wallace and launched a major civil rights initiative. JFK's personal behavior was outrageous - sleeping with mafia women and anything else in a skirt - and in today's media environment would have utterly destroyed his presidency. In short, JFK is probably THE most overrated president in U.S. history, based mostly on his charisma and style ("Camelot," his great inaugural speech, etc.). UPDATE: Per the comments, add the Peace Corps to JFK's resume. Also, we should throw in the Apollo space program. Combined, that moves JFK up a notch, ahead of the Carter/Ford presidencies.
4. George HW Bush (1989-1993): No doubt, Bush did some good things, such as breaking his irresponsible "read my lips/no new taxes" vow, backing the U.S. off of Reagan's supply side idiocy, making significant progress on nuclear weapons reductions with the Soviet Union and helping to end the Cold War peacefully.  Bush also led a successful operation to push Iraqi forces out of Kuwait and made some progress on the Arab-Israeli peace front. On the other hand, he did some truly godawful things: appointed Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court; "oppos{ing} international efforts at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by refusing to sign the biodiversity treaty and lobbying to remove all binding targets from the proposal on limiting global carbon dioxide emissions;" left Saddam Hussein in power, contributing to a decade plus of sanctions and war... Overall, not a disastrous presidency, but certainly not great either. Basically mediocre.
3. Bill Clinton (1993-2001) - A wildly mixed bag, but on balance Clinton presided over an era of peace and prosperity with no disasters on his watch, so he ends up being ranked highly. Unfortunately, the failure of health care reform and the 1994 "Republican Revolution" forced Clinton to "triangulate" and push for a lot of small-bore measures. At least one potentially great accomplishment - peace between Israel and the Palestinians - came soooo close but not quite. Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement into law, so whether or not one thinks that law was a good thing or bad thing will certainly affect one's ranking of Clinton's presidency (on balance, I'd say it was a good thing, although it certainly has flaws from a progressive perspective). Clinton also made two superb appointments to the Supreme Court - Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer - both of whom continue to serve today. On foreign policy, the Clinton Administration's efforts in the Balkans were an important part of his presidency, and were also a mixed bag. Attempts to deal with Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were largely unsuccessful/ineffectual (e.g., the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania), and 9 months after Clinton left office came the disastrous 9/11 attacks. With regard to Iraq, we were de facto at war with that country for the entire Clinton presidency, including sanctions, no-fly zones, and "Operation Desert Fox" in December 1998. Having said all that, most people remember the Clinton years as ones of "peace and prosperity" and budget surpluses. The question is, how much credit does President Clinton deserve for those things?
2. Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969) - Also a wildly mixed bag with LBJ. No doubt, he had tremendous accomplishments -- the Great Society (the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, the  Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the Higher Education Act of 1965, the War on Poverty), the  National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, a number of important environmental initiatives (e.g., the Land and Water Conservation Act of 1965, the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966), etc, etc. These accomplishments should really put LBJ at the top of the list of U.S. presidents in our history, not just since 1961. Unfortunately, LBJ has to be dropped a couple notches due to the disaster of the Vietnam War, which he was largely responsible for escalating. Vietnam certainly didn't cancel out LBJ's tremendous accomplishments as president, but it did make him a tragic figure in so many ways (note: I strongly recommend the great Robert Caro series on LBJ).
1. Barack Obama (2009-present) - Helped save the country from the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression, which he inherited in January 2009. Signed historic health care reform. Invested heavily through the economic "stimulus" in our country's infrastructure, energy efficiency, and renewable energy (production of which has exploded under Obama). Among his many, many other accomplishments (despite unremitting and irrational/intense hostility by Republicans and Tea Partiers) were ending the disastrous Iraq War, killing Osama bin Laden, turning the U.S. auto industry around, repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and advancing LGBT equality in many other ways, reversing George W. Bush's disgraceful and unAmerican torture policies, using tightened sanctions to help bring Iran to the negotiating table (the potential exists for a major breakthrough on that front, but we'll see...), continued nuclear weapons reductions with Russia, has been basically scandal free (not counting the phony non-scandals ginned up by Faux "News" et al), and of course made history by being the first African American president - two terms at that! Obama's major flaw: too willing to keep compromising and reaching out, over and over again, with extremist Republicans who simply wanted him to fail. Obama never has seemed to truly grasp that, and he never got credit from Republicans for bending over backwards in their direction (e.g., "Obamacare" is largely based on Republican and conservative principles developed over decades; "cap and trade" was also based on conservative ideas). I also wish that Obama had been more forceful on climate change, although he's certainly made some progress. Hopefully we'll see a breakthrough on Arab-Israeli peace, which would truly be a great accomplishment, but we don't know how that one will turn out yet. Nor do we know how the increasingly tense Japan-China situation will turn out, and that could have a major impact on Obama's presidency. Finally, we'll see how Afghanistan ends up, but that's another one that Obama inherited, and in my view there were never any particularly good options...

Wild Discussion Erupts at Raging Homophobic Del. "Sideshow" Bob Marshall's FB Page re: Gay Marriage

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Fascinating, horrifying and hilarious all at the same time...check out Del. "Sideshow" Bob Marshall's Facebook page for more, including comments by a "staffer" posting as "Bob Marshall" for some strange reason. I've captured it, just in case either Del. Bob Marshall or "Bob Marshall" try to delete it.

Should Newspaper and Blog Comment Sections Simply Be Eliminated?

If you've ever checked out the comments section on just about any newspaper or blog, you'll quickly notice that it's a nightmare. Wackos. Vicious a**holes. Liars. Science deniers. Bigots. You name it. And no, it's not just on politics; it's on any and every subject under the sun, from the weather to sports to dating advice to...anything, basically. The question is, who are these crazy, nasty, horrible human beings trolls and why are they allowed to pollute newspapers and blogs? A new study helps answer that question, but also raises another one: should comments sections be eliminated altogether? First, some background:
In the past few years, the science of internet trollology has made some strides. Last year, for instance, we learned that by hurling insults and inciting discord in online comment sections, so-called internet “trolls” (who are frequently anonymous) have a polarizing effect on audiences, leading to politicization, rather than deeper understanding of scientific topics. That’s bad, but it’s nothing compared with what a new psychology paper has to say about the personalities of so-called trolls themselves. The research, conducted by Erin Buckels of the University of Manitoba and two colleagues, sought to directly investigate whether people who engage in trolling are characterized by personality traits that fall in the so-called “Dark Tetrad”: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others). It is hard to underplay the results: The study found correlations, sometimes quite significant, between these traits and trolling behavior. What’s more, it also found a relationship between all Dark Tetrad traits (except for narcissism) and the overall time that an individual spent, per day, commenting on the internet. [...] To be sure, only 5.6 percent of survey respondents actually specified that they enjoy “trolling.” By contrast, 41.3 percent of internet users were “non-commenters,” meaning they didn’t like engaging online at all. So trolls are, as has often been suspected, a minority of online commenters, and an even smaller minority of overall internet users.
It's studies like these that prompted Popular Science to completely ditch its comments sections, and in my view they made the correct call. Why? Several reasons. *The vast majority of readers - whether of newspapers or blogs - are "lurkers," never (or rarely) commenting. Only a tiny minority of human beings are trolls, thank goodness. *If active measures aren't taken to ban trolls, they will quickly infest a website with their lying, Machiavellian, sadistic lunacy. But that, of course, requires a lot of resources for a website with millions or hundreds of thousands of visits, so it's unwieldy at best. *It can't be emphasized enough that trolls aren't just a nuisance, perhaps one to be laughed off, but are actively harmful in a wide variety of ways, such as driving off legitimate commenters, warping the discussion, and basically ruining the website. Here at Blue Virginia, we allow commenting by any registered user, as long as they don't engage in: "profanity, personal attacks, bigotry, insults, rudeness, frequent unsupported or off-point statements, 'trolling' (NOTE: that includes outright lies, whether about climate science, or what other people said, or whatever), and 'troll ratings abuse' (e.g., 'troll' rating someone simply because you disagree with their argument)." We're generally comfortable with this policy, as it weeds out the vast majority of trolls, although it certainly cuts down on the number of comments as well. But if the comments are just going to be a handful of trolls spewing their b.s. ad nauseum, it simply isn't worth it in our view. Still, we haven't completely eliminated our comments sections, because there are plenty of normal, sane, smart people out there who have interesting things to add to the discussions. But it requires careful monitoring, and also ruthless purging of trolls as they pop up. If you're not willing or able to maintain that level of monitoring (and purging), you're better off just ditching your comments sections altogether. By the way, over the years I've seen whining by trolls who've been banned here at Blue Virginia, because they would love to come back here and start spewing their bigotry, science denial, idiocy, bile, or whatever. Message to trolls: whine all you want, but we're not letting you back on here unless you learn how to be civil, learn how not to spread your homophobia or whatever your particular bigotry happens to be, learn how to debate a subject without using ad hominem attacks, and learn what Daniel Patrick Moynihan said (that "you are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts"). We're certainly not holding our breaths waiting for any of THAT to happen!

Virginia's Anti-Gay-Marriage Amendment Unconstitutional; Attorney General Herring Was Right!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Looks like Attorney General Herring was right all along, and everyone who said he was wrong were, well, wrong. The bottom line is that the U.S. constitution trumps the state constitution, and under the U.S. constitution we all have to be treated equally under the law and not discriminated against just because a majority feels like it. Why is that such a difficult concept for right wingnuts like Bob Marshall to understand? Here are a few highlights from the ruling, which you can read in full on the "flip." Enjoy! :)*The plaintiffs are found to have standing. A key reason: the plaintiffs "suffer humiliation and discriminatory treatment on the basis of their sexual orientation," which opposite-sex couples so not likewise suffer. Furthermore, "This stigmatic harm flows directly from current state law." Any further questions?
*On legal precedent, the court writes: "doctrinal developments in the question of who among our
citizens are permitted to exercise the right to marry have foreclosed the previously precedential
nature of the summary dismissal in [the Baker v. Nelson decision of 1971]. The Baker summary dismissal is no longer binding."
*"Marriage is a fundamental right...protected
by both the Due Process and Equal Protection
Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment." Isn't that exactly what Mark Herring said? :)
*There is "no dispute" that the Marshall-Newman, anti-gay-marriage amendment, "Plaintiffs and Virginia citizens similar to Plaintiffs are deprived of that right to marry." That, obviously, is BLATANTLY unconstitutional.
*"Because marriage is a fundamental right, therefore, Virginia's Marriage Laws cannot be
upheld unless they are justified by compelling state interests and are narrowly drawn to
express only those interests." #FAIL and #FAIL some more.
*"The state's compelling interests in protecting and supporting our children are not furthered by a prohibition against same-sex marriage," just as bans on inter-racial marriage weren't so furthered. The fact is, "The for-the-children rationale rests upon an unconstitutional, hurtful and unfounded presumption that same-sex couples cannot be good parents." Utterly and maliciously false.
*Bottom line: the Virginia anti-gay-marriage amendment (and laws) fail under the U.S. Constitution's 14th amendment and specifically its Equal Protection Clause. As if that's not enough, "Virginia's Marriage Laws fail to display a rational relationship to a legitimate purpose, and so must be viewed as constitutionally infirm under even the least onerous level of scrutiny." The court clearly states that the main reason these anti-gay-marriage laws are in place is anti-gay animus and prejudice. And that's not sufficient reason to discriminate under the U.S. Constitution, which right wingers like Ken Cuccinelli, E.W. Jackson, Mark Obenshain, Bob Marshall, etc. (falsely) claim to revere so much. Sorry guys, you and your bigotry lose!
P.S. We're all eagerly awaiting the heartfelt apology to Mark Herring by all the right wingers who slandered him (as well as by everyone who supported discriminating against an entire class of Virginia citizens). Any time now. :)

My Current 8th CD Candidate Rankings (2/13/14)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Over the past week or so, I've written about the 10 candidates currently running for Virginia's 8th Congressional District seat (to replace Rep. Jim Moran, who's retiring). To see my writeups, check out the upper left hand corner of Blue Virginia and click on whichever candidate you're interested in. Also note that I am planning to tweak these ratings as the campaign proceeds and as I learn more about the candidates' positions, records, etc. For now, though, here are the grades I've given each candidate, in descending order.*Patrick Hope: A/A- (Note: I'd love to hear Patrick talk less in his stump speech about relatively minor issues like how much prisoners pay to make phone calls and a LOT more about the big enchiladas like climate change, our country's transition to a clean energy economy, investing in our nation's infrastructure, building an economy that works for everyone, foreign policy, etc.).
*Mark Levine: A/A- (Is Levine the dark horse candidate in this race? After a long conversation with him, including about his potential spending on this race, I'm starting to think it's possible.)
*Alfonso Lopez: A- (One question: can he compete with the big guns in terms of money? Also, I look forward to hearing Lopez's presentation to the Brigades and in other forums.)
*Adam Ebbin: A-/B+ (Note that I lowered Ebbin's rating a notch after I found out he'd voted to repeal the estate tax during the Kaine administration. That one's a huge issue for me, one that pretty much marked the beginning of the end of my "Raising Kaine" phase, as it made me absolutely livid at Gov. Kaine and anyone else who voted for it. Do you realize that we're losing somewhere on the order of $120-$140 million per year, all to benefit a few hundred super-rich Virginia families, because of the estate tax repeal? Ugh.)
*Bill Euille: B+/B
*Charniele Herring: B (I thought her Brigades presentation was not particularly strong. If that keeps up, her grade is likely to start falling...)
Don Beyer: C+/C (I'm basically trying to reconcile Beyer's record from the 1990s, which was basically that of a moderate or even conservative Democrat, with who he is today. Note that I raised Beyer's initial rating because I was very impressed with his presentation at the Brigades, particularly his forceful and prominent discussion of climate change and a clean energy economy. If he keeps that up, his rating will continue to rise!).
*Mark Sickles: C/C-
*Lavern Chatman: INCOMPLETE (I need to learn a lot more about her before giving her a grade. I will say, since I did my writeup, I've looked at her Facebook page, and there were things on there that concerned me...)
*Bruce Shuttleworth: INCOMPLETE (I was impressed with his talk at the Brigades meeting the other day, but I still want to watch him and hear what he has to say for a while before  giving him a grade...)

Virginia Senate Votes to Repeal Mandatory Ultrasounds

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

From the Virginia Senate Democratic caucus:
Bill to end mandatory ultrasounds passes

RICHMOND, VA— This afternoon, the Virginia Senate passed a bill to repeal the mandatory ultrasound requirement that Republicans passed in 2012. Senate Democrats provided 19 of the 20 votes which produced a tie, broken by Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam.
SB 617, patroned by Senator Mamie Locke (D – Hampton), would repeal themandatory ultrasound requirement that Republicans passed in 2012. Under that law, women seeking an abortion must submit to an abdominal ultrasound — regardless of their wishes, and regardless of the wishes of their doctors.
Let’s call the ultrasound mandate what it really is: a measure to shame, judge, and delay a woman’s access to the health care she seeks,” said Sen. Locke. “The state should not meddle in what ought to be a personal, private decision between a woman, her family, her faith, and her doctor. I am encouraged that members of the Senate saw the value in repealing this law. This is a great victory for the women of Virginia.”
We need to think about the rights of individuals: of women, men and all of us. Because when one group us has their rights threatened, we all have our rights threatened,” said Sen. Favola (D-Arlington). "I'm glad my colleagues agreed and voted to protect women's rights."
When an ultrasound is necessary, a doctor knows. There's no one on the floor, with the exception of the lieutenant governor, who's qualified to practice medicine,” saidSen. Ebbin (D-Alexandria). “This bill can be broken down to seven words: let doctors decide how to practice medicine.”
The question of what is medically necessary should be decided by a physician, not by the General Assembly,” added Sen. Edwards (D-Roanoke). “Let's not practice medicine. Lets not have the hubris or the arrogance to tell physicians what they should do.” 

Applying My 8 Criteria to the 8th CD Candidates: Mark Levine

Monday, February 10, 2014

This past Saturday, I listed my 8 criteria for choosing the Democratic nominee in the 8th CD race. How do these criteria apply to specific candidates? I started with former Virginia Lt. Governor Don Beyer, continued with Del. Mark Sickles, Bruce Shuttleworth, Del. Charniele Herring, Lavern Chatman, Patrick Hope, Alfonso Lopez, and Adam Ebbin. I now turn to "Talk Radio Host and TV Pundit" Mark Levine (note: don't confuse Mark Levine with far-right-wing hate radio host Mark Levin; they are polar opposites in every way, other than being on the radio and TV). 1. The next Representative from the 8th CD should be a strong, rock-solid progressive. Levine doesn't have a voting record since he hasn't held elective office, but he has a long track record in politics (e.g., LGBT activism, legislative counsel for several years to Rep. Barney Frank) and in expressing his political views (e.g., hundreds if not thousands of TV and radio appearances, plus blog posts). A few highlights from his website's "about" section: *"Former Legislative Counsel to Democratic Congressman Barney Frank." *"Mark’s diverse legislative resume includes authoring for the Congressional Black Caucus the official Constitutional Challenge to the 2000 Bush/Gore Election, writing path-breaking domestic-violence and gay-rights legislation, defeating the Bush faith-based initiative, and drafting a section of the USA-PATRIOT Act. He’s held jobs as diverse as corporate trial attorney, inner-city school teacher, and Nazi-hunter for the U.S. Department of Justice." *"Whether the attacks come from the Right or the Left, Mark strives for consistency in his political philosophy, and he wields his pocket Constitution as rhetorical weapon. Mark holds an economics degree magna cum laude from Harvard, where he wrote his thesis under the direction of President Reagan’s chief economic advisor Martin Feldstein. He also has a law degree from Yale and a Fulbright Scholarship from Switzerland. He is a Senior Fellow with the Truman National Security Project." A few sample Mark Levine blog posts include: *The Unconstitutional Republican Tantrum *How Cutting Taxes for the Rich, Instead of the Middle Class, Harms Economic Growth *Republican Neo-Hooverism is Primary Cause of Deepening Depression *The Tea-Party = McCarthyism + John Birch Society *A Layman's Guide to the Supreme Court Decision in Bush v. Gore I think that gives a good flavor for where Mark Levine is coming from - strongly progressive, no doubt about it. Also note that I've also had the chance over the years to talk to Mark Levine, listen to him speak and watch him take on the Bill O'Reillys of the world (see video), and I'd say the two of us are in agreement on the vast majority of national and international political issues. 2. I want to see a tenacious, indefatigable FIGHTER for progressive values. Over the years, Mark Levine has been a tenacious, effective fighter against right wingnuts and for progressive values. Also worth pointing out is that Levine - unlike most of the other candidates running for this seat - has been focused on a wide range of national issues (as opposed to specific niches of national policy, or a focus on state/local issues) for many years. Basically, this guy is a disciple of Rep. Barney Frank (Levine calls Frank his "mentor") and would be very much in Frank's mold. So, basically, if you like Barney Frank, you're also likely to be a Mark Levine fan. 3. We need a Representative who will fight for the 8th CD. Mark Levine is most certainly a fighter, but given that he's never held elective office (which is not a knock or a disqualifier, by the way), I don't have any specific basis to determine how effectively he'd fight for the interests specifically of the 8th CD. My gut feeling is that he'd do a fine job in this area. 4. We're going to be losing some big-time seniority and need to build it back up. I'm not sure exactly how old Levine is, but he seems pretty young (40s I presume) to me. He should have plenty of time to build of seniority in Congress if he's elected. 5. We want, need, and deserve a Representative who has the highest ethical standards and who makes us proud every day. To my knowledge, Mark Levine has no personal ethical issues of any kind. 6. A superb, impressive track record of accomplishment over the years. See item #1 above for highlights of Mark Levine's resume. I'd certainly say he has an interesting, unique track record that's highly impressive in its own way. I very much look forward to: a) seeing whether Levine puts together a serious campaign and b) how he does at debates and public forums of various types. That will tell us if he can make the transition from being an effective analyst, activist, advocate, advisor and commentator to a politician. My guess is that he'll do fine, but we'll see soon enough. 7. Obviously, we want someone who will do a great job on "constituent services." I have no basis to judge Mark Levine on this criterion, as he's never held elective office, although my gut feeling is that he'd do a good job. Let's leave this one as a partial "incomplete" for now. 8. I want to see a "heavyweight" in this job -- someone who is a serious policy wonk, someone who really loves diving into the weeds of legislation, someone who can go toe-to-toe with Republicans and Tea Partiers (and conservative and/or corporate Democrats for that matter) in the battle of ideas. Mark Levine is a brilliant attorney and most definitely a big-time national (and international to a lesser extent) policy wonk. He's also demonstrated that he's highly adept at going toe-to-toe with Teapublicans, at the level of the Bill O'Reillys of the world (see video). Overall: Mark Levine is an unconventional candidate, ergo not easy to rate by the criteria I've laid out. I could give him an "incomplete" for now, but I really see no reason to do that. The bottom line is that he's been a strong, effective fighter for progressive values at the national level for years now. I see no reason why he shouldn't be taken very seriously as a candidate for this office, and why 8th CD residents shouldn't consider supporting him. I give him an A/A-, with the "minus" part coming only because he hasn't ever held elective office.