Donald Trump Says No Leader Should "question another man's religion," Yet He's Done So Many Times

Thursday, February 18, 2016

by Lowell

Donald Trump today: "No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith."

Donald Trump previously:

2/12/16: TRUMP: 'How can Ted Cruz be an evangelical Christian when he lies so much and is so dishonest?'
12/14/15: Donald Trump Questions Ted Cruz's Evangelical Faith
9/18/15: Donald Trump's history of suggesting Obama is a Muslim (many examples, going back years, such as suggesting in 2011 that Barack Obama's birth certificate might say he's a Muslim)
9/18/15: Donald Trump fails to correct man calling Obama a Muslim and 'not even American' – video
9/27/12: Donald Trump tweet -- "Does Madonna know something we all don't about Barack? At a concert she said 'we have a black Muslim in the White House.'"

P.S. It's worth noting that "JEB" Bush, who the corporate media likes to claim is some sort of moderate, the sane one in the wacko 2016 GOP presidential field, answered "no" to the question of whether Trump's a Christian a few weeks ago.

To the Republicans: We Won’t Stand for Your Stealing What We Won Fair and Square

by Andy Schmookler

Note: This piece will be running in newspapers in my conservative congressional district (VA-06).

In 2012, Americans engaged in the constitutional process for deciding who would get the powers of the presidency.

In that election - and the one in 2008 - millions of us Americans won an important right: to have our guy name the person to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court if any were to open up. We won it fair and square.

We can talk about the president’s constitutional responsibilities and privileges, but ultimately this is about the rights of us American citizens who participate in the American electoral process.

For a great many people – on both left and right – the president’s role in naming judges is a major reason we care who gets elected to the Oval Office. Understanding the importance of the Supreme Court, we work hard within our constitutional system of elections to see that – for the following four years – it will be our candidate who gets to shape that Court if the opportunity arises.

We won in 2012, and now that opportunity has arisen.

You Republicans have had a stroke of bad luck. One of your guys on the Court has died at a time that one of our guys is president. Now, you're going to lose some power. Tough luck, but that’s how our constitution set up the rules of the game.

Thursday News: Trump Appealing to "Voters' Primal Fears"; MSNBC Disgraces Itself; 2016 Campaigns Set to Rev Up in Virginia

by Lowell

Here are a few national and Virginia news headlines, political and otherwise, for Thursday, February 18. Also check out the spot-on political cartoon by the always-superb Tom Toles and the word clouds by CNU's Wason Center from their just-released poll of Virginia voters.

Terry McAuliffe Signs "Governors Accord for a New Energy Future," But Does It Mean Anything?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

by Lowell

I received the following statement by Environment Virginia earlier today, pertaining to yesterday's announcement of the "Governors Accord for a New Energy Future." Among others, you'll note that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is a signatory. The question in my mind, which I'll discuss after the Environment Virginia press release, is whether this announcement actually, you know, means anything.
Governors' Clean Energy Accord announced yesterday
Richmond, VA -- A bipartisan group of 17 governors announced a new initiative yesterday to commit states across the country to advancing clean energy, encouraging clean transportation, and modernizing energy infrastructure. The Governors Accord for a New Energy Future follows a Supreme Court ruling last week to temporarily block the Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of the U.S. strategy to tackle global warming that encourages states to develop clean, renewable energy. The states signed onto the accord are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

Sarah Bucci, Environment Virginia's State Director, issued this statement:

“The announcement of the Governors' Accord for a New Energy Future shows Virginia is on the path to become a clean energy leader. These states have leading the way on clean energy and clean cars, and this announcement shows Virginia's commitment. While the court may have temporarily blocked the Clean Power Plan, it can’t block progress toward wind and solar energy, affordable electric vehicles, and a more modern and efficient electric grid. Kudos to Governor McAuliffe for pledging to forge a path forward for climate progress and clean air.”
Sounds good, but what does this accord commit the governors to do, exactly? As far as I can tell, not much. From reading through the document, although it claims that the signatories "embrace a shared vision" of great things like expanding clean energy sources, there's also a bunch of less-than-great (or even bad) things in here, such as:

  • no words like "commit," "pledge," or "required to do this;"
  • talk about upgrading power grids and other features of a top-down, centralized energy system, but no mention whatsoever of distributed power (e.g., rooftop solar, microgrids, battery storage);
  • zero mention of a major driver behind the need for a clean energy transition -- namely, climate disruption;
  • inclusion of the seriously problematic fossil fuel, natural gas (much of it "fracked," which leads to a wide variety of environmental problems, including leakage of the potent greenhouse gas, methane), as a "clean transportation option;"
  • no specific mention of supporting the Clean Power Plan (CPP);
  • included on the list of governors are at least two - Rick Snyder of Michigan and Brian Sandoval of Nevada - who have been abysmal when it comes to clean energy (e.g, Nevada just basically killed rooftop solar power in that state; Snyder just suspended CPP compliance in Michigan)
I'd further point out that, here in Virginia, the General Assembly is dominated by anti-environment, bought-and-paid-for fossil fuel politicians. As for Gov. McAuliffe, while he has certainly been friendly towards clean energy, he also has continued to push in the 180-degrees wrong direction with regard to offshore oil drilling and new natural gas infrastructure, both of which are big mistakes. Given all that, I'm not exactly holding my breath for any positive serious action from our political "leaders" on kickstarting a clean energy economy here in Virginia.

To end this downer of a post on a bit more positive note: as a pro-clean-energy friend of mine put it, at least this accord - albeit vague and nonbinding - represents some sort of benchmark by which to judge the governors who signed on. Also, to the extent that this moves the conversation more towards a focus on the optimal ways to move towards a clean energy economy, not WHETHER to move towards a clean energy economy, that's a good thing. Anyway, we'll see.

New PPP Virginia Poll: Clinton 56%-Sanders 34%; Clinton Holds 58-Point Lead Among African Americans

by Lowell

Yesterday, a new CNU poll of Virginia had Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders for the March 1 primary by 12 points (52%-40%). Today, a new poll by Public Policy Polling (PPP) shows Clinton with an even larger, 22-point lead (56%-34%). That includes a 58-point lead (74%-16%) for Clinton among African Americans in Virginia. The bottom line is that, with 13 days to go until Virginia's presidential primary, Clinton's southern "firewall" certainly appears to be holding, at least in this state.

How's the "firewall" looking in other, early March primary states? According to PPP: Clinton is "leading the way in 10 of 12, with double digit leads in 9 of them. Bernie Sanders has an overwhelming lead in his home state of Vermont and also leads in Massachusetts. The race is close in Oklahoma where Clinton is ahead by just 2 points, but she has double digit leads in the other 9 states that will have primaries that week." What's the reason for Clinton's huge lead? Very simple: "She leads by anywhere from 40-62 points among black voters in the nine of these states that have more black voters than the national average. Her support ranges from 63-74% with black voters in those states, while Sanders gets 12-23%."

Of course, Sanders is trying hard to catch up among African Americans, but the problem for him is that time is rapidly running out.  Starting on February 27, with the South Carolina Democratic primary, there will be a deluge of primaries, caucuses, and delegates up for grabs. As Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook pointed out a few days ago, "the 28 states that vote (or caucus) in March will award 56% of the delegates needed to win...In total, 1,875 delegates will be awarded in the first 15 days of March, including nearly 900 on Super Tuesday alone." So, basically, as impressive as Bernie Sanders' campaign has been, if he doesn't catch up in the next few weeks -- and particularly he needs to make major inroads among African Americans and Latinos -- the nomination could be all but over by the end of March. I'm certainly not saying he can't catch up, but no doubt he's got his work cut out for him. Stay tuned...

Wednesday News: Republicans "playing with fire" on SCOTUS; "Kaine's in vice presidential beauty pageant"

by Lowell

Here are a few national and Virginia news headlines, political and otherwise, for Wednesday, February 17. Also, check out President Obama's press conference yesterday in California following an ASEAN summit.

Three More Post-Scalia Thoughts

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

by Andy Schmookler
It is important to me to be fair, to give credit where credit is due. Denying someone’s virtues just because they hold beliefs different from mine is something I strive not to do. So it is in that context that I find myself wondering about my judgment of the late Antonin Scalia.
I have believed, and I have written, that Scalia was a hypocrite and a fraud. He claimed to be an “originalist” in his approach to the Constitution, but what I thought I saw was a man determined to advance a corporatist and conservative agenda—using an originalist approach when that served his agenda, and ignoring it when it didn’t.
How does a genuine originalist find in the Constitution the idea that corporations are persons—an idea on which the terrible Citizens United  decision was premised? And in Heller – the decision in which Scalia and his conservative allies found the Second Amendment to confer onto individuals a right to firearms altogether unrelated to any “regulated militia” (which our founders, for some reason, wasted words mentioning in the amendment). And so this supposed originalist came up with an interpretation beloved on the right but which had been deemed “a fraud” by the Republican-appointed former Chief Justice, Warren Berger.
Yet here we have Scalia’s colleagues paying tribute to the departed, including the liberal-leaning Justice Breyer describing Scalia as a man of “integrity,” and Ruth Bader Ginsburg saying that he was altogether shaped by “an unyielding commitment to the Constitution of the United States and to the highest ethical and moral standards.”
His colleagues knew him far better than I. They should know more deeply than I what a “commitment to the Constitution of the United States” would look like.
So what kind of man was Scalia? Have I been guilty of being unfair to a man of principle? Or are his colleagues exemplifying how people prettify the picture of the person who just died? Or what?

Video: VA Del. Mark Sickles Speaks Out Emotionally, Powerfully Against Anti-LGBT Bigotry Bill; Right-Wing Republican Defends It

by Lowell

The following is an emotional, powerful speech by openly gay Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax) against far-right-wing Del. Todd Gilbert's appalling HB 773, the Orwellian-named "Government Nondiscrimination Act." In fact, as Del. Sickles correctly explains, this bill isn't about "nondiscrimation," but "it IS a discrimination bill...that is going to hurt our state."

Del. Sickles then proceeds to cite example after example of major corporations, law firms, etc, etc. who sponsor the Equality Virginia annual dinner, and more broadly who support full equality for all their employees.

What's amazing is that anyone could actually defend the bigoted garbage in Gilbert's bill, let alone after an extraordinary speech like Sickles', but that's exactly what Gilbert attempts to do, whining about how bullies like him are actually the ones "constantly under attack," that it's not about "equality" but about "people of faith [being] driven out of this discourse...made to be in fear of speaking their minds...of living up to their deeply-held religious beliefs."

Of course, that's utterly unAmerican crap; in this country, fortunately, we are NOT a theocracy, but a democracy with the rule of law, where ALL men (and women) are created equal, and where EVERY citizen must be treated equally under the law, as spelled out in our constitution. What about any of this is difficult for bigots like Todd Gilbert to understand? Got me, but thankfully public opinion has dramatically shifted against the Gilberts of the world, and it's not going back to the dark ages anytime soon.

P.S. In addition to Del. Sickles' superb speech, check out the stirring words by Delegates Vivian Watts and Alfonso Lopez. As for Del. "Sideshow Bob" Marshall (R), I'd strongly recommend you just ignore him; it's not worth 5 minutes of your life to listen to this guy.

GOP-Controlled Virginia House of Delegates Passes "Kim Davis" Bill, Another One to Defund Planned Parenthood

by Lowell

The GOP-controlled Virginia General Assembly's in session, which means that disgusting bill after disgusting bill is pouring out of there like one of those antiquated combined sewer/runoff systems during a heavy rainstorm. Bottom line: it ain't pretty, it smells really bad, and it harms everything it touches.

The latest examples? Let's start with nasty anti-LGBT discrimination, in the Orwellian guise of something called "Government Nondiscrimination." As the Virginia House Democratic Caucus writes:
Today, the House of Delegates enshrined in Virginia code the right to discriminate for people who hold certain religious beliefs about extramarital sex, same-sex marriage, and the transgender community. The bill passed on a 56-41 vote.

HB 773, patroned by Delegate Todd Gilbert, is a Kim Davis inspired bill that allows discrimination against same-sex couples, transgender people, or those engaging in extramarital sex within any government entity – from clerks of court to school sports coaches. The bill would prohibit government from taking action against employees who refuse to do their job because it goes against their personal religious beliefs, and would allow clerks and others to refuse to provide service if they have a religious objection to doing so.

“HB 773 creates a quasi-protected class of people who are given a license to discriminate based on religious beliefs,” said David J. Toscano, Democratic Leader. “Jefferson and the founders felt strongly about religious freedom, but this bill would permit religious beliefs to justify discriminatory acts, something firmly disfavored by our Constitution."

“Giving preference to one person’s religious beliefs over those of another is offensive and promotes inequality,” said Charniele Herring, Democratic Caucus Chair. “Ensuring that all Virginians are equal in the eyes of the law should be the goal of the General Assembly. Granting a free pass to discriminate is simply wrong.”
 Disgusting. But wait, there's more! See the "flip" for the Virginia House Dems' statement on passage of a far-right-wing bill to defund Planned Parenthood. Sad to say, this type of garbage - along with assaults on the environment, on the right to vote, on ethics, etc, etc. - on  will continue until Republicans no longer run the Virginia General Assembly.

"In 2016, the line between ‘blogger’ and ‘journalist’ is no longer meaningful"

by Lowell

I couldn't agree more with that quote by Waldo Jaquith in this new Style Weekly article by Peter Galuszka. Here's an excerpt, followed by a few thoughts by yours truly.
For years, a small group of political reporters operating through the association has kept bloggers, part-time correspondents and freelance journalists out of choice spots with access to legislators...

...The whole concept is outdated, says Charlottesville blogger Waldo Jaquith, who serves as director of U.S. Open Data and is adviser to the Sunlight Foundation....
“In 2016, the line between ‘blogger’ and ‘journalist’ is no longer meaningful,” Jaquith says. “The Capitol press corps has withered to almost nothing over the past decade. They’re a pale imitation of what they once.”...

...Jim Hoeft, editor in chief of the conservative blog Bearing Drift, says he worked to get bloggers credentialed for years. “We feel that we’re treated like second-class citizens by the press,” he says, “but we’re actually citizens who give a shit.”
...“Protecting their membership from new media might have made sense 10 years ago,” Jaquith says, “but at this point the Capitol press corps is a club so exclusive that there’s a plausible future in which it has no members.”...
...Lowell Feld, editor of the progressive Blue Virginia blog, says that many bloggers are political veterans with just as keen of an understanding of the issues as anyone else.
To elaborate just a bit on my comment, I'd say that since I started covering Virginia politics in 2005, if I've seen any difference in quality between "the bloggers" and the "corporate media," it's mostly just a matter of style, with "the bloggers" much more honest about their opinions, snarkier, etc. But as far as raw knowledge of the subject material, depth and breadth of coverage of Virginia politics, insights into what's really going on, etc., I'd actually give the edge to "the bloggers," both progressive and conservative, with a few exceptions in the corporate media like the incomparable Jeff Schapiro and top-notch reporters like Jenna Portnoy of the Washington Post (and former Virginian-Pilot reporter Julian Walker).

For instance, as I wrote back in June 2014, if journalists didn't want to be blindsided by Eric Cantor's loss to Dave Brat, they should have read political blogs like The Bull Elephant, JH Politics, Blue Virginia, etc. If they had, they would have seen that story growing over several months at Republican conventions, meetings, straw polls, etc, etc.. But the corporate media folks apparently didn't read the political blogs (or take them seriously if they did), which partly explains why they were so shocked by the Brat upset victory over Cantor.

Another example of how blogs actually provide far deeper, better coverage than the corporate media is this blog's coverage of the 8th CD Democratic primary in 2014. I personally attended numerous debates and forums at which there were no other reporters present. Even when they WERE present, their coverage didn't even come close to what Blue Virginia provided - video, analysis, transcripts, etc, etc. Same thing with the right-wing blogs' coverage of innumerable Virginia GOP conventions and other gatherings. I'd further argue that the best coverage of the 2013 Virginia GOP convention was not by the corporate media, but by folks like John Fredericks, Norm Leahy, Ben Tribbett, etc. And let's not even get into the 2006 Virginia race for U.S. Senate, first the "Draft James Webb" movement, which Raising Kaine was all over, then the Webb-Miller primary, which the Virginia blogs provided extremely detailed coverage of, then the Webb-Allen race, including the "macaca" incident (story broken by...yep, the Not Larry Sabato blog, with continued intensive coverage by the Virginia blogosphere - both right and left - in the weeks and months that followed).

Note that none of those bloggers I just mentioned are part of the Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association. Why not? Who the hell knows. Also note that the Virginia political blogs are NOT included in the morning news headlines provided by the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), for absolutely no good or defensible reason. And yes, I've gone back and forth with the VPAP folks on this. To date, I haven't gotten an answer that makes any sense whatsoever. I've also discussed the VPAP situation with my fellow Virginia bloggers, and so far the best explanation I've received (from one of them) is that VPAP is in thrall to its corporate sponsors -- the folks (Altria, Dominion, etc.) who keep VPAP in business. Those folks have, as one of my fellow bloggers points out, figured out how to "work" the corporate media, but are not at all confident that they can influence and/or control non-corporate political bloggers. And that scares them.

Clearly, "the blogs" have always scared the corporate media as well, who see them as both economic competition and also a threat to their status (since if any citizen can also be a journalist, even do a better job than the corporate media does, then what makes the corporate media anything special?). No wonder why many corporate media outlets won't even do the most basic thing and credit/link to blogs that break stories. It's Journalistic Ethics 101, of course; yet much of the corporate media flunks miserably (note: Virginia political bloggers, from what I've seen since 2005, overwhelmingly DO properly credit and link to original sources). Anyway, we'll see if this situation ever changes, but for my part, I'm not counting on it.

P.S. In many ways, this situation reminds me of other industries other siege, like the government-protected-monopoly electric utilities. Those guys have had a cozy thing going for decades and want to keep the gravy train rolling, even as many of them espouse their love for the "free market." It would be laughable if it didn't have such serious, negative implications...

Tuesday News: GOP "Tantrum" Over SCOTUS Is a "Gift to Democrats;" VA Senate GOP Tries to Roll Back Ethics Reform

by Lowell

Here are a few national and Virginia news headlines, political and otherwise, for Tuesday, February 16. Also, check out the results of the new CNU Wason Center poll of Virginia; Clinton leads Sanders 52%-40% and Trump leads Rubio and Cruz by a 28%-22%-19% margin, with Carson, Kasich and Bush far behind. And note the poll results a bit further down: by a 38%-24% margin, Republicans would be MORE likely to support a candidate who wants to bar all non-citizen Muslims from entering the country, while Dems by an 83%-1% margin would be LESS likely (and independents by a 50%-19% margin would be LESS likely as well). Finally, by a 52%-5% margin, Virginians would be LESS likely to vote for a candidate who is a "Democratic-Socialist."

How Republican Obstruction of Scalia’s Replacement Could Backfire

Monday, February 15, 2016

by Andy Schmookler

Saturday night, upon reflecting on the Republicans’ shocking expressions of an unwillingness to consider a Supreme Court nomination from President Obama, I had some thoughts that I decided I’d write up yesterday after my Valentine’s celebration with my beloved.

On my way to that task Sunday afternoon, however, I discovered that someone had written essentially the same piece, and done a good job of it.  The piece, appearing on and written by Mark Joseph Stern, bears the title “The GOP’s SupremeCourt Gamble.” 

The idea in Stern's piece -- which was also to be the heart of mine -- is essentially this: The Republicans can probably get a moderate justice appointed this year, but if they block that, and if the Democrats win both the presidency and control of the Senate in the elections this November (which is not unlikely), they could end up with a much more liberal justice instead.

If Stern's piece fully expressed my views, I would just consider myself scooped, and not bother to write anything myself. But Stern's piece contains one point to which I object, and leaves out another point that I think bears mentioning.

First, Stern's definition of a moderate that Obama might nominate, and that Stern thinks the Republicans would be wise to confirm, gives way too much ground to suit me. Stern writes:

Atif Qarni, Justin Wilk Urge Virginia State Senate to Vote No on Charter School Amendment

by Prince William County teacher Atif Qarni and Prince William County School Board member Justin Wilk

A few days ago, the Virginia House of Delegates passed HJ1, a constitutional amendment which would give the s ate power over local school divisions to fund charter schools. The Senate will likely vote on the amendment soon.

As a Prince William County school board member (Justin David Wilk) and a Prince William County school teacher (Atif Qarni), we have been advocating that members of the General Assembly vote against this bill. Prince William County has the lowest rate of per pupil funding but also the largest teacher to student ratio among the eight school divisions in Northern Virginia. We believe this bill sets a dangerous precedent in the Commonwealth and is harmful to the public education system in Virginia.

We have seen firsthand the challenge of trying to provide students with a "world-class education" when the county budget does not provide adequate resources to fund teacher salaries or fund base operations. In fact, Virginia consistently ranks well below the U.S. average in state spending for public education.

Republicans, who overwhelmingly support this legislation, cannot have it both ways. When Republicans continue to cut public education, it is not fair for them to blame the local school divisions for its shortcomings or failures. If the system is broken or failing, it’s the politicians who should be blamed.

Education reform should be in the hands of educators, not politicians and corporations. Unfortunately, most Virginia legislators do not understand that charter schools are not the solution to the problems plaguing public schools. Charter schools may create an illusion of functionality, but in reality there are significant concerns associated with this type of educational system that cannot be ignored.

For example, in Detroit, the charter school movement allows administrators to essentially “handpick” students for admittance. The Detroit Public Schools report that 17% of the student population is categorized as special needs, yet Detroit charter schools report that only 9% of its student population is categorized as special needs. Even better, there is no documented evidence indicating that the students who attend charter schools in Detroit are outperforming the students in public schools.

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), a pro-charter organization, even concluded that in places like Chicago, charter school students had lower reading and math test scores than their public school counterparts. Many studies have also shown that no significant gains were made in student performance when school divisions transitioned from public to charter schools.

In 1992, the California Charter Act was passed, resulting in the creation of a large number of charter schools in the state. The charter schools in California are not only highly segregated but some even operate in strip malls or places with little or no building code requirements. Many teachers and administrators working in the charter schools are also not licensed. Given these serious issues, there is a large grassroots movement in California to repeal the Act.

We believe that establishing charter schools means giving up on the concept of public education and local control. Virginia needs to invest in the necessary improvements to public education, instead of diverting funds to charter schools. We cannot risk allowing politicians in Virginia, who have little to no classroom experience, determining whether a charter school should be allowed in a local school district. This decision should be left to those individuals the public puts their trust in to manage their school system.

Instead of solving real problems in public education, charter schools create a new education system that is not necessarily better or cheaper. With private sponsors and funding, the charter school system also is subject to less oversight and transparency. The charter school system is most problematic because of the social and racial inequalities that it creates. Its “specialty programs” can marginalize families with children that are disabled, and the lack of transportation to/from school mostly impacts low income families. The last thing the Commonwealth needs is an education system that creates further racial and economic disparities.

A quality education should be the right of all Virginians, not the privilege of a select few. The future of our children should not rest in the hands of for-profit corporations. The public school system should be great equalizer in society, not a great divider. Further investments in public education – not charter schools – are needed to better the prospects of our students being able to compete in a global economy. Local school boards, not politicians in Richmond, should have the final say in authorizing charter schools.

Monday News: GOP's "dangerously dogmatic Supreme Court obstructionism;" "Scalia's death could affect McDonnell appeal"

by Lowell

Here are a few national and Virginia news headlines, political and otherwise, for a snowy Monday, February 15. Also, check out Mitch McConnell back in 2005, attacking Dems for obstructing President Bush's judicial nominees, and arguing that "any president's judicial nominees...deserve a simple up or down vote."

The GOP 2016 Presidential Candidates: Lies, Lies and More Lies; Here Are Two Big Ones

Sunday, February 14, 2016

How can you tell when 2016 GOP presidential candidates are lying? Basically, whenever their lips are moving. I could spend all day - really my entire life - working to debunk their lies, distortions, fabrications, etc. on issues from climate science to Planned Parenthood to U.S. military strength to the hysterical "world is on fire" bull**** to...yeah, it's endless. For now, here are two recent ones (both mentioned in last night's freak, "GOP debate" in South Carolina) that I find particularly obnoxious.

1. Republicans keep using variants of the phrases, "we've got to secure the border," "immigration is out of control," "we don't even HAVE a border," etc. It's completely, wildly false - backwards, actually, according to Pew. Also see Analysts See U.S. Border With Mexico As More Secure Than It's Been In 40 Years (NPR; 8/15). Is the border airtight, 100% "secure?" I mean, even with Donald Trump's "great wall," that would almost certainly be impossible to achieve, at least not without massive expenditures and adverse policy ramifications. But the main point is that GOP 2016 rhetoric on immigration is almost completely detached from reality, in addition to being inhumane, counterproductive, xenophobic and just plain nasty!
2. Their latest Big Lie has to do with the death yesterday of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and their bizarre claims about what's common practice for a president in his last year in office regarding Supreme Court nominations and Senate confirmations. Here's PolitiFact, which as usual goes WAY too easy on Republicans, but still manages to rate RoboRubio's claim about it supposedly being "over 80 years since a lame-duck president appointed a Supreme Court justice" as "Mostly False." Also see Vox, which explains, "At least 14 Supreme Court justices have been confirmed during election years" (including Frank Murphy in 1940 and Antonin Scalia in 1988).

Dominion Power "Accepting Responsibility" for Its Oil Spill That's Killed 21 Birds So Far? If You Believe That One...

by Lowell

Late yesterday, when of course almost nobody was paying any attention, our pals at Dominion "Global Warming Starts Here!" Power issued the following statement, "accepting responsibility" for their oil spill into the Potomac River (which, so far, has killed 21 birds and injured many more).
Dominion has reviewed the oil testing data conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard. We concur with their findings that the substance was transformer mineral oil and we accept responsibility. As we have stated from the very beginning when we were made aware of the oil sheen, we would have no hesitancy in accepting responsibility should testing link our January 24 transformer spill to the sheen. We will move with all due haste to work with the agencies to ensure the remaining cleanup work is done.
So...great that Dominion is "accepting responsibility" for its oil spill into the Potomac River, right? Well sure, except for several problems.
  1. Let's see if Dominion pays up for the damage it caused, including for "the cost of the response and cleanup" and "the rescue and rehabilitation of impacted birds." I mean, this is a company which has spent nearly $14 million over the years buying up the Virginia political system, so they clearly have the money to burn. Of course, having bought the Virginia political system, will there be any pressure on them?
  2. Continuing with that last thought, note that since this story broke on February 4 (actually on Feb. 3 in Red Brick Town) - nearly two whole WEEKS after Dominion's "13,000-gallon spill at its Crystal City substation Jan. 24" - I've heard VERY little comment from either Dominion Power or relevant elected officials, whether in Arlington County (where the spill originated nearly three weeks ago, yet I see absolutely NOTHING about this on the Arlington County website!) or in the Virginia General Assembly, with the exceptions of Del. Mark Levine (who looked into this situation and pointed his finger at Dominion on February 6) Sen. Scott Surovell (who has been on top of Dominion's coal ash pollution, as well as this situation, writing earlier today that this "incident raises questions about community notification") and Sen. Adam Ebbin (who has posted on Facebook and tweeted multiple times about this situation). As the Potomac Conservancy wrote on Tuesday:
  3. The lack of communication and tepid response from government agencies so far is frustrating...Pollution is alarming in and of itself and the impact on wildlife is devastating. But the lack of accountability and almost nonexistent response to this spill is most disturbing....Why has the public been kept in the dark? Why have so many critical details about this spill remained unanswered for nearly a week? Why is no one being held accountable for polluting the Potomac River?
  4. As far as Dominion is concerned, their initial reaction was FAR from accepting responsibility. To the contrary, they denied it, with a spokeperson claiming that "there is no evidence that the oil in the river involved the utility." Except that there was TONS of evidence when the spokesman made that fallacious statement, including the fact that Dominion had known since January 24 that it had experienced a 13,000-gallon oil spill at its substation located just a few blocks from Roaches Run, where the oil was eventually discovered.
The bottom line is that Dominion Power, as is almost always the case when it comes to just about anything other than keeping the power on, is highly evasive and certainly not to be trusted. When it comes to environmental protection, they're way beyond evasive and untrustworthy. As the Chesapeake Climate Action Network put it yesterday afternoon:
Earlier this week, we learned Dominion illegally dumped 33.7 million gallons of coal ash into Quantico Creek in May, and today we learned they caused the oil spill that has killed dozens of waterfowl in a wildlife sanctuary on the Potomac. It's clear Dominion has a deep disregard for the rivers and land in our region, this leak is just another example of why we need to ‪#‎DumpDominion‬.
"Deep disregard for the rivers and land in our region" pretty much sums it up, except that I'd add the words "air quality," "climate" and "planet" to that list. Just a horrible, horrible company all around.

Sunday News: Scalia's Death Raises Stakes for 2016; Trump Blames Dubya for 9/11 in Chaotic GOP, "Debate"

by Lowell 

Here are a few national and Virginia news headlines, political and otherwise, for Sunday, February 14.

Ted Cruz-Supporting Extremists, Bigots E.W. Jackson and Dick Black Weigh In on Death of Antonin Scalia

Saturday, February 13, 2016

In predictably insane fashion, of course...


UPDATE: Hillary Clinton's statement NAILS IT: "My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Justice Scalia as they mourn his sudden passing. I did not hold Justice Scalia’s views, but he was a dedicated public servant who brought energy and passion to the bench.

The Republicans in the Senate and on the campaign trail who are calling for Justice Scalia’s seat to remain vacant dishonor our Constitution. The Senate has a constitutional responsibility here that it cannot abdicate for partisan political reasons."

UPDATE #2: President Obama delivers a statement at 8:30 pm ET.

Video: Senator Adam Ebbin Denounces Vote as “Bigotry Cloaked Under the Guise of Religious Freedom”

by Lowell

Great job by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria, Arlington), and shame on every (Republican) member of the State Senate who voted for this anti-LGBT garbage.
Richmond, VA — Senator Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) expressed deep concern following the party-line vote to pass SB41, legislation that would allow marriage celebrants to refuse to solemnize a marriage if doing so would violate their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Speaking on the Senate floor, Ebbin said, “This bill is thoroughly unnecessary. It sanctions discrimination by government employees. We are the birthplace of the Statute for Religious Freedom. We enjoy one of the richest histories of any state when it comes to that freedom. Proposals like these — licenses to discriminate — desecrate the very things they claim to protect. This bill carves out a space for bigotry cloaked under the guise of religious freedom.”

If SB41 were to become law, it would allow all persons authorized to perform marriage ceremonies in Virginia, including judges and public officiants, to refuse to conduct marriages that violate a “sincerely held religious belief.”

Ebbin continued, “The legislation would allow judges to turn away certain couples at the courthouse door. Government officials should not be allowed to pick and choose which of their duties they will fulfill or which services they will provide and to whom, especially when the result would be blatant discrimination and the service to be denied involves a fundamental human right. Nor should government employees be allowed to impose their personal religious beliefs on those whom they serve.”

Saturday News: President Obama Talks About the Sorry State of American Politics; "J.C. Penney becomes laugh line in Virginia Senate"

by Lowell

Here are a few national and Virginia news headlines, political and otherwise, for Saturday, February 13. Also see President Obama's weekly address, in which he talks about the current, toxic state of American politics.

President Obama's Executive Orders: The Only Tool Available to Him to Perform His Job?

Friday, February 12, 2016

The following piece will be appearing in the coming days in several newspapers in my conservative congressional district. -- Andy Schmookler

Republicans in Congress have called President Obama a tyrant for using executive orders to advance policies he favors. A challenge to one of his executive orders – on immigration – has reached the Supreme Court. They claim that the president exceeded his authority.

I don’t know whether the president exceeded his authority. Good arguments have been put forward on both sides. (My big hope is that the Court does not rule 5 to 4, with five Republican-appointed justices on one side and four Democratic-appointed justices on the other.  That would undermine the notion that the Supreme Court is governed not by partisan allegiance but by the Constitution and the law.)

Whatever the court rules, would it be right to condemn Obama for going too far with executive orders

Sen. Tim Kaine: Bernie Sanders Would Be "Incredibly Risky" on Foreign Policy, as Commander in Chief

by Lowell

On a Hillary for America conference call a few minutes ago, Sen. Tim Kaine shared his thoughts on Hillary Clinton and what the Clinton campaign is calling "the Commander-in-Chief Gap" between Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Here's a partial transcript of Kaine's introductory remarks, followed by other videos.
The debate last night really demonstrated a very clear and decisive difference between Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders, and that is a real passion and understanding and ability to be effective when it comes to one of the most important roles that a president plays, the role of Commander in Chief and chief diplomat for the country.
Secretary Clinton has just an amazing track record, including service on both the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees...before her then important service as Secretary of State...The person [President Obama] wanted as the face of American diplomacy was Hillary Clinton, because he knew she could walk into any room in the world with an independent gravitas that would lead folks to immediately have respect for her. And on the contrary...and this is a very fundamental point: people come to the Senate and they work on the issues that interest them...but foreign policy and diplomacy and national security are not issues that interest [Bernie Sanders]...that's the choice that he gets to make...but because of the important role that a Commander in Chief plays, because of the importance of American diplomacy to global stability.
I just think somebody who's never really shown much of an interest in these topics is an incredibly risky bet...What folks saw last night [from Sanders was] repetition of phrases again and again, and kind of slogans, but no real details...We've got to have a Commander in Chief...who wouldn't [as Donald Trump has been doing] talk about our military with disrespect and contempt, she'd talk about it with gratitude and respect...[Both Turkey's and Israel's leaders] were asking me about some of the extreme and frankly anti-diplomatic rhetoric coming out of the [Republican candidates]... 
Hillary Clinton is the right person to demonstrate [foreign policy and national security] leadership immediately upon taking the oath of office in January 2017 as I hope she'll do.
More audio on the "flip," including on Sanders' criticism of Clinton on the Iraq War. 

8 Ostensibly Anti-Abortion Virginia Senate Republicans Vote Against Measure that Could Reduce Odds of Abortion by 46%!

by Lowell

So far, the 2016 Virginia General Assembly session has seen a bunch of crappy bills get passed and a bunch of excellent bills go down in flames. A great example of the latter category is Sen. Mamie Locke's SB 404 Medical assistance; health insurance, payment for prescription contraceptives.. What this bill would do is to require the Virginia "State Board of Medical Assistance Services to include in its state plan for medical assistance a provision for the payment of medical assistance for any prescribed drug or device approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for use as a contraceptive and requires such provision to provide payments to dispensers for dispensings of prescription contraceptives intended to last for a 12-month period." The bill further requires "health carriers with health benefit plans that cover prescription contraceptives to reimburse their dispenser for dispensings of prescription contraceptives intended to last for a 12-month period."

Why does being able to get a 12-month supply of oral contraceptives (and having insurers pay for that supply) make so much sense? Simple: as Sen. Locke explains: "Other forms of contraception last longer. Injections, IUDs… These are effective for much longer than one month. There is no medical reason for women to not obtain more than a month’s supply at a time. It is an inconvenience that actively prevents lower income women from taking full control of their reproductive health.” Or, as Sen. Barbara Favola puts it: "Virginia women have every right to make their own health care decisions. This kind of unnecessary barrier makes it more difficult for women to access safe contraceptive care by requiring them to make repetitive and unnecessary monthly trips to the pharmacy. There is no reason for it and the law needs to change.” Finally, as NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia explains: "This bill would allow women to receive a 12-month supply of birth control instead of having to pick up a prescription each month. This would dramatically increase access to birth control for women who need it, and would particularly benefit young women, low-income women, and rural women who face disproportionately-high barriers to reproductive health care." (Note: a companion bill in the House, by Del. Patrick Hope, was "laid on the table" - aka, "killed" - by voice vote in late January)

Why would anyone vote against a no-brainer bill like this? For anyone who's against abortion, it's particularly baffling (and infuriating), as an important study in 2011 found that "Dispensing a 1-year supply of oral contraceptive pills (OCs) to low-income women receiving family planning services is associated with a significant reduction in unplanned pregnancies and abortions as compared with dispensing a 1-month or 3-month supply." According to the study, we're not talking about a small effect either, but a 30% reduction in unplanned pregnancy and an enormous "46% reduction in the odds of an abortion."

Which means that the eight hard-right Senate Republicans (Newman, Black, Carrico, Garrett, Cosgrove, Dunnavant, Chase, Suetterlein) -- all virulently hostile to abortion and women's reproductive freedom in general - who voted against Sen. Locke's 12-month-contraceptives bill de facto voted NOT to reduce the odds of an abortion by 46%. To put it another way, those eight Senate Republicans, all ostensibly "pro life," voted against a measure that has been proven to sharply reduce abortions, which they consider as tantamount to murder.

Why? The only reasons I can come up with are: a) their irrational hostility to allowing women easy access to oral contraceptives trumps their hostility to abortion; and b) they are doing the bidding of the health insurance industry, which doesn't want to pay for 12 months of oral contraceptives, and they care more about corporate profits than about reducing abortions. Either way, the right wingers' votes against this legislation completely undercuts their argument about the importance of reducing the number of abortions. Ironically (?), it's pro-choice people like the Democrats on the committee who voted for the 12-months-of-contraceptives bill, who care a LOT more about actually, in the real world, reducing unwanted/unintended pregnancies and abortions. Ironic, eh?

By the way, I spoke last night with Sen. George Barker (D), the lone Democrat to vote with the eight hard-line, anti-abortion Republicans to "pass by indefinitely" (aka, "kill") this bill. I also talked to Tarina Keene of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. And after all that, for the life of me, I'm still struggling to understand why Barker, who has received consistent 100% scores from NARAL and has been a champion on women's health issues, voted against this bill. Apparently, Barker believes that the legislation is redundant, and that it's already possible for physicians to write a 12-month prescription for oral contraceptives. Even assuming that's the case, what would be the harm of voting for Sen. Locke's legislation? Even after talking to Sen. Barker, I still don't understand...just baffled (as, by the way, are NARAL and their allies, from what I'm told).

Bottom line: allowing women to receive 12 months of oral contraceptives and have that covered by their insurance companies is a no brainer, whether your focus is on women's reproductive health or whether you are strongly anti-abortion. Either way, this bill should have passed unanimously, not been "passed by indefinitely." Crazy.