I know, I know, I'm supposed to be utterly enthralled by the trial of Bob and Maureen McDonnell. Scandal! Intrigue! He said! She said! Affair(s)! Or not! Corruption! New York shopping trips! Ferraris! Rolexes! $10,000 wedding gifts!
Sorry, but on a scale of 1-10, where 10 is absolutely rapt attention and 1 is a snoozefest, I'm probably at a 3 or 4 max right now with this pathetic trial of grifters, trashy/shallow/vapid losers, liars and tawdry slimeballs.
Why don't I care? First off, I have never liked soap operas. Or TV. Or gossip about who's dating who in Hollywood. Or tons of stuff that most Americans apparently find fascinating. Sure, there's some "schadenfreude" (great German word) for yet another right-wing "family values" politician (once dubbed "Taliban Bob", by journalist Jim Spencer of the Daily Press, for T-Bob's persecution of a lesbian judge under Virginia's bizarre "crimes against nature" laws) proven to be a massive hypocrite, but other than that...meh.
Second, other than their friends and families (and the high-priced attorneys involved in this case), who cares what happens to the McDonnells at this point? They have no power, nor are they ever likely to have power or a political future again, regardless of the outcome in this case. Why do I say that? Because, even prior to the case itself, the McDonnells' once squeaky-clean image -- one that I never bought but a lot of Virginians did for some strange reason -- was down the toilet bowl and long gone into the sewage treatment plant. The point is, the McDonnells' trial is not like the case of Rod Blagojevich, who was still Governor of Illinois when he "was arrested at his home by federal agents and charged with corruption," followed by the Illinois House voting 114-1 (with three abstentions) to impeach the guy. Now THAT was both dramatic AND had real political implications. In the case of the McDonnells, at this point, I'm not seeing any political implications to them, no matter what happens in this trial.
Third, I actually find the attention being given to the McDonnells' trial to be harmful, in the sense that it's sucking up media oxygen on idiocy and frivolity (the "crush" defense? Maureen staring "raptly" at Jonnie Williams? seriously?!? I know the media loves the "freak show" and frivolity, but just...barf!), while truly important issues are ignored. Most relevant to this case, the issue that we SHOULD be focused on is why Virginia's ethics laws are so pathetically weak (our state received an F grade from the Center for Public Integrity and others), and why it's so hard to get our General Assembly to strengthen them? How about a total ban on all gifts - tangible, in kind; travel, meals, entertainment; whatever - to elected officials? Also note that, as a ProgressVA investigation found, "the law would not have prevented any of the 756 gifts received by lawmakers in 2012." So what are we doing about this situation? More broadly, what are we doing to rein in all the money from corporations, lobbyists, and wealthy individuals that's sloshing around our state government? So far, basically nothing, and this soap opera of Jonnie Williams and the McDonnells isn't moving us any closer in that direction, as far as I can determine.
Finally, while the press is expending significant resources covering this trial's blow-by-blow, he-said-she-said idiocy, there are important elections coming up in Virginia for the House of Delegates and State Senate, which will have serious implications for the balance of power in the latter legislative body. It also would be interesting if some of the journalistic "juice" now focused on the McDonnells' pathetic soap opera could, for instance, take a look at the extreme positions of Dave Brat, or why the Republican Party of Virginia can't seem to (or doesn't want to) get rid of the raving bigot who serves as the party's Treasurer, or a serious review of the damage Eric Can'tor has done to our country during his time in the U.S. House of Representatives, or a million other topics more important than the has-been, will-never-be-again McDonnells.
So yeah, as a Virginia political blogger, I guess I'm supposed to be watching this trial with rapt attention. Yet for the reasons listed above, and more, I just can't bring myself to care that much.
"To put it mildly," former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the other day, "the world is a mess." With crises in the Ukraine and Gaza and Syria and Iraq, among other places, it is hard to quarrel with Ms. Albright's assessment.
Which raises the question: Why? What is it that accounts for a marked rise in the level of disorder in the world?
Let us consider first those possible explanations that emphasize the American role in this growing disorder. The premise here -- and it is one I think is substantially valid -- is that the United States has played such a pivotal role in the creation and management of the order of the world since World War II that anything that damages the American performance in that role can readily ramify into problems in the international order.
One theory is that this disorder is the result of the inept conduct of foreign policy by the man who has been president of the United States for the past five and a half years, Barack Obama.
This is the theory pushed by the Republicans, of course. But as I argued in a recent piece, "You Can't Tell Time by a Stopped Clock, we can discount whatever the Republicans say against this president, because they attack him over everything.
However, it is not only Republicans who have expressed criticisms of Obama's handling of foreign policy. Other more honest critics have faulted his handling of the Israeli-Arab problems-- and if one ends up distrusted by both sides, that does seem a sign of less than brilliant diplomacy. Criticism from serious people has also been directed at Obama's handling of the Syrian civil war.
My own assessment -- as one who worked in the international relations field in an earlier era, but who does not have in depth knowledge of world affairs currently -- is that Obama's performance has been adequate overall, if not masterful. (I'd guess he deserves something like a B-.) It has rarely been obvious to me that, whatever the difficulties with the course the president has taken, there were any better options available to him.
In any case, Obama's performance in navigating the United States in world affairs has plainly been far superior to that of his predecessor, George W. Bush (and his for-a-while de facto foreign-policy-president Dick Cheney).
Here are a few national and Virginia news headlines, political and otherwise, for Friday, August 1. Also check out the photo (click to "embiggen") following yesterday's press conference with 48th HoD district Democratic nominee Rip Sullivan and others explaining why a vote for Republican Dave Foster is a vote against women's health and right to control their own bodies in Virginia.
(UPDATE: He's reportedly offering his resignation. On second thought....no he's not! ("I have no plans to resign now or in the future") - promoted by lowkell)
When it comes to RPV Treasurer Bob FitzSimmonds, apparently, he doesn't believe in following the eternally helpful advice that if you're in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. As we pointed out yesterday in breaking the story of FitzSimmonds' bigotry towards Muslims, Sikhs, Animists, Jainists, etc., this is the same guy who made the infamous "sexist tw**" comment, as well as many other crazy comments in this interview. Yet the guy doesn't seem to learn that when he opens his mouth, insertion of his foot is almost certain to follow, as night follows day and summer follows spring. Now, he's chiming in yet again on his Facebook page (see screen shot), this time defending his bigoted remarks by claiming that "Muslims were not around in the 1700s" to help "build the very fabric of our nation," as President Obama said. Of course, President Obama didn't specify the 1700s, and of course it's beyond moronic to claim that the fabric of our nation was only built in the 1700s. So, my Jewish immigrant ancestors, who arrive here in the early 1900s, didn't help build the fabric of our nation? And all the Irish immigrants who arrived here in the late 1800s? And all the immigrants from all over the world, of all different races and religions, who've arrived here for hundreds of years? Gotcha, Bob. Ugh.
As for his specific point about there not being any Muslims in American in the 1700s, in fact "an estimated 10% of the slaves brought to colonial America from Africa arrived as Muslims," although "Islam was stringently suppressed on plantations." So yeah, Muslims (and also many animists, which a lot of Africans were at that time) helped build the very fabric of our nation, through their blood, sweat and tears, even if Republicans like Bob FitzSimmonds won't acknowledge their contribution.
Meanwhile, why has the Republican Party of Virginia booted this guy out yet? Because: a) they agree with him; b) they're afraid of offending the bigots who DO agree with him; c) they're utterly incompetent; or d)) all of the above?
I just got back from a press conference in Arlington, in which 48th House of Delegates district Democratic nominee Rip Sullivan was joined by several other speakers focused on the crucial importance of electing a delegate who will defend - not attack - a woman's right to choose in Virginia. Rip Sullivan and the other speakers (State Senator Barbara Favola, Delegate Kay Kory, Charlie Jackson of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, and Shelly Livingston of Planned Parenthood) all affirmed: a) their strong support for pro-choice Democrat Rip Sullivan; and b) their strong opposition to anti-choice Republican Dave Foster in the special election on August 19. Here's a transcript of Rip Sullivan's remarks. I'll post the other videos in the comments section. Oh, and make sure you vote absentee if you're going to be away on August 19!
UPDATE: I checked with both NARAL and Planned Parenthood, and both confirmed that Republican Dave Foster did not respond to requests to fill out and return their questionnaires. How disrespectful of Virginia women can you be?!? Wow.
We're here because there is a lot at stake in this election. Dave Foster and I disagree on the issue of women's reproductive health. I believe that a woman's personal health decisions should be between her and her doctor. Dave Foster does not. I don't believe government should tell a woman what she can and can't do with her body. Dave Foster does not.
In his 2009 race for the Republican nomination for Attorney General, Dave Foster sent out mail saying he was "pro-life," while I have always supported a woman's right to choose. He called Roe v Wade a "case of judges imposing their will."
Over the past few years, we've seen outrageous bill after outrageous bill in the Republican-dominated House of Delegates. If elected, Dave Foster would be an addition to the Republican caucus that seems obsessed with restricting a woman's reproductive freedom. We don't need any more anti-women's-health Republicans in Richmond...
No, this is not consistent with the right-wing narrative that "Obamacare" (aka, the "Affordable Care Act") is a failure in every way (in fact, it's been overwhelmingly successful), but it also happens to be the reality-based fact. Not that THAT will get in the way of the right-wingers' phony narrative or anything, but still...thanks to Sen. Kaine for getting the facts out there. Oh, and happy birthday Medicare (another Democratic accomplishment)! :)
Here are a few national and Virginia news headlines, political and otherwise, for Thursday, July 31. Also, check out the photo courtesy of former Arlington County Board candidate Peter Fallon, of the candidates at the Democratic 48th House of Delegates district "unity" event last night. From left to right, they are: Paul Holland, David Boling, Yasmine Taeb, Andrew Schneider, nominee Rip Sullivan, and Jacqueline Wilson. I'm not sure where the 7th candidate, Atima Omara, was.
How do you know for sure when your country and state are descending into idiocracy? When your government starts misspelling the street signs.
Leesburg Pike is one of the longest and most prominent streets in Fairfax County. It represents a major stretch of Route 7, which has its own insanely detailed Wikipedia page. And it's named for the largest incorporated town in Virginia - you guessed it, Leesburg.
So, it's not a name that you'd expect our government to muck up. But the photographic evidence above suggests otherwise, on a portion of Route 7 in the Falls Church area near Seven Corners. Now apparently renamed "Leeseburg Pike." A block away from where Fairfax County is locating a new public school.
Several things jump out at me about Republican Dave Foster's campaign sign. First off, note a missing word there? That's right: Unlike Rip Sullivan, who proudly includes the word "Democrat" on his signs, Foster completely omits his Republican Party affiliation -- even though this is a partisan office, and even though Foster would be yet another vote for House Speaker Bill "ALEC" Howell's majority in Richmond. Gee, I can't imagine why Foster would do that in the overwhelmingly Democratic 48th district. Hmmm.
More deception: note the apple in place of the "o" in Foster's last name? That's clearly a universal symbol for education (apple for the teacher), and a not-so-subtle attempt by Foster to get people thinkingnt about his tenure on the non-partisan Arlington School Board, which of course is a COMPLETELY different position than being a (Republican) member of the Virginia House of Delegates. Nice try, though!
Finally, notice the "union bug" in the lower right-hand corner? Is Foster seriously trying to make people think that he's pro-union? What, if he's elected to the House of Delegates, will he oppose Virginia's "right to work be poor" laws? Will he make his new boss, Bill "ALEC" Howell, really angry at him by fighting for working people? Something tells me the answer to that is...uh, no, he won't. But hey, for a few extra bucks (possibly coming from vehemently anti-union Bill "ALEC" Howell), why not try to give off that (false) impression?
How about a better idea: on August 19th, vote for Democrat Rip Sullivan, who's actually proud of his partisan affiliation, not trying to deceive voters about it like phony "moderate" Dave Foster (note: Sen. Barbara Favola utterly demolished that myth a couple weeks ago on ArlNow) is doing.
Late last night, The Daily Progress reported on a draft "'statement of expectations' scheduled for discussion Wednesday would limit public dissent by members of the Board of Visitors at the University of Virginia." The Daily Progress article further notes:
The draft comes after about six months of discussion on a range of issues still hanging over the board in the wake of the 2012 firing and rehiring of President Teresa A. Sullivan. Board members have been looking for a way to ease some of the divisions that may have led a faction of powerful members - led by Helen E. Dragas, who was rector at that time - to oust the popular president...
Several board members have expressed frustration with visitors who publicly criticize board decisions at every turn...
To read the draft "Statement of Expectations," click here. Key points include:
*"Visitors shall not, without the prior consent of the Rector or President, initiate communication with elected or appointed public officials at the local, state, or federal level, on matters related to the University of Virginia."
*"Visitors should not contact staff independently."
*"When a Visitor substantially disagrees with management's proposal or plans to recommend a notably different course of action, the Visitor should provide as much advance notice as possible to the Rector, the relevant committee chair, the President, or senior officer as appropriate."
*"When asked by the press, media, public officials, or citizens at-large to speak on behalf of the Board or the University or to publicly assess Board decisions, whether past, present, or imminent, Visitors should always demur unless specifically authorized by the Rector to be a spokesperson."
*"Once decisions are reached... Visitors shall publicly support, or at the very least not openly oppose, the Board's action."
I contacted the UVA press office for comment, and was told that the "committee today met and discussed this draft," that "[n]o
vote was taken," and that the "committee will gather more revisions and then the revised draft will be presented to the full Board of Visitors for consideration later this year." The UVA spokesperson, Charles McGregor McCance, further notes that recently-passed Virginia legislation "actually requires all public universities in Virginia to develop and approve a code of ethics or code of conduct for Boards of Visitors."
Finally, in response to a source of mine who asserted that "this lands squarely in George Martin's lap, and is all about efforts to raise tuition beyond the reach of lower and middle-class income kids," Mr. McCance responded:
I can tell you that none of this is tied to tuition increases, tuition prices or any specific policy. It relates to improved governance at U.Va. and other public colleges, and is why this is emerging from the Special Committee on Governance here. The comments provided to you regarding George Martin and tuition are simply off target and incorrect assumptions or claims.
So, bottom line, I'm not sure what's really going on here, but it's certainly an interesting turn of events. What are you hearing?
I feel like a broken record on this, but I keep hearing offhand comments about how this is really a "center-right country," or how most Americans are not progressives, or how today's Democratic Party (centrist or even center-right by historical standards, let alone by the standards of other developed countries) is "super liberal," "socialist," blah blah blah.
In reality, of course, America today has a centrist party (the Democrats), a hard-right party (the Republicans), and an right-wing extremist rump "party" (the "Tea Party"). In stark contrast, European countries generally have a wide political spectrum from far left (Communist) to left (Socialist) to center-left (Social Democrats) to center-right (Christian Democrats) to right-wing extremist (the National Front, UKIP). Of course, even the center-right parties in Europe generally favor clean energy, unions, universal health care, strict gun control, etc. - totally different than here in the U.S. With that, let's take a look at the most recent polling, courtesy of PollingReport.com, to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that the American people support a long line of progressive policies, and pretty much no conservative policies to speak of.
It's also worth noting that those of us who write at this blog - including "Teddy Roosevelt Progressives" like me, who grew up basically a progressive Republican in the Jacob Javits/Lowell Weicker/John Chaffee mode - are in the (strong) majority on basically everything. No, it doesn't fit the stereotype of right wingers out there, or the corporate media which loves its "both sides" false equivalencies. But it nonetheless remains a factual statement.
*Global Warming: By a 58%-30% margin, Americans believe that "the federal government should limit the release of greenhouse gases from existing power plants."
*EPA Carbon Rules: By a 67%-29% margin, Americans support the EPA setting "strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants with a goal to reduce emissions significantly by the year 2030."
*Clean Energy/Dirty Energy: By a 59%-31% margin, Americans support "alternative energy" over "oil, gas and coal." By a 41%-31% margin, Americans believe we should put LESS emphasis on coal, compared to 76%-10% who believe we should put MORE emphasis on solar and 71%-12% who say we should put MORE emphasis on wind.
*Gun Laws: By a 92%-7% margin, Americans support "requiring background checks for all gun buyers." By a 54%-9% margin, Americans believe that "laws covering the sale of guns should be made more strict" as opposed to "less strict." By a 63%-34% margin, Americans OPPOSE more "teachers and school officials having guns in schools." By a 54%-42% margin, Americans support a "ban on assault-style weapons." Etc, etc.
*Obamacare: 40% favor it and 17% oppose it because it's not liberal enough, for a combined 57% who support Obamacare or want it to go (much) further. Only 38% oppose it because it's "too liberal."
*Same-Sex Marriage: By a 56%-38% margin, Americans support "allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally."
*Abortion: 40% say abortion should be legal "always" or "in most circumstances," with another 38% saying it should be legal in "a few circumstances." Just 20% say it should be "always illegal."
*Contraception: Americans overwhelmingly support contraception access, including a 53%-41% margin saying that "employers who object to birth control and other contraceptives on religious grounds...should not be exempt from the requirement that their health plans cover prescription birth control."
*Immigration: Only 22% of Americans favor deportation of "immigrants who are currently living in the U.S. illegally." In contrast, 58% of Americans support "allow[ing] them a way to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements." By a 65%-31% margin, Americans support the bipartisan, comprehensive immigration bill passed by the Senate and being held up by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives that "llowed foreigners staying illegally in the United States the opportunity to eventually become legal American citizens if they pay a fine, any back taxes, pass a security background check, and take other required steps."
*Minimum Wage: By a 71%-28% margin, Americans overwhelmingly support raising the minimum wage.
*Social Security: By a 73%-21% margin, Americans "think the benefits from Social Security are worth the cost of the program for taxpayers." And by a 51%-37% margin, Americans OPPOSE "hanging the way Social Security benefits are calculated so that benefits increase at a slower rate than they do now."
*Labor Unions: By a 54%-39% margin, Americans approve of labor unions.
*Campaign Financing: By huge margins, Americans support " limiting the amount of money individuals can contribute to political campaigns" (71%-25%), and limiting spending by "groups not affiliated with a candidate" (76%-22%).
*"69 percent of Americans oppose any cuts to Social Security or Medicare, even in order to cut the deficit, while only 23 percent support such cuts.
*"Between 60 percent and 80 percent of Americans support increasing taxes on the wealthy."
*"58 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, while only 39 percent support continued criminalization."
*"62 percent of Americans support the Paycheck Fairness Act - which seeks to close the gender-based wage gap - while only 29 percent of Americans oppose the act."
*" 66 percent of Americans support stronger EPA air regulations, 72 percent support stronger carbon-emission."
Bottom line: on issue after issue after issue, progressives aren't just in the majority, but the LARGE majority in most cases. Conservatives, on issue after issue after issue, are not just in the minority, but in the small minority in most cases. Which raises the question yet again, how do conservatives ever win elections? For that, see books like "What's the Matter with Kansas?" and movies like Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story. In short, it's about the Republicans relentlessly (and skillfully, and with huge amounts of money) preying on resentment, fear, anger, ignorance, and intolerance. Also note that the corporate media has, for years, completely failed to do its job of reporting the truth. Instead, they have been bullied by loud and belligerent right wingers into "reporting" false equivalency nonsense on issue after issue (e.g., there are NOT "two sides" to climate science). Other than that, it seems to me, we would have had all the policies listed above, supported by strong majorities of the American people, a long time ago.
Here are a few national and Virginia news headlines, political and otherwise, for Wednesday, July 30. Also, any suggested captions for the photo, other than "horrifying," "scary," "disturbing," and "extreme?"
The following remarks were delivered by Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington/Fairfax) to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality at a hearing in south Alexandria a couple days ago, as well as earlier today at the EPA public comments hearing on Constitution Ave. in Washington, DC. Thanks to Del. Lopez for speaking up for our environment, and for urging action on what is arguably the most pressing problem facing mankind in the 21st century - climate change. I would hope that all Virginia Democrats - and Republicans, if they'll come to their senses on this and stop treating it as a partisan issue - would weigh in as Del. Lopez has done, in strong support of climate action and a rapid transition from dirty to clean energy. It's also crucial to counter garbage like this ("Fossil Fuel-Funded Groups Organizing Public Rallies Against New EPA Climate Rule").
Despite the best efforts in some quarters to ignore it - climate change is a problem that threatens the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Whether it's the economic repercussions of sea-level rise on Virginia's coast-line, the health consequences of breathing polluted air, or the threat of more extreme weather conditions, climate change is having an impact on the day-to-day lives of the citizens of the Commonwealth.
At this time, Virginia's coastal region is experiencing the highest rates of sea-level rise along the entire East Coast of the U.S. In fact, the Hampton Roads area is second only to New Orleans in its vulnerability to sea level impacts. The Norfolk-Virginia Beach Metropolitan Area is ranked 10th in flooding from sea-level rise.
We cannot afford to wait any longer to take action on climate change in VA - our economy, health, and long-term quality of life rest in the balance.
According to the most recent estimates by the CDC, 8.7 percent of Virginia's adult population suffers from asthma. In the past three decades, the percentage of Americans with asthma has more than doubled, and climate change is putting those Americans at greater risk of landing in the hospital.
In 2012, 25 million metric tons of carbon pollution were emitted from power plants in Virginia - equal to the yearly pollution from over 5 million cars. This is unacceptable.
We have a moral obligation to address this crisis now so that we do not leave our children an environment that is polluted and damaged beyond repair.
For these reasons, I strongly urge the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to adopt the guidelines of the President's Clean Power Plan to address climate change in the U.S.
Public comments part of review of burdensome and medically unnecessary health center restrictions
Richmond, VA – Women’s health advocates delivered 4844 public comments opposing the burdensome and medically unnecessary women’s health center restrictions to the Health Commissioner on Tuesday. As part of a review of the Targeted Restrictions of Abortion Providers (TRAP), the Health Commissioner and Board of Health are collecting public comments through July 31st. Included in the comments were letters from medical professionals that see the regulations as medically unnecessary and a barrier to women receiving comprehensive care.
“As a physician, I am committed to patient health and safety. Throughout my career, I have treated thousands of women and believe all patients deserve safe, high quality care,” said Dr. Wendy Klein, a Richmond internist, professor emeritus and national expert in Women’s Health. “Three years ago, Virginia appointed medical experts to recommend regulations based on sound and safe medical practice. However, the Board of Health ignored those recommendations and instead approved arbitrary restrictions designed to shut down women’s health centers that perform abortions. No other outpatient facility has been targeted in this manner. Physicians and the majority of Virginians agree: regulations must be based on the best medical standards and practices, not political maneuvering. We ask Dr. Levine to rescind and rewrite the TRAP restrictions, and to allow health decisions to be made in private by patients with their doctors. Politicians should not be making medical decisions.”
Advocates are asking for the restrictions to be rescinded and rewritten in a process that relies on medical evidence and best practices, not politics and ideology. The current restrictions are designed to shut down women’s health centers, which provide comprehensive reproductive health care, like cancer screenings and birth control, as well as safe, legal first-trimester abortion, to women across the Commonwealth.
*"More than seven in ten (71%) women voters object to the idea of for-profit corporations being allowed to exempt themselves from a law they feel goes against their religious beliefs; in fact, this sentiment is so overwhelming that it is shared by a majority of every demographic and attitudinal audience, including Democrats (82%), independents (73%), and Republicans (52%)."
*"Not only do a solid majority of women voters in this cohort oppose the Supreme Court's ruling on Hobby Lobby, but these women voters also say they are paying attention to news about the decision and say the issue is important to them personally."
*"Women voters identify an array of reasons for opposing the Hobby Lobby decision-including women's right to make these personal decisions for themselves without interference from their employers, as well as basic fairness concerns that certain forms of women's birth control would be singled out, while coverage for vasectomies and Viagra are not flagged for debate."
*"Finally, women voters overwhelmingly describe the current accommodation for religious organizations under the ACA (the basis for the Wheaton College v. Burwell case) as acceptable and reasonable."
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