Rep. Dave Brat said in his letter last week that middle-income families will get a lowered tax this year. But he failed to say that the highest-income families will benefit even more. I got this information from the web site of the same center Brat mentions—the Tax Policy Center.
The Tax Policy Center, in addition to calculating that middle-income families will, in general, receive a tax cut, points out that the benefits are (surprise, surprise) “tilted toward higher income taxpayers,” not only in dollar amount (which you would expect), but as a percentage.
I notice that Brat did not mention this in his commentary. The Tax Policy Center (web site taxpolicycenter.org) also discusses the unpredictability of the long-term effects of such a large money stimulus, since the economy is already at near full employment.
Another concern is the increased deficits if the GOP’s pie-in the-sky expectations for economic growth are not met. The TPC calls these concerns “a large fiscal experiment.” But Brat might only be trying for his re-election, rather than creating an economy we can all benefit from long-term.
Editor's Note: this letter originally appeared in the April 26th edition of the Central Virginian, and has been re-posted here with the author's permission.
When the Louisa County Board of Supervisors adopted the FY2019 budget last week, the majority of the board refused to make the Louisa County Public Library a priority. The board killed a motion to allocate an additional $19,000 in funding, which would have enabled the library to open four more hours per week.
Supervisors Bob Babyok, Fitzgerald Barnes and Willie Gentry supported the motion while Troy Wade, Toni Williams, Duane Adams and Tommy Barlow opposed. In making this move, at least one board member offered unconvincing reasons for doing so. Another supervisor was scornful of our library throughout the budget process.
Supervisor Duane Adams claimed the library was unwilling to compromise on its funding request even as he voted against a motion that was clearly a compromise. The motion, which sought to fully fund the library’s budget request, was amended on the floor to cover only funds necessary for an increase in hours. In comments at the meeting, a library official laid out a number of ways the facility could expand services while receiving less than full funding. The library was flexible. The majority of this board was not.
During a budget work session, Supervisor Toni Williams was openly dismissive of our library, derisively suggesting that the county replace it with a Starbucks. With comments like this from the board’s vice chairman, is it any wonder that the majority of supervisors refused to fund any upgrade in services?
This board passed a $108 million budget and the county boasts an $11.8 million unrestricted fund balance. Millions of dollars are being funneled into costly water infrastructure. Yet, this board can’t find an extra $19,000 for a longstanding community institution. The only additional funding the board granted the library, early on in the budget process, amounts to a cost of living increase: an allocation to help cover employees’ rising health insurance costs.
The Louisa County Public Library has a committed staff. It’s a vibrant community hub that offers thousands of books and so much more. But, if it’s not adequately supported by our county, it will fail to meet the dynamic needs of a growing community. Already Louisa’s library is the only branch in the JMRL system that operates less than 48 hours a week, lagging behind libraries in both Nelson and Greene counties.
Our library weathered the storm of lean economic times. With a strengthening economy evidenced by more money in the county’s coffers, the library hoped to restore hours cut during the recession. But the majority of this board made clear that no matter the fiscal climate, our library is not a priority. If you care about this critical institution, I urge you to hold our elected representatives accountable and contact them directly to voice your concerns.
Editor's Note: this letter originally appeared in the April 26th edition of the Central Virginian, and has been re-posted here with the author's permission.
For those of you who read the April 19th edition of the Central Virginian you may have noticed representative Dave Brat’s op-ed claiming that according to Americans for Tax Reform, “… over 500 companies are directing part of their tax cut savings to their combined four million employees in the form of higher compensation.”
Despite being a flat out lie, he doubles down on that claim saying; “Small businesses are also big winners under the new code. They receive a new 20 percent tax deduction on their earnings. This will allow them to keep more of their earnings to pay down debts, improve or expand their operations, and reward their employees.”
He invited the CV’s readers to join him in celebrating how tax cuts work at an event hosted by the Job Creators Network, claiming that these “… tax cuts amount to real savings.” Since he first ran for office, deliberate obfuscation’s, misdirection’s accompanied by astroturfed support from front groups like AFP and the Koch Brothers are all he’s ever offered, unless one counts xenophobic dog whistles.
Perhaps that’s why his supporters were outnumbered by protestors at this event.
Unfortunately what he’s really talking about is savings for the wealthiest amongst us, while the rest of us are left with the “crumbs.”
Those of you who have read my letters in the CV and pieces in Blue Louisa over the years know that I’ve never made any bones about their shameless promotion of far right ideology and tact acceptance of extremism; whether it’s in their syndicated columns, or reprinting whatever Brat, Reeves, and Garrett have to say, regardless of how accurate or truthful it is.
What you probably don't know is that for the past 6 months, the CV editor has refused to print my letters, claiming that's “it’s our decision," while refusing to elaborate further. So if you want to see more letters discussing local, regional and national issues, keep writing to them. Meanwhile, Blue Louisa continues to offer local writers an alternative platform free of their restrictions.
But keep in mind that even the most widely read piece in Blue Louisa will reach a few hundred Democratic and progressive readers, while the CV's letters reach thousands. And with regard to Brat's misleading op-ed, any public response falls to local writers and hopefully the two candidates running against him, Abigail Spanberger, and Dan Ward.
So it should be most interesting to see what the CV prints in the days to come
Next: Blasts from the Past; June 2014, What really happened and local attitudes
This recent Republican primary was one where roughly 8% of the voters showed up to vote. Such low turnout meant that relatively few voters had the power to make a huge difference. On the Republican side; traditional conservative’s were outnumbered by Brats tea party supporters, followed by an unknown number of Democrats, many of who held their noses and voted for a candidate even further to the right than Cantor.
Leading to speculation that there were large numbers of Democrats crossing over and voting for Brat and swinging the election. The fact that Virginia has open primaries which allow this left that possibility open. But the broad consensus is that, no, Democrats aren't to blame or thank. They may have added to Brat's margin, but it doesn't look like they were single handedly responsible.
Like wise with the appealing narrative that he got taken down by redistricting; certainly his loss underscores the dangers of overenthusiastic gerrymandering. Virginia Republicans efforts to fix Cantor's district in 2010 did have the effect of making it far more conservative. In Eric’s case you “live by the redistricting sword, die by the redistricting sword”.
Brat’s camp might like to claim that this election was “an absolute repudiation of establishment politics” and that Eric was voted out of office because he wasn’t “sufficiently conservative” making populist claims that Eric was in bed with big business.
Brat’s claims that Eric supports "amnesty" for illegal immigrants, and was "soft" on immigration, was nothing but a coded appeal to his tea party supporter’s native prejudices.
Trite as it may seem, the more convincing explanations are based more on variations of Cantor having gone native in Washington DC … gotten too big for his britches…. lost sight of the little people back home. "Mudcat" Saunders, a well-known Democratic consultant, offered this explanation to Time:
"Was immigration an issue? Yes. Was it the deciding factor to the tune of 11%? Not no, hell no. It's a fairy tale,"
The idea of Cantor having lost touch with the voters is especially vivid when compared to the story of South Carolina Senator, Lindsey Graham, who, when faced with the same sort of skeptical constituents, restored his relationships with local GOP officials, stumped aggressively around the state, running a slew of positive TV spots focusing on what he’s done.
Cantor, on the other hand, threw a barrage of negative ads at the problem—a tactic which may have a backfired, their ham-fisted attacks only raised Brat's previously-invisible profile—while he continued to stay inside the Beltway, laying groundwork toward taking the speakership. Like spending that fateful Tuesday morning meeting with lobbyists and donors in Washington, rather than campaigning
Cantor demise has Shakespearean overtones as he became the epitome of everything that's wrong with Washington by his own actions, becoming the perfect lightning rod and the “only conduit voters had to express their anger”.
Despite all these factors working against him with his constituents and in Congress, it’s frequently true that when it comes to winning elections that “money talks and everything else walks.” So how did Cantor manage to lose after outspending his opponent 40 to 1, spending approximately $ 5 million to his opponents $ 200,000?
According to his campaign filings, Dave Brat didn't have support from any of the big-money Tea Party organizations, like Freedom Works, Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity etc., or from any of corporate PACs, who apparently didn't want to risk pissing off the Majority Leader and possible next Speaker in case of an anti-Boehner revolt.
According to Thom Hartmann, one of the reasons, if not the biggest reason, Eric Cantor lost this primary election was that he completely underestimated the dark money machine that was the real force behind David Brat’s campaign.
Dave Brat pretty much owes his current job as a professor of economics to people like the Koch brothers and their cronies. John Allison, the former CEO of BB&T bank and the current head of the Koch-founded Cato Institute, gave Brat's college a $500,000 grant back in 2010 to set up the BB&T Moral Foundations of Capitalism Program at Randolph Macon University.
This is just one of 68 programs around the country that BB&T sponsors, according to Allison “at most of the major universities in our operating area.” Their reading list usually features reading of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and the size of the money pile "donated" ranges from $500,000 to $2 million depending on how vigorously universities agree to promote this quackery.
Allison boasts that “many [students] indicate the program is the first time they have heard capitalism defended from an ethical perspective,” attempting to steer the next generation of young people into buying their brand of Ayn Rand-ism and libertarian economics. Like hundreds of other college professors across the country, David Brat is little more than a bought-and-paid-for shill.
But the connections between Brat and the dark money machine don’t stop there. He is a hand picked candidate of the Koch-backed world.Over the past few months, right-wing radio hosts like Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin have been pushing Brat and attacked Cantor non-stop on their radio shows.
Beyond well know names like Rush Limbaugh; most of us remain unaware of the size and influence of a parallel universe of toxic messaging that is being broadcast over the nations radio waves. A few months ago Politico covered this story, which was completely ignored by the mainstream media, just like they did three years ago. Their reports covered a fast growing and influential network of conservative radio talk show hosts who are driving the countries so called conservative movement.
“Filings with the Internal Revenue Service and Federal Election Commission, as well as interviews and reviews of radio shows, found that conservative groups (such as Americans for Prosperity) spent nearly $22 million to broker and pay for involved advertising relationships known as sponsorships with a handful of influential talkers... Since then, the sponsorship deals have grown more lucrative and tea party-oriented.”
Let’s be clear, David Brat isn’t just some college professor, he’s foot soldier of the libertarian billionaire class and its army of talk radio hosts. This is the brave new world of dark money politics, a raving-loon industrial complex of radio shows financed in some way or another by a vast lagoon of plutocratic payola.
Regular readers of Blue Louisa and our local paper the Central Virginian may recall an earlier commentary which covered the pervasive and corrosive influence that FOX news has on its viewers particularly those over 65, along with the subsequent wave of vitriolic responses it generated.
Generating a host of comments spread over several letters ranting about how liberals “blame the religious right, the Tea Party, and folks over 65 for not understanding,” or how they are trying to “silence them with vicious attacks”. To being offended by the observation that conservatives are “consistently on the wrong side of moral and social progress”.
To claiming that that “Fox News is the most fair, accurate, and balanced news organization in existence today”, the “only news outlet that has not been co-opted by this government” To ending their letters with “thank God for Fox News”, and “God bless the USA!”
Comments to which the comic Ron White once remarked, “You can’t fix stupid”.
It should be noted that those responses came from the same folks who voted overwhelmingly for Brat; considerably older, whiter, staunchly religious, rabidly conservative who viscerally reject the idea of any compromise.
They don’t want any of that old school backroom deal making, nor do they want the pretense of it either. They want continuous confrontation, stonewalling, brinksmanship and repeated government shutdowns, preferring to live in a state of permanent dysfunction, and racial balkanization because it feels more “honest.”
And here in the 7th district being a know-nothing isn’t just a political opinion; it’s a way of life.
I attended the Culpeper Board of Supervisors meeting this past Tuesday evening, where the annual budget for 2019 was submitted to the public. There were modest increases in several areas, but tax rates remained unchanged, and we have the lowest tax rate, at 67 cents per one hundred dollars, among all our surrounding counties. It was well thought out and professionally presented. John Egertson, the County Administrator, and the Board deserve our thanks for their stewardship of our collective well-being.
What astonished me was the number of mostly old white people who came to the podium to speak out against a referendum proposed for the November election to provide a YMCA for our young people, for goodness’ sake. One speaker quoted the Declaration of Independence concerning our “unalienable rights” to keep the government out of our pockets, and that the American Way was to let people fend for themselves. Another actually said if people want a swimming pool, they should dig a hole and fill it with water. Another superfluously voiced his support for the Sheriff’s 287(g) program to help ICE make life miserable for our Hispanic friends and neighbors.
Health care? Roads? Infrastructure? Not important to these people, apparently. These mean-spirited and selfish people have apparently chosen to forget or ignore the Preamble to our Constitution, the very foundation of our democratic Republic, so let me remind everyone:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
This means ALL the people, not some of the people, not just those better off, not just those with wealth, property, and European ancestry. Every single day, we witness the gross lack of justice and the evaporation of domestic tranquility exemplified by the resurgence of racists and white supremacists, like in Charlottesville, the serial incarceration of the young and disadvantaged for nonviolent crimes, the unjustified shootings of the innocent, and the lack of real intentions and programs to solve the opioid crisis that is ravaging our communities. Promote the general welfare, it says.
We the People have been ill-served by our elected politicians in the General Assembly and the United States Congress. Dave Brat has shamelessly embraced Donald Trump’s destruction of the rule of law, while fleeing from his constituents and accomplishing nothing. Meanwhile, Nick Freitas, Corey Stewart, and E.W. Jackson are duking it out for the privilege of being the most reactionary opponent to incumbent Sen. Tim Kaine.
If we want to make America great again and return it to the rule of law, then we must motivate every citizen to participate, including those voters marginalized by society or circumstances who’ve sat out recent elections. We must all make our voices heard in supporting progressive candidates like Abigail Spanberger and Dan Ward, patriots who have served their country well and who are fine examples of the new wave of grass roots activists who want to make our country better.
Find out for yourselves at the Culpeper Democratic Congressional Candidates Forum at the Library at 1:30 pm on May 12th. Remember May 21st is the last day to register to vote in the June 12th Primary. Once registered, you can obtain an absentee ballot by mail up to June 5th or vote absentee in person at 151 N. Main St., Suite 301 up to June 9th.
We have the power to change our country. At the ballot box.
Editor’s Note: This commentary has been re-posted here on Blue Louisa with the author’s permission, and originally appeared in the April 19th printed edition of the Culpeper Star Exponent.
Not that Friday’s news of the Drumpf pardoning Scooter Libby comes as any surprise. What's not clear is this a trial balloon to see who else he can get away with pardoning, or firing?
Or is he’s simply following Fox and Friends lead using the bombing of Syria as another distraction, leaving everyone else wondering just what the hell he’s trying to accomplish?
Others say it is a mistake to assume there has ever been any method to his madness that he improvises as he goes along. Anyone who actually expects his chaotic behavior to decelerate or even stop is delusional.
He's unchecked by the Orange nosing Vichy Republicans in Congress and gets fed a steady diet of FOX food. He will continue to deteriorate as his kakistocracy collapses around him, and the Muller investigation gets closer at least until the Democrats take the House and/or Senate in November.
Meanwhile, Congressional Republican’s are busy dealing with the Drumpf's administrations attempt to double cross them on the spending bill he just signed. Given their instinct for self preservation, it shouldn't take them long to realize that because of his antics their party will lose the House and possibly the Senate in November.
As that becomes more and more apparent, how many of these Vichy collaborators will continue to do nothing as their party goes down in flames? Will they be able to resist their compulsion to stampede; going straight to being so pissed off that even impeachment isn’t good enough?
If that's not your karma catching up with your dogma, I don't know what is.
The Central Virginian did a good job of capturing where the County’s Broadband project stands in last Thursday’s edition. The Broadband Authority is not happy with their consultant’s progress, and supervisors opposed to Broadband want the Authority to change their bylaws, allowing them to appoint members from outside their district.
And while they did report that the Broadband Authority voted 5-0 for the exact opposite, they failed to connect the dots between those facts and boards’ actions. Like how Troy Wade, the Board's chair re-stacked the deck in January after replacing both Supervisors on the Authority.
Apparently convinced that if he paired a radical like Duane Adams, who has never made any bones about his opposition to Broadband up with the boards most notorious get along to go along, that it would change their votes. Meanwhile Tommy Barlow, the other supervisor showed some unexpected sack after appointing Tim Layne, the founder of the Louisa Residents for Internet FB group to the Authority.
Despite the unanimous rebuke by the Authority, such impertinence won’t keep Wade and Williams from using the expiration of the Broadband Authorities member’s terms in June as another excuse to reshuffle the deck. Reportedly, one of them told his representative that he would “consider their re-appointment” if they voted to change their bylaw’s to allow supervisors to appoint members from outside their voting district.
Evidently, they plan to split the Broadband Authority 4-2 along ideological lines knowing it would increase the odds of 3-3 stalemates should another member flip. Nor will there be any chance of a tie breaking vote unless Jim Ogg’s status is resolved in their favor.
Authoritarians have always prospered by keeping their thumbs pressed on the scales of governance. Nor are these deeds happening in isolation; like the Adams-Koren Supervisors race last year which saw rivers of outside money and negative mailers come pouring in.
It’s a safe bet that Republicans will attempt to replicate that success in 2019, starting with deposing Willie Gentry and keeping Wade and Williams in office. Like last years Mineral district race, the Cuckoo district seat is eminently winnable for anyone with an R behind their name and it flips the Board from 4-3 for, to 4-3 against.
Over the course of these past few months, these supervisors have given us an object lesson in how a minority can abuse the system at every opportunity. And they will do so with impunity should they become a majority in 2019. Given how far away this election is; the best prospect of slowing their roll is to work with the Broadband Authority members committed to the project and outvote them in the Broadband Authority meetings.
Then outvote them again at the Board of Supervisors meetings on Broadband and many other issues all the way to the 2019 election. After that our only hope lies not with Obi-Wan in a far away galaxy, but with the residents of the Louisa, Jackson, and Cuckoo districts voting for change.
I’m writing in response to the Confederate flags being planted along the highways by a group called the Virginia Flaggers.
I don’t believe that the Virginia Flaggers are Nazis or white supremacists. They seek to honor their past and their ancestors who fought bravely. But this symbol of Southern pride has unfortunately been dragged through the mire of hatred and odious ideology and it no longer symbolizes any ideal of honor.
Its use in rallies by Nazis and white supremacists makes it indistinguishable from that ideology. It stands now for hatred and wounded pride and an inability to move on.
I am proud to be a Southerner. I am proud of the hospitality and resilience of the people of my adopted homeland (I’ve only been here for 45 years). The South has risen again and it is diverse and kind and strong. Its people are ready to embrace a world in which all people are created equal. Everywhere I turn I see a groundswell of activity in which people of honor and integrity are finding creative ways to make our communities better places to live.
There is so much to take pride in about being a Southerner. Clinging to this symbol denigrates us in the world’s eyes. I hope this group will see the sense of taking it down and replacing it with a true symbol of who we are. It’s embarrassing.
Editor's Note: this letter originally appeared in the April 5th edition of the Central Virginian, and has been re-posted here with the author's permission.
The Founding Fathers were some very smart and well educated men. Many of them read the classics in Latin and Greek. For the most part, they were successful in life. When they sat down to write the Constitution in 1787, they were looking at ten years of government failure because of the weak Articles of Confederation written in 1777. They were 10 years older and wiser. Today, it remains a brilliant government organizational diagram. With the exception of some self-imposed rules in Congress, it should still work. The Bill of Rights was adopted in 1791. Virginia was the last to ratify. The Founding Fathers were no longer revolutionaries; they were the United States of America.
Now while they did an excellent job, the Constitution was not perfect. There was that slave thing accepted in all States, not just the South. They got that wrong. We found it was better to have the President and Vice President from the same party. 12th Amendment. We changed that because they got that wrong. We changed the election of the Senate from state legislatures to popular vote. That was because of gerrymandering and corruption. Sound familiar? But I’m getting off track. Of course, there are the 18th and the 21st Amendments, better known as Happy Days Are Here Again. Women’s vote was the 19th Amendment. The Founding Fathers did not get everything right. Nor did those who followed them. We have had the brains to fix the errors in the past, it is time we do so now.
The 2nd Amendment was written at a time when standing national armies were considered dangerous in peace time. It was the considered opinion of the time that States should raise militias to come to the defense of the nation. The Continental Army was disbanded after the Revolutionary War. The 2nd Amendment was written to authorize the States to have militias.
Here is Madison’s first draft of the 2nd Amendment:
“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well-armed, and well-regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.’’
In the conscientious objector provision, Madison clearly used the phrase ‘’bearing arms’’ to refer solely to the possession of weapons for military use. Records of debates in the Continental and U.S. Congresses between 1774 and 1821 include 30 uses of the phrase ‘’bear arms’’ or ‘’bearing arms’’ other than in discussing the proposed Second Amendment. In every single case, the phrase has an unambiguously military meaning.
We have corrected errors in our Constitution before. The 2nd Amendment was clear at the time when all understood “to bear arms” referred to soldiers in a trained, “and well regulated” militia. That is no longer the understanding. It is time to remove “militias” from the language. It is time for a new amendment about gun ownership.
A new Weapons Amendment should be general in nature but should cover who can own a gun and what kind of guns are permitted. I will leave it to the legal experts to write but I believe it should cover what weapons may be owned by civilians and which are for professional use only. It is long past time we clarify weapons ownership in America.
George DeSerres, U.S. Army, Retired Culpeper
Editor’s Note: this originally appeared in the March 30th edition of the Culpeper Star Exponent, and has been re-posted here with the author’s permission.
I did. Did you?
I took my hand-made signs to Washington, DC and stood frozen in time and space for about 4 hours to show solidarity with the survivors of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, and to protest the lack of any meaningful action to reduce the never-ending gun violence in this country. It was the least I could do.
There are lots of nay-sayers out there who insist the crowd was not that large; that it was organized and paid for by crass adults who are manipulating innocent children for their own political ends; that there were not even that many kids there; that people only showed up for a “free concert” by big-name entertainers; or that people weren’t even there to protest gun violence, they were there supporting other things, like Planned Parenthood, or to just protest the current occupant of the Oval Office.
Where I stood, at the corner of 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, I was surrounded by people of all ages, and yes, many of them were teenagers. Many of them were accompanied by at least one parent. One young Vietnamese couple asked if their little kids could have their picture taken with me and my signs. On the way to my final standing spot, I posed with another former soldier whose sign said, “Vietnam Vet Proud to Stand with the Youth of America.” This was not my first demonstration, and probably won’t be the last, but it was certainly the most meaningful. I have never seen so many people gathered in “one” place – considering that “place” was eleven blocks long (about a mile and a half, it being an avenue) and was packed from sidewalk to sidewalk, including many of the side streets. There were no vast vacant spots as we saw on January 20th 2017.
To me, the music was a distraction, the real stars were the survivors and they were very well spoken. When Emma Gonzalez began her 6 minute and 20 second silence, none of us had any idea how long this was going to go on. For virtually that entire time, you could have almost heard a pin drop among the hundreds of thousands of people packed into Pennsylvania Avenue. It was a very moving moment in history.
Of course, it took almost no time at all for the NRA and its ilk to come out of the woodwork denouncing the march as being a plot by liberal billionaires and Hollywood elites; that these survivors were “crisis actors,” paid by unknown persons for their performances; one photo shopped Facebook post purported to show Gonzalez tearing up the Constitution. What hogwash. Everywhere around me, for as far as I could see, regular Americans were standing up to gun violence and making their voices heard. Many, many times over the course of the speeches, spontaneous chants would break out among the crowd. The most common one was “vote them out, vote them out,” referring to the august members of the United States Congress, those at least, who are bought and paid for by Wayne LaPierre, the Koch Brothers, and many other shadowy individuals and corporations that were unleashed by Citizens United.
What can we do to stop the killings on our streets, in our schools and churches, on our playgrounds, in our nightclubs, and in our homes? When will we stop believing the liars in the Fairfax home of the NRA and demand take action in the Congress, in the Virginia General, and right here in Culpeper County to stop these atrocities?. We could be next. Speak out.
Editors Note: This originally appeared in the March 30th edition of the Culpeper Star Exponent, and can be found here, and has been reposted with the author’s permission.
For those of you who read the CV, you might have noticed some changes, info-graphics on the front page, and syndicated pieces on the op-ed pages. Part of their parent companies, Lakeway Publishers brand of messaging … I mean journalism.
The owner of this privately held company, R. Jack Fishman is a big supporter of this model of low cost journalism, determined to follow the “dominant form of journalism,” promoted by his beloved Reynolds’s Institute.
Where what matters is their commitment to this model of content delivery, come hell or high water. And for two of Lakeway's local papers, the Hanover Herald-Progress, and the Caroline Progress, that moment of reckoning arrived this past Thursday their last day of publication.
Considering that respectively they had been in business for over 130 years, and just shy of a century, the demise of these two cultural icons will have repercussions well beyond the loss of local news.
If you were confused by the editorial the CV put out that same day, filled with hyperbolic statements 'like “massive body blows to the 1st Amendment,” you were not alone. Because in attempting to blame rising paper costs as a source of newspapers woes, it pointedly ignores the reality that newspapers, including the CV are not engaging their audiences.
As a measure of engagement, advertising sales are not the same thing as dedicated readers. Something I suspect both of these defunct papers had issues with. And as the flagship of Lakeway’s remaining Virginia papers, the CV makes enough in advertising revenue to afford staff to cover local events.
David Holtzman, in particular has markedly improved the scope and quality of their local stories.
Yet there is no escaping the reality that Lakeway's brand of rentier journalism meant that most of their papers weren't allowed the necessary staff to cover local affairs, then presumably that resulting dead space was filled up with conservative syndicate-content on their op-ed pages.
And when it comes to reading local opinions and commentary, far too often they get crowded out by these puff pieces, sometimes an entire page worth.
Whether it’s because of a lack of letters that week, or that certain pieces “must run” remains to be seen. While their readers would appreciate well written commentary from time to time, they may not be aware what certain contributors like; The Family Research Council, and The National Review are about.
The former is on the Southern Poverty Centers hate group watch list, and the later is a far right publication. While promoting conservaganda says much about Lakeway’s priorities, the lack of response to those pieces should be a cause for concern.
That being said, one of the biggest paradoxes of the modern information age is how little people actually know about what is happening in their state, particularly at the county level. The more local an issue or political office is the greater impact it has on any given person’s daily life. State and local legislators, who decide funding levels for local transportation projects and school districts, have far more influence on the average person’s life than even the president of the United States.
So stay tuned for some blasts from the past; the Dark Side of Newspapers, and Local Reporting isn’t Much Better
Several years ago, the Washington Post ran an article citing a Pew Research Center study showing that less than one third of the daily newspapers in the U.S. send a reporter to state capitols to cover the latest state legislative developments.
Another topic this study did not adequately cover was the more local a particular issue or election,, the less informed local residents were, in addition to being less active in the civic and political process. Take for example, Louisa County paper of record, The Central Virginian’s recent story about a proposed gas pipeline stretching from Pennsylvania to North Carolina and across the county.
On the surface it’s a fairly straightforward story about a proposed gas pipeline that cuts across a historic farming district. Shortly after this article appeared, two thirds of the people responding to their survey said they thought it was a good idea to have a gas pipeline running over private properties in the National Historic Green Springs District where some of counties most important underground water supplies are located.
Speaking on behalf of Historic Green Springs Inc., Rae Ely, had this to say, “It’s unthinkable to have this enormous pipeline run through the source of water for so many people.”
It should be noted that the CV’s public link to this important local story was only a few paragraphs, and that this type of coverage is typical of their parent company, Lakeway Publishers giving their on line readers a “Cliffs Notes” version of local news.
This degree of disconnect between Ms. Ely’s common sense statement about the dangers of running a pipeline which could potentially spill, contaminating one the counties few sources of fresh water, and the handful of local folks responding to this survey is one of the consequences of newspapers declining coverage of local and state issues and reducing their coverage down to the barest essentials.
In the case of these folks responding to the survey; it’s clear that they have brought into the prevailing conservative mantra that any business is “good”, and that this pipeline would benefit Louisa County regardless of the actual cost.
The decline of newspapers fortunes has led to a substantial reduction in informative reporting. The number of statehouse newspaper reporters throughout the country has declined by over thirty five percent in the past decade. As newspapers budgetary pressures increase, many are leaving for greener pastures.
Several of Virginia’s better known long time statehouse reporters are now working for various public relations firms. At the local level, the Central Virginians’ past editor now works for Louisa’s school system.
According to one now retired statehouse reporter, “The industry changed. We went through this really difficult time … particularly during the recession,” “It’s not the kind of profession people feel secure in and going into,” one reason why many of the remaining reporters covering Virginia statehouse are entry-level, with low starting salaries and few benefits.
The absence of reliable information has given public relations professionals, lobbyists, and politicians, an unprecedented opportunity to control the message. Using YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets, lobbyists, politicians are increasingly generating their own news, and spinning their own stories.
It’s no secret that most media outlets rely heavily on wire services like the Associated Press instead of their own reporters. Several non-traditional outlets have popped up to fill this void. Most have an online-only presence; while some focus on insider audiences of lobbyists and government executives; others can nominally be called “non-profits”.
The biggest of these “non-profits” is the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity promotes coverage of statehouse affairs specifically from a conservative point of view, according to another Pew study. The Franklin Center is also staffed by veterans of groups affiliated with Charles and David Koch.
The group’s editors claim that their “professional journalism” work is walled off from the organization’s political operations which include seminars and webinars promoting conservative journalism coverage with staffers from The Daily Caller and TownHall.com, claiming their “pro-taxpayer, pro-liberty, free market perspective” doesn’t compromise their accuracy or independence.
Most of their funding comes from Donors Trust and its affiliated organization, Donors Capital Fund, who have raised more than $500 million from various organizations and individuals, including the Koch Brother. Donors Trust gives many of its funding sources a way to hide their donations or “pass-through” money to various right-leaning organizations and media outlets, many of whom promote free-market ideas. The size and character of these donations has earned the group the moniker ”the dark money ATM of the conservative movement.”
Editors Note: this has been modified from a July 2105 post, and is now in Archives.
Since mid 2012 the Central Virginian has undergone a decided change in their coverage of local issues, particularly on their op-ed page. With large notices at the bottom of their op-ed pages telling us how newspapers keep the government from controlling their access to public information
One might be tempted to believe there was some accuracy to that claim if they weren’t taking up space on their op-ed page with decidedly conservative political cartoons from King Feature’s Syndicate, like all the local papers controlled by Lakeway Publishers.
Roughly one quarter of the CV’s op-ed page is often occupied by a stream of consciousness piece, which while occasionally amusing would find a better home in their community or style sections.
Finally, they run ultra conservative commentaries and op-ed’s, from organizations and individuals on the farthest right like; The Family Research Council, and The National Review. A wholesale descent into conservative messaging, accompanied by a decidedly stenographic approach to covering local news and events, particularly the actions of our public officials.
Quite often, the CV’s reporter’s fail to ask obvious follow up questions, repeating a pattern of journalism we've seen from “non-profit” news organizations like the Franklin Center. Most notably failing to cover a recent Town Hall meeting with Louisa’s two state senators and delegate.
If several citizens hadn’t submitted letters to the editor about what took place, their readers wouldn’t have even known this meeting even took place. The CV’s decision to reinforce conservative messaging over informing their readers about local events makes a mockery of their claims of supporting your right to know.
In this case, it’s not the government who’s keeping you from being informed, it’s your local paper.
Still, when it comes to important information, like gas lines running through the county or problems with how this gas is produced, our local newspaper could be much worse.
Like how the development of the Utica Shale deposit in the Appalachian foothills of Eastern Ohio is being covered by one local newspaper.The Harrison News Herald is Harrison County’s only paper of record and everyone, from managing editors and photographers to reporters and sales directors, pulls double duty at both the News Herald and Pipeline Connections, an oil and gas industry trade rag. Both publications are owned by a local publishing company, Schloss Media.
When local residents were asked about their coverage of the gas industry their response was “The News Herald!? …. You’ll learn 10 times more just looking at people’s Facebook feeds”… “You’ll see something on Facebook real quick about some accident that happened and then, before you know it, it’s just gone…vanished.”
And when asked about Pipeline Connections magazine their response was “They give them out for free at gas stations and mini marts and that sort of thing.” “…trying to brainwash us all into thinking fracking is going to make everyone rich, but it doesn’t. It just makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.”
While the folks at the Franklin Center, claim that their “professional journalism” work is separate from their political work, and the folks at the Harrison News Herald expect the public to believe that their coverage of the gas industry is separate from working for a publication dedicated to promoting those interests, they are grossly misrepresenting their journalistic independence and the accuracy of their reporting.
With few exceptions, this is how the impact of gas lines and hydro-fracking, and many other local issues will be covered by most newspapers throughout the country.
Perhaps it's time we started demanding more from our local papers.
Editors Note: this piece has been revised from a July 2105 post, now in the Archives section.