Blue Louisa: A blog Covering Central Virginia & national politics from a progressive perspective
Six months ago, a piece titled White House’s Week from Hell was posted in Blue Louisa about the antics of this mis-administration. And judging from their actions over the course of the past two weeks, they have found new ways to take their greed and lust for power to another level.
A descent into Seven Hells which even the writers of “Game of Thrones” would be hard pressed to top. And with self inflicted trade wars that could have a devastating effect on the worlds economy, trashing our European allies and NATO already fading into distant memory, one can only ask, what else could go wrong? The Drumpf could have a summit in Helsinki, a “personal” conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin with no government officials keeping any records of the meeting.
And where it appears at the press conference afterwards that Putin was the only one keeping track of what was said.
Nor does the Drumpfs body language remotely suggest that this was a meeting of equals.
Given his penchant for “going rogue” even employing Occam’s razor to describe what transpired isn't adequate. The most logical explanation for why he excluded any official from the U.S. government from being in the room with him with Putin is because he did not want any official from the U.S. government to know what was said or agreed to in that room.
Leaving U.S. officials at the highest levels and the American people completely dependent on whatever spin the Russian’s want to put on this meeting. And if those actions were not tone deaf enough, the Drumpf “follows up” on this disastrous summit by inviting Putin for a second summit in Washington DC and a self congratulatory parade.
Meanwhile there clearly is something off about the Drumpfs administrations actions since the Helsinki meeting. Either he is an agent of Russian interest or is so profoundly ignorant, insecure and narcissistic that he’s incapable of realizing that he’s advancing Putin’s agenda.
While some may believe he’s a Russian agent that seems unlikely because the Russians would never allow a true mole to take such crazy risks of exposing themselves. With a former head of CIA operations against Russia observing "he's not a controlled agent because if he was, they'd tell him how to behave so as not to endanger himself."
And while Vladimir Lenin’s famous phrase "useful idiot," is often used when describing the Drumpf, the technical Russian term for an unwitting but helpful asset is a "confidential contact." What he has to offer Russia isn't necessarily information, but his willingness to act as a human wrecking ball against America's traditional allies and trading partners.
A willingness to appease which the Republican Party was more than happy to exploit, taking their grandiose notions of “deconstructive government” to levels that even the Bush/Cheney junta never dreamed of. And it might explain why they have responded so strongly to the recent arrest of a Russian agent, ahem NRA gun moll and the Department of Justice’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers.
With the Treasury Department saying that that it will no longer require certain politically active nonprofit groups, like the National Rifle Association, to identify their financial donors to U.S. tax authorities. And the Republican controlled House refusing to fund the DOJ’s election cyber terrorism efforts.
Actions which in the light of recent revelations about the scope and ongoing nature of Russian interference in our elections, prompted Rep. Lloyd Doggett, to say that their refusal to spend more money on election security "represents nothing less than unilateral disarmament" against Russia, citing the U.S. intelligence community's finding that Russia intervened in the 2016 election.
Nor should anyone forget that even before all this broke out that Congressional Republican’s lead by Free-dumb Caucus members, Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows launched a preemptive shot across the bow to sabotage the investigation into Russian interference by proposing a bill to impeach Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, and coincidentally Muller’s boss.
Or that in an earlier maneuver, Republican Senate Majority leader, Mitch McConnell refused to allow a vote on a bill which would have protected Muller’s investigation from the Oval office interference.
The simplest explanation for the Drumpfs incessant claims of “fake news” and “no collusion” during his campaign and throughout his term in office is more likely attributable to his fears of being exposed as a grifter only interested in enriching his ego and pockets. And that he likely knew about Russian interference with our election during his campaign, and definitely knew about it before his inauguration.
And while it remains to be proven that Russian agents funneled money through intermediaries to Republican campaigns, including Trumps, given what we know about the indictments of Paul Manafort, and Mike Flynn and their roles in procuring foreign support, coupled with the recent revelations that the NRA was acting as a cut out for Russian funds there’s more than just the appearance that other members of the Republican Party are also complicit.
If there’s a method to all this chaos, it raises the distinct and unpleasant possibility that the Drumpf and the Republican Party have already moved from trying to normalize their behavior to doing everything possible to ensure that their ability to collaborate and collude with dark money groups and foreign powers remains unchecked.
Meanwhile, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced this past Friday at the Aspen Security Forum that, the DOJ will inform American corporations, organizations and even individuals if they're being targeted by foreign operations in an attempt to influence the country's elections. Saying said that "exposing schemes to the public is an important way to neutralize them," and that "the American people have a right to know if foreign governments are targeting them with propaganda."
At the same forum, Microsoft VP for customer security and trust Tom Burt revealed that his team discovered a spear-phishing campaign targeting three candidates vying for re-election in 2018, and that they traced it back to Russian intelligence agency GRU, the same organization behind the DNC hacks in 2016.
How this will affect the outcome of the 2018 election is anyone’s guess since there are many factors to consider. Forces which like Newton’s first law, once put into motion tend to stay in motion unless acted on by other external forces.
On one hand there’s the reality that the Drumpf and the Republican Party will continue to weaponize their brand of magical thinking and ensuing chaos. Creating a pervasive atmosphere of resentment where their loyalists feel “safe” supporting their xenophobic and racist views.
And barring a major catastrophe; like 9/11 or a world wide economic crisis will remain constitutionally incapable of entertaining the concept that the object of their idol worship, and indeed the entire Republican Party are corrupt and compromised beyond all redemption.
Nor should anyone underestimate impact of the Republican’s on going voter suppression efforts, or that they are doubling down on them, emboldened by Supreme Courts recent decision.
On the other side of the coin, voter registration amongst first time and younger voters is up significantly. Whether that translates to a surge at the polls remains to be seen. Another encouraging sign is the gender gap, which is the largest on record. And finally, there indications that many surveys are underestimating the number of Democratic voters.
Speaking of surveys, it’s no coincidence that there are far more publicly available Democratic polls than Republican ones, since Replicant’s at every level are busy downplaying the fact that their brand isn’t polling well. Something which will be critical in Virginia, with congressional candidates like Barbara Comstock and Dave Brat find themselves boxed in by their support for the Drumpfs and their Party’s extremism.
And like Cory Stewarts delusional tweet just before this past Saturday’s Senate “debate” with Tim Kaine, they will find themselves unable to control their own narratives, or keep people from laughing in their faces.
One thing is for sure, in the months leading up to the election, we all will have front row seats as these two forces collide. So if you’re serious about “taking your country back,” get out there and vote for Abigail Spanberger and Tim Kaine this November.
An earlier post on Blue Louisa asked if the CV’s readers were ready to be subjected to more “just the factoids” coverage of important local issues, like the County’s Comprehensive Plan? If their last three issues featuring opinion pages filled with syndicated stream of consciousness pieces and no local content is any indication, they will continue publishing conservative narratives at the expense of other voices.
In light of the Board of Zoning Appeals 4-3 vote upholding the county’s height restriction ordinances this week; the CV’s readers should expect to see many letters about the Confederate flag off of I-64 in the weeks to come.
And as meetings about the County’s Comprehensive Plan unfold over the course of the next seven weeks, additional local commentary about the plans merits and shortcomings.
What the CV will print remains to be seen, but what gets lost in the conversation is the fact that over the past few months they have been doubling down on ultra-conservative narratives with misleading op-eds from national politicians and syndicated “experts” in an effort to frame the issues. Narratives which are reinforced by letters from political operatives, like Tyler Adams, who this year had four of his brain droppings … ahem agitprop pieces printed.
To the extent that everyone is entitled to their opinion, well thought out letters, even Republican ones should be welcome. Although in the case of serial ranters like Jerry Reynolds, Robert Merto and Jim Hogan exceptions should be made. What the CV’s reader might not have noticed is how effectively their editorial practices have consigned most meaningful local commentary to the back of the bus so to speak.
Whether this is a byproduct of their “must run” policies, or are the result of deliberate actions is immaterial. The fact remains that local letters, particularly progressive ones are increasingly being written in reaction to something previously printed in the CV, not discussing relevant issues. Like the five letters debunking Dave Brat’s deceptive April 19th op-ed. Lies which were shamelessly repeated in several regional Buffet controlled papers.
IMHO, the CV's journalistic practices go well beyond cutting and pasting factoids, and misleading op-eds. It’s a wholesale commitment to conservative ideology regardless of any inconvenient facts. For their readers, it’s like the story about the frog sitting in warm water which is being slowly raised to a boil. And like the frog, by the time their readers realize anything is amiss, it’s too late.
Take for example, their coverage of the County’s Comprehensive Development Plan, a working blueprint for the County’s economic and residential growth over the next decade, where they have printed two articles and one unsigned editorial. Now compare that coverage to their eight articles and one editorial about the County's broadband project this year.
While both issues are of great interest to their readers, given the importance of county’s development plan what kind of continuing coverage the CV will be give this story as it moves forward remains to be seen. Thus far, their July 5th piece has been the most useful for county residents.
Where Andrew Williams, chief operating officer of The Berkley Group, a planning consulting firm which advises towns and counties throughout Virginia, commented on how difficult it can be to draw broad interest in the planning process. “You can have as many forums as you want, but unless there’s a hot issue, a lot of times people don’t show up,” he said. Adding that “[You have] to cast a wide net throughout the county and have different types of forums for different audiences, and not rush through it.”
With the first of seven meetings taking place on Wednesday the 25th, and continuing every other Wednesday until the first week of September, it should be noted that most of the meetings will taking place during the dog days of August when many are on vacation, and it remains to been seen how that affects the County’s ability to engage people. Mr. Williams specifically recommended that the county concentrate on local festivals, and churches and other groups which are active in the community.
Williams noted that his group often starts the process by sending out a survey to raise people’s interest and then organize forums. To that end, the Community Development Department has placed advertisements in the last two editions of the CV. And in a conversation with their staff , they said that they weren’t aware that their first advertisement (July 12th) had an incorrect number for their office, and stated that the county is currently in the process of putting up notices at their trash and recycling centers, and have plans to put additional signage at key intersections.
Comprehensive plan notice
The biggest concern everyone should have about the Comprehensive Plan is whether the Board of Supervisors is serious about getting “… the community involved as much as possible.” When in light of the last major overhaul of the plan in 2001, the Board was “skittish about too much public involvement in rewriting the document …”
One indication of the Board’s ambivalence is the fact that they “directed the Louisa County Planning Commission to update data in the plan about the county’s demographics and economic indicators, but not to make more substantive changes to the document, and that since the Commission approved those updates in March the Board has yet to approve them. Whether this is out of an abundance of caution“ … fearing a chaotic and time-consuming process,” and is part of the normal process remains to be seen.
According to Jeff Ferrel, assistant county administrator, county residents attending these meetings will be given paper copies of the plans goals and objectives, along with comment cards, and will use color coded stickers to place alongside the posted goals and objectives.
Some might ask why such elaborate preparations are necessary for what are likely be non-substantive changes. And the more cynically minded might see these meetings as another exercise in Kabuki Theatre, and that the entire process was always going to be a dog and pony show, and not a more substantive community based review of the plan.
That being said, the issue of how to make local government more transparent and responsive to the needs of the citizens they serve remains one of the biggest challenges of a representative Democracy, one which only works when the people have real choices, and are informed enough to make educated decisions.
In 1789, when Culpeper was part of the 5th Congressional District, candidates James Madison and James Monroe duked it out to see who would become its first Representative. One of their debates, concerning the fate of the new Constitution, took place on a snowy Sunday night on the steps outside the Hebron Lutheran Church in Madison, which still stands to this day. That may have been our shining moment.
With a population of 12,063, Culpeper was the forty-seventh largest of Virginia’s 148 counties in 1860. More than half of that population was African American, including 6,675 slaves.
Culpeper’s history regarding its non-white citizens is not admirable. Its legacy continues today with the outcry against our Muslim residents and the Sheriff’s enthusiastic promotion of anti-Muslim training and harassment of our Hispanic residents through the 287(g) program. Our community needs to become one of tolerance, inclusiveness, acceptance, and equal opportunity. Our population is now quite diverse: we’re no longer a sleepy southern backwater – our population is more than 52,000. Twenty-five percent of our population is under the age of 18. Fifteen percent are older than 65. Fifteen percent are black, 11% are Latino, almost 3% are Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native American. Women comprise half of our population.
Following the Civil War, Virginia was not readmitted into the United States until 1870, after adopting a new constitution. Culpeper became part of the 8th Congressional District and remained firmly in the hands of the unreconstructed Southern Democrats, under the leadership of John S. Barbour, Jr., who formed a political machine in the late 1880s that dominated Virginia politics for 80 years until the demise of the Byrd Organization in the late 1960s.
Virginia’s Democratic Party embedded Jim Crow laws in the Virginia Constitution of 1901/2, that effectively disenfranchised all blacks and some poor whites. Those with any African ancestry could not serve on juries or run for any office, and so lost any political voice. Most blacks remained disenfranchised until after the mid-1960s, when President Lyndon Johnson and the civil rights movement gained passage of federal legislation to enforce integration and voting rights.
Incredibly, Culpeper has only seen 16 representatives since Reconstruction. One of them, while Culpeper was part of the 8th District, was the notorious Dixiecrat Howard W. Smith, the architect of massive resistance to desegregation, from 1930 to 1966. During his 1964 reelection, at the height of the fight for integration, Culpeper voted for him by a margin of 77.3%. Culpeper was the last county in Virginia to desegregate its public schools.
Culpeper moved from the 8th to the 7th District in 1965. Until this June, the only Democratic primary ever held in the 7th District since the founding of the Republic in 1789, was in 1962, when John O. Marsh beat 4 other candidates and went on to win the general election by 598 votes. and he served four terms, until losing to J. Kenneth Robinson, a member of the Byrd Machine despite being a Republican, in 1970 and Republicans have retained the seat ever since.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Culpeper, ever since moving here nine years ago. I have personally met many of my interlocutors and almost without exception we treat each other with good humor and respect, despite our political differences. We can make that happen for all.
The Declaration reminds us that all men are created equal. If we can’t achieve that in our own communities under our own power, then the Constitution provides us with the mechanism to make it happen: at the polls. Vote on November 6th.
Editors Note: This letter originally appeared on line in the Saturday, July 14th edition
of the Culpeper Star Exponent, and has been re-posted here with the author's permission.
Readers of the Central Virginia should recall learning that their sister papers, the Hanover Herald-Progress, and the Caroline Progress went out of business this past spring. With the CV’s editor, asking in an editorial “Where will the people in those communities get that type of information now?”
A question which Lee Shaker, a professor of politics and media at Portland State University has looked into, finding that self-reported measures of civic engagement – like contacting an election official or attending a local civic organization - dropped significantly after a local paper shut down, rebounding to just half of previous levels after two years.
Other political scientists Jennifer Lawless and Danny Hayes studied the effect of both closures and curtailed coverage across America on elections for US Representatives, races which are for national office, but where voters are local.
Hayes says when papers close or cut coverage, people are less capable of identifying who's running, know what the candidate's positions on the issues are, and ultimately less likely to vote "When local papers cut coverage there's essentially nothing to take its place in these local communities," he says, adding while there have been many online local news experiments they tend to be in already media-rich environments or not as focused on public affairs.
This affects everyone, Hayes says, even those who are considered politically engaged. "I suspect over the long term, people who are pretty politically engaged figure out ways to sort of maintain their level of participation," he says. "I'm not sure they'll be necessarily as knowledgeable as they were."
Penelope Muse Abernathy, a professor and researcher at the University of North Carolina, says the closure of community newspapers means more than a loss of information.
Local news helps set the agenda for public debates by bringing particular issues to public attention, encourages regional business development by connecting local businesses with local residents (whether through ads or coverage) and can reflect what's similar or different about a national problem on the local level, she says.
"A strong local newspaper shows you how you are related to people you may not know you're related to," Abernathy says.
There are other effects too. A recent study found cities' borrowing costs to build projects like roads and schools rose after newspapers closed - making those projects more expensive to taxpayers. As similar areas without a newspaper closure did not see those effects, they hypothesize that the loss of scrutiny on local government led to more mismanagement of public funds.
Which brings up the question; what happens to communities when their local paper has other priorities? It’s no secret that the Central Virginian frequently reprints op-ed's from organizations like The Family Research Council, and The National Review, or that their commentary is extremely far to the right.
Whether these pieces are “must run” content, as with FOX NOISE and local Sinclair TV stations is irrelevant, the fact remains that they are intended to reinforce retrograde attitudes, distort the issues, and misinform their readers. What is relevant that it is being driven by their parent company Lakeway Publishers rentier mentality, focused on promoting their brand as cheaply as possible regardless of the consequences.
A mentality which apparently drives the CV’s "just the quotes" brand of reporting, where obvious follow up questions are not asked, and important local events aren’t even covered. Most notably, the three Town Hall Meetings in 2014 &15 with Louisa’s two state senators and delegate.
If local citizens hadn’t submitted multiple letters, most of the CV’s readers would have never known these meetings took place. The politest thing one can say about such selective coverage is “Once is an accident. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is an enemy action.”
So pardon my cynicism as the CV claims in oversized ads that they support their readers’ right to know, when their editorials actively promotes extreme and misleading narratives, and their reporting minimizes the consequences of local official’s actions.
That being said, the CV has improved the quantity and quality their local coverage. Now instead of minimal news, the CV’s readers can look forward to reading a collection of disjointed “factoids.” Like this weeks front page article about state laws which just went into effect.
While this “accurate and factual information” represents a marked improvement over their previous practice of cutting and pasting information about the General Assemblies affairs from Delegate Farrell’s press releases. For most of their readers, there was so little meaningful context to this “information” that it might as well been factoids from outer space.
Likewise, the CV printed eight stories this year about the Broadband Authority and the Board of Supervisors, consistently avoiding discussing the three elephants in the room. That Supervisors Wade, Adams and Williams were attempting a hostile takeover of the board, doing everything they could to subvert the broadband authority and derail the Broadband project, among other things.
The closest the CV ever got to admitting this reality was when they quoted now outgoing Supervisor Troy Wade claiming “I used to be the one with new and fresh ideas, but I ‘m not that one anymore.”
In the months leading up to the mid terms, and the 2019 state elections, elections which will include three members of the Board of Supervisors, it remains to be seen if the CV can identify who has the “fresh ideas,” and what if any merit those ideas have, or if we will get more of the usual stenography?
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.