Blue Louisa: A blog Covering Central Virginia & national politics from a progressive perspective
It is always proper to reflect at the end of the year, by remembering the heroes and the events that were singularly outstanding. The funerals of Senator John McCain and President George H. W. Bush highlighted their values, many of which are being tossed aside today.
Vice President Biden eulogized McCain as a hero whose character, courage, honor, integrity, and even his understated optimism were integral to his being. “He loved basic values: fairness, honesty, dignity, respect, giving hate no safe harbor, leaving no one behind and understanding Americans were part of something much bigger than ourselves.”
In the Senate, Biden said McCain saw friendships and worthy opponents and was not into using party membership as a tripwire to shun another human being, let alone representatives of voting citizens. President Obama added in his remarks that “when John spoke of virtues like service and valor, they weren’t just words to him, it was a truth that he had lived and for which he was prepared to die.” McCain’s commitment to human rights, to the rule of law, and to the dignity of every human being, was part of his core.
At his now-famous 2008 town hall meeting, McCain tried to allay fear—he said Obama “is a decent person and a person you do not have to be scared of as President of the United States,” and politely scolded a woman who repeated the Republican trope about birtherism by saying, “No ma’am, he’s a decent family man, citizen, and I just happen to disagree with him on fundamental issues.”
President Bush was another Navy combat aviator whose experiences led him to commit himself to public service. From the rigors of combat in the Pacific, to the House of Representatives, ambassador to the UN, director of the CIA, and as vice president, Bush was the quintessential public servant.
At the funeral, historian Jon Meacham described Bush as “America’s last great soldier-statesman, a 20th-century founding father. He governed with virtues that most closely resemble those of Washington and of Adams, of TR and of FDR, of Truman and of Eisenhower, of men who believed in causes larger than themselves.” Former Canadian Prime Minister Mulroney said of Bush that “every single head of government in the world knew that they were dealing with a gentleman, a genuine leader, one who was distinguished, resolute, and brave.”
Bush’s son, George W., concluded with the same themes: “He showed me what it means to be a president who serves with integrity, leads with courage, and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our country.” Bush added that historians will say his father was “a diplomat of unmatched skill, a Commander in Chief of formidable accomplishment, and a gentleman who executed the duties of his office with dignity and honor.”
In today’s America there is little room for optimism as we mourn men of character like Senator McCain and President Bush. With these funerals and eulogies behind us, we see more clearly than ever that in President Trump’s world, rawness, crudeness, and shunning are more acceptable. We knew that before the government shutdown, before the Mueller investigation, before the Trump charity was shuttered, before the Defense Secretary resigned in protest, decrying America’s walking away from its allies, friends, and those who thought America would protect them.
We knew that before tweets substituted for knowledgeable position papers. We even see it at the local level where the Culpeper Republicans censured two elected state senators for working in a bipartisan manner. Bipartisanship has become evil. The thrust of politics has become the maintenance of ideological purity, ignoring the needs and wishes of We The People.
Editor’s Note: this originally appeared in the Culpeper Star Exponent, and is re-posted here with the author’s permission.
Something is not right at the Mineral Post Office!
The Louisa County Democratic Party has had the same post office box at the Mineral Post Office for many years. I generally check our box a couple times per week. We do not receive a large volume of mail, but the first of the month is our high volume period— bank statements, donation checks, etc.
On Nov. 9, I checked the box for the third time that week, and when we still hadn’t received any mail, I decided to talk with the clerk.
I went inside and talked to the clerk and she went to check. She came and told me our box had been closed. I asked why, and she said she did not know, but asked if we had paid our rental fee. I said yes, and another clerk checked the computer list verifying we were paid through March 2019.
I asked who had closed the box, and they said they did not know, as any clerk could have physically closed (blocked) it. I asked when the box was closed. They said they had no way of knowing.
I asked why they didn’t put a notice in the box before it was closed so we (or any renter) would know there was an issue. They had no answer.
I asked where our mail is and they said they were supposed to hold it for 10 days before returning it, but they didn’t know when the box was closed, so they did not know if it had been returned or not.
I asked to speak to the postmaster and I was told he was would return next week.
On Nov. 13, I met with Mineral Postmaster Blain Crickenberger. He admitted our post office box should never have been closed. When asked who closed the box, he said he did not know, as he did not have any one person designated as responsible for post office boxes. Note: The Louisa post office has one employee designated in-charge of post office boxes.
I asked about closure notices, and he admitted we should have received several closure notices starting a month before the box was closed. Note: I learned later they are supposed to provide three notices over four weeks before closing the box.
I asked where our mail was, and he said it should be at the post office, but he did not know where it was. Postmaster Crickenberger commented that this was just some screwup and he would look into it.
For us, this seems to be much more than just a simple screw-up. There appears to be no procedures in place to control and/or monitor postal box activities, our checks and our missing mail have still not been recovered, and the fact this happened during the run-up to a very contentious election adds another level of intrigue.
Your guess is as good as ours as to what actually happened.
We have referred this to the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Postal Service for investigation.
As I said at the beginning, Something is not right at the Mineral Post Office!
Chairman, Louisa Democratic Committee
Editor's Note: this letter originally appeared in the December 20th edition of the Central Virginian, and has been re-posted here with the author's permission.
In addition, the CV printed an article about this in their December 20th issue, and it is summarized here: Blain Crickenberger, the Mineral postmaster, described the closing as “a simple mistake.” Saying that he still does not know which of his 19 full- and part-time employees closed the box, and that “I’ll probably assign it to one individual [now],”
No one other than the Democratic Committee has complained to the post office that their box was closed without their knowledge, Crickenberger said.
An employee at the Bumpass post office, which has four full-time and two part time staff, said that depending on who’s available, two to three workers handle their post office boxes. And Chris Lloyd, an employee at the Louisa post office, said renters there receive two written notices before a box is blocked. As a courtesy, they hold mail for a period of time after a box is blocked to give the renter a chance to pay what is due.
Schatz said he didn’t know how much mail that should have been delivered wasn’t. Three donors who had mailed checks to the committee had to re-send them because they were never received, Schatz said.
Pete Brown, a special agent for the inspector general in Richmond, said the complaint was likely referred to post office management. It could come back to his agency if there is any evidence of criminal wrongdoing, such as mail tampering.
Well…the U.S. is in a trade war with China. But if the U.S. complaint is about Chinese subsidies for state-backed enterprises, overcapacity in steel and other basic industries, and on the practice of forcing investors to hand over valuable technology, why are Culpeper soybean farmers being punished?
America is a vast continental economy that produces a multitude of goods and services. Post-war WWII trade agreements focused on creating opportunities for free trade and market access. Trade disputes are not uncommon as one economy adjusts to its role in the world and seeks a balance of accommodations from its trading partners. Usually delegations meet back and forth and over time reach those negotiated accommodations.
These days, however, America is playing its hand differently. Rather than enter negotiations, the current administration started out by imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. This blunt tactic is an unusual way to start negotiations, it is is equivalent to a union calling a strike and shutting the plant down, before negotiations begin.
This blundering tactic took everyone by surprise. Confusion continues as presidential tweets mischaracterize the role of tariffs and who pays. As we learned in Economics 101, a U.S tariff is a tax on the U.S. economy. It raises the price of all the parts used to make a product. In a free enterprise economy, all businesses are cost sensitive. Hence, steel users such as Harley-Davison and General Motors reacted in a manner that any economist could predict. They moved to offset the tariffs’ new costs by announcing they would move production to a location with cheaper material and labor costs, or close plants.
A student of an International Relations 101 class could predict China’s initial response. Seeing the tariff move as heavy handed and heading an economy that is the second largest GNP in the world, it is difficult to see that China would just knuckle under. Its vast holding of U.S. Treasury Bills would also give it confidence to resist. Academic observers note that the list of U.S. demands and deadline presented to China at Buenos Aires read like the terms for a surrender rather than a basis for negotiation.
The Chinese leadership also could take confidence in the response of the American stock market. Earlier this week when the administration announced a Buenos Aires agreement, the American stock market soared. Later in the week when it was realized that Trump’s assertions of success were lies, the stock market fell 800 points.
China responded to the blunt U.S. move by instituting its own tariffs. But for Culpeper, the Chinese soybean tariffs are key. American farmers sold more than $12 billion worth of soybeans to China last year, the world’s largest buyer of soybeans.
From the perspective of a Culpeper soybean producer, the trade war with China has depressed prices, because there is now considerable stock that can’t be sold. Farmers are looking at loans they assumed under a steady market. Storing the harvest requires money and capacity for silage. There is limited silo capacity in Culpeper, so crops will need to be stored in the open, on the ground. There will be spoilage. The Nebraska farm bureau reports losses of $1 billion so far. Farmers shouldn’t be victims of government-caused market disruptions. The government should let free enterprise work.
We often think of the high pursuit of diplomacy as something that happens over the horizon. Rarely do we think foreign policy could jeopardize the family farm. The stakes in the trade war between China and the United States could be that serious, and that local.
Editor’s Note: This op-ed originally appeared in the Culpeper Star Exponent, and has been re-posted here with the author’ permission.
Those of you who have been following the commentary in Blue Louisa from members of the Culpeper Dems, Mike McClary and Dave Reuther know that their op-ed’s are also printed in the Culpeper Star Exponent.
What you may not know is that up until the tail end of last year, the Star Exponent also printed Dr. Tom Neviaser’s far right batshit crazy screeds. Long story short, after one of the editors questioned the accuracy of his claims, he walked off in a huff.
At least until last month, where he took his act to the Culpeper Times, part of the insidenova chain of local weekly papers. While the screenshot below of last months op-ed is relatively tame compared to his previous rants in the CSE, the quantity of disjointed RW talking points crammed into such a short op-ed is worth noting.
In response, Dave Reuther penned this letter to the editor, which appeared in this week’s issue.
A letter that the Culpeper Times chose to title “Spanberger shouldn’t copy Republican tactics.” Whether their choice represents an attempt to drum up reader interest, or is a ham-fisted to attempt to negate the letters content is immaterial.
What is relevant is that such actions represent one of modern journalism's deadly sins; the promotion of false equivalencies. By reprising Dr. Neviaser’s “As I See It” column, and not challenging his claims before they are printed, the Culpeper Times is effectively giving his serial falsehoods credence.
And there will be at best, a limited response to such deceptive op-eds given most local papers strict word limitations. Something the Central Virginians readers are quite familiar with, where year’s worth of far right syndicated content are seldom commented on.
The danger of such systemic habituation, like a frog in a pot of water slowly brought to a boil, is how effectively it serves to normalize extreme ideas, to where few will even remember why X, Y or Z was such a bad idea to begin with.
Another dubious practice is the reflexive presumption that there are always two sides to any issue, one which assumes that both sides are; A) equally valid and B) are arguing in good faith. Like their coverage of the October Brat/Spanberger debate.
Clearly many of the thing’s Brat said during that debate were; inflammatory, misleading, or flat out lies. Other than pointing out his Tourettes like repetition of Nancy Peloisi, there was little mention of the veracity of his other claims, or Spanberger’s for that matter.
If one didn’t watch a video of the debate, it would have been easy to think that based on what they read, particularly in the smaller local papers, that this debate was accurately reported. When in reality, both the Culpeper Times and the Central Virginian’s coverage of the debate were heavy on the factoids, and light on critical commentary.
A journalistic malpractice which allows disingenuous extremists like Brat, Bryce Reeves, and John McGuire, to say almost anything, without any meaningful response from the local community.
So how comfortable is that warm water feeling now?
Dave Reuther and Jon Taylor
Many of Blue Louisa’s readers will recall how after redrawing of legislative boundaries in 2011 that Republicans gained enough seats for a supermajority in the House, and a tie in the Senate, and how only one out of 140 seats changed hands after the 2015 election.
What they may not know is just how badly such partisan gerrymandering distorts the outcome of state elections. By any standard, the outcome of Virginia’s 2015 election was a statistical outlier, one that far exceeds historical averages of 97% of incumbents being re-elected.
For example, during this year’s election, Democrats in Wisconsin out voted Republicans statewide by 8%, yet won 28% fewer seats.
Even with this years “blue wave,” which saw Democrats retake the House in Congress there remains a persistent pattern of “underperformance” in Republican controlled states.
What makes this practice so insidious is that legislators in “safe’ seats are effectively insulated from any pressure from, or need to respond to their constituents. Moreover, for most of this decade, Virginia’s Republican controlled General Assembly has done what ever their donors, particularly Dominion Power wants.
Even after losing the Governors mansion in 2013, they continued to browbeat successive Democratic administrations into submission. Now that they face losing both chambers, they will do whatever is necessary to maintain that power, supported by Speaker Cox’s Colonial Leadership Trust PAC, a host of national PAC’s, and unknown quantities of mystery money.
Next year, Virginia will be the purplest of the states holding “off year” elections, what happens in the Commonwealth will be a strong indication of how the 2020 elections will go. Considering that the state Democratic Party spent a lion’s share of their resources retaking 15 seats in the House last year, if they are to retake the General Assembly, it is critical that the national Party support their candidates.
The best chances of retaking the Senate are in three districts adjacent to and within the 7th Congressional District, where Democrat Abigail Spanberger’s victory over Dave Brat was their first in 48 years. The same electoral calculus, which propelled Spanberger to success in Henrico and Chesterfield County’s will continue to be a significant factor in 10th, 11th, and 12th Senate District races, where three extreme incumbents; Sturtevant, Dunnavant, and Chase hold those seats.
While with the exception of outlying parts of Fredericksburg, Bryce Reeves 17th Senate district is mostly rural, as is 56th District Delegate, John McGuire. Fortunately, neither McGuire nor Reeves will be able to conduct business as usual next year.
Especially after what happened to soon to be former Congressman, Dave Brat it should be clear that limiting their public interactions to “members only” meetings, and group clown halls is a loosing strategy.
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether in the face of this challenge to their authority, if the Republican controlled General Assembly is capable of maintaining their genteel “Virginia Way” facade, or if they will attempt to retain power regardless of the elections results as we’ve seen recently in Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina.
On November 19, 2018, the Louisa County Board of Supervisors held its regular scheduled meeting, which is open to the public for comments. The main topic of concern was the vote for investing taxpayer dollars into the development of an industrial park in the Shannon Hill area of Louisa County. As expected, there was a large public turnout to voice opposition to this form of development. The public comments were contentious with unanimous disapproval to continuing the project. The question was asked and no Louisa County citizen indicated support for this funding.
The due diligence reports were concluded and the financial aspect did not adequately support economic expansion of the type that was proposed. With so much public animosity displayed against this venture and the lack of financial justification, you have to wonder why the Board of Supervisors was split 3 to 3 on the vote to continue this development. As it finally, turned out, the Board voted to defeat the expansion and the wish of the citizens was granted. But why should there have been so much controversy and angst to overcome in the first place?
While participating in this endeavor I also took great pains to make sure that I observed and understood as much as possible. I learned a number of things – some unsurprising and some disturbing. A retrospective of events, even regular and seemingly insignificant, is always a good idea before setting out to repeat the same mistakes. My personal retrospective follows the chronology, which may be a better way to explain the progression.
Louisa County Procurement Process Needs Significant Improvement
In the business world there are assorted Good Business Practices or Good Management Practices, which don’t preclude implementation by government agencies whether federal state, or local. Procuring goods and services by the Louisa County Administration has to be performed, keeping in mind the best interest of the citizens of the County. Getting information to help with a decision about how to spend millions of taxpayer dollars requires more scrutiny and insight than what was available for the Shannon Hill Expansion; something that should have been done with better effectiveness. Below are the missing components from an effective process for the procurement of services in Louisa County.
This isn’t a complete list of missing components that should have been resolved with a documented procurement process, but it should be evident that there are a number of things that would work better if some Good Business Practices were known and implemented.
Louisa County Evaluation Of Due Diligence Report For Deciding The Development Project
One specific report that was anxiously waited for was the Economic Due Diligence Report. This is a 49 page document that became available approximately November 8, 2018. The next time the topic would come up for discussion would be at the November 19, 2018 Board of Supervisors meeting, which would be open to the public for comments. Given the amount of time available – from receiving the Due Diligence Report, to reviewing it, to understanding it, and preparing for the meeting – these steps were challenging.
That challenge would be enough for the members of the Board to read and understand by the November 19 meeting, but the public was especially disadvantaged because it didn’t know when the report was available, where it would be posted, and in most cases would be unfamiliar and uncomfortable with trying to read and understand a relatively complex technical document on short notice. Even the elected officials on the Board must’ve had some difficulty because none addressed any of the report’s critical findings listed below.
Public Comments About The Megasite Were Stifled
The claim that public comments are stifled is real, in fact, it becomes more obvious by examining events and the process of public meetings. If you ask about what constitutional right voters exercise by attending public meetings, most would guess the answer is the 1st Amendment of Freedom of Speech. That answer is anecdotal without the formality of a valid survey. There appears to be one part of the 1stAmendment that often gets forgotten, maybe because it doesn’t sound as dramatic: “… petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Members of the Board of Supervisors frequently make comments that sometimes sound critical – that the public should participate more than it does. This invitation sometimes sounds more like an admonishment than a welcome, but it’s true, the public should play a larger role in how it’s governed. There should be more thought to determine why there may be little public participation and more work in solving how to solicit larger public involvement.
Lead time for review and comprehension of documents is too short
As mentioned previously, the Due Diligence Report became available approximately November 8 with an expected Board of Supervisors meeting scheduled for November 19. The next Board meeting would be December 3 because of a December 4 deadline for committing to continue the project. Given the length and technical nature of the report it is unreasonable to assume that the pubic, in general, has the experience with reading and understanding the content within the timeframe and still comment about the flaws and any possible merits with any comfortable degree of confidence. This would even be a daunting task for the Board members, which may well have been, since there was little discussion about the Critical Findings that invalidate the basis for funding the Megasite. The most significant finding is the report author’s disclaimer about using the report to make a decision based on the report.
With the report written the way it was, it inherently discourages those without the background to analyze the information. Reports of this kind should include a section written specifically for the general public using layman terms.
“The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.” – attributed to Albert Einstein
Limited public speaking time
The right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances” implies that the Freedom of Speech is not abridged in a way that would impact that petition. For some people, 3 minutes is insufficient to express and explain the specific nature of a grievance especially with information is presented with the complexity of the Due Diligence Report. The problem is aggravated by the short time between receiving the report and appearing at the public meeting. The problem may be further exacerbated by invoking parliamentary rules, such as, Robert’s Rules of Order, or similar restrictions. The formal rules of order may be necessary for a small group of public servants but this imposes an unfamiliar burden on an unsuspecting public. This doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be some “Rules of Engagement” but those should be clear, understandable, and unintimidating. Some parliamentary procedures are intended to facilitate discussion, but discussion is limited with a format that doesn’t allow for an immediate exchange of ideas and rebuttals.
Rationale is missing for decisions
During the public meetings, it appeared that the Board of Supervisors had expectations for the public to present its case against the Megasite without emotions. Because it is the “public,” that could very well be an unreasonable expectation. People get emotional about increased traffic, destroying scenery, interruptions in livelihood, and a whole host of even “tiny” assaults on lifestyle.
That’s the public!
That’s the voting public!!
In some sense, the process of public meetings and decision making should be treated along the lines of due process. Advocacy, for or against the Megasite, needs clear and adequate rationale to justify decisions on behalf of the public. A simple “Yes” or “No” doesn’t do that because there’s no indication that our elected representatives even understand the issues well enough to make a decision, one way or the other. Without including a discussion of why the vote was made, there’s little confidence the voter can have about the capability of its elected representatives.
In many ways, the Board of Supervisors owes the voting public more than just a public meeting to be heard. The voting public needs to be listened to. Comments from some of the members of the Board of Supervisors indicted that the hearing part functions much better than the listening part. That perception is enhanced again when some members of the Board claim that if the voters are unhappy with a decision, that member can be voted out in the next election. After some research, it appears that Virginia is one of two states that have a legislative recall mechanism for elected state and local officials.
All the above represents what I observed and what I concluded, mostly about the interactions between the public and the officials that were elected to represent it. Looking at this from a communication point of view, the picture is dismal, but it can be shored up with outreach by the Board of Supervisors that would hopefully lead to more interest and enthusiasm by the public. The occasional high-emotion motivator, like the Megasite, could be avoided with long-term consistent involvement by the public, and a Board of Supervisors that focuses on soliciting what the public wants rather than assuming that it can determine what the public needs. With the right discussion methods in place, the public can be satisfied and the Board of Supervisors can make its own work easier.
Editor’s note: This letter originally appeared in Richmond2Day, and has been reposted here, with the authors’ permission.
Editor’s commentary: Transparency has never one of the Louisa County Board of Supervisors priorities, who IMHO value getting along to go along above all else, even if it means getting nothing done.
And after what would be a humbling experience for most, it remains to be seen if they are capable of learning, or will they continue to govern along the path of least resistance? And will we see even more extreme candidates, like Williams and Adams emerge next year?
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.