Thursday, July 31, 2008

No, It Won't Be Tim Kaine!

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict Tim Kaine is not going to be Obama’s VP pick. A bucketful of pixels and a bunch of angst have been spilled on the progressive blogosphere about this possibility. But who’s the one who has been touting Kaine as the most likely pick, based his meeting this week in DC with Obama? Tim Kaine himself.

But as The Fix points out today, the list of candidates for vice president is longer than the press previously believed. That means that either Kaine has been deliberately putting out the stories about how seriously he’s in contention as a diversionary tactic or his loose lips have killed his chances (bolding in quote is mine).
The hard vetting involves follow-ups to lingering questions about candidates' backgrounds and clarifications of their stands on issues. While the process is intensifying, the fact that the number of potential candidates still being considered is larger than generally believed, suggests that no decision is imminent, just 26 days before the opening of the Democratic National Convention.

It also runs counter to much-publicized comments by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine Tuesday that "there has been a long list. It seems to be getting shorter."
Tim Kaine is known to be a friend who enjoys a close relationship with Obama. He’s also one of Obama’s earliest supporters. So, is he happily taking on the role of red herring and playing along with Team Obama’s diversionary tactics to distract the media in its speculations? Or did Kaine’s premature talk kill his chances?
With the exception of Kaine, who seems to be on something of a media blitz of late, all of the candidates above -- and their key political people -- are saying almost nothing about where they stand in the process. The idea guiding that approach is that the more publicly a candidate declares his (or her) interest in the job, the less chance there is that person will be the pick.
Obama has been known for running a disciplined campaign that stays on message. So, all the discussion about Kaine may actually be misdirection. As much as Obama wants to win Virginia, I suspect Kaine and Obama also are mindful of the problems that would be created if Kaine were to desert the Governor’s mansion and leave it to Bolling.

My speculation is that Kaine gets a midterm cabinet post instead. The only real question is whether that's been the plan all along.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Obama Fights Back Against Mean Spirited McCain

Usually, a candidate who goes negative this early in the campaign season is admitting he's got nothing positive to tout about himself. Sadly, that's the case with John McCain. Yes, he has a compelling biography as a war hero, which the public is familiar with. And he's basked in the media sunlight for years as admiring reporters doted on him. Then it suddenly all went south.

You certainly can't take away from the man the very real sacrifices he made and the service he gave to the country. He deserves to be honored for that. But that's not the whole story of John McCain.

To start with, as a candidate in 2008, as opposed to a war hero from the 1970s, his campaign has run out of ideas. On issues, they are playing the same stale Republican playbook that got our economy in such a sorry state, gave us an energy crisis and has actually compromised our security by entering the wrong war, in Iraq, while ignoring the real threats from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. McCain is simply wrong on all those issues. And on the policies where he once was right, such as environmentalism, independence from the religious right, etc., he's flip flopped in order to secure the nomination and win the support of the same social conservatives who vilified him in the past. He's lost his moorings.

Worse, his recent unfair attacks on Barack Obama highlight that his time is past and makes him look exactly like a crotchety old man.

Indeed, his temperment has always been a concern among even Republicans. He has a less than presidential demeanor, a biting and sarcastic sense of humor, and a sharp temper. He's verbally abused members of his own party, fellow senators and even his own wife in public. Here's what a conservative publication said about him.
1) Defending His Amnesty Bill, Sen. McCain Lost His Temper And “Screamed, ‘F*ck You!’ At Texas Sen. John Cornyn” (R-TX). “Presidential hopeful John McCain - who has been dogged for years by questions about his volcanic temper - erupted in an angry, profanity-laced tirade at a fellow Republican senator, sources told The Post yesterday. In a heated dispute over immigration-law overhaul, McCain screamed, ‘F— you!’ at Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who had been raising concerns about the legislation. ‘This is chickens—stuff,’ McCain snapped at Cornyn, according to several people in the room off the Senate floor Thursday. ‘You’ve always been against this bill, and you’re just trying to derail it.’” (Charles Hurt, “Raising McCain,” New York Post, 5/19/07)
There are nine more examples of McCain's egregious temper, including an attack ad he once ran against George Bush, comparing him to Bill Clinton. The Washington Post, back in 1999, wrote about McCain's short fuse too.

And his Straight Talk Express, which vowed to take the high road and make this campaign about issues came to a screeching halt early when he and his advisers discovered that Obama would be a formidable and attractive candidate. In fact, all that's left for McCain is the same old GOP playbook of politics of personal destruction, the most recent example of which is a mean spirited ad comparing Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.

The problem is Obama is a fast learner who's not about to let himself be Swiftboated without a fight. Obama didn't throw the first punch but he won't duck or cower while Republicans try to pummel his reputation. I'm proud to say that Democrats learned how to fight them back as this new commercial shows.

It's important to remember that while Americans dislike negative campaigns, they also are unforgiving of those who let themselves be bullied into silence. The Swiftboat ad cost John Kerry the election, not because people believed the lies, but because it disturbed them that Kerry wouldn't respond to the attacks. They reasoned that any man who wouldn't even defend his honor could not be trusted to defend the country.

In fact, even I wondered about that. And I worked and voted for Kerry.

I'm proud to say that Barack Obama and his team aren't making that mistake. I honestly believe they wanted to keep the campaign on the high road and focused on the issues that are important to the public. But they are not going to take attacks lying down. And given how much money Obama has raised, he can afford to dispute every false charge, and fight every lie that McCain and company throw at him.

They might want to reconsider taking that high road and discussing real issues that concern real people rather than playing dirty politics as usual.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Pure Greed, Bad Faith and Broken Trust in Cleveland

Oh, one thing I forgot to tell you, before leaving, was that I would be in Cleveland, Ohio for a long weekend. It's the annual baseball trip wherein my husband and I get together with about 35 of our closest friends to watch the Indians snatch defeat from the jaws of victory one more time. Cleveland fans have a bizarre masochism. And nostalgia, either for 1948, which was the last time they won a World Series, or for the mid 1990s, when they almost did.

Anyway, we see a few games, go out to some really nice restaurants for dinner and I marvel at my friends amazing tolerance for this Yankee fan.

It's the restaurant part that has caused a major brouhaha in Cleveland. This, I am happy to report, has nothing to do with any bad manners on our part. It's actually because of an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer by award winning journalist and first lady of Ohio, Connie Schultz.

According to Schultz, in this article, an Ohio restaurant chain, Yours Truly, has begun skimming the tips of its servers. They take about 1 to 3 percent off all gratuities that are included when a customer pays his check with a credit card. The restaurant chain claims they are merely making the waiters contribute to the processing fee the restaurant must pay on each credit card transaction.

But restaurants, by law, pay their servers well under minimum wage. In fact, they are allowed to pay as low as $2.13 an hour in Ohio. The rationale for this is that waiters can more than make up for that in the tips they make. And in upscale restaurants, where customers routinely give 20 percent of a hefty check for good service, that is probably true. But in the average family restaurant, where the bill is considerably less expensive, most customers give 10 to 15 percent because that's what they can afford.

Here's what Schultz said:
What servers won't tell you, unless you ask, is whether they get to keep the full amount of tips left on a credit card.

Sadly, this is an increasingly urgent question to ask. In Northeast Ohio, for example, it should be on the tip of any tongue dining at Yours Truly restaurants, where management recently decided that servers should help cover the processing fees charged by credit card companies. Depending on which card is used, servers lose 1 percent to 3 percent of every tip not paid in cash. That adds up for people making so little.
The company president, Lawrence Shibley, thinks this is fair because "times are tough" for the restaurant chain. But the same times are even tougher for the servers.

I'm sure that most Yours Truly employees would love to say they are breaking even this year -- or any year, for that matter. I'm also pretty sure that, despite Shibley's claims otherwise, most Yours Truly customers would appreciate knowing that the tipping policy has changed.

"I don't really think that's necessary," Shibley said. "This is between us and our employees."
And that brings us to an even bigger problem for this restaurant chain. Most customers didn't know this and many have been reacting with as much outrage at this as Schultz did. And she expressed it cogently.
Now, see, that's exactly the kind of attitude that gets customers riled up. You can't demand that we subsidize your employees' wages and then get testy when we insist on a few ground rules. Every last cent of a tip is meant to go to the person who waits on us. Period. And we deserve to know if management has decided otherwise.

Shibley said "lots of other restaurants" are now doing this. Well, Yours Truly isn't supposed to be like other restaurants. At least that's the claim on its Web site, which boasts of striving for "open, honest and fair communication" and insists that, while "financial strength is always within sight and a priority, the bottom line is not our top goal."
And that's what's riled Schultz and other customers the most. In addition to taking advantage of their employees, Yours Truly has violated the trust of their customers. They've misrepresented themselves and cheated their employees. And how have Cleveland customers responded?

All the people I've been with this weekend have been paying with credit cards but leaving cash tips. And not just in Yours Truly. We've been doing it even at the most upscale places. As one friend, himself a businessman, put it gleefully, "This way the restaurant still has to pay the service charge on the credit card but they can't stiff their workers."

A very important point to remember about Cleveland is that it's a working class town. Even the yuppies all have a father, mother or grandfather who was in some union. And lots of successful people worked their way through college by waiting tables. So there's a lot of sympathy in that town for those who serve them. And a lot of anger at a successful restaurant chain that would pull a stunt that reeks of pure greed.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Republican Administration’s Midnight Raid on Worker Safety

In its continuing war against middle class working people, commitment to aiding the corporate sector, and generally attempting to gut any confidence that ordinary people might have in our capitalist system, the Bush administration is trying to push through secret midnight rules at the Department of Labor, which would sharply compromise worker safety.

It’s a shame too. That’s because capitalism done right actually works. You never want to over regulate an industry and stifle productivity unnecessarily. But the anarchy that passes for free market ideology is akin to mistaking anarchy for freedom. Just as you want as much legitimate freedom and civil liberties as possible in a society, you never want high crime rates, chaos, and a total break down of law and order, or legal protections for the majority of citizens. Well the same principle applies to the economic system, where sensible regulations, formulated to protect employees, but with an eye toward helping businesses, should be the norm. That is the role of good government.

But the Bush administration – and here I think a McCain administration would be a continuation of a bad policy – is determined to bring in just the type of economic lawless anarchy that provides short term benefit to big business and long time health dangers for their workers. As this article from today’s Washington Post shows:
Political appointees at the Department of Labor are moving with unusual speed to push through in the final months of the Bush administration a rule making it tougher to regulate workers' on-the-job exposure to chemicals and toxins.

The agency did not disclose the proposal, as required, in public notices of regulatory plans that it filed in December and May. Instead, Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao's intention to push for the rule first surfaced on July 7, when the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) posted on its Web site that it was reviewing the proposal, identified only by its nine-word title.

The text of the proposed rule has not been made public, but according to sources briefed on the change and to an early draft obtained by The Washington Post, it would call for reexamining the methods used to measure risks posed by workplace exposure to toxins. The change would address long-standing complaints from businesses that the government overestimates the risk posed by job exposure to chemicals.

The rule would also require the agency to take an extra step before setting new limits on chemicals in the workplace by allowing an additional round of challenges to agency risk assessments.

The department's speed in trying to make the regulatory change contrasts with its reluctance to alter workplace safety rules over the past 7 1/2 years. In that time, the department adopted only one major health rule for a chemical in the workplace, and it did so under a court order.
Of course, this fast track approach to changing the rules has brought the usual criticism from the AFL-CIO and Democrats in Congress, including the following:
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said: "The fact that the Department of Labor seems to be engaged in secret rulemaking makes me highly suspicious that some high-level political appointees are up to no good. This Congress will not stand for the gutting of health and safety protections as the Bush administration heads out the door."
"This is flat-out secrecy," said Peg Seminario, director of health and safety policy at the AFL-CIO. "They are trying to essentially change the job safety and health laws and reduce required workplace protections through a midnight regulation."

Seminario said she was stunned that the administration would consider the rule its top priority, when for years it has "slow-walked and stalled" safety rules that would reduce worker deaths and injuries from diacetyl and beryllium.
But some of the criticism comes from less likely sources within the academic, scientific and health communities.
"It's an insult to America's workers for the Department of Labor to be spending its time in the last year of this administration allegedly fine-tuning the details of how to do these regulations when, other than the one ordered by a court, they have issued no major worker-health regulations," said Adam Finkel, a professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey who is a former health standards director at Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. "The reality is there's a great need to light a fire under this moribund agency to do something -- anything -- to protect workers."
David Michaels, an epidemiologist and workplace safety professor at George Washington University's School of Public Health, said the rule would add another barrier to creating safety standards, in the name of improving them.

"This is a guarantee to keep any more worker safety regulation from ever coming out of OSHA," Michaels said. "This is being done in secrecy, to be sprung before President Bush leaves office, to cripple the next administration."
None of this is the first time this administration has interfered with federal agencies to promulgate rules it thinks are more favorable to industry. Indeed, the Bush administration has a long history of its political appointees tampering with scientific reports at the EPA and the FDA, as well as political interference at the Department of Justice. The administration cherry picked and made up evidence in the intelligence community to justify invading Iraq. These are not people who respect science, professional intelligence, or facts. And they are trying to leave a legacy of misplaced ideological governance that will tie the hands of the next administration. And, of course, if it’s a McCain administration, it will be more of the same.

John McCain has admitted that he doesn’t know much about the economy. I’m willing to bet he isn’t the most knowledgeable member of the Senate on issues of worker safety and health either. And you can tell by whom he has surrounded himself where he stands on the ideological spectrum. After all, Phil Gramm was not fired from the campaign because of a disagreement on fundamental economic policy. Rather he stepped down from the campaign because he got caught making impolitic statements that were embarrassing for the candidate. That doesn’t mean, though, that they were not an accurate reflection of what these people really think. And what they think is that big business should have everything it wants including total anarchy when it comes to rules that protect ordinary Americans’ health and safety.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Netroots Rising Is An Engaging History of a Citizen Army of Grassroots Activists

I just finished reading Netroots Rising. Lowell Feld sent me a copy of the book a couple of weeks ago and I promptly forgot to email him to thank him. My apologies to Lowell for my bad manners. But I knew I wasn’t going to read it right away and I didn’t want him to know how long I was going to procrastinate before getting to it. In my defense, I’ll add that it’s been a busy few weeks.

Since I was overcome by events, I confess I put off reading it because I kind of suspected that once I started, I wasn’t going to want to deal with interruptions. I was right. So I carved out a chunk of time when I wouldn’t be disrupted while I was reading. Glad I did.

I suppose you really could start the book and put it down. I’m also told there are people who can eat just one potato chip.

Netroots Rising reads almost like a novel. It has several narrative lines and it switches back and forth between the points of view of both authors, Nate Wilcox and Lowell Feld. It has a rising story line with twist and turns, obstacles, and complications. And the varying plotlines converge at the end.

The book opens with the state of the political sphere in 2002, where the advantage went to the Republicans. Most fundraising in both parties consisted of large donors writing checks for at least $1,000 or $2,000 a pop. But the GOP had the lock on donations from small donors thanks to their mastery of direct mail and earlier computer technology. They built better databases than the Democrats had and led the way with grassroots GOTV field efforts. Their ground game was beating the Democrats most every time.

In addition, the earliest, most successful websites and blogs were dominated by Republicans such as the Drudge Report, Free Republic and Instapundit.

Although the Republicans dominated the Net, as they had the airwaves on cable television and radio, they mostly took their talking points from Rush Limbaugh, Tom DeLay and Karl Rove and theirs was a top down operation.

Netroots Rising opens from Nate Wilcox’s point of view with the situation in Texas and recounts the struggle of the progressive grassroots and the new netroots activists in local races there. It covers the antics of Tom DeLay and his newly formed Texans for a Republican Majority PAC (TRMPAC). It briefly describes Republican dirty tricks in other states, such as those that defeated Vietnam veteran and triple amputee Max Cleland in Georgia, and describes DeLay’s successful attempt to force an unprecedented and barely legal mid decade redistricting scheme in the Texas legislature. The tome describes in fascinating detail the various attempts to unseat DeLay and the role of a growing grassroots activist core, which did an admirable job of challenging him.

The book then segues into the mounting frustration of Lowell Feld, who watched, with increasing dismay as the 2000 election unfolded, followed by 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, and the Democrats’ totally ineffective 2004 election campaign, when John Kerry was Swiftboated into defeat while a core of paid professional consultants and party insiders appeared helpless to counter an aggressive Republican spin machine.

Lowell had earlier enlisted in the Draft Wesley Clark movement, attended meet ups, and gradually got involved in both netroots and grassroots activism. Meanwhile, Wilcox joined Howard Dean's campaign, one of the earliest to utilize the Internet effectively.

The book goes back and forth between Wilcox in Texas and Feld in Virginia. Of course, it ends with the triumph of Jim Webb’s election, truly one of the glowing success stories of the progressive Netroots in 2006. It gives the behind the scenes account of the famous maccacca incident that led to George Allen’s defeat by Webb.

The conflict between the grassroots and netroots activists versus the party insiders and professional staff is a constant theme running through the book. The tome also details the difference in campaign philosophy between the somewhat chaotic and exuberant bottom up style of the activists versus the top down, button down professional discipline of the professionals and insiders. A traditionalist would think that the top down model should be the more successful one because of its discipline and focus. But that wasn’t borne out by the results. Democrats kept losing elections under the helm of the party professionals like Bob Shrum and Tad Devine. So, grassroots activists, especially those newly enlisted from the netroots, felt justified in questioning the old top down model.

The book does not end on a triumphant note, however, content to rest on the laurels of Webb’s and Jon Tester’s victories in the Senate. Instead, I sensed a growing frustration on the part of authors Feld and Wilcox at the fact that netroots activists are still not exactly greeted with open arms by party insiders. There is dissatisfaction that, despite all the hard work of netroots and grassroots activists, they haven’t been embraced as part of the Democratic Party’s mainstream but are still outsiders looking in. So, Netroots Rising ends with a question: What is the future of the Netroots?

I don’t think anybody can answer that question. But based on the history of other grassroots reform movements and of alternative press from the past, I’d venture a guess that some of the better blogs will eventually become part of the mainstream. Some bloggers will lose interest and move on to other activities. And newer technology will replace all of this. Things we can’t even imagine yet will supplant the netroots and blogs with still greater innovation. But one thing will never change and that is the human desire to communicate with others and the yearning to use whatever technology is available to organize our fellow citizens and to improve our lives. In that, the netroots isn’t something brand new but is the newest addition to an honorable tradition. All of the reformers, those who published broadsides and pamphlets and underground newspapers and mimeographed fliers are all part of our rich legacy. And we will someday watch other exuberant newcomers grab onto the newest technology to go even farther than us.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

FCDC Chair's Statement on the Passing of State Senator Joe Gartland

Statement from the Chair of the FCDC on the passing of Senator Joe Gartland:

I am sad to report that early this morning, Former State Senator Joe Gartlan passed away at the age of 82 at INOVA Mt. Vernon Hospital.Serving 28 years in the Virginia Senate.

Senator Gartlan was towering figure in the General Assembly serving as the Co-Chair of the Northern Virginia delegation. He fought for those with no power - the children, the mentally ill, mentally handicapped, and the environment. Even after retirement, he continued to serve our community fighting to save INOVA Mt. Vernon Hospital - the hospital where he died.

Senator Gartlan did not vary his views to gain the approval of his constituents - he voted his conscience as he felt was his duty as an elected leader. His constituents rewarded him with seven terms and his seat is the one legislative seat for my precinct that has not been held by a Republican in my lifetime.

He is survived by his wife of 58-year, six children, and seven grandchildren. I considered Senator Gartlan to be a personal friend and a mentor who I would call on from time to time for advice. His presence and wise counsel will be truly missed by all who knew him.

The FCDC website contains information regarding his life, obituaries, the Governor's Statement, funeral arrangements, and other information. Supervisor Hyland is collecting rememberances.
For more information, please go here:

I would just like to add that I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Senator Gartland several times. He was a hero and a giant among progressive Democrats. I think when he reaches Heaven, he will hear the words, "Well done, faithful servant."

Monday, July 14, 2008

Virginia AFL-CIO Enthusiastically Supports Mark Warner

It's obvious from this video, taken from the AFL-CIO Blog, that the Virginia AFL-CIO enthusiastically supports former Governor Mark Warner in his bid for the U.S. Senate. This video was taken during the recent July 4th Northern Virginia Central Labor Council picnic, held at the NoVA CLC headquarters.

The man leading the cheering section at the very beginning is NoVA CLC President Dan Duncan. The woman to whom Mark Warner briefly speaks is state AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer and newly elected DNC member Doris Crouse-Mays. He was telling her that he will support the Employee Free Choice Act. (More on the Free Choice Act here.) In doing so, he will be joining Virginia's soon-to-be senior senator, Jim Webb, a co-sponsor of this legislation. Co-sponsors on the House side include Jim Moran, Rick Boucher, and Bobby Scott. In addition, Gerry Connolly announced his support for it at the same picnic. In contrast, Tom Davis voted against it in Congress just as Virginia's other Republican representatives did. Davis used to claim he was a moderate. So, think how Keith Fimian would vote.

Finally, the woman running around with the camera is my friend Joyce Putnam, whose pictures have graced this blog several times. She's a member of OPEIU and works for Washginton Gas.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

More Photos from Barack Obama Town Hall Last Week

The great thing about having friends who are good with cameras, and who also get a terrific view up front and personal, is that they often are generous and share their photos with you. Thanks, once again, to George Burke, whose pictures have graced my blog more than a few times. These are more photos from Barack Obama's Town Hall on Women's Economic Security, held last Wednesday at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax County.

The first is Barack Obama at the podium.

Next is shot of Obama with Gerry Connolly, congressional candidate for the 11th CD. It was taken backstage.

And a picture of Virginia's First Lady, Ann Holton

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Barack Obama at Northern Virginia Town Hall on Women's Economic Security

I've got some pictures from today's Town Hall on Women's Economic Security, which Barack Obama held at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax County. For the best coverage of the event, you can't beat Teacherken's write up at RK. He literally gives a timeline of Obama's responses to questions and, as always, provides in depth and substantive reporting. In addition, Lowell has some thoughts and a video up as well.

It's my policy not to duplicate what has already been done exeptionally well, so for the actual report, just click and go over to Teacherken's write up.

Meanwhile, thanks to my husband, Dan, for the photos. First one is me with Bryan Scafford, who was seated in the Press Section. He's now blogging at Left of the Hill.

Next is Cindy Fithian, the Obama campaign's Northern Virginia field director, cheering on the crowd.

Gerry Connolly was next, warming up the crowd.

Virginia First Lady, Ann Holton, introduced Barack Obama. She also spoke about what it felt like to be a working woman caught between conflicting responsibilities, raising children and working full time.

Finally, Obama begins his speech. His opening remarks acknowledge what First Lady Holton has said, as he attests to how his own wife, Michelle, is often conflicted, worrying about her work when she is with her children and worrying about her children while she is on the job.

As I've said, for a better blow by blow description of the many questions that Obama responded to, just head on over to RK.

I would like to add my impression of the town hall and Obama's performance.
It was an extremely well organized event that stuck close to its scheduled time, a real rarity in politics, especially with a national level candidate. And if McCain and the media think that the more free flowing, spontaneous town hall format favors him and puts Barack Obama at a disadvantage, then they need to think again. Obama handled the questions with grace, dignity and respect for his audience. He thinks fast on his feet and he's as eloquent in this spontaneous format as he is in a prepared speech.

Monday, July 07, 2008

July 4th NoVa Central Labor Council Picnic Photos

Since I depend on the kindness of friends, it often takes me a while to get pictures up from events. These photos are from the July 4th Northern Virginia Central Labor Council Cookout. This is the second year the CLC has done this and it looks like it's going to be an annual event. I'd like to thank George Burke for these shots. He also took the photo of me with Governor Tim Kaine and Dan, which appears on my sidebar. That was from last year's Independence Day Cookout.

First shot is Dan Duncan, NoVa CLC President, with soon to be Senator Mark Warner.

Next is me with Mark at the beginning of the event, at the side of the building.

Next, Bob Phares, NoVa CLC Trustee, with Gerry Connolly, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and Congressional candidate in the 11th CD.

Mark addressing the crowd.

Steve Mendenhall, on loan to the CLC for the 2008 Campaign, from the National Air Traffic Controllers; John Dwyer, co-owner of the fine union print shop D & P Printing; Mark; and Jim Leaman, President of the State AFL-CIO.

Ernest Cardwell, Vice President of Sheet Metal Workers, Local 100, with Gerry.

Joe Abbey talking with Jim Leaman. Joe was Chap Petersen's campaign manager and now works with Mark Warner's campaign.

L-R Gerry Connolly, Mark Warner, Margi Vanderhi, Sharon Bulova. Sharon has been my friend for years and I'm glad to finally have a photo of her on my blog.

Me and Gerry Connolly.

Joyce Putnam from OPEIU. She was one of the photographers at the event. I love getting shots of Joyce and others who take the pictures since they so often don't end up getting their pictures taken.
Next year I hope to have my own, small digital camera so I can also get a picture of George Burke, to whom I am grateful for all these shots. Then, he too will get got :)

Dreams Die Hard

It's no secret to anybody who reads my blog, or my comments on other blogs, that I've wanted Jim Webb as Vice President. I think he'd make a great addition to Barack Obama's presidential ticket, putting Appalachia into play and connecting to working class voters who had become Reagan Democrats, much like him.

Alas, that is not to be. The Senator's office just issued the following press release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Contact: Jessica Smith

Monday, July 7, 2008

Statement of Senator Jim Webb

Washington, DC-- Senator Jim Webb today issued the following statement:

"Last week I communicated to Senator Obama and his presidential campaign my firm intention to remain in the United States Senate, where I believe I am best equipped to serve the people of Virginia and this country. Under no circumstances will I be a candidate for Vice President.

"A year and a half ago, the people of Virginia honored me with election to the Senate. I entered elective politics because of my commitment to strengthen America's national security posture, to promote economic fairness, and to increase government accountability. I have worked hard to deliver upon that commitment, and I am convinced that my efforts and talents toward those ends are best served in the U.S. Senate.

"In this regard, the bipartisan legislative template we were able to put into effect through 18 months of work in order to enact the new landmark GI Bill will serve as a prototype for my future endeavors in government. This process, wherein we brought 58 Senators from both parties to the table as co-sponsors, along with more than 300 members of the House, gives me renewed confidence that the Congress can indeed work effectively across party lines and address the concerns of our citizens.

"At this time I am also renewing my commitment to work hard to make sure that Senator Obama wins both Virginia and the presidency this November. He is a man who speaks eloquently about our national goals and who has the ability to call for the practical solutions that must be put into place to obtain them. I will proudly campaign for him."

Paul Reagan
Chief of Staff
Senator Webb
Although the dream dies hard, I've got to respect the integrity of the man who will do exactly what he was elected to do: Represent the people of Virginia in the U.S. Senate and continue fighting for economic fairness, national security, GI Rights, and government accountability.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Connolly and Fairfax Supervisors Get It Right - WAPO Doesn't Get It

Just when you think it’s safe to praise the Washington Post, they come up with an editorial criticizing what may be one of the most creative plans in the nation to deal with the mortgage crisis. It’s further proof of something I’ve long suspected about the Post, which is that their editorial page writers don’t read or respect their own reporters’ work. That can be the only explanation for some of the editorial positions they take which appear to contradict their own front page articles. That appears to be the case here, where Amy Gardner wrote an excellent story on Gerry Connolly’s plan to buy outright some abandoned property to resell to first time homebuyers, especially county employees, and to provide subsidized loans for other foreclosed homes.

And what is the main reason for the Washington Post editorial board’s objection?

They are not sure there’s a crisis yet.
A BOLD PLAN to turn foreclosed homes into affordable housing in Fairfax County is a good idea that is based on fuzzy math. Foreclosures are on the rise in Fairfax, as they are throughout the country, but it's unclear whether the problem is severe enough to require government intervention. Some Fairfax officials say that 3,500 homes in the county were foreclosed on in the first three months of 2008; others say that the number is closer to 2,000. There are no data on how long properties in Fairfax that are foreclosed on remain on the market, and it may be that the private sector is taking care of the problem.
It frankly sounds like they are getting ready to drink the same free market Kool Aid that Republican ideologues Michael Frey and Pat Herrity have been known to quaff.

Mortgage foreclosures jumped from 74 in January of 2007 to 1400 in January of 2008 according to a CNN report yesterday (great video at that link). And the Washington Post is questioning whether there’s a problem here?

Further, the Post’s caution, suggesting that county government wait until the crisis of abandoned homes grows even worse, could speed the deterioration of stable middle class neighborhoods, drive property values down even further below market rates, and exacerbate crime and gang problems. Sometimes, being proactive as well as creative can head off major problems. And sometimes waiting on ideology can make small problems gargantuan.

To be sure, some of the Post’s suggestions for implementing this program are correct and are well taken.
The county's housing department will administer these programs, but supervisors will decide which homes to buy. It is unclear how they plan to make this decision. Supervisors said that they would target areas at risk of becoming foreclosure clusters, including neighborhoods in Herndon, Centreville, Vienna and Falls Church. But without precise data on foreclosures, the decision will largely be subjective. This ambiguity could allow politics to enter the equation, particularly for supervisors running for office. It is also unclear whether the purchase of 10 homes would put a dent in the foreclosure rate or arrest falling property values. The housing department will go over many of these details with supervisors in a July 21 meeting.
Yes, the county government should proceed in a sensible and pragmatic manner. And that precaution could have been pointed out in a more favorable editorial that supported the idea and made the same point that even good ideas need to be implemented carefully and wisely. But the whole tone of the editorial was negative at its beginning, seeking to question, not simply the implementation but the very necessity of this program to start with, and that’s where the Post editors showed their usual myopia about any government solution. It’s worth noting, however, that the same free market, anti-government intervention Washington Post did not object to an expensive government bailout for the mortgage industry, which created this mess.

They rightly argued that even though many of the companies did not deserve the help, it would be an economic disaster to simply do nothing. They were right then. And they are wrong now because it would also be an economic disaster, for a different group of people, to simply let abandoned homes destroy the property values of hardworking people who, through no fault of their own, happen to have had the misfortune of living next door to other people who defaulted on their mortgages and had to vacate those homes.

On a separate note, it should be pointed out that the Washington Post editorial writers also have a problem with their own fuzzy numbers. They referred to Gerry Connolly as the candidate from the 10th CD, rather than the 11th. Sure it could be just a typo, as Post defenders will rush to comment. But the Washington Post pays lots of money for proofreaders, copy editors and fact checkers. So somebody should have picked that one up. Were they asleep at the wheel or do they just not know Virginia as much as they think they do at the National desk?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy July 4th!

H/t to Lowell for this one. It looks like he and I might have to start the Church of Springsteen - I agree with him that "Springsteen is God." I used to write about rock and roll for a small, now defunct publication in New York called The Night Owl, which was placed in all the rock clubs in the Village and lower Manhattan. As such, I interviewed one starving but impressive musician who was the first person to call Springsteen God. Apologies for any disrespect to my religious friends and no blasphemy intended.

Go enjoy and Happy Independence Day!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Gerry Connolly Tackles Mortgage Crisis in Fairfax

I know, I know, everybody in the Netroots is deeply suspicious of Washington Post reporter, Amy Gardner. And we’ve all had our differences with the pro business Post and with Gerry Connolly. That said, Gardner reports that Connolly proposed a truly innovative plan to ease the mortgage foreclosure problem in Fairfax County, one that adds to the county’s stock of affordable housing and provides homes to county employees – a concept known as workforce housing. Gerry Connolly, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and candidate for the 11th Congressional District, deserves to be commended as a trailblazer for coming up with this proposal and marshalling it through the Board of Supervisors. And the BOS also deserves kudos for passing the legislation and making it a reality.

Here’s what the WaPo said about it:

Fairfax County approved a landmark housing program yesterday to buy foreclosed properties for middle-income families, becoming one of the first communities in the country to tackle the nation's growing mortgage crisis while also addressing the region's increasing demand for affordable housing
According to Gardner’s report, the county will buy outright about ten percent of the homes in foreclosure. For the rest, Fairfax will help first time homebuyers purchase houses through subsidized loans, taking advantage of the fact that thousands of homes have fallen below market value, in what the Washington Post has termed “a unique moment.” Here’s the Post quoting Connolly:

"Fairfax, like the rest of the country, is facing a foreclosure crisis that's unprecedented," said county Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D), who proposed the idea. "The county has to use its resources and influence to try to stem the tide."
For more details on the dollar amounts and the nuts and bolts of how this plan will work, read the entire article.

Meanwhile, some critics – and every good idea has critics, who often make valid points – charge that instead of putting money into selling these homes to others, the county ought to be doing more to aid the original owners to avoid foreclosure in the first place. As I said, those critics have a point. And Fairfax will, indeed, include financial counseling to homeowners in distress to help them avoid falling into foreclosure if possible.

For some, however, the aid will come too late. They’ve already lost their homes, which stand abandoned, creating a host of problems for the neighborhoods where they are located. I’ll get to those problems in a minute. But I have to add that for many, their financial problems are beyond rescue.

Too many victims took home loans with unrealistic adjustable rates that ballooned. They started with below market “teaser” rates designed to attract homebuyers who had no hope of being able to afford their homes. It’s why the entire industry needs better regulation. Adding to the problem, those who might be able to hang on by refinancing those homes to obtain a more affordable and realistic fixed rate mortgage are locked out of that solution because sinking housing prices mean their homes are no longer worth what they paid for them. Once the housing bubble burst, so did their dreams of owning their own home. You might call it the bursting of the American Dream for many.

Unfortunately, that also leaves an American nightmare for other property owners living in neighborhoods where foreclosed homes are abandoned. Here are some of the problems I told you earlier that I'd discuss.

Anybody who has lived in an urban or inner suburban area can tell you that abandoned buildings of any kind attract illegal squatters. Those could be gang members, drug dealers, addicts in search of crack houses or heroine shooting galleries. And those who take up illicit residence in these places drive up the crime rate as well as driving down the property values.

Ironically, Republicans on the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, such as Pat Herrity and Michael Frey, voted against this housing proposal because they believe the “market” will take care of the problem by attracting private buyers to the foreclosed properties. In fact, Herrity termed it “a problem in search of a solution.”

That’s only true if you believe the government has no role in protecting ordinary citizens and their investments (never mind that government can always find a way to help large investment banks and mortgage companies with expensive, tax funded bailouts). Meanwhile, we’ve seen how well the market has protected those hard working, middle class people by bursting a housing bubble, driving property values down, and leaving their neighborhoods vulnerable to squatters in abandoned buildings, and the accompanying rise in crime rates. Seems like that market could use a little assistance, both in better regulation at the federal level and some innovative programs like this one to help neighborhoods as well as new homebuyers at the local level.

Besides all that, real life is composed of more than just “market-based” values. There is something to be said for using public private partnerships to aid communities in other ways. And that’s another commendable feature of this program.

It would give fire fighters, police, nurses, teachers, and other county employees an opportunity to purchase homes in the communities in which they serve. Providing affordable housing to professionals in the community gives them an even greater stake in that community's well being. It makes those they serve their neighbors, friends, and family members. And in a real national emergency, who wouldn’t want their first responders living in their own communities, better able to truly respond quickly by getting to their duty stations rapidly?

There are manifold benefits to this proposal.

"It's a good idea," said John McClain, a senior fellow at George Mason University's Center for Regional Analysis. "It's been talked about nationally, and I hope that it will make a dent."
Indeed, Connolly shares that hope.
Connolly said he hopes the program can be a model for the nation -- and also a beginning, capable of expanding if Congress approves legislation addressing the foreclosure crisis. Legislation before Congress would help more than 400,000 distressed borrowers trade mortgages with rapidly rising payments for more affordable government-backed loans if their banks forgive a portion of their debt.

"There could be an infusion of outside resources that would allow us to do more," Connolly said. "The federal bill is still winding its way through Congress. Fairfax would have a program in place to qualify, which is very much on our minds as well."
Once again, kudos to Gerry Connolly and the Board of Supervisors for providing a pragmatic and progressive solution at the local level to a growing national problem. This should put a spotlight on Fairfax County for innovative leadership.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Buzz on the Blogosphere: Netroots Rising

The Virginia progressive blogosphere is excited that one of our own, Lowell Feld, just released the new book, Netroots Rising, which he and Nate Wilcox co-authored. Waldo posted something about it and here's something from Wilcox on MYDD. Here’s a sample of the comments, from Leesburg Tomorrow, who wrote the following:

The blogger who has done the most to help me get on my feet and pushed me to keep writing and thinking is Lowell Feld of RaisingKaine. He and I do not necessarily agree all the time, but it is thanks to him that Leesburg Tomorrow is here today...
I’d have to second that. When I first began blogging, I wrote something about Jim Webb and the next thing I knew I got two comments, one from Lowell and the other from Josh Chernila, both of RK. I didn’t even know who they were. That’s how na├»ve I was. I had just started blogging and was writing mostly about national level politics, economic populism, and religion. Then, I met Lee Diamond, who was handing out a petition to get Jim Webb on the ballot for the primary. That was how I found out about Webb. Since one of the big issues in Webb’s primary was outsourcing and economic justice at home, I jumped on the bandwagon. I'd been reading and linking to Paul Krugman as much as I could precisely because of his take on the economy.

Then, after reading Lowell's and Josh's comments, the next thing I knew, my blog was listed on their blogroll, they asked me to cross post on RK, I began to get more readers, and somebody suggested that I also get my blog put on Lefty Blogs. Suddenly, I was part of the the Virginia Netroots.

Lowell has done more to encourage and promote me than almost anybody else, except my former neighbor Ben Tribbett. And that was before Lowell ever even met me. So, I’m proud and honored now to put up a link on my blogroll to his new website, Netroots Rising. Not only does it promote the book with excerpts and interviews, but it’s fascinating reading even as a stand alone.

Lowell’s interview with Donnie Fowler, the son of legendary South Carolina DNC Chairman, Donald Fowler (whom I had the pleasure of meeting once), gives a very good, balanced assessment of the new Netroots medium. Donnie, who grew up living and breathing politics, was General Wesley Clark’s first campaign manager and here’s what he had to say:
Fowler: At the risk of being critical of the netroots, there’s a sense in the netroots….lots of them are new to politics, the 2003/2004 campaign was their first real political experience. There’s a sense that there was no grassroots before the internet came along, that’s just a misunderstanding. The grassroots has always existed. What technology has done has allowed us to do the most traditional politics much better and much faster. There’s nothing actually new. The netroots sometimes believes that they invented the grassroots, or some completely highly advanced super charged steroids-full grassroots.

Fowler: The underlying feeling that the Democratic Party never did grassroots before the netroots came along, that’s just not true. There were unions, the pro-choice movement, the [civil rights] movement, all of which predated the internet. The internet makes it all easier.
Fowler fought for the netroots when the Beltway professionals came in and took over Clark’s campaign. But he’s right that there always was a grassroots composed of loyal foot soldiers who get out the vote election after election, often with little personal reward beyond seeing their candidate win and getting a few of their favorite causes implemented as policy. The ‘net and netroots simply make communication and the exchange of ideas easier. The ideal, as Lowell has often said, is a new electronic town square, where the entire globe can be our village.

My favorite interview, though, is one Lowell conducted with Jon Henke, who was Lowell’s counterpart in the George Allen campaign.

Because I actively participated in blogging for Jim Webb and against George Allen at the time, I had a front row seat to some of what they are discussing. That campaign was as knock down and drag out as it gets. I remember trying to describe it to a friend who wasn’t familiar with the blogosphere. I said, “It’s a full contact sport, not for the faint of heart or squeamish.”

It’s fascinating all these years later to see these two worthy adversaries sit down to a cordial interview and to read Henke’s take on what happened.
Henke: I believe the Democrats “got” the Netroots in 2006, while Republicans did not get it at all. In 2007, Republicans are just now at the same place Democrats were in late 2002/early 2003: they know this whole “new media” thing is important and they know they should try to figure it out, but it’s still a bit of a mystery to most of them. It will take some time for the establishment to grow comfortable with the new communications medium.

Henke: I think pro-Democratic blogs outnumber pro-Republican blogs almost everywhere, regardless of the hue of the State. Democrats have a much more developed new media operation, and the liberal/progressive movement throws more resources at their new media effort. However, in Virginia, as in much of the country, it’s simply a matter of Democrats being out of power, frustrated and in search of new venues for their voice. Democrats gravitated to blogs for the same reason that Republicans gravitated to talk radio and Free Republic in the 90s. It gave them a place to shout – a place to get involved.

Feld: Do you believe that senior Allen strategists like Dick Wadhams were surprised at the intensity of the Virginia blogosphere? Did anyone ever say to Wadhams, “Dick, I don’t think we’re in South Dakota anymore!”

Henke: I think virtually all Republicans were surprised at the effectiveness of the Democrats internet media machine. I suspect that a few years of apparent impotence had lulled them into the belief that the LeftRoots movement was just the “fringe crazies”. That misses the real power and influence of the liberal blogs, in my opinion, which is much more in narrative development and messaging to the influentials than about fundraising and GOTV.
I could, of course, tell you what Henke said about the Macacca Moment. But nah! For that, you’ll just have to go to Netroots Rising and read it for yourself. And read what Jim Webb had to tell Lowell.

If you buy the book, you’ll find out how a group of upstarts launched a movement, helped turn the Senate blue, and made history.