Category Archives: Abortion

The problem with the death penalty

death penalty

D.J. Rippert

Virginia’s non-debate.  Politics in Virginia includes a lot of debates.  Trasnportation funding.  Medicaid expansion.  Taxes.  However, one critical aspect of Virginia law has fallen from view – the death penalty.  This lack of debate over the death penalty is not due to a lack of executions.  Since 1976 Virginia has posted the third most executions of any state – far behind Texas but only one execution behind Oklahoma.

The Innocence Project.  The Innocence Project is a non-profit group of lawyers who re-examine the cases of people convicted of serious crimes.  The group often uses new DNA techniques to determine whether a conviction was correct or in error.  To date, the Innocence Project has exonerated 16 Virginians of serious crimes.  Some of those innocent people were on Virginia’s death row when they were exonerated of the crimes that landed them on death row.  One such case was the conviction of Earl Washington.  Convicted of rape and murder Earl Washington was sentenced to death.  Subsequent DNA testing cleared Washington of the rape and murder convictions.  Mr. Washington’s case prompted an independent audit of Virginia’s DNA testing lab.  The results were not encouraging.

  • “This laboratory that touts itself as the best DNA laboratory in the country generated erroneous test results in a capital case, twice, using two different DNA methods,” said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project. “The audit reveals not only that the laboratory’s most senior DNA analyst, responsible for DNA testing in many of the state’s capital cases, made serious errors, but that the laboratory’s system to catch these errors completely failed. This audit provides compelling evidence that crime labs cannot police themselves, and that only with the statutory requirement that they be subject to independent, expert oversight can we have faith that appropriate controls are in place.”

Enter the feds.  Virginia is not the only political entity with suspect processes in criminal investigations.  Recent evidence suggests that the vaunted FBI may have been responsible for systematic and willful mismanagement of critical evidence.  Of the 2,600 convictions obtained through these flawed processes 45 resulted in the imposition of the death penalty.  More troublesome, the agency did not inform the convicts of the problems after they were discovered and spent years debating the matter rather than promptly following up on the convictions.

Redo.  You can’t undo an execution.  Conservatives in Virginia will rail against abortion as the murder of innocents.  However, reasonable people can honestly debate when life begins.  There can be no debate as to whether a person convicted of a crime is alive or not.  There can only be a discussion of whether state sanctioned murder is an appropriate remedy for the crime.  In too many cases shoddy evidence analysis and law enforcement puts these convictions in doubt.  It is time for Virginia’s politicians to restart the necessary debate as to whether the state should execute living human beings on behalf of its citizens.

 

Is the End of America’s Culture Wars in Sight?

Lind

Michael Lind

by James A. Bacon

Have the Culture Wars peaked? Is the national debate over God, Gays and Guns on the downward slide? Michael Lind, a conservative thinker and cofounder of The New America Foundation, thinks the end is foreseeable. Just as the Civil War didn’t end after Gettysburg — the Confederate states still had a lot of fight left in them — the controversy over abortion, gay rights and gun rights will generate headlines for years to come. But there isn’t much doubt who will win the war.

Look at the views of the Millennial Generation and you can see which way popular sentiment is heading. Millennials are far less likely than their elders to say religion plays an important role in their lives, and they are more likely to define themselves as social liberals. They are less likely to own guns and more likely to support gun control. They are the only demographic cohort in which a majority — 70% — support gay marriage.

As liberal Millennials replace conservatives from the G.I. Generation and the Silent Generation, will political power swing decisively to the Democratic Party? Not necessarily, writes Lind in “The Coming Realignment,” an essay in The Breakthrough. But there will be a massive shift in the fissures dividing the nation. How that will play out in terms of partisan politics is difficult to predict but rest assured that the Republican Party, a coalition of disparate and often fractious groups, will reinvent itself.

Lind analyzes contemporary U.S. politics along two great dividing lines: economics (free markets, regulation, inequality of wealth) and culture (guns, God and gays). Democrats represent the economic and cultural liberals; Republicans represent the economic and cultural conservatives. But there are many economic liberals/social conservatives (often called populists) and economic conservatives/social liberals (often labeled Libertarians) who don’t fall easily in either camp. As the social conservatives are slowly eased out of the picture, Lind argues, political coalitions will reorganize around two new poles: Liberaltarians and Populiberals.

Liberaltarian, a term already in use, describes “a broad camp including neoliberal Democrats skeptical of government in the economic sphere along with libertarian Republicans and independents who recognize the need for more government than libertarian ideologues believe to be legitimate.”

Populiberal, Lind’s coinage, describes “social liberals who share the liberal social values of liberaltarians, but who tend to be more egalitarian and to favor a greater role for the government in matters like social insurance, business-labor relations, and redistribution of income.”

Lind then boldly suggests that these two new coalitions will align themselves geographically between “Densitarian” and “Posturbia.” By Densitaria, he refers to the higher-density urban precincts, both downtowns and suburban villages, where higher-income Americans increasingly prefer to reside along with the service class that caters to their needs. Posturbia is comprised of lower-density suburbs and rural areas where the working and middle classes live. Residents of Densitaria and Posturbia will tend to disagree about the nature of the social safety net (should it be tailored to the needs of the most vulnerable, or should it structured more like universal social insurance?), the tax structure (soak the rich?) and the nanny state (using government power to combat obesity).

Though fascinating, Lind’s argument is not entirely convincing. He is entirely correct that the national sentiment is becoming more liberal on some Culture War issues, most notably gay rights. But I don’t believe the needle has moved much on abortion. And, as medical science advances, I think we will see entirely new ethical dilemmas arise. It won’t be long before genetic engineering allows people to create “designer kids” or before the use of manufactured limbs, hearts and organs on the one hand and the rise of robots imbued with Artificial Intelligence raises questions of what it means to be human. It is not hard to predict a growing revulsion against what some deem to be progress. Some of that revulsion may be religion-based, but much of it could be secular.

One additional point: Millennials are culturally liberal now. But will they stay liberal when they get married, settle down and have kids? Look what happened to the Baby Boomers. Who would have thought in 1968 that a majority of the generation would wind up voting Republican in 2012?

Still, I think Lind is right about some things. The shift toward equal rights for gays is likely to be permanent and, within a decade, no longer will be controversial. I also think Lind is right that the last remnants of racial prejudice are dying out with the passing of the older generations. As young “people of color” see race as less and less of a factor affecting their lives, they will be less attached to the Democratic Party and more open to appeals by Republicans.

In my spare time, I am working on a novel set in 2075. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking what the United States will look like in 60 years. I’ve concluded that the world is so complex and the interactions of technology, economics, politics and culture so impossible to predict that the future is unknowable. With that caveat, I postulate the break-up of the Republican Party into two entities — the Enterprise Party (which is economically conservative and culturally liberal) and the Faith Nation (which is first and foremost culturally conservative). In my scenario, the Enterprise Party hives off some people who call themselves Democrats today, and the Democratic Party shifts so far to the populist-redistributionist left that it rebrands itself as the Social Democratic Party. (In my novel, the Social Democrats predominate. I guess you could call it a dystopia!)

Such idle speculation aside, America has seen dramatic political realignments before, and it will see them again. Lind makes a provocative case and he identifies key dynamics that will influence the outcome. Popular dissatisfaction with Americans political institutions is so intense today that it’s hard to believe that the current two-party duopoly can long continue in its current form. Lind’s essay is as good a place as any to start thinking about what comes next.

Cantor’s Brat Problem

BratBy Peter Galuszka

The jockeying for power among Virginia conservatives is certainly curious if not frightening. It seems the diminished Tea Party is trying to make a comeback and relive its heyday of 2010 at the expense of moderates.

I personally hope they don’t because the movement brings up far too much hateful baggage of xenophobia, racism and mindless cost cutting while posturing as true-blue Americans. The more they do this, the more they conjure up some unsavory memories in American history such as the Know-Nothings or the Ku Klux Klan.

The flash point seems to be David Brat, an economics professor at Randolph Macon College in Ashland. Brat is trying to give House Majority Leader Eric Cantor a run for his money, which in itself, is not a bad thing.

Cantor has long been the tool of the white Richmond area elite. He used to be solidly Main Street although he did try to jump ahead of the Tea Party parade in 2009 and 2010 and it seemed very awkward. By conservative standards, Cantor is much more of a moderate than one might expect. The Heritage Action for America rates Cantor at 52 percent for conservative voting. Robert Goodlatte gets a whopping 75 percent Mark Warner (good for him) only 2 percent.

This is where it gets weird. Brat complains that Cantor isn’t conservative enough or tough enough on undocumented workers and the like. Cantor fires back with over-the-top ads claiming that Brat is a closet liberal for having worked on a bi-partisan economics group for Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine.

Meanwhile, reliable GOP operative Linwood Cobb gets ousted by Tea Party firebrand Fred Gruber as head of the 7th Congressional District Republican Committee.Cantor’s 7th District stretches from the booming, mostly white suburbs of Henrico County to rural, sleepy farmlands into Madison. There’s plenty of Main Street and Tea Party to spare in the district.

According to The Washington Post, the fringe conservatives in the GOP are angry that moderate Republicans are going forth with more sensible policies than sticking it to the innocent children of undocumented workers and trying to turn the clock backwards to ban same-sex marriage.

That just ain’t going to happen with lawsuits popping up all over the place and court rulings overturning. Eleven state and federal courts have ruled in favor of ending same-sex marriage bans, including Virginia. In fact, the Old Dominion’s case was heard at the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals this week and it, another or all will end up at the Supreme Court at some point. The momentum is clearly towards allowing same-sex marriage.

Brat has said he wants to return power from the federal level to the states, but if it means facilitating discriminating marriage bans I hope he fails.

It will be fascinating watching this all play out. The Tea Party rode a wave of bitter frustration resulting from the Great Recession that cut across both parties. It hit upon a mixed, mash-up of themes involving populism, raw Americanism, anti-Obamaism, and so on. It has been, by turns, a reaction to the tremendous inequality imbalance and pure racism. In other words, it’s part of many unrelated and sometimes unsavory themes. I went to some Tea Party meetings and found some bright folks and also people I thought should be locked up as border-line dangerous.

What seems to be lacking now is any intelligent policy planning for the slowly growing economy. While the feds have bailed out failing banks, there’s little help for the average borrower who needs help. Thus, they are forced or choose to hang on to cash and spending is anemic.

If Brat is supposed to be an economist, one would assume he might understand these things. I guess it wouldn’t matter anyway, because Virginia’s system of state and federal electoral districts is rigged so that a tiny minority of outspoken crackpots gets to be kingmaker. This is not likely to happen with Cantor during this June’s GOP primary but it a scary and real possibility.

And it is yet another reason why the Democrats like Terry McAuliffe and Mark Herring are increasingly turning to or are considering turning to independent or executive actions (not supporting the same-sex ban, stripping back McDonnell-Cuccinelli-era regulation of abortion clinics, possibly expanding Medicaid by order).

The Brats and the Cantors have done plenty to destroy bipartisanship. The state and the nation face far more serious challenges than letting gays get married or putting the screws to a hard-working, tax-paying worker who happens to be undocumented because he or she was brought to this country at age four.

Virginia’s Philosophical Crossroads

Judge-Arenda-Wright-Allen-Virginia

Judge Arenda Wright Allen

Standing before a trim, white, clapboard house off Lafayette Boulevard in Norfolk last week, friends and supporters of gay rights cheered loudly as two same sex couples approached a front-yard podium to celebrate their legal victory in having Virginia’s gay marriage ban overturned.

The night before, U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen, citing Abraham Lincoln and the unfairness of the state’s previous ban on interracial marriage, had declared Virginia’s ban unconstitutional.

It had been supported by the state’s conservatives and also by 57 percent of voters who approved a constitutional amendment in 2006 declaring marriage as only for men and women. Popular opinion, however, appears to have shifted

It was an historic moment on a par with federal courts overturning racial segregation and other blunt violations of human rights. Seventeen states now allow gay marriage and a host of lawsuits tend to push overturning bans. Virginia is the first Southern state to do so.

Immediately, hard-right politicians such as Prince William County’s Bob Marshall called for the judge’s impeachment just as some demanded the ouster of the new state Attorney General, Mark Herring, for, correctly, refusing to defend the marriage ban.

The situation represents a huge shift in philosophy for the state. For years, Virginia has been dominated by conservative thinking that is enormously contradictory.

As Richmond Times Dispatch columnist Jeff Schapiro points out this morning, the tension is between promoting limited government and individual freedom in some areas (little regulation of business and politicians) and badly suppressing individual rights in cases such as marriage and abortion.

Just as history was being made in Norfolk federal court, the General Assembly was putting the finishing touches on useless new rules that do next to nothing to police Virginia’s incredibly lax governance of gift giving and political donations.

This comes after the state’s reputation was badly stained by the first-ever indictment of a former governor (Robert F. McDonnell) on federal corruption charges. So much for “the Virginia way” that touts Thomas Jefferson and the entire cadre for freedom.

I have always been frustrated by the state’s bi-polar attitudes about individual rights. Not a Virginian by birth, I was glad to leave the state in 1983 after reporting from it for about eight years. I was sick and tired of its genuflecting before big business on environment and labor issues. Little-regulated Big Business, after all, had given Virginians such presents the Kepone ecological disaster.

Years later, I was passing through Virginia from New York driving from New York to visit my parents in North Carolina. We stopped at a Denny’s and were told by a waitress that we could not order our cheeseburgers medium rare because that’s what the legislature had ruled. More recently, I ended up shelling out a few hundred bucks because my daughter needed new contact lenses and state rules require unneeded yearly optical exams. Apparently that’s due to lobbying by the state eye-care industry.

The philosophical contradictions are finally catching up. Even though proponents of gay rights at the Norfolk press conference made a big deal about Virginia being the first “southern” state to confront ending the gay marriage ban, I am not so sure the state is really “Southern” any more. Continue reading

Tar Heel Grief Just Down the Road

By Peter Galuszka

It’s sad to see mccrorytwo states to which I have personal ties – North Carolina and West Virginia — in such bad ways.

The latest raw news comes from the Tar Heel state where we are seeing the handiwork of hard-right- Gov. Pat McCrory who has been on a tear for a year now bashing civil rights here, pulling back from regulation there.

The big news is Duke Energy’s spill of coal ash and contaminated water near Eden into the Dan River, which supplies Danville and potentially Virginia Beach with drinking water. Reports are creeping out that the McCrory regime has been pressuring the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to pull back from regulation.

According to Rachel Maddow, DENR officials had stepped in with environmentalists as plaintiffs on two occasions in lawsuits to get Duke Energy to clean up coal ash. But when a third suit was filed, McCrory, a former Charlotte Mayor and career Duke Energy employee, influenced a third lawsuit settlement against Duke to be delayed.

Also, not long before the Eden spill, the City of Burlington released sewage into the Haw River which flows into Lake Jordan serving drinking water to Cary, Apex and Pittsboro. DENR allegedly did not release news of the spill to the public.

Late last year, Amy Adams, a senior DENR official, resigned to protest the massive cuts McCrory and Republican legislators were forcing at her department, notably in its water quality section.

McCrory’s been on a Ken Cuccinelli-style rip in other ways such as cutting back on unemployment benefits in a top manufacturing state badly hit by the recession and globalization. He’s shut down abortion clinics by suddenly raising the sanitation rules to hospital levels, much like former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell did in Virginia.

A reaction to McCrory is building, however. Recently, I chatted with Jason Thigpen who served in the Army and was wounded in Iraq in 2009. When Thigpen returned to his home in southeastern North Carolina, he was upset that the state was sticking it to vets by making them pay out-of-state college tuition in cases where some had been state residents before deploying. So, he started an activist group to protect them.

Next, Thigpen decided to run for Congress. His views fit more neatly with the Republican Party but he simply could not take what McCrory was doing in Raleigh so he became a Democrat and is a contender in a primary this spring.

Why the switch? “I just couldn’t see what the GOP was doing with my state in Raleigh,” He told me. “Also, I didn’t like what they were doing with women. I had served with women in war and they come back to North Carolina and they are treated like second class citizens,” he said.

West Virginia, meanwhile, is still struggling with its drinking water issues from a spill near Charleston. Although drinking water for 300,000 is said to be potable, children are reporting rashes.

Somehow, this conjures up another story involving a Republican governor – Arch Moore.

Back in 1972, Moore was governor when Pittston, a Virginia-based energy firm, had badly sited and built some damns to hold coal waste. After torrential rains, the dams burst and a sea of filthy water raced down the hollows, inundating small villages and killing 125 people. The state wanted a $100 million settlement from Pittston for the Buffalo Creek disaster, but Moore interceded and they settled for a measly $1 million.

Moore was later convicted of five felonies after he was caught extorting $573,000 from a coal company that wanted to reduce its payments to a state fund that compensated miners who got black lung disease.

Does anyone see a pattern yet?

Meanwhile, we in Virginia should breathe a sigh of relief considering just close it was dodging the bullet last election.

Pope Francis Slams “Trickle Down”

Pope Francis Holds His Weekly General AudienceBy Peter Galuszka

In a sharp rebuke to traditional conservative economic thought, the leader of the world’s Roman Catholics says he wants the church to rethink its strategies towards addressing income inequality and poverty and shun “the idolatry of money” and “trickle down” philosophies that give the rich far too much influence.

Pope Francis outlined his thinking in a 50,000 word treatise titled “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”). The new Pope appears to be a dramatic change in Vatican leadership which has been dominated by theological conservatives since the mid-1960s.

He wrote in his piece: “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by the free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.

“This opinion, which has never been confirmed by facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

There’s no question the view, written by a man who spend much of his life working with the urban poor of Brazil, is a slap in the face of such contemporary conservative influences, notably Ronald Reagan, who posited in the 1980s that if governments cut taxes and regulation and left  the rich alone, the benefits would trickle down to the middle and lower classes.

Since then, the idea has become a mantra for conservatives around the world from Margaret Thatcher to Paul Ryan. It was cited as being part of the “End of History” when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. It is also hummed like a Hindu chant on this blog.

In Virginia, the benefits of “trickle down” are assumed to be God’s word among Republicans and Democrats alike. The theory is that business can only flourish in a low tax, low regulation and anti-labor union state. Somehow everyone benefits although as Pope Francis points out these ideas “have never been confirmed by facts.”

Globally, the fast spread of current capitalist thinking by high-speed information technology has created ever wider disparities between rich and poor.

The United States is still struggling to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression. According to the New York Times, one result of the so-called “recovery” has been similar to the trend in the rest of the world –a small slice of the richer get richer to the detriment of others. The Times writes:

“The top 10 percent of earners took more than half of the country’s total income in 2012, the highest level recorded since the government began collecting the relevant data a century ago, according to an updated study by the prominent economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty.

“The top 1 percent took more than one-fifth of the income earned by Americans, one of the highest levels on record since 1913, when the government instituted an income tax.

“The figures underscore that even after the recession the country remains in a new Gilded Age, with income as concentrated as it was in the years that preceded the Depression of the 1930s, if not more so.”

It seems to be the case in Richmond, which is often painted on this blog as a wonderland of bike lanes, “New Urbanism styles,” “the creative class,” and lots of Millennials flocking in to enjoy its exquisite cultural amenities.

In truth, according to Style Weekly, about 50,000 of the city’s population of 208,000 live in poverty.  Although the minimum wage is $7.25, workers need to make $10.35 an hour to make ends meet, according to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study. One pilot workforce training project that served 550 Richmonders over the last three years found that their wages averaged $8.50 an hour. Jamison Manion, who administrates the program, likened the situation to “nothing, absolutely nothing. It’s like draining the ocean through a straw — when it’s raining.”

Pope Francis appears to pose a big change in contemporary Catholic thinking after decades of the status quo. He’s likely to further shake things up by making the ossified Church’s bureaucracy more decentralized, de-emphasizing the overplay on abortion and gay issues and giving women a stronger voice.

A big question is whether the Church is finally ahead of the curve instead of being constantly behind it. In the process, he’s making “Trickle Down”  sound “oh-so-1980s.”

The Cooch and the Pope

popeBy Peter Galuszka

“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” says Pope Francis, leader of the globe’s Roman Catholics, regarding abortion, gays and contraception.

One wonders if Ken Cuccinelli gets the message. Or maybe even Bob McDonnell. The attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate and the sitting governor have worn their stridently conservative Catholic views on their sleeves for years.

Abusing his office, Cuccinelli has taken strong positions to punish homosexuals and make legal abortion much less available. McDonnell likewise has been shutting down women’s health clinics and became a national laughingstock in 2012 for the trans-vaginal fiasco.

Now you have the Church’s new pope signalling a major shift away from these wedge issues that have alienated millions of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Conservative Catholics have long embraced sexually related issues as a way to hold what they consider an eroding ethical line. But in doing so, they are ignoring equally important issues such as social justice and keeping the church’s thinking medieval.

Francis is a breath of fresh air after his reactionary predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, a strict doctrinaire who forced a policy of exclusivity in the Church that was very harmful. Ditto the rock star Polish Pope.

It is ironic that Francis has ascended not long after Bishop Walter Sullivan, the former head of the Diocese of Richmond, died. From the 1970s until 2002, Sullivan, a Washington native, pushed his liberal views regardless of who was offended in this highly right wing state. He was as against abortion as any Catholic clergyman but he extended the thinking on the sanctity of life to include prisoners on death row, according to recent biography, “The Good Bishop” by veteran author and essayist Phyliss Theroux who lives in Ashland.

I recently reviewed her book for Style Weekly.

Sullivan, who died Dec. 11 at age 84, was incensed that former Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr. took to executions with relish after the Supreme Court reinstituted the death penalty in 1976. Since then, Virginia has put to death 110 convicts, giving it a rank of No. 2 in the country after Texas. Sullivan drew attention to the issue by attending every execution he could.

In the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was running up the defense budget to best “The Evil Empire,” Sullivan actually told a well-to-do parish heavy with military contractors in Virginia Beach that it was wrong to be associated with the making of nuclear weapons. It sparked outrage and also landed Sullivan on the cover of Rolling Stone.

The current Bishop of Richmond who replaced Sullivan is a traditionalist who has rolled back many of Sullivan’s outreach initiatives to gays, women, convicts and the poor. One wonders how he will respond to the Pope’s vision. The New York Times says the Old Guard will likely pretend Pope Francis did not say what he did.

There may also be an impact on Virginia politics since the key top players tend to be Catholic. Besides Cuccinelli and McDonnell, Terry McAuliffe and Tim Kaine are, although they espouse a much more inclusive version of the faith.

The most strident is Cuccinelli who attended Gonzaga High School, a Jesuit school in D.C. (Full disclosure, I graduated from another Jesuit high school in the D.C. area and hardly share Cuccinelli’s views.)

To some extent, Cuccinelli has toned down the anti-gay rhetoric, but one only has to review his record as attorney general and in the state Senate to see where he stands.

Who knows, maybe he could form a new Catholic church just as some arch-conservative Episcopalians did. In any event, it looks like the Church is at the start of some badly needed changes.

IG of the Day: Teen Birth Rate

Source: Atlantic Cities Blog

Source: Atlantic Cities Blog

This map, posted by Richard Florida to the Atlantic Cities blog, shows state-by-state variations in the teen birth rate. Florida makes an unconvincing case that ties higher teen birth rates to the practice of religion, posture on birth control and red state governance, confusing correlation with causality. “Despite all the hectoring and moralizing,” he writes, “teen births are higher in red states and more religious states.”

Toward the end of his post, he does observe that, yes, there might also be a connection between teen birth rates and socio-economic status, and there might be a connection between teen birth rates and pockets of concentrated poverty. The culture of class is a key variable, as sociologist Charles Murray has demonstrated vividly. Florida is a brilliant guy in many ways, but it disheartens me to see him conduct such superficial analysis that tries to score cheap partisan points. Frankly, it casts a shadow over his good and valuable work.

On the other hand…. It’s good to see that Virginia has one of the lower teen birth rates in the country, a standing that I would attribute largely to the fact that it also has one of the lowest poverty rates in the country.

– JAB

The Cooch’s Freak Show Dream Team

cooch dream teamBy Peter Galuszka

Ken Cuccinelli just can’t keep away from the bizarre, but perhaps that’s what makes him what he is.

He stages a convention instead of a primary to neuter Bill Bolling. And since a convention is smaller, it draws more GOP hard-righters than  June bugs on a humid night and they succeed in getting Bishop E.W. Jackson and Mark Obenshain selected. They underline the social conservatism that turns millions off and makes Virginia the butt of jokes on late night talk shows.

The Bishop is an even bigger gay basher than Cuccinelli and says that Planned Parenthood is responsible for more fatalities among African-Americans than the Ku Klux Klan. This may be new to a Harvard Law graduate, but women of any color have a legal right to an abortion within limits. The U.S. Supreme Court said so. Look under Roe vs. Wade.

Then there is the attorney general candidate Mark Obenshain of the legacy Republican family. He proposed and withdrew legislation to require any woman in Virginia who miscarries a pregnancy to report it to the police. The idea is so repulsive it is beyond words. A woman may have miscarried to her great sorrow due to medical reasons and then would have to go through the added horror of having to report to the police? Yes, this comes from a cabal that otherwise wants to keep the government out of your lives. Even Josef Stalin wouldn’t think of this.

What does the dream team have to say on the many policy issues facing a troubled state? We have a bunch of lame and poorly thought out tax cuts and Cooch playing hardware store populist. Cuccinelli was against McDonnnell’s mammoth road building tax plan and has since backed away from his opposition.

Is this good news for Terry McAuliffe, who has plenty of issues of his own? Yes, I would think. Cuccinelli doesn’t need the fringe hard right voters. He’s already got them in his pocket. He needs the center and Mark and the Bishop aren’t going to be much help there.

It boggles the mind how Virginia is so schizo. It is attracting hundreds of thousands of newcomers who are running the state’s economy and are dragging it into the 21st century world. Yet the Republicans put up people like this who aren’t dragging us to Virginia’s recent dark past but to medieval times.

Global investors might think twice or three times before investing in this freak show.

GiftGate: “If I Were a Rich Man . . .!”

By Peter Galuszka

Richmond’s “Giftgate” scandal just gets worse.

On Friday, Atty. Gen. and presumed GOP gubernatorial candidate Kenneth Cuccinelli announced that he was amending his required disclosures of gifts to show that he took more goodies from Star Scientific plus previously undisclosed gifts of a $7,750 trip in 2010 to Southwest Virginia from coal giant Alpha Natural Resources of Abingdon and $795 to speak at a coal industry rally in 2012.

While the tardy disclosure is questionable, the gifts are not illegal but they would be in other states.

This, moreover, raises another tricky question. How wealthy should politicians be so they can’t be bought?

Could it be that officials  of more modest personal means such as Cuccinelli might be somehow be more vulnerable to gift-giving by individuals or corporations with a definite agenda, such as Star Scientific and Alpha Natural Resources.

Cuccinelli disclosed income of $134,000 in 2009 and $264,296 in 2005. He makes about $150,000 as the state’s top legal officer and got a $30,000 advance from Crown Publishing for a book. His disclosure was a political ploy to embarrass McAuliffe but in the wake of the gifts, it has backfired.

McDonnell’s net worth is about $1.8 million.

Compare that to two Democrats. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, no stranger to big money fundraising, earned $8.2 million in 2011 from his various business interests. U.S. Sen. Mark Warner was once said to be worth about $200 million, much of it from investments he made in the cell phone industry and high-tech financing a couple of decades ago.

It’s tough to say that politics should be only for rich men. But the curious thing about these two Republicans, supposedly the silk stocking, country club party, is that McDonnell and Cuccinelli “are actually very much middle class guys,” Richmond political analyst Bob Holsworth recently told me.

Nothing wrong with that, of course, but the fact is that both Cuccinelli and McDonnell have spent most of their careers in low-paying public service jobs. McAuliffe and Warner, both accused of being anti-capitalist regulators by the GOP, actually made millions in the free market system that they supposedly disdain.

Painting them as such might be a plus to rank and file voters, but in a strange way, it can put them at risk. Why, for instance, did Cuccinelli feel compelled to accept $13,000 in gifts from Jonnie Williams, the head of troubled Star Scientific, which is the object of shareholder lawyers and a federal probe? These included the use of vacation homes and expensive foreign cars. One vacation cost $3,000 and was a gift. Even an underpaid journalist like myself has paid $2,000 for a week at a beach house with my family. Why couldn’t he have rented his own place?

Williams is involved with a disputed state tax assessment of $860,000 and Cucccinelli has had to recuse himself as he has from another court case involving the fired executive chef who is seeking information that McDonnell’s family used publicly-funded goods like energy drinks, state-owned beach cottages and liquor for themselves.

The Alpha and coal business is rather obvious. Alpha took over Richmond-based Massey Energy in 2011 after the firm’s noxious corporate culture is said to have led to the deaths of 29 miners in West Virginia making it the worst deep mine disaster in the U.S. in 40 years. Massey’s CEO Don Blankenship was famous for bankrolling West Virginia judicial officials and other candidates. He went so far as  to vacation with the State Supreme Court Judge on the French Riviera.

Alpha has a better safety record than Massey but is taking its lumps, having lost $2 billion in one quarter last year. Coal in general has been in the tank thanks to cheap natural gas and some new federal environmental rules plus a slow-down in Asia’s demand for coal to make steel.

Naturally, the beleaguered coal industry wants to beat back what it considers onerous regulations.  It was a major bankroller of Mitt Romney’s campaign last year and Alpha was a big participant. Cuccinelli is perfect because he denies that carbon dioxide is responsible for climate change – a pet issue for King Coal. So, he was instrumental in the right wing’s counter attacks on the “War On Coal” last election.

What bothers me is not that Cuccinelli would flack for them but why did it cost $7,750 for him and his parents, paid for by Alpha, to visit Southwest Virginia. Last year I published a book on Massey and had made many trips to Southwest Virginia, including Alpha’s headquarters and a mine. I paid for it myself and I think it cost me maybe $200 in gas and a night or two at a two star motel at maybe $110 a night. I ate at Hardees where a steak biscuit is about $1.50 although I did splurge at a fancy Abingdon restaurant that had knock-out martinis with blue cheese filled olives.

But it didn’t cost me $7,750 or even one third of that.

Would McAuliffe or Warner have accepted a such largesse? I am sure they have moved and grooved with the rich and famous for years but both men are in a position to say “no thanks.”

And that is what Cuccinelli and McDonnell should have said, even if Virginia has hardly any rules on gifts.