Category Archives: Blogs and blog administration

Note to Readers

I have added a new feature designed to block comment spam to the blog. As readers, you don’t see the spam but it fills my inbox and it slows the blog server. The feature requires everyone who registers and submits a comment to prove they are human by typing in a few letters displayed in a box. It’s a pain, and I apologize for that. But blame the vermin who generate the comment spam, not me.

If you experience any difficulties, don’t hesitate to notify me at jabacon[at]baconsrebellion.com.

– JAB

Buffalo Hunting

BuffaloSkyline

I’m off to Buffalo, N.Y., to attend the 2014 Congress for the New Urbanism. I’ll be networking with fellow conservative and libertarian urbanists, and blogging as opportunity permits. I’ve never been to Buffalo before and I’m looking forward to learning more about the Empire State’s No. 2 city.

– JAB

Why Executive Fiats Are Needed

idiot gets shotBy Peter Galuszka

Two initiatives — one on the state and the other on the federal level– show just how untenable the politics of confrontation has become. It is forcing the executive side to take charge at the expense of the legislative.

Democrats Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Atty. Gen. Mark Herring are exploring ways to have the governor take emergency authority to continue operating the state of no budget is passed by June 30. Herring has brought in a constitutional ringer from the University of Virginia to help out.

Meanwhile, on Monday, President Barack Obama will unveil new rules to stem carbon dioxide pollution at electricity power plants. This will most likely involve some kind of cap and trade system that actually has worked for a couple decades for preventing emissions that contribute to acid rain.

Obama is late in promulgating the rules because King Coal and its well-paid lobbyists and members of Congress want to blunt the impact on coal-fired electricity plants that provide about 40 percent of the electricity in this country. They and the annoyingly boring global change naysayers have rendered Congress useless in addressing one of the most pressing issues of our time. Result? Gridlock.

So, Obama is taking executive power through existing law, namely air pollution laws that date back to Republican Richard M. Nixon.

It’s a shame that there can’t be intelligent discussion about either issue. In Virginia’s case, the stubborn resistance by conservative Republicans in the House of Delegates to expanding Medicaid has deadlocked action on passing a $96 billion two year budget.

Turns out that the fiscal situation is even more dire because of a $350 million shortfall this year in revenue which is the result of many wealthy Virginians taking advantage of capital gains tax law changes that made it better to ditch stocks last year as they did. The shortfall will only snowball if nothing is done. Localities and state employees will be severely impacted.

Hence McAuliffe is seeking out a Constitutionally-acceptable way to keep the government going regardless of what hard-liners like House Speaker Bill Howell do.

So, there you have it: rule but executive fiat. To be sure, in Virginia’s case, there are possible ways to get out of the mess, namely Republican Sen. Emmet Hanger’s compromise plan on Medicaid. But when it comes to global warming, forget it. The power of the Koch Brothers and the fossil fuel industry is simply too great. No matter what practically every climate scientist in the world says, we are having to answer to the deniers.

Hang on. June will be a lively month.

Where in the World Is Jim Bacon?

vegas2 Hint: That is the Eiffel Tower but this is not Paris, France. This is ground zero for crass materialism, self-indulgent hedonism and inauthentic kitsch. It is the antithesis of everything I hold dear yet… I feel oddly drawn to this place.

– JAB

Journalism’s Death Is Greatly Exaggerated

rachel_maddowBy Peter Galuszka

“Investigative reporting, R.I.P. In-depth reporting is dead. If not dead, it’s comatose. Reeling from declining revenue and eroding profit margins, print media enterprises continue to lay off staff and shrink column inches.”

Err, maybe not. James A. Bacon Jr., meet Rachel Maddow.

The quote comes from advertised “sponsorships” in which an outside entity can help fund reporting and writing on this blog. It’s a morphed form of traditional journalism and there’s nothing wrong with it, provided the funding source is made clear.

But what might be jumping the gun is the sweeping characterization that in-depth reporting is dead. That is precisely the point of Maddow’s monthly column in The Washington Post.

She notes that it was local traffic reporters and others who broke the story about Chris Christie’s finagling with toll booths to punish a political opponent. She shows evidence of other aggressive reporting in Connecticut and in South Carolina, where an intrepid reporter got up early one morning, drive 200 miles to the Atlanta airport and caught then disappeared Gov. Mark Sanford disembarking from an overseas flight to see his Latin American mistress when he had claimed he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Closer to home, it was the Post, which has seen more than 400 newsrooms layoffs over the past years, that broke GiftGate, the worst political scandal in Virginia in recent memory. The rest of the state press popped good stories, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch that has been somewhat reinvigorated despite nearly 10 years of corporate cheerleading and limp coverage under publisher Tom Silvestri. The departure of the disastrous former editor Glenn Proctor, Silvestri’s brainchild, helped a lot as did the sale of the paper by dysfunctional Media General to Warren Buffett.

To be sure, there are sad departures. The Hook, a Charlottesville alternative, did a great job reporting the forced and temporary ouster of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, but it has folded.

Funding, indeed, remains a huge problem, even at Bacon’s Rebellion where we all write pretty much for free. One solution, Maddow notes, happened in a tiny Arkansas town that found it was located over a decaying ExxonMobil fuel pipeline. The community raised funds to help hire more reporters to break through the news.

She suggests: “Whatever your partisan affiliation, or lack thereof, subscribe to your local paper today. It’s an act of civic virtue.”

Hear! Hear!

Conservative vs. Progressive: Global Climate Change

climate_changeKiller Bs. In an unprecedented move, two prominent Virginia blogs, Bacon’s Rebellion and BlueVirginia, have agreed to cooperate in a structured debate over a series of possible programs designed to combat global climate change. The programs were selected based on two major criteria – they had to be applicable to Virginia and they had to encompass actions that could conceivably start in 2014.  The blogmasters from both blogs have agreed to post the articles verbatim on their blogs. This introductory article is designed to explain the “rules of the road”.

Picking sides.  A few regular contributors from both blogs have been divided up into “conservative” and “progressive” teams.  The division into teams was based on political outlook not “home blog”.  Here are the teams:

Conservative – Jim Bacon (BaconsRebellion) and Don Rippert (Bacon’s Rebellion)

Progressive – Lowell Feld (Blue Virginia), kindler (Blue Virginia) and Peter Galuszka (Bacon’s Rebellion)

No hitting below the belt. In order to foster a constructive debate all participants have stipulated certain things.  They are:

  • The Earth is warming.  All participants accept the consensus of leading scientists that the Earth is warming.
  • Humans cause a substantial amount of the warming. While there may be disagreement on the relative role of humanity in causing global warming there is agreement that humans are a cause of global warming.
  • The speed with which the Earth will warm is not known with precision.
  • The impact of the warming Earth on human civilization is not known with precision.

Marquess of Queensberry.  The rules are simple.  A series of policies that may, or may not, be effective in combating global climate change have been selected.  Each potential policy is applicable to Virginia. Each policy could conceivably be part of a law enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia in the upcoming 2014 session.  A blog article will be written for each possible policy.  The blog article will have the following three sections:

  • Factual description.  A neutral party has written a description of the potential policy with relevant facts.  Both the conservative team and the progressive team have reviewed and accepted the factual description of the possible policy.
  • Conservative viewpoint(s).  A conservative perspective on the policy written by one or more authors from the conservative team.
  • Progressive viewpoint(s).  A progressive perspective on the policy written by one or more of the authors from the progressive team.

Just some facts, ma’am.  All authors have been encouraged to document their assumed costs and benefits of the potential policy in as quantitative terms as possible.  However, it must be recognized that a strict quantitative cost or benefit may not be possible in all circumstances.

Let the games begin.  The first potential policy initiative is … Virginia should adopt a strong (mandatory) Renewal Portfolio Standards as opposed to the weak (voluntary) Renewal Portfolio Standards currently in place.

See you at the next blog posting for the first policy debate!

-D.J. Rippert
Bacon’s Rebellion      

Tiny Homes, Meet Mobile Homes

Photo credit: Atlantic Cities

Tiny homes in Washington, D.C. Photo credit: Atlantic Cities

by James A. Bacon

I am tickled by the “tiny homes” movement, which the urbanist blogs treat with a certain reverence. To be sure, tiny homes (under 500 square feet) address a real problem: the unaffordability of real estate in some of the nation’s most desirable metropolitan areas. Tapping creativity and ingenuity to stretch the boundaries of design is vastly preferable to addressing the problem through coercion and wealth transfers, as the political class is inclined to do. Still, it amuses me that when Millennial creative-class types get so much attention, while a rural, blue-collar alternative — the mobile home — gets no respect at all.

A recent case in point is a profile, published yesterday in Atlantic Cities, of four tiny homes built on a single lot in the Northeast quadrant of Washington, D.C. Housing in the rapidly gentrifying District is unaffordable for many residents. By one estimate, the housing supply for low-income renters falls 30,000 units short.  Writes Nancy Cook:

This is where evangelists for the tiny-house movement come in. Proponents of this small-space living say these houses can help fill the void. They can be built in vacant urban lots, allowing residents to reuse space in dense areas. More important, the tiny houses offer a cheaper alternative to buying a condo or a single-family house. Tenants of the Evarts Street lot in Northeast Washington—a community the owners call Boneyard Studios—built their houses for about $35,000 to $40,000; that is less than the down payment required to buy many D.C. homes.

The author describes the house of 24-year-old Jay Austin as having a “cool minimalist design” along with solar panels and a tank to collect rain water for use in his kitchen sink. Alas, the house “still lacks a shower or toilet.” On the other hand, the houses are built on trailers. “If [the owners] ever decide to leave the city,” writes Cook, “they can simply bring their homes along.

Hold that thought: a 140-square-foot house with wheels — no toilet, no shower — built for $35,000 to $40,000 exerts a hold on the imagination of young urbanists. Now, compare and contrast to housing innovations coming out of places like Rocky Mount, Va., home to Fleetwood Homes, or Martinsville, Va., home of Nationwide Homes.

kitchenette

Factory Expo Mobile Homes, a distributor that ships to seven states in the Mid-Atlantic region, offers an Annual Year End Sale selling a “micro” mobile home for $17,900. The 373-square foot structure contains a bedroom, living/dining room, kitchenette and a bathroom with working shower and toilet. It may not have solar panels, but it does have thermal insulation. It may not have a tank that collects rain water, but it does have a 30-gallon electric hot water heater. It also comes equipped with things like a refrigerator, electric range, light fixtures, plumbing and an electric furnace.

I’ll admit, this sucker is pretty ugly — the unadorned vinyl exterior has as much charm as a pair of old sweat socks. But when you’re paying down an $18,000 loan over 15  years at 3.5% interest rates — about $150 per month — you might have a little money left over to dress it up. And it’s a whole lot roomier than Jay Austin’s tiny home. Price is the big advantage that manufactured housing has over hand-crafted housing. (Finding land and utility hook-ups for either tiny homes or mobile homes is a separate issue.)

kingletIf you’re looking for something more stylish, consider the “Kinglet” eco-cottage manufactured by Nationwide Homes.  This bad boy packs a bedroom, living room, bathroom and kitchen into 475 square feet. It sells for about $54,000.

Mobile home parks have a lousy reputation — but that’s mostly because of the poor and disorderly people who live in them. I’ve seen mobile-home subdivisions on the beach in North Carolina that were nicely kept up. Their owners added decks, porches and manicured gardens. The problem is that many municipalities have zoned mobile-home parks out of existence. It isn’t the housing they object to — it’s the poor people who live in them. But if you’re looking for a solution to the affordable housing crunch, mobile homes and manufactured housing should be part of the mix.

ObamaCare: Sound Idea, Bad Private Contractors

DuhBy Peter Galuszka

With all the bloviating one reads about the introductory failures of ObamaCare, a big, big point is being missed. It could very well be that the concept of ObamaCare is viable if not  admirable, but the government badly bungled how it hired an under-performing, private lead contractor for the system.

That raises an entirely new and different set of questions. The concept of ObamaCare  is solid. It seems to be so in California and Kentucky which are among 14 states that chose to go with their own state-based health care plan exchanges. Neither state had any problems signing people up. Demand is apparently there.

In the case of the federal exchange, there seems to be some uncertainty about how the Obama Administration handling bidding for the overseer of developing the so-called “Federal Facilitated Marketplace” exchange through which people could apply for health plans.

Some accounts claim there was only one real bidder, a Canadian firm named CGI Federal, while others say that the Department of Health and Human Services received four bids from 16 pre-qualified bidders. Problems have come up before with contractors handling government system design. One only look back a few years at Virginia state government’s debacle with Northrop Grumman, but more later.

CGI Federal is a wholly owned subsidiary of CGI Group based in Montreal. It has sales of about $4.8 billion and 72,000 employees, many in India and about 11,000 in the U.S.

It has had some experience designing health care website, some of it unhappy. CGI tried to design a health registry for diabetes sufferers in Ontario for $46.5 million but the province ditched the firm after three years of missed deadlines. The Washington Post reports that CGI did have more success with the U.S. government, notably helping with a system for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

CGI Federal, based in Herndon, isn’t a big player – only the 29th largest IT contractor for the U.S. government – but it does a lot of lobbying, spending $800,000 since 2006. That’s peanuts compared to what Lockheed Martin or Raytheon do.

CGI Federal got the contract to lead up to 55 smaller contractors. The bidding history is murky. The Washington Examiner says it was the only bidder,  but The Daily Caller quotes an HHS source as saying that CGI was one of four companies that bid on the deal.

In any event, after working on the project since 2011, CGI was awash with big problems as late was last summer before the Oct. 1 launch date. Subcontractors didn’t talk to each other. No one wanted blame for the growing evidence that the site couldn’t work. There were rumors that IBM, which supposedly had also bid for the CGI work, would take over, according to the New York Times.

Well, the marketplace didn’t work and an army of geeks is trying unscramble it. A really serious analysis would have to come from someone more expert on this blog, (perhaps from that NOVA IT badass, Don the Ripper).

Back to the point. Is the issue here really ObamaCare, a highly complex entity unto itself? Or are we talking about something rotten in our own beloved NOVA-land?

Not to forget Northrop Grumman. Back about a decade ago, during the craze to outsource most government services, the Virginia Information Technologies Agency handed over management of its data centers to Northrop Grumman in a 10-year, $2.4 billion contract. The deal was assigned in 2005 through the efforts of Democratic Gov. Mark Warner who had made hundreds of millions of dollars in the state’s private IT sector and was a big fan of outsourcing public functions.

Under Northrop Grumman’s watch, state agencies saw massive outtages and delays which meant that Virginians could not renew their driver’s licenses for a while.

The ObamaCare site is supposed to be fixed about now. We shall see. Still, it is important to separate the issues of contracting and executing IT functions with private firms from the real intent of ObamaCare. Let’s not forget that it’s really a Republican (Mitt Romney) idea after all.

GiftGate: And the Legal Bills Keeping Mounting

mcdonnell-1By Peter Galuszka

The election is over. The transition teams are forming. And the GiftGate legal bills keep mounting.

Taxpayers are now facing $575,000 in total charges, according to The Washington Post. These include $331,000 in fees charged in July, August and September by two law firms representing state employees in the Gov. Robert F. McDonnell gift scandal.

That is on top of $244,000 in earlier bills.

White shoe Baker & McKenzie which began representing members of the governor’s staff in July is hitting the state at a $450 an hour rate.

Eckert Seamans Cherin & Merlot, including star lawyer and former Democratic attorney general Tony Troy, are a little bit more of a bargain at $250 an hour.

Among state employees benefiting from private counsel because of Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli’s involvement in the case are employees at Virginia Commonwealth University, which researched received grants to study products made by Star Scientific, whose soon-to-depart CEO Jonnie R. Williams gave the McDonnells about $160,000 in gifts and loans, which McDonnell has since returned. Also benefiting from private counsel is the Virginia State Police.

McDonnell, still the target of a federal probe, has a private group that is raising funds to help him out. There isn’t much available about who they are, but a group called “The Restoration Fund” has filed to become a non-profit company and has solicited funds to help pay McDonnell’s legal bills.

Among the heads of the Restoration fund is Virginia Beach lawyer Stanley Baldwin who apparently has ties to AMERIGROUP and Wellpoint that help manage the state’s Medicaid federal health money for the poor program.

Another leader is Jason Miyares, a Norfolk lawyer who graduated from the College of William & Mary Law School and blogs at the popular conservative site Bearing Drift. State employees are not supposed to make contributions to the McDonnell defense fund and the donations are not tax deductible.

I tried to look up The Restoration Fund at Guidestar but was not successful.

So, here we have the floatsam and jetsam of the outgoing and disastrous McDonnell Administration – a passel of legal bills that the taxpayers will be stuck with.

In normal times, they would have been handled by Cuccinelli’s office, but he was too busy running unsuccessfully for governor and was tied to tightly to Giftgate through some dubious connections of his own, namely to Todd Schneider, the fired executive chief of McDonnell who copped a plea for misdemeanor embezzlement charges in September.

Cuccinelli didn’t have the decency to resign from his public job when he decided to run for governor and guess who is indirectly paying the bill for that? You are, Dear Taxpayer. You might want to remember this if the Cooch makes a stab at the U.S. Senate race in the future.

As for McDonnell, well, the clock’s still ticking at the U.S. Attorney’s office regarding possible indictments. The next few weeks could be extremely interesting. It’s time to get the ball rolling for a State Ethics Commission.

A Pre-Election Reader

cooch-ageddonBy Peter Galuszka

Like many, I will be truly glad after Tuesday’s election. I don’t recall a more  tedious, uninspiring campaign. At this point it seems obvious that Kenneth Cuccinelli is going down. E.W. Jackson hasn’t a chance and if any Republican makes it it will be Mark Obenshain for attorney general.

Cuccinelli has always scared the hell out of me with his hard right policies. His staff is pugnacious and annoying. Last January after  I wrote a cover story for Style Weekly, Cooch honcho and Swiftboater Chris LaCivita had a minor dispute about a quote and called me.

A smooth pro would have been polite, but LaCivita must have thought I had been in the Marine Corps with him or was easily intimidated. No Marine Corps in my case but I did spend three years reporting under the watchful eyes of the Committee for State Security in the Soviet Union. They were pros. You can tell.

LaCivita, whom I have never met in person, cursed me out with the “F” word and then informed me that “you will never work in Richmond again.” I found that odd since I have been a reporter in and around this area since the mid-1970s and don’t exactly have a shortage of work. The man’s attitude was ample evidence of what would come with the campaign he was advising.

There are too many points to repeat here of why Cuccinelli’s campaign should be a textbook example of how not to run a political race. It should be taught in classrooms and made available through the MOOCs we love so much.

Here’s a short list: Cuccinelli thought he was smart by rigging the convention and sticking it to Bill Bolling and got stuck with Jackson; he did not resign as attorney general and was dumped on with legal conflicts in GiftGate, ChefGate and GasGate; he didn’t pay back his Jonnie Williams’ goodies fast enough; he was too quick to publicly throw Robert McDonnell under the bus; he got caught with the GOP intransigence in Washington; he never could distance himself from his anti-women and anti-gay views; he had no real economic or jobs plan; GOP business donors were revolted by him; and so on.

The biggest problem was that he thought he could ride the wave of the Tea Party that had been disintegrating months before.

I’ll stop now because this is getting boring. I recommend some excellent analysis. One is in Politico. The other ran a week or so ago in the Washington Post and is by Norm Leahy and Paul Goldman.

As far as what is next, ethics comes to mind. If you are interested, read my piece today in the Post which predicts little change and why.

I’ll be revisiting the ethics material later.