Category Archives: Blogs and blog administration

Woo Hoo! One Million and Counting…

million

Bacon’s Rebellion passed a big milestone late last night — we hit one million page-views since our blog-relaunch in July 2011. We know there are other political blogs in Virginia that generate more traffic but we’re really proud of the caliber of our audience and quality of interaction in our comments. Thank you, Bacon’s Rebellion readers for helping to bring us this far.

– JAB

Webinar: How Policy Tilts the Land Use and Development Market

webinarJoin us for a FREE webinar
Wednesday, August 27, 2:00 - 3:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time

***please log on 15 minutes prior to start***

Reserve your webinar seat now!
Space is limited.

In this webinar we will identify and discuss key policies such as land-use regulations and infrastructure investments that shape the location and type of development that we see in our communities. These policies impact the decisions we make about where to live, shop, and work. Ultimately, they determine the range of choices we have about where we put down roots and how we live our lives.

John Lavey, Land Use Planner at the Sonoran Institute, will kick off the webinar with a discussion of the recent blog series, “A Brief History of Your Neighborhood: Seven Key Forces that Tilt the Playing Field In Favor of Sprawl.” He will be joined by James Bacon, author of the “Bacon’s Rebellion” blog, and Mark Runkle, a real estate developer in Helena, Montana. Be sure to join us for a lively discussion!

Eligible for 1.5 AICP CM credits, Pending APA Approval

Cantor’s Self-Serving Special Election Scheme

cantor By Peter Galuszka

It looks like a small group of the Virginia Republicans elite has once again hatched a plot behind closed doors to manipulate elected politics without input from voters.

U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, the victim of a surprising defeat in a June 10 Republican primary, has come up with a self-serving scheme to resign Aug.18 and finagle a special election Nov. 4 to pick his successor. The special election would be held along with a regularly scheduled one.

Normally, opposing candidates Republican David Brat and Democrat Jack Trammel, would routinely face election that day. With Cantor’s proposal, the winner of the special election for the 7th Congressional District seat would be able to take office immediately, instead of having to wait for usual matriculation of the other 434 Congressmen in January.

This is a back-door, move-to-the-head-of-the-class scheme. Presumably, the winner would be Brat who, taking office in November, would be placed ahead of other Congressional newcomers when it comes to coveted committee assignments. Good for the GOP. Bad for Democrats.

For Cantor, of course, it is a Big Win. Since his unexpected and earth-shaking defeat, the 51-year-old has been seen at such posh places as the Hampton is on the tip of Long Island schmoozing with Big Money. Cantor does have an advanced degree from Columbia in real estate finance and his wife was once a New York securities trader. Big Finance, along with Big Pharma and Big Managed Care, has been one of his biggest sources of election funds.

Larry Sabato, the University of Virginia political expert, by turns thought Cantor’s idea “generous” but also noted ”it’s highly probable that he has a deal in the works for his post-Congress life, and he’s eager to get it started,” Sabato was quoted as saying.

As might have been expected, Cantor made his announcement in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, his lapdog newspaper. Editors gushed that his announcement “features an extraordinary column by an extraordinary human being.”

It shows extraordinary cluelessness as well. Cantor, the Main Street Republicans and the TD’s club of Richmond elites don’t seem to understand that it is their very exclusivity that helped do Cantor in and give an upstart like Brat the edge.

Consider a cover story package that I co-wrote in the Chesterfield Monthly, one of the Richmond area’s up-and-coming publications. I found that it wasn’t just that Cantor ignored his district that did him in – it was a putsch by some rather annoyed Libertarians of the traditional ilk and small government moderates plus the Tea Party.

Leaders of the “malcontents” were lawyer Patrick McSweeney and Tea Party leader Jamie Radtke who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2012. In the “Bull Elephant” blog, Radtke compared Cantor and his Confederates as “mobsters” running around and snuffing out dissent among local conservatives.

Brat himself was ultra pissed off a couple of years back when he wanted to get the Henrico County GOP nod to run and replace Bill Janis. But, functioning as the old Soviet Politburo might have, a tiny group of Republican elders decided that the candidate would be Peter Farrell, the young son of utility powerhouse chieftain Tom Farrell of Dominion. In other words, it wasn’t exactly a day for waving the stars and stripes of Democracy. It was pure, Big League, Big Business inside diktat that could have taken place behind the crenelated walls of the Kremlin.

They didn’t give Brat a chance,”analyst Bob Holsworth told me. “That gave Brat the interest in taking on this Don Quixote-type campaign.

Now we get another closed-door deal. Hopefully, voters, conservative and liberal, will fire back.

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 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.