Category Archives: Politics

Battle Lines Forming Over Clean Power Plan

Attorney General Mark R. Herring

Attorney General Mark R. Herring

The partisan battle lines are forming over the implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which calls for Virginia to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from state power plants 32% by 2030.

Attorney General Mark R. Herring, a Democrat, announced two weeks ago that Virginia will join a coalition of 17 other states supporting the Obama administration against a lawsuit filed by 24 other states. Foes of the plan argue that the EPA far exceeded its legislative authority in regulating CO2, and observers say the case could well reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Del. Israel O'Quinn, R-Washington.

Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington.

Meanwhile, Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington, has introduced a bill that would require the General Assembly to approve and oversee implementation of the plan in Virginia. While the Clean Power Plan mandates CO2-reduction targets for each state, it allows each state to figure out how to achieve the goals.

Herring justified his support for the plan on the grounds that climate change “is a real and urgent threat to the health and safety of Virginians, our environment, and our economic success as a Commonwealth.” By way of specifics, he cited the threat of sea-level rise in Hampton Roads that could displace residents and businesses and threaten Naval Station Norfolk, and the prospect of extreme weather, droughts and floods. said Herring: “It’s long past time to acknowledge these realities and take decisive action.”

O’Quinn’s bill would require the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to work in conjunction with the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to prepare a report assessing the plan’s effect on the Virginia’s electric power sector, electric customers, jobs, economic development, economic competitiveness,  and state and local government.

The report also would identify new state laws that might be needed to implement the plan, study whether to rely upon EPA measures for calculating the CO2 reduction goal, and report on whether the Commonwealth should invest in energy efficiency programs, promote non-emitting nuclear power or participate in multistate programs. The report also would advanced recommendations on how best to avoid stranded investments in power plants that would be shuttered before they were fully paid off.

Getting answers to those questions is probably a good idea — the more information, the better — but sure to be controversial is the final item in the bill: “DEQ shall not submit to the EPA any state plan until both the Senate and the House of Delegates have adopted resolutions that approve the state plan in accordance with this act.”

It is safe to predict that the McAuliffe administration will not respond favorably to the idea of requiring the Republican-dominated General Assembly to approve the plan. Separation-of-power issues are potentially at stake here as well as ideological differences over climate change. Look for this to become a hot topic in the 2016 session.

— JAB

Thanks For the Memories

I have not written much over that past several months because I have been dealing with some family problems. I thought a brief article on the Dave Brat interview might be worth a comment. Boy,was I wrong.

I was upset at one of the responses to my Brat article and have decided that continuing to prepare and write an occasional article for this blog is not worth the time. I have never been accused of being a liar. It seems that some simply don’t understand the give and take, is not an excuse to call into question the basic values of one with whom they do not agree.

— Les Schreiber

Dave Brat, What to Make of this Guy?

As I flipped though the New York Times Sunday Magazine, I was shocked to find a full-page interview with Rep. David Brat.  The Times usually does not pay much attention to House freshmen, but Brat has created a high profile for himself by becoming an outspoken member of the “Freedom Caucus” of ultra-right wing Republicans that recently promoted the resignation of Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.

The interview was amazingly short on policy as Brat seemed to want to dwell on his knowledge of philosophy rather than on governing.  The brief outline that he did give of policy consisted of not raising the debt limit, lowering taxes, and bulking up the military. Brat refused to say how he would accomplish these goals, which taken into totality seem to defy simple math. How is he able to lower taxes and hike defense spending, without significant cuts in the rest of the budget? One doesn’t need a PhD in econometrics, to see that the numbers don’t add up: witness the presidency of George W. Bush and the deficit fiasco that followed.

Brat seemed to be critical of popular culture.  In the interview, he bemoaned what he perceived as a paucity of movies “capturing the highlight of Western tradition.” It seems that the congressman has forgotten that the purpose of free speech is to put all ideas in the public sphere.  Spoken by a federal legislator, this type of media criticism is nothing if not disturbing.

Brat, as most economists, is a fan of Adam Smith who in 1776, published Wealth of Nations, which described the fundamental workings of market-based economies, but Brat transforms the questions about the application of Smith’s principals to today’s complex problems into a criticism of European economies. Perhaps Dr. Brat is unfamiliar with the classic article written by Robert Mondell, the theory of optimal currency unions, and compares this work with the European Union’s plan to implement the Euro. Brat, this “scholar–his word”, should compare the present Euro zone that demonstrates the results of the type of austerity that Brat seems to advocate, with low inflation, but near-zero growth and very high rates of unemployment.

This guy should represent Disneyland!

— D. Leslie Schreiber

Nous sommes touts Parisien

The Terry McAuliffe Show

Governor McAuliffe checks out a made-in-Virginia three-wheeler outside the Virginia Beach Conference Center.

Governor McAuliffe checks out a made-in-Virginia three-wheeler outside the Virginia Beach Conference Center.

by James A. Bacon

Terry McAuliffe doesn’t just fill the room — he fills the banquet hall. He’s loud, he’s animated,  he’s funny and he’s prone to superlatives. Economic development success, he proclaims, comes from superior salesmanship and the art of the deal. Indeed, if he doffed a wig of thinning blond, slicked-back hair, you’d be hard pressed to tell him apart from Donald Trump.

The governor regaled the audience at the 2015 Governor’s Transportation Conference in Virginia Beach around noon today. Among some of the more notable quotes:

Referring to Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne, McAuliffe said with typical enthusiasm: “He’s the greatest transportation secretary in the history of Virginia!”

Similarly, John Rinehart, CEO of the Port of Virginia is “the greatest port director in America!” The recent increase in container traffic, the governor added, is “an absolutely extraordinary record! … Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to have the greatest port in America!”

Touting the benefits of the Interstate 95 tolled HOT lane project, he proclaimed the awesomeness of private-sector concessionaire Transurban. “Give Transurban a great round of applause!” he urged the audience.

As for those opposed to paying tolls on the proposed Interstate 66 megaproject in Northern Virginia, they’re not just misguided or mistaken. What they’re saying about tolls is “an absolute lie! It’s a fiction! It’s misleading to voters!”

McAuliffe said he has probably spent more time promoting Virginia overseas than any other governor. Ever. And one could surmise from his remarks that he’s given foreigners the hardest sell. He told a story about talking to some wine stewards in France. “I spent an hour convincing them that Virginia wines are better than French wines.”

The governor has made self-driving cars and unmanned aerial vehicles a major economic development priority for Virginia. His goal, he said: “I want a clone in every home in Virginia. And I wanted it manufactured in Virginia!”

Agree with him or disagree, McAuliffe is never dull.

Virginia GOP Flunks the ABC Test

abc_storeby Justin Trent

With the Virginia Department of Alcohol Beverages Control in the news again, residents of Virginia have another opportunity to ask their elected officials why the Commonwealth of Virginia holds a monopoly over an entire industry. In addition, small government conservatives should consider whether the continued existence of Virginia ABC proves that the Virginia GOP is just another big government party.

As readers may know, Virginia ABC was established in response to the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. The agency was given a monopoly over the sale of distilled spirits and it controls the distribution of alcoholic beverages (which means that it controls the selection of beers and wines available to Virginia consumers). It was given full police powers in 1936. Those powers landed the agency in hot water in recent years with its agents’ arrest of University of Virginia students.

As a native-born Virginian, I have always been told that the Virginia GOP is the political party that supports the free market and defends against government overreach. Imagine my confusion, then, at the unwillingness of General Assembly Republicans to dismantle the Virginia ABC when they had the chance.

I decided to look back through history and see if the Virginia GOP has ever had am opportunity chance to privatize Virginia ABC without the need for bipartisan support. (Some Democrats have supported privatization in the past, but for the sake of this exercise I assumed that all Virginia Democrats support the existence of Virginia ABC.) Because of the shift in party alignment in the early 1970s, I started by identifying the Republican governors who have held office since the 1970s: Mills Godwin (’74-’78), John Dalton (’78-’82), George Allen (’94-‘98), Jim Gilmore (’98-’02) and Bob McDonnell (’10-’14). During the terms of Godwin, Dalton, and Allen, the Virginia Democrats controlled at least one house in the General Assembly; as a result, I give both those governors and the Virginia GOP a pass on the assumption that Virginia Democrats would have blocked privatization. But what about the Gilmore and McDonnell eras?

It turns out that the Virginia GOP had control of both the governor’s mansion and the General Assembly during the General Assembly sessions held in 2000, 2001, 2012, and 2013. They could have passed a bill privatizing the Virginia ABC if they had really wanted – and there is evidence that at least some Republicans in the General Assembly were in support of privatization during those windows of opportunity.

Here’s a short breakdown of the attempts to privatize Virginia ABC:

  • In 1995, John Watkins (R) and Harry Purkey (R) sponsored bills.
  • In 1996 and 1997, a similar bill was sponsored by William P. Robinson, Jr., a Democrat.
  • From 2002 through 2005, Allen Louderback (R) sponsored a privatization bill in each session. Frank Hargrove (R) co-sponsored Louderback’s bill in 2005.
  • In 2006 and 2007, there were no bills.
  • In 2008, Bob Marshall (R) and David Poisson (D) both sponsored privatization bills.
  • In 2009, Poisson sponsored his bill again and Purkey sponsored a bill that called for a study of privatization.
  • In 2010, Marshall sponsored his bill again and Purkey sponsored his study bill again. Mark Obenshain (R) also sponsored a bill in the Senate.
  • In 2011, Obenshain and Watkins sponsored a bill in the Senate, while Robert Brink (D) sponsored a bill in the House.

So, what about those brief windows in 2000, 2001, 2012, and 2013, when the Virginia GOP was in power? It turns out that no privatization bills were sponsored during those years. None. How strange – especially when you consider that Watkins, Purkey, Marshall, Louderback, and Hargrove were all in office during 2000 and 2001, and Obenshain, Marshall, and Purkey were all in office during 2012 and 2013. In other words, the same Republicans who pushed privatization when the Democrats held a crucial office were quiet when their own party held all the cards.

Marshall and Obenshain are well-known for their “small government” bona fides. But where were their principles, when they had the opportunity to enact real change and privatize the sale of alcoholic beverages? And what about all of the other conservative state legislators who served at those times but didn’t push for privatization?

There are two answers, neither of which should be acceptable to small government conservatives: Either the Virginia GOP is addicted to the revenue provided Virginia ABC (a criticism that is frequently leveled at Democrats) or the Virginia GOP is a party that only provides lip service to the ideal of “limited government.”

Justin Trent lives in the Richmond region.

Purge the Algorithms

Ned Ludd

Ned Ludd

by James A. Bacon

It’s Labor Day, a suitable occasion for opining on the future of work…

One of the great questions of our era revolves around the impact of robotics and artificial intelligence on the job market. People have fretted about automation since the days of Ned Ludd, the knitting-frame wrecker. Machines have been replacing human labor on a large scale for more than two centuries now. Yet somehow the economy managed to generate more new jobs, and somehow our society has managed to become more productive and prosperous than ever.

Some say, this time it’s different. The nature of automation is changing.

My friend David Rafner refers me to an article in Space Daily describing how biophysicists are developing an algorithm for inferring laws of nature from time-series data of dynamical systems. The hope is that large-scale computing can spot patterns that elude mere mortals. If the biophysicists are successful, they will have made a huge advance toward Ray Kurzweil’s vision of the Singularity, in which computing power and AI exceed humans in intelligence, thus accelerating the rate of scientific discovery and the rate of technological development.

Machines first reduced the demand for physical labor; soon AI will reduce the demand for cognitive labor. Once those two sources of employment dry up, what’s left? While machines build the cars, plow the fields, manage the currency transactions and conduct the scientific research, what will humans do? Will we revert to a nation of artists, musicians, writers and craftsmen? Perhaps. David thinks there still will be room for philosophers and bloggers. But I’m not confident that the United States can accommodate 320 million philosophers and bloggers. Personally, I think the only occupational category that’s safe is politicians.

Work is so central to our culture — so essential to our standard of living, our status, our self-worth — one can’t help but fear will happen when the AI-enhanced robots take over. Who will control the wealth and power as robots (a form of capital) replace labor? Will the plutocrats rule? or will we distribute material blessings so that all of us are freed from drudgery and toil? And what would a life free from labor and toil be like? Would humans have any purpose? Would life have any meaning beyond the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure? Are we not destined for an existential crisis that will give rise to nihilism, thrill seeking and violence?

As much as I love my time away from paid toil, I see no substitute for work. Ned Ludd wrecked the knitting machines. Maybe it’s time to start purging the algorithms.

Something to Think About

Last week I was reading in the New York Times an article on Jeb Bush’s plans for the economy. One of his talking points was to reduce the federal workforce by 10%. For a state as dependent on the Feds as Virginia, this could have serious financial implications. Already, in the CNBC rankings as the best state for doing business, Virginia has dropped from at or near the top to 12th in the most recent poll.  One of the reasons given was the decrease in federal spending. We can debate whether the government spends,  but such a cut in Northern Virginia and the Norfolk area could have significant impact.

— Les Schreiber