Category Archives: The Economy

RAM, Coal and Massive Hypocrisy

The Pikesville RAM clinic in 2011. Photo by Scott Elmquist

The Pikesville RAM clinic in 2011. Photo by Scott Elmquist

By Peter Galuszka

Sure it’s a photo op but more power to him.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe is freshly arrived from the cocktail and canape circuit in Europe on a trade mission and is quickly heading out to the rugged and impoverished coal country of Wise County.

There, he, Attorney General Mark Herring and Health and Human Resources Secretary William A. Hazel will participate in a free clinic to help the mountain poor get free health care. The political opportunity is simple: Many of the 1,000 or more who will be attending the Remote Area Medical clinic are exactly the kind of people getting screwed over by the General Assembly’s failure to expand Medicaid to 400,000 low income Virginians.

RAM makes its Wise run every summer and people line up often in the wee morning hours to get a free medical and dental checkup. For many, it’s the only health care they get all year unless it’s an emergency. Another problem: Distances are great in the remote mountains and hospitals can be an hour away.

Mind you, this is Coal Country, the supposedly rich area upon which Barack Obama is waging war and harming local people by not going along with coal executives’ demands on environmental disasters such as mountaintop removal, keeping deep mine safety standards light and avoiding carbon dioxide rules.

The big question, of course,  is why if the land is so rich in fossil fuel, are the people so poor and in need of free medical care? It’s been this way for 150 years. And now, coal’s demise got underway in Southwest Virginia in 1991 when employment peaked at about 11,000. It is now at 4,000 or less. It’s getting worse, not better.

In June 2011, by coincidence, I happened along a RAM free clinic in Pikesville, Ky., not that far from Wise when I was researching my book, “Thunder on the Mountain: Death at Massey and the Dirty Secrets Behind Big Coal.” My photographer Scott Elmquist and I spotted the clinic at a high school. There must have been hundreds of people there —  some of whom told me they had been waiting since 1:30 a.m. It was about 8:30 a.m.

Attending them were 120 medical and dental personnel from the U.S. Public Health Service. They were dressed in U.S. Navy black, grey and blue colored fatigues. The University of Louisville had sent in about 80 dental chairs.

Poverty in Pike County had been running about 27 percent, despite the much-touted riches of coal. Pike is Kentucky’s biggest coal producer.

One man I spoke with said he had a job as a security guard, but he doesn’t qualify for regular Medicaid and can’t afford a commercial plan. In other words, had I interviewed him more recently and had he been a Virginian, he would have been lost through the cracks of Medicaid expansion. Alas, he’s in luck. In 2013, Kentucky opted for a “marketplace” expansion system where federal funds would be used to help lower income buy health plans through private carriers.

Lucky the man isn’t from here. The marketplace plan is exactly the kind that McAuliffe has proposed and exactly the one that stubborn Republicans such as Bill Howell in the General Assembly are throttling. The feds would pick up the bill for expanding Medicaid to 400,000 needy Virginians, at least initially.

Yet another irony. Expanded medical benefits are available just across an invisible border in two states whose coalfield residents somehow never got the great benefits of King Coal.

More Defense Cuts Plague Virginia

Special deliveryBy Peter Galuszka

Virginia continues to see painful military spending cuts in the aftermath of the years’- long U.S. intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Among the latest news is that the Army may cut 3,600 jobs at Ft. Lee, ironically the site of a recent and large expansion, by 2020. That could result in a decline of 9,000 residents near Petersburg which is close to  the base.

Plus, the Air Force plans on cutting 742 positions at its Air Combat Command headquarters at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton although some of the positions are already vacant and won’t be filled.

These are just some of the changes that are affecting Virginia, which is the No. 2 defense industry state after California. Many of the cuts involve active duty personnel whose vacancies are not being filled or are being asked to take early retirement.

Defense industry jobs are likewise taking cuts. A report by the National Association of Manufacturers states that in 2014, California will lose the most military-related jobs (148,400) followed by Virginia (114,900) and then Texas (109,000). Maryland will lose 40,200 jobs, the report says.

Many of the jobs are in heavy manufacturing, such as aerospace and ship building, and search and navigational services, but general business and other services will also be affected.

The news is especially hard on Petersburg and nearby Ft. Lee which just a few years ago enjoyed a major boost after a Base and Realignment and Closure round consolidated many multi-service logistics and supply functions. The influx of thousands of soldiers, contractors and their families boosted the city and surrounding areas.

Hampton, the location of Langley Air Force Base, doesn’t seem to be in store for such heavy impacts since the cuts involve some jobs already being lost to attrition. Other bases and areas hurt by the Air Force cuts include Washington, D.C.; San Antonio; Texas; Dayton, Ohio; and Belleville, Illinois.

Newport News Shipbuilding, now owned by Huntington Ingalls Industries, could lose a deal to build one submarine and might delay another to build as Ford class nuclear attack carrier, if automatic defense budget cuts return in 2016. Another potential hit: refueling the nuclear-powered carrier George Washington but may mothball the ship if the budget cuts kick in. About 24,000 people work at Newport News Shipbuilding, making it the largest private employer in the state.

Besides the Washington area, Hampton Roads is greatly dependent upon defense spending. Some 47 percent of the regional economy depends on it. Anticipating more defense cuts, former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell formed a commission to come up with ideas before he left office this year. One of them is to be pro-active and recommend cuts of its liking before the federal government acts.

One of its recommendations cuts both ways on environmental issues. It recommends against offshore oil and gas drilling in watery areas where the military trains, thus making them available over the long term. It likewise recommends against wind turbines in the same areas.

These are interesting, but very difficult choices.

Denying Truth on the Outer Banks

Sun Realty

Sun Realty

By Peter Galuszka

North Carolina’s Outer Banks have always been a touchstone for me – in as much as anyone can associate permanence with sandy islands being perpetually tossed  around by tremendous wind and water forces.

The Banks and I go back to 1954 and Hurricane Hazel when I was an infant. They mark many parts of my life. So, I read with great interest The Washington Post story by Lori Montgomery about how real estate officials in Dare County and other coastal parts of North Carolina are trying to alter clear-cut scientific projections about how deeply the islands will be under water by 2100.

State officials say that the ocean should rise 39 inches by the end of the century. This would mean that 8,500 structures worth $1.4 billion would be useless. Naturally, this has upset the real estate industry which is pushing for a new projection of an 8-inch rise 30 years from now. Think of it like a photo in a rental brochure. You don’t choose shots of dark and stormy days. The skies must be blue.

Ditto science. The insanity is that so many still don’t believe what is going on with climate change and carbon dioxide pollution. Over the past several years, Virginians, many of whom vacation on the Outer Banks, endured and paid for former Atty. Gen. Kenneth Cuccinelli’s legal attacks against a former University of Virginia climatologist who linked global warming to human activity. The assaults went nowhere.

Instead of addressing such profoundly transitory events, too many in the region say it isn’t so or pick away at what is really happening as we speak. And as Mother Jones magazine points out, it isn’t because weather change deniers, usually conservatives, don’t understand science.

The Outer Banks are an extreme example because of their incredible fragility. Anyone with even a cursory understanding of the islands knows that they are completely under the thumb because they are where two major ocean currents meet.

The only reason Hatteras has developed at all is the Bonner Bridge, an ill-conceived, 51-year-old span over Oregon Inlet so decrepit that it is often closed for repairs. Replacing it has been constantly delayed by the lack of funding and the threat of lawsuits. The federal government has been complicit for decades by spending at least hundreds of millions on sand replenishment programs or offering flood insurance coverage.

About 15 miles south of the bridge is Rodanthe, a flyspeck village just south of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuse. It is at the point of the Banks that sticks out farthest into the Atlantic and is under the strongest attack by ocean currents and storms. Route 12, the only way to evacuate by car when a hurricane comes, is on a narrow spit of constantly shifting sand trapped between the ocean and Pamlico Sound.

I’ve been going to Rodanthe for years. Starting in the 1980s, friends and I would pool our money and  rent one of the big beach houses. We have been constantly amazed how the distance between the structures and the surf is disappearing. One favorite spot was “Serendipity,” a skinny, tall beach house that we rented perhaps twice and featured fantastic views from the top-floor bar.

It was dressed up as a bed and breakfast in the movie ”Nights At Rodanthe,” a 2008 weeper starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane. The film was panned and the house was equally threatened. In fact, the next year, the owner had the whole thing placed on a truck and moved nearly a mile down the coast where there’s a little more sand.

More hurricanes followed, cutting a new inlet a few miles into Pea Island and its watery bird impoundments. The oceanfront houses we used to rent are in trouble. The ones across Route 12 now have dramatic new views.  A small, new bridge spans the inlet.

One can argue that building on the Banks is madness, global warming or not. There’s a lot of truth to this. But rising ocean water is truly going to accelerate the changes no matter how hard politicians or North Carolina’s real estate industry say it isn’t so.

Brat and Cantor: Two Unsavory Choices

BratCantorWebBy Peter Galuszka

The hottest political race coming up is the Republican primary this Tuesday involving the 7th Congressional District now represented by Eric Cantor, a powerful conservative who is House Majority Leader and could possibly one day be Speaker of the House.

His opponent, college professor David Brat, has gotten much national attention because Brat is trying to out-Tea Party Cantor who tried to shed his Main Street background and led the insurgent Tea Party parade during their days of glory back in 2010.

But if you want to see just how intellectually barren both men are, read what they wrote in opposing columns in the Richmond newspaper this morning. They show just how out of touch they are and how they are dominated by a tiny group of hard-right fanatics who have split the state GOP.

Brat is an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College in the quaint railroad town of Ashland that might be a set for a Jimmy Stewart movie.

He spends a lot of time debunking Cantor’s ridiculous claim that he is a “liberal” college professor but the very fact that he is doing this is a throwback to the Old Virginny days of yore. First, off, what is wrong with being a “liberal professor?” Are we supposed to have academics that pass a litmus test? Maybe Brat would have House UnAmerican Activities Committees on colleges to make sure that “liberal” professors don’t poison young minds.

Secondly, the use of the term is an exercise in euphemism that smacks of the Massive Resistance days when a candidate was accused of being a “social engineer” if he or she backed integration and civil rights.

And while Brat makes some fair points about Cantor masquerading as a budget hawk, his ideas on finally dealing with undocumented foreign-born residents are downright scary and are obviously intended as a populist ploy to the lower elements of voters.

Indeed, Brat’s column raises serious questions about just how well he understands economic reality, especially when it comes to immigration. Forces are aligning for some kind of long-overdue resolution of immigration. He claims Cantor backs amnesty for undocumented workers. (If so, what’s wrong with that?)

Brat paints a weird picture in which “illegals,” working in collusion with giant corporations, are stealing jobs from “real” Virginians. I won’t go into the borderline racist and nativist aspects of his statements. They smack of the older days of the No Nothings and the Ku Klux Klan that wanted to keep non-Protestants, such as Catholic Irish, Poles, Germans and Italians, or Chinese or Japanese, out of the country.

Strangely and even more troubling, Brat simply doesn’t understand the American labor market. One of the reason so many immigrants are in some sectors of the economy, such as construction and poultry processing, are because the jobs are dirty, messy and there aren’t enough native-American workers willing or able to do them. That is why turkey processing plants in the Shenandoah Valley have so many hard-working Hispanic immigrants. Ditto construction jobs.

At the other end of the spectrum, Professor Brat ignores the dilemma at the high-end of the economy. American universities are not producing enough software and other engineers so we have to import them through visa programs. Some companies are so hungry for foreign intellectual talent that immigrants end up working just across the border in Canada where it is easier to get visas although their efforts support American firms.

This may come as news to Brat in his little college town, but the world is becoming more global and, like it or not, there will be more foreign-born people working here and elsewhere. His complaint that illegals are getting soldier jobs that Americans might want is strange. The military needs to wind down after 13 years of war. One wonders if Brat even has a passport and has traveled overseas.

Cantor’s column is the usual Eddie Haskell boilerplate. He spends a lot of time tearing down the Affordable Care Act. Republicans have launched at least six unsuccessful assaults on it and still refuse to accept the Supreme Court’s decision of a couple of years ago.

Generously funded by the managed care industry, Cantor raises no alternatives to the current health care system that is plagued with overbilling, a lack of transparency and has cruelly prevented millions from getting coverage because of “pre-existing conditions.” Granted the roll out of exchanges was a mess last year, but health care sign ups have exceeded expectations in Virginia. The expected number was 134,800 in enrollment plans under the ACA. At the beginning of May it was 216,300.

Neither candidate talks about crucial issues such as income inequality, climate change or America’s changing role in world diplomacy. Neither talks about about poverty or smart growth or student debt.

Cantor is likely to win Tuesday but neither man seems worthy of leadership. They are just more evidence about how the right-wing fringe has been allowed to highjack the agenda. As this continues to happen, Virginia will be stuck in its ugly past.

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.

Sen. Emmett Hanger’s Good Idea

emmett-hangerBy Peter Galuszka

Could some seemingly small technical changes in legislative tactics and voting powers on an obscure commission clear the way for passing a state budget and expanding Medicaid in some form?

Sen. Emmett Hanger, a Republican senator from Augusta, thinks so. If he’s right, there could be a way out for both Republican House Speaker Bill Howell and Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe who are taking the stubborn impasse right up to the wire of June 30.

Hanger is proposing technically separating Medicaid expansion to 400,000 lower income Virginians from the budget debate, but with a twist.

There would be legislation linked to the budget requiring changes in the voting of a legislative commission known as the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission (MIRC) which was formed in 2013 and must agree that enough positive change in the Medicaid program is taking place to allow expansion. It would most likely occur through private insurance exchanges of some type.

“By October of this year we might be able to begin some limited enrollments,” Hanger told me in an interview.

I called him because, frankly, I didn’t understand media accounts of what he was proposing although the reports indicated that there could be some kind of breakthrough involved. My undergraduate degree is in international relations and I used to study diplomacy. I realize that such types of granular give and take can bring tremendous progress. I am intrigued.

Of course, I could be dead wrong and Virginia will not pass a $96 billion, two-year budget, the state will lose its good bond rating, government will shut down at least in part, teachers won’t get paid and those caught in health care limbo between Medicaid and Obamacare will remain there.

Talking with Hanger gave me some perspective that I didn’t have and haven’t read in the Mainstream media.

First, he said that the General Assembly has already approved Medicaid expansion. It did so last year with former Gov. Bob McDonnell in office. But it also created the 10 member legislative Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission to identify problems and offer improvement suggestions for the state’s Medicaid program. No expansion can occur unless the commission approves. Hanger is chairman of MIRC.

By law, any expansion of Medicaid must be approved by a supermajority vote of the commission. That means that a majority of the five Senate members of the commission would have to say yes. Ditto a majority of the five House members.

Hanger’s proposal would make it a straight majority vote of six out of 10 members from both Senate and House sides. Plus, they won’t vote to approve expansion, only to disapprove it. In the meantime, MIRC would set clear metrics to benchmark what reforms are truly wanted.

Medicaid expansion would involve some kind of private health exchange (now dubbed “Marketplace Virginia”), and there would be added safeguards that there would be adequate copays by participants and ways to make sure that emergency rooms aren’t suddenly flooded with newly insured patients. He also wants a workable data system to keep track of patients and payments and other safeguards to prevent abuse. There are at least 17 categories of improvement areas.

The Senate would concede and use the House’s budget bill. The House would drop “Marketplace Virginia” from its bill and would concede that addressing additional Medicaid reforms would be required.

“Technically, it delinks Medicaid expansion from the budget bills,” says Hanger. But he adds that many seem to have forgotten that the General Assembly actually approved of Medicaid expansion last year “if a series of reforms were taken.” He says his plan would insure that just that happens and he believes it could happen quickly while the budget impasse is resolved separately.

He says that Howell, who has stubbornly resisted any Medicaid expansion this legislative session, seems amenable. So does McAuliffe.

The danger, of course, is that decoupling Medicaid from the budget bills takes away leverage points from both sides. Democratic Senator Dick Saslaw fears some kind of trick as do some Republicans.

My view is that sure there’s that risk, but it’s getting really late to keep playing chicken. My view also is that McAuliffe has done a hell of a lot more to compromise than Howell has.

Also, in my view, a private exchange is not the best way to go to expand Medicaid but the reality is that Virginia has a highly conservative legislature. Other conservative states such as Indiana have managed health care expansion through private exchanges, so I guess half a loaf is better than no loaf.

It seems that Hanger’s proposed deal might just get that, and not too late, either. It’s worth a look since the financial and health alternatives are truly terrible to contemplate.

Coal: The High Cost of Carbon Capture

mississippi coal plantBy Peter Galuszka

It sounds almost too good to be true and it apparently is.

A few years ago, trying to keep burning coal while dealing with carbon dioxide pollution, the Southern Co. announced plans for a $1.8 billion coal-fired generating plant in eastern Mississippi that would do the near impossible.

Some 65 percent of the plant’s carbon dioxide would be captured, put through a 62-mile-long pipeline and used underground to boost oil production from reserves near the Gulf Coast that were thought to be worn out.

But the price tag has risen to $5.2 billion and the plant won’t be ready for another year. Its cost means that “clean” coal will be $6,800 per kilowatt hour compared to $5,500 from nuclear stations and about $1,000 per kilowatt hour from natural gas plants.

The Kemper County plant only underlines the predicament of burning coal. It is still the single biggest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions which contribute to climate change. Efforts to strip it from air pollution emissions are proving too expensive to be practical.

It’s too bad because the Obama Administration had been promoting the Kemper plant as one way that coal might have a healthy future. The administration is striking out for good media coverage since it is due to announce new proposed rules to stem carbon dioxide pollution at existing coal-fired plants on June 2. They are being strongly resisted by coal operators, some utilities and conservative groups.

Yet it’s not the first similar plant to be swallowed up in cost. Ohio-based American Electric Power built a pilot plant in West Virginia – half funded by the U.S. Department of Energy – that would capture and bury carbon dioxide. But, it, too, went down the tubes because it was too expensive.

A few years ago, there was some enthusiasm that China, one of the world’s largest, if not the largest, air polluters, would use its tremendous cache of cash from exports to build state-of-the-art coal plants. A Duke Energy official did the math and found that the Chinese might be able to capture CO2 at $16 a ton. But then Duke found that if they took the plant out of China, the expense increased four times. Why? The Chinese figures involved ultra-cheap Chinese labor and capital.

Perhaps someday cheaper technologies will make abundant coal useable without so much pollution. At the moment, it does not might sense, pricewise, regardless of whether there is a “War on Coal.”

Rethinking David Brat

BratBy Peter Galuszka

Knocking David Brat as I did a couple of days ago got the predictably nasty response from Rebellion-land.

So, I went back and looked into it a little more, without an eye towards his Tea Party links.

What did I find a mixed  bag for the economics professor who’s challenging Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. There also is some bad news involving rabidly right-wing media celebrity Ann Coulter, a true rug-biter.

The interesting news comes from Brat’s Website:

“Throughout his entire career, Eric Cantor has supported countless measures and budgets to increase our debt and grow government. Despite his fiscal rhetoric, Eric Cantor voted for new spending measures like Medicare Part D, TARP bailouts, Chinese bailouts, Wall Street bailouts, two unfunded wars, and backed the kick-the-can-down-the-road Ryan-Murray budget.”

No argument there. I will never forget my interview with Eric Cantor during the Great Recession and he told me, emphatically, “We have to get the federal government out of the capital markets!”

I replied: “But you voted for TARP.”

There was a 25 second pause and then the Congressman said, “It was a crisis situation.”

There was another one of these spending things involving the ultra-capable but ultra expensive new jet fighter, the F-35. Veteran aircraft engine maker Pratt & Whitney had the Pentagon OK to make the engine for the fighter. But General Electric and Rolls Royce wanted part of the multi-billion-dollar expenses and pressed to have an alternative engine made as well, adding to the overall cost. The Pentagon didn’t want it.

But Rolls Royce had just moved their North American headquarters to Northern Virginia and was building a jet engine factory near Petersburg. So guess which budget-hawk, cost-slashing super  hero pushed the second engine? Eric Cantor, that’s who. I don’t believe the second engine went through, but you get my drift.

It was also way too much inside baseball when the Richmond Times-Dispatch acted as a personal shill for Cantor while his wife served on the board of Media General, which owned the newspaper. Warren Buffett’s outfit eventually bought the paper but the conflict was rather odious while it happened.

Now don’t get me wrong. I fault Barack Obama for NOT SPENDING ENOUGH to get America out of the recession and disagree with Brat on just about everything economically. But I must admit that he’s right about noting Cantor’s two-faced posturing as a fiscal conservative when he went along with every budget-busting scheme George W. Bush could dream up,  especially two wars that we haven’t paid for yet. One of them wasn’t even necessary.

What I don’t like about Brat is that he attracts the wistful eye of someone like Coulter who is on a tear to deny amnesty to undocumented aliens. And since she claims that if amnesty occurs, Texas will be swamped with lots of new workers from “you know where” and you know what color they will be.

Is this a racist view? Damned right it is. OK, all you commenters, led by ultra-tough DJR, I want to see a lot of piling on this time! I am ready for you! Bacon can participate but he is basically a pantywaist.

Coulter and the Tea Party give me plenty of pause about Brat although he’s right about Cantor on many things.

Richmond’s Incredible Blindness

Mayor Jones

Mayor Jones

By Peter Galuszka

Following up on Richmond Opening Its Kimono post from Monday, I note some significant news developments and points:

First, the Richmond City Council has restored $10.6 million of the $13.6 million Mayor Dwight Jones wanted to keep his plan to build a new baseball stadium, slavery museum and mixed use development worth a total of $79.6 million. This ensures that the project will move forward.

Incredibly, at the same time, the council cut school maintenance from $3.2 million to $2 million when schools are in deplorable condition. “It’s been very encouraging to see the outpouring of support for public schools this year,” Jones said.

Secondly, I am deeply appreciative to commenter CRB who laid out many of Richmond’s problems that obviously are in need of immediate attention despite the Ruling Elite and Mayor Jones’ stubborn and relentless push for their dubious and unneeded Shockoe Bottom plan.

The clarity is so crystal here that it is overwhelming.

Richmond has among the worst schools in the state. It has the worst health conditions of any large city in the state. It has among the highest poverty levels in the state. So what gets cut? Funds to resolve serious and immediate problems. What gets funded? Pie-in-the-sky.

As BR commenter CRB states:

“They need to explain how a baseball stadium is the answer for economic development when the city ranks 121 out of 133 counties in Virginia in overall “health outcomes” – including (to name just a couple of markers) almost twice the number of premature deaths than the rest of the state, three times the number of reported sexually transmitted infections. In addition, only 7% of third graders PASSED the SOL math test during 2012-13 school year. We have the worst schools in the state of Virginia, and we have one of the lowest percentages of primary care physicians, dentists, and mental health providers. The brokenness of this city goes on and on and this group suggests that putting a baseball stadium, using public funds is the answer instead of using those funds to begin addressing the societal infrastructure. It’s simply heartbreaking.”

I did a little research that backs up CRB. The University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute published a recent student comparing health rates of all Virginia’s cities and counties for 2012. Guess where Richmond ranked? No. 125, which is dead last for big Virginia cities.

Petersburg was close at No. 123. Roanoke at No. 116 and Norfolk at No 106. Counties are healthy. Chesterfield was No. 39 and Henrico was No. 36.

Addressing health care should be a huge concern. Richmond boasts of Virginia Commonwealth University Health System and the former Medical College of Virginia that offer advanced level care for trauma, cancer, reattaching severed organs and so on. But why is that if you walk a few blocks north, west or east of the sprawling medical campus, you have horrendous conditions that lead to truly bad numbers? Where are nurses and primary care doctors? Preventive programs? Child care services? Elder-care?

As for cutting possible increases in school maintenance, all you need to do is click on this site and look at the photos by Style chief photographer Scott Elmquist and the story by reporter Tom Nash. Rather shocking, I’d say.

As for the 26 percent poverty rate, Mayor Jones has created some commissions and has brought in some Harvard-educated academics but it is hard to see what the trajectory is other than more studies.

So, there you have it, sports fans (excuse the fun). It’s the middle of the 9th inning. The score:

Shockoe Bottom: $10.6 million.

School Maintenance: $2 million.

Fracking’s New Threats

lynchburg fireBy Peter Galuszka

The derailment of 14 oil-laden CSX tank cars and subsequent huge fire caused by three of them Wednesday in downtown Lynchburg underscores a number of environmental threats brought on by America’s fast-changing energy markets.

Three tank cars carrying crude oil from North Dakota Bakken Field that involves hydraulic fracking drilling methods shot flames hundreds of feet into the air and spilled 50,000 gallons of fuel into the James River, from which Richmond, about 120 miles away, gets its drinking water. City officials say they are monitoring the cleanliness of water.

The Bakken crude was on its way for a former Amoco oil refinery at Yorktown on Chesapeake Bay. If bans on exporting U.S. crude are lifted, Yorktown could become a major crude oil shipping point because the facility, now owned by Plains All American, already has the piers and pipes in place to handle large scale shipments of oil. They may end up in Europe to replace fuel jeopardized by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

All of this points out just how fast changing the energy dynamics are in the U.S. and how ill-equipped American infrastructure, a victim of conservative spending policies, is to handle it.

America’s railroads and pipelines are too stressed or inadequate to handle the sudden flow of oil and gas that fracking has produced. Pipelines and tank terminals have been filled to capacity, making oil shippers more reliant upon railroads which seem to have chronic problems keeping their lines and gear in shape.

The worst case so far happened when a train laden with North Dakota oil became a runaway while stopped in Lac-Megantic, Quebec last year and the resulting explosion and fire killed 47 people. Oil trains routinely pass through major metropolitan areas including Baltimore, Washington and Richmond.

What’s more coal-related problems have been threatening drinking water in the Upper South, Mid-Atlantic region. In January, the leak of a toxic chemical near the Kanawha River in Charleston meant that some 300,000 people had to go without drinking water for a week. Later, coal ash owned by Duke Energy leaked into the Dan River, threatening the drinking water supplies of Danville. Now, Richmond is on watch about its supplies.

What’s infuriating about all of this is that you hear a lot on this blogs of about tight spending and how little Net-based controls will make our lives infinitely better. Well, we now see what short-changing public works spending does and how it threatens lives. As for all those little Net things, well, where are they? Where were they in Lynchburg or Lac-Megantic?