Category Archives: Unemployment

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.

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.

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.

Tar Heel Grief Just Down the Road

By Peter Galuszka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does anyone see a pattern yet?

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

Keep ‘em Poor; It’s for the Best

minimum-wages-around-the-worldBy Peter Galuszka

The think tanks are spinning their lines now that Congress is considering raising the federal minimum wage.  A Democratic proposal would hike the level from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2016, putting more money in the pockets of 27.8 million people.

As The New York Times points out this morning, think tanks and other professional navel gazers are coming out with the pros and cons of doing what seems to be a no brainer. One Employment Policies Institute in Washington  claims that hiking the wage would increase poverty and unemployment.

Not reported, the Times notes, is that the think tank is run by a P.R. group paid in part by the restaurant industry which has a vested interest in keeping wages low.

So, I guess it is no surprise that on Sunday’s “Commentary” front page in the Richmond Times-Dispatch  is a piece making pretty much the same argument. It was written by A. Fletcher Mangum, managing partner of Mangum Economics in Richmond, who also advises the governor and General Assembly.

Mangum argues that raising the wage is a bad idea because, “If politicians want to help the least fortunate among us, knocking an unlucky number of them into employment is simply not the best way to do it.” Virginia is one of 19 states that follows the federal minimum wage as its own. Twenty states have higher minimum wages and four have lower rates and (of course) are all in the South.

Mangum’s logic is keep ‘em poor because they are more hireable that way. Mangum offers no other economic argument, but that should be no surprise since he’s writing for the Richmond Times-Dispatch whose editorial policies tend to represent the Capital’s monied classes and business interests. It was this way when the Bryan family owned the TD and hasn’t really changed with Warren Buffett.

Now I have been an editor and actually used to handle the first reading of some economic opinion pieces like this. If I had been at the keyboard, I would have demanded a higher altitude argument than improving wages will hurt the poor because if you increase the price of something people automatically buy less of it.  One could make a similar argument as justification for usury, penury and slavery that way, but I don’t edit the TD. I do know that Richmond and Virginia in general are rather short on economic forecasters.

The New York Times, which is somewhat more sophisticated than Richmond’s daily newspaper, on the same day refuted conservative arguments that hiking the minimum wage only hurts the lowest working classes. “The weight of evidence shows that increases in the minimum wage have lifted pay without hurting employment. . . ,” the Times says.

But that doesn’t stop conservatives from claiming, as Mangum does, that raising the minimum wage prompts less employment or that it will push up prices for goods. “Those arguments are simplistic,” The Times says.

I tend to agree. The bigger issue facing this country is dealing with the disparity in income and larger gulf between classes. CEO pay has skyrocketed to obscene levels over the past decades while CEO performance has hardly matched it.

Yet there are plenty of people out there, such as Mr. Mangum, who seem to want to keep people making less than $15,000 a year by arguing disingenuously that it’s really the best they can hope for.

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!

Here Comes Cooch-ageddon!

Illustration credit: Ed Harrington, Style Weekly.

Hard right conservative Kenneth T. Cuccinelli has a very good chance of becoming the next governor. At least that’s my view 11 months out.

I disagree with Cuccinelli on almost everything and will spare my readers the list. But I do agree on one thing: he has proved to be a wily politician. He’s turned the Republican establishment on its head. His likely opponent Terry McAuliffe has yet to prove himself as a viable opponent if he is indeed the Democratic choice, as he now seems he will be. Cuccinelli’s off-year race will be one of the most closely watched by the national media.

Enough talking. Read my cover story in Richmond’s Style Weekly.

President Barack Obama!

By Peter Galuszka

President Barack Obama’s re-election and success with Virginia in Tuesday’s contest could provide  a fresh opportunity to solidify more economic recovery than what have otherwise may have happened. It could be a real chance for bipartisan progress.

Here’s my takeaway at 2:30 a.m.:

  • Virginia has again shown that it is morphing into a different kind of state. Losing some but not all power are the Old Republicans and their new iterations. Gaining power are Democrats, many of them newcomers with diverse backgrounds.
  • Bye, bye Tea Party. The anti-government, anti-spending curmudgeons of  two years ago are quickly fading in influence. Good thing. They had been a major and negative force trumping any bipartisan progress. Although Eric Cantor got re-elected, he’ll have a harder time playing obstructionist since he’ll no longer have a parade to try to race to get in front of and lead. And maybe we can give those God-awful Patrick Henry costumes to Goodwill.
  • Obamacare will not be repealed. GOP hasn’t the votes. Alleluia. Although flawed, Obamacare means that more people will be insured and health insurers won’t be able to get away with such practices as denying coverage for “pre-existing” conditions. No goofy vouchers for Medicare recipients. Not with Democrats controlling the Senate. Let’s get on with price transparency and breaking the stranglehold of Big Insurance and Big Pharma.
  • Hello manufacturing. Goodbye “Knowledge Economy.”  Obama can now solidify gains in the reviving American economy and help us once again make real things instead of just be providers of services that only help export jobs.
  • No more lying ads. We won’t have to listen to Romney  falsehoods about how Obama has a ‘War on Coal” and how he helped kill a crappy Bill’s Barbecue chain and send Jeep jobs to China.
  • Toodles, Ayn Rand. We won’t have to listen to the importance of selfishness by such faddish True Believers as Paul Ryan who was surprisingly irrelevant in the campaign. Now we can concentrate on helping Americans, not lecturing them on their irresponsible, spend thrift ways.
  • Energy. Inevitable changes will proceed, including towards cleaner natural gas, away from dirtier coal and towards renewables. Now we might start paying serious attention to greenhouse gases and make coal mines safer.
  • George Allen’s defeat means we won’t have to turn our clocks back two decades.
  • It will be harder to wage the War on Women with social conservatives trying to dictate unwanted oversight of their personal matters. Medieval advocates of “legal rape” can crawl back in their holes. It looks like Roe V. Wade is secure.
  • All in all a great night.

UNDERCLASS LOVER

I want to be an underclass lover

Lay it down like a big ole’ brother

No mind who gets stuck

With the leftover

I get my F&%#

Without too much workover

Don’t care about the deficit

Don’t give a damn about the debt

’cause when it comes to lov’in

You ain’t seen noth’ yet

Ya know, the over class

They got theirs!

Henry the Eighth

And all them squares

And their deficit

Almost as big as mine

So hang on honey

Here it comes

Just a second now, we’re headin’

Right to BOOMERGEDDON!

Oh-YAAAA!

— PAG

Are We Going Back to Selma?

By Peter Galuszka

Imagine it is Alabama in early 1965. The Southern state, like Virginia, has for decades deployed a number of ruses such as poll taxes and literacy tests to prevent U.S. citizens and state residents from voting. These people otherwise would have been qualified voters but also happened to be African-Americans whom the ruling white elite wants to keep from exercising their constitutional right. In Selma in 1965, three civil rights workers, Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Reeb and Viola Luizzo who are advocating for voter rights, are shot and killed in their car by the Ku Klux Klan.

Travel a bit farther into south Texas and find that the Lone Star State has its share of disenfranchisement devices in use to stop Mexican-Americans from voting, even though some have been legal residents from the day Texas became a state and part of the United States. In some counties, Mexican-Americans are by far the large group, which is exactly why the white elite want them not voting in strength.

And imagine, a well-meaning, white, privileged and otherwise intelligent man from these parts supporting restrictions on voting, telling people they should “get over it.”

Welcome to the future. The events in 1965 resulted in the Voters Rights Act, a landmark piece of legislation. Yet when Gov. Robert F. McDonnell signing his own weasely version of the voter identification law supported by arch conservative Republicans in the General Assembly, the Old Dominion, most of which still under federal election supervision for its tarnished past, is putting new roadblocks in front of voters.

They used to have to show a photo ID and if they didn’t have one, they’d sign an affidavit saying they were who they claimed to be. Now, their vote will be “provisional” and they will have to show up official at a later date and show the ID. Only then will their vote be counted. To make things easier, McDonnell is ordering millions of new “voter ID” cards to be issued statewide. Odd that he doesn’t mention how much this will cost since the flavor of the moment is strictly containing budget expenses.

A few points on this rather strange set of events:

  • There have been absolutely no known major scandals involving voter fraud in Virginia. So, if there’s nothing broken, why go through all the trouble to “fix” it?
  • It is clear that restricting voting is a major ambition of the Republican Party which fears that President Barack Obama may get the boost in November’s election as he did in 2008 from the poor, the minorities and the young.
  • Regarding these groups, 25 percent of African-American voters do not have valid government-issued IDs compared with 8 percent of whites, according to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. Some 15 percent of people earning less than $35,000 a year likewise have no such ID. According to the Project Vote, about 15,000 people voted without IDs in Virginia in 2008.

Thus, Virginia’s conservative leaders and their cheerleaders are targeting what they consider to be a threatening group of voters as part of a campaign to correct a phony “wrong.” This is just another part of a sweeping socially-conservative agenda that has women, gays, dark-skinned immigrants and African-Americans in their crosshairs.

And no, I’m not going to “get over it.” I refuse to be patronizing when it comes to basic civil rights.