Category Archives: Unemployment

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.

Virginia: Best State to Make a Living

MoneyRates.com has ranked Virginia the “Best State to Make a Living” in its annual study , beating out Washington state, Texas and Illinois to snag the top spot.

The ranking considers four factors: Average Income, which increased in Virginia over the past year; Cost of Living based on ACCRA Cost of Living Index, which slightly decreased; Unemployment Rate, which decreased; and State Income Tax, which stayed the same.

Last year, Virginia ranked No. 4.

It’s refreshing to see the Old Dominion score so well, especially after the State Integrity Investigation project, in which it scored an “F” for government transparency and accountability.

– JAB

¡Viva la Revolución!

Estimado Jefe!

Usted nunca debe salir de la ciudad, señor! Ahora que usted está ausente, la revolución comienza! Amados lectores de ya no ver los artículos que glorifican a los ricos y privilegiados. Vamos a ayudar a la tierra y los pobres y redistribuir los fondos de cobertura. ¡Viva la Revolución!

 

Goodbye Grundy! Hello, Wal-Mart

By Peter Galuszka

Hours west of Richmond by car  lies the old coal town of Grundy, lying at a confluence of the flood-prone Levisa Fork River below steep cliffs of sedimentary rock of sandstone and shale.

Grundy has been a touchstone for my various trips to the Virginia coalfields over the years. I hadn’t been that part of the woods in a while and when I drove through on Tuesday, I went into a state of shock.

Utterly gone was the pleasant old town with its rich collection of Depression-era buildings that could have been the subject of a Walker Evans photo study. Vanished was the black statute of the coal miner looking expectantly to heaven. The little movie house was gone. Everything was gone.

In its place around the dynamited sides of mountains was a multi-level Wal-Mart. I had to rub my eyes in the misty rain. An entire town had disappeared to make room for a Big Box.

To be sure, this had been a long time coming. The Levisa Fork is flood prone, in part because ruthless strip mining practices in the Southwest Virginia coalfields have ripped out vegetation that can hold back rainwater. One of the biggest floods came on April 4, 1977.

Grundy became a cause celebre among local economic development officials and U.S. bureaucrats. U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher worked out a plan in 1997 to forever change Grundy with town leaders, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Virginia Department of Transportation. Helped by $96 million in public money, VDOT bought and ripped down the old Lynwood Theater and local hardware stores and fives and dimes. The Army spent $100 million ripping out 2.4 million cubic yards of rock, enough for 68 football fields, and helped relocate rail tracks.

In all, according to a 2007 Post story, Grundy’s makeover ended up costing $196 million or $175,000 for every man, woman and child in town. But all didn’t work out according to plan. Many of the building owners, the Post reported, did not rebuild as planners hoped. They merely pocketed their money and left.

What’s left is a Wal-Mart in perhaps the most dramatic geological setting possible. The utter madness of the scene is commemorated on YouTube with a pictoral.

Even nuttier is that government officials have spent so money on Grundy when there is still so much oppressive poverty and health care needs that have infected the coalfields from the day the first coal prospector set foot on the remote and beautiful mountains of Southwest Virginia.