Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Monday, August 30, 2010
Judge quashes Cuccinelli subpoena of U-Va. records
An Albemarle County Circuit Court judge has set aside a subpoena issued by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to the University of Virginia seeking documents related to the work of climate scientist and former university professor Michael Mann.
Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. ruled that Cuccinelli can investigate whether fraud has occurred in university grants, as the attorney general had contended, but ruled that Cuccinelli's subpoena failed to state a "reason to believe" that Mann had committed fraud.
The ruling is a major blow for Cuccinelli, a global warming skeptic who had maintained that he was investigating whether Mann committed fraud in seeking government money for research that showed that the earth has experienced a rapid, recent warming. Mann, now at Penn State University, worked at U-Va. until 2005.
A bigoted pastor who has assailed gays and Muslims is launching the "9-11 Christian Center at Ground Zero" a mere two blocks from the World Trade Center site this Sunday but so far the project hasn't drawn a peep of protest from those who are outraged by the "ground zero mosque."
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Recently I received an automated “robo” survey call on my home telephone from Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. After a brief explanation that Gov. Bob McDonnell was seeking to reduce the size of state government, the recording of Lt. Gov. Bolling posed the first question: Do you agree with Gov. McDonnell that the size of state government should be reduced?
My answer choices were either “yes” or “no.” I like the question; it is one I could debate either side at length. I replied “no.” That clearly was not the answer the surveyors wanted to hear, for after asking my gender – for whatever reason that mattered – the call ended. If I had responded yes, the follow-up questions would probably have picked at the agencies of state government to see where I would agree to reductions. Given the complexities of state government and its many functions, I wonder how informed the responses were to the questions.
Budget cutting with the economic recession has reduced the size of state government. Currently there are nearly 54,000 positions authorized for Virginia government to be paid for by tax revenue. The unit of government with the most tax-paid employees is public safety with just over 18,000 employees. That number includes the 14,421 prison guards and others who operate the adult and juvenile prisons and correctional facilities. That number also includes nearly 2,500 state police.
The next highest number of tax-paid state employees is in higher education with 17,597 employees who staff our colleges and universities. Public school teachers and administrators are local and not state employees. The third highest category of general fund state employees is in health and human services with nearly 9,000 employees who run the state mental health hospitals and mental retardation facilities. These three services constitute 80 percent of state government employees. The remaining units of government employ fewer than a thousand taxpayer-paid employees each.
There is a total of 61,000 additional state employees who work in programs that through fees or contracts pay for themselves including 35,000 in higher education alone. Eliminating these positions also eliminates the source of revenue that supports them with no net gain to the budget. In the instance of the Alcoholic Beverage Control system, eliminating the 1,078 positions in the agency would eliminate the nearly $150 million in annual revenue provided to local government from the profits of the ABC system.
For those who got the same robo telephone survey as I did and who voted in favor of reducing state government, please let me know where you would make the reductions beyond the belt-tightening done recently with the economic recession. Send your suggestions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if feasible I will lead the effort to reduce government in those areas. I hope there is agreement that we need our prison guards, state police, college professors, and support personnel, as well as our mental health workers.
Ken Plum serves in the Virginia House of Delegates.
Fox News Rejects Ad Highlighting Its $1 Million GOP Donation, Admits News Corp Opposes 'Democratic Candidates'
Monday, August 23, 2010
Republican nominee Robert Hurt has a hole in his jobs platform on free trade.
“Robert Hurt is a typical politician who remains so out of touch with the experience of working families that he doesn’t even realize the devastating effects free-trade agreements have had on the Fifth District. Now he’s even pledging to continue supporting these bad trade deals and protecting corporations that ship good American jobs overseas,”said Jessica Barba, spokeswoman for the Tom Perriello campaign.
The jobs issue would seem to be a voting issue in the Fifth, where several local economies have unemployment rates beyond 10 percent.
The Perriello camp is pushing back at Hurt on jobs, criticizing the state senator on his ambiguity on extending NAFTA-style agreements to cover more foreign markets and his opposition to legislation that rewards corporations for shipping jobs overseas.
“If Sen. Hurt weren’t so busy standing up for companies that outsource jobs, maybe he’d realize free-trade agreements are bad for Southside Virginia,” Barba said.
During campaign season, voters frequently hear the statement, “government ought to be run like a business.” How many businesses do you know would be willing to eliminate a profit center that realizes some $118 million per year in net revenue and another $120 million in taxes for a price that is speculative and which may come with some undesired consequences? Well, that is exactly what the Commonwealth is considering doing if it embraces Gov. McDonnell’s proposal to privatize the ABC stores.
While the precise proposal has not yet been outlined, the general principle is for Virginia, one of only 18 states that now run liquor operations, to sell or license the ABC retail operations to the private sector in exchange for cash up front. Estimates of the revenue from the sale range from $150 million to $500 million. That one-time influx of money would be dedicated to transportation, a critical need in the Commonwealth.
While I agree with many others that the liquor business is not a core service of government, we should recognize that the Commonwealth’s ownership of liquor operations has brought needed revenue into the General Fund, some of which goes directly to mental health, retardation, and substance abuse funding by statute.
The Virginia ABC presently operates 332 stores and employs 2,680 people. In Fiscal Year 2009, it deposited $248 million in profits, excise and sales tax into the General Fund, the Commonwealth’s primary funding source for public safety, education, and healthcare. It is not at all clear what will happen to this revenue stream in any privatization. Without raising the excise tax on liquor sales, it is very possible that the amount of money that the General Fund presently receives will be much less after privatization. Some argue that the only way to replace the lost monies is by increasing the number of stores and/or concentrating liquor sales into big box outlets like Costco and Walmart. In the end, then, any privatization proposal, independent of the ideological assertion that the private sector is the better outlet for this business, must be considered by comparing the risk of losing consistent General Fund revenue after the ABC sale against the benefit of receiving an undetermined amount of money for the sale of the operation that would go into transportation.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
GOP Senate candidate yanks video showing smoldering 9/11 site
This one is ugly.
GOP Senate candidate Roy Blunt's campaign has pulled down a Web video displaying the smoldering remains of the 9/11 attacks alongside audio of his Democratic opponent saying the location of the Islamic center should be up to New Yorkers to decide.
And now the Dem, Robin Carnahan, is going on the offensive over the issue, demanding that Blunt apologize to the families of 9/11 victims for exploiting the tragedy for political gain.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Friday, August 13, 2010
Thursday, August 12, 2010
FAREED ZAKARIA (8/1/2010): You see, George Bush's massive tax cuts are the single largest chunk of our structural budget deficit. ... Were the tax cuts to expire, the budget deficit would instantly shrink by about 30%, or more than $300 billion dollars.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Experts on the nation's electricity system point to a frighteningly steep increase in non-disaster-related outages affecting at least 50,000 consumers.
During the past two decades, such blackouts have increased 124 percent -- up from 41 blackouts between 1991 and 1995, to 92 between 2001 and 2005, according to research at the University of Minnesota.
In the most recently analyzed data available, utilities reported 36 such outages in 2006 alone.
"It's hard to imagine how anyone could believe that -- in the United States -- we should learn to cope with blackouts," said University of Minnesota Professor Massoud Amin, a leading expert on the U.S. electricity grid.
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Virginians consume approximately the national average of beer and wine. Conversely, they consume approximately 20 percent less liquor per capita than the national average. That is due to less availability, no advertising, strict enforcement of ABC laws and aggressive promotion of moderation by Virginia ABC. Due in large part to this lower consumption, Virginians suffer less from alcoholism, DUI, sclerosis, fetal alcohol syndrome and underage consumption, among other health and public safety problems. In general, Virginia is in the lowest percentiles in the U.S. for these undesirable occurrences.
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