Two newspapers in one!

PolitiFact Virginia, an arm of the (usually) respected award-winning fact-checking organization, is run by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Apparently, PolitiFact Virginia needs to spend some time reading, and debunking, the Richmond TD’s editorial page.

For example, on Aug. 6, PolitiFact Virginia looked into Bob McDonnell’s parroting of Mitt Romney’s accusation that Barack Obama was gutting work requirements in the welfare reform law. As did its parent organization (and every other independent fact-checking organization), PolitiFact Virginia found the charge false.

A full week and a half later, the Richmond TD’s editorial staff, apparently not having read their own paper – or any other nonpartisan examination of the scurrilous charge, repeated it, claiming, “And the truth is that — as the Romney campaign says — the administration has indeed gutted the 1996 welfare-reform law’s work requirement.”

In fact, no. That is a complete and utter lie. Even the Republican architect of the 1996 law – though he wishes Obama had consulted more with Republicans – is an enthusiastic supporter of giving states more flexibility to meet the work requirements.

So, what say you , Richmond Times-Dispatch PolitiFact Virginia? Does the Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial page merit a Pants-on-Fire rating, or what?

UPDATE: Steve Benen picked up on this, too. He points out that the Times-Dispatch ran another story debunking the welfare lie. It mentions the editorial, but the writer artfully manages to debunk the lie without coming right out and saying that the editorial board was wrong.

Taking on Goodlatte

During my tenure at The Roanoke Times, I saw several novice candidates step up to take on long-time congressional incumbents. All were enthusiastic. Most weren’t deluded about their real chances against the power and advantages of incumbency. Some were better prepared or better educated than others. Some, frankly, were a few cards short of a full deck. But there was almost always something inspiring about the energy and passion they brought to what most would see as a hopeless cause.

I had the chance last week to meet with Andy Schmookler, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Rep. Bob Goodlatte in 2012. I spent a good hour with Schmookler at Mill Mountain Coffee in Roanoke. I don’t know what his chances are against Goodlatte, but Schmookler has put his fingers on a number of disparate threads and pulled them together in a way that people really ought to be listening to.

As he puts it, currents that have flowed throughout American history have come together in a confluence to form a unified, destructive force on the American right. These currents include corporate greed, an imperialist impulse and a “certain kind of religiosity” that highlights divisiveness and is plagued by stunning hypocrisy.

That force depends on lies to sustain it, Schmookler says, lies that defeat the truth and prevent democracy from functioning the way it should. It depends on sewing a divisiveness that prevents Americans from coming together to find solutions to common problems. It directs people’s antagonism toward society’s most vulnerable and is dedicated to concentrating wealth and power in as few hands as possible, with absolutely no interest in doing anything for the common good.

If you think about what Schmookler says and apply it to current events – the dishonest debates over global warming and health care reform, for instance, or the demonization of Muslims and undocumented immigrants – it’s easy to fit the current state of the Republican Party into the narrative he builds. Whether that complex message will connect to or resonate with voters remains to be seen, of course, but Schmookler is dedicated to trying.

“I want to call attention to the ideals of American society and the disparity between those ideals and the politicians they support,” he said.

Take the looming crisis on the debt ceiling. Schmookler condenses the Republican’s grossly irresponsible position down to a powerful statement: ” ‘Meet our demands or we’ll hurt America.’ That’s what they’re saying, and it says something about people who are willing to take that position.”

Schmookler hopes that he can open some eyes by speaking with honesty and integrity. “I’m counting on the electorate to be as decent as I think they are and as decent as they see themselves.”

I don’t know how successful Schmookler’s campaign will be, but I wish him luck in getting his message out.

Good riddance to the Glen Lyn plant

Word from AEP that it will most likely be shuttering its 90-plus year-old Glen Lyn plant is unequivocally good news. You wouldn’t know that by the reaction of some politicians, though, who complain that new EPA regulations behind the closure will cost jobs.

“When they spend billions of dollars, we’re going to pay every penny of that” in higher electricity bills, U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, told The Roanoke Times. “It’s a huge cost, and it’s all because of the EPA.” West Virginia’s Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, for instance, sent out a release complaining that West Virginia would lose more than 200 jobs because of plant closures announced there as part of AEP: “Today’s announcement by AEP reinforces the belief that the EPA is out of touch with the economic impact of their overreaching regulations,” Tomblin wrote.

Griffith and Tomblin act like the EPA is doing this just to be mean or to intentionally hurt the economy. But the fact is that closing the Glen Lyn plant will save lives. According to a study commissioned by the Clean Air Task Force, pollution from the Glen Lyn plant is responsible for 31 deaths a year, as well as 47 heart attacks and 480 asthma attacks.

These new stricter nationwide standards for mercury, arsenic and other toxic emissions will prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths, 11,000 heart attacks and 12,000 emergency room visits. The EPA estimates the cost of compliance will be around $10 billion, but the economic benefit will be closer to $100 billion.

Griffith and Tomblin want to merely whine about the cost without considering the benefits, including lives saved.

The Glen Lyn plant is an ancient, dirty beast that has polluted Virginia’s air and sickened and killed those who live near it. Its demise should be celebrated and, if possible, hastened even further.


Franklin County needs a new sheriff

The horrific story of an off-duty Franklin County Sheriff’s deputy allegedly murdering his ex-wife turns out to be even more tragic: The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office received warning of the deputy’s intent in time to stop him, but Sheriff Ewell Hunt decided to try handle the situation quietly instead. He failed.

The Roanoke Times has the story this morning, a blockbuster that appropriately took up most of the front page. Radio logs from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Salem police and the Virginia State Police confirm the sequence of events: At 11:07 Monday morning, Franklin County dispatch heard from Deputy Jonathan Agee’s current wife that he had left in his patrol car with an assault rifle to go kill his ex-wife. At 11:15, Sheriff Hunt told dispatchers not to issue a “be on the lookout” call that could have alerted police throughout the area. Instead, he called Salem police dispatch at 11: 18 and asked to talk to a supervisor. A supervisor returned his call at 11:31 – a minute after Agee’s ex-wife was shot to death at the Orange Avenue Sheetz in Roanoke.

“I thought I could get the fastest response by making personal contact,” Hunt told The Times Tuesday. That’s stupid. Why wait for a supervisor to call back when you can get the word out to multiple law enforcement agencies in the area with a single radio call? Unless Hunt was less interested in speed and more interested in attempting to keep an explosive and potentially embarrassing situation for his department quiet, his actions made no sense at all.

This is not the first time Hunt has exhibited ludicrously poor judgement, it’s just the first time that poor judgment apparently resulted in another person’s death.

Hunt should have resigned before. He most certainly should resign now.

Update: As Joshua points out in the comments, there is now a Facebook page called “Sheriff Ewell Hunt Must Resign.” There’s also an online petition for people outside of Franklin County. There’s an actual petition circulating for Franklin County voters to sign that could actually result in Hunt’s removal. If you live in Franklin County, I hope you can find a way to get your John Hancock on there.

Why the mandate is constitutional

The luck of the draw wasn’t kind to Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli: The three-judge appellate panel randomly assigned by computer to hear the appeal of his suit challenging the constitutionality of health care reform came up with three judges appointed by Democrats. If recent history is any guide, they will find uphold the individual mandate as constitutional. So far, every judge appointed by a Democrat has ruled in favor of the mandate; every judge appointed by a Republican found the mandate unconstitutional.

That’s an unfortunate partisan breakdown from the judicial branch, which should be insulated from politics.

But while luck was against Cuccinelli, so is the law. The individual mandate is constitutional, and the key of the argument for it can be found in Cuccinelli’s own comments in a news conference following the hearing:

The insurance mandate penalizes people for not engaging in commerce.  In other words, you can get fined for doing nothing.

But the fact is that it is impossible to choose not to engage in the health care market. You can hope you won’t need health care. You can pray you won’t need it. You can save and scrimp so that you can pay routine health care bills yourself. But the way the current system is set up, only incredibly wealthy Americans can guarantee they will never need more health care than they can afford.

The individual mandate, then, does not penalize people for choosing not to engage in commerce. It penalizes people for expecting society to cover their costs if they unexpectedly fall ill or are involved in a serious accident.

No one argues that the health care market is not subject to congressional regulation under the Interstate Commerce Clause. And when the argument is correctly framed, it is also pretty clear that the individual mandate is a rational and proper exercise of that regulatory authority.

Why, despite myself, I like Jerry Fuhrman’s blog

Jerry Fuhrman is, as much as he is known, best-known for his From On High blog. He is somewhat less known from a brief stint as a Roanoke Times columnist that I must claim credit for. Jerry and I have had a bit of a love-hate relationship over the years – we love to hate each other. Yeah, every once in awhile, he’ll say something kind of nice about me, or vice versa, but mostly we argue like an old married couple – when we even acknowledge the other’s existence.

But one of the things I do like about him is that he is non-partisan. He’s conservative as all get out, but he’s just as happy to pummel Republicans as Democrats when they do stupid or unethical things, like funneling millions of government dollars to nonprofits you have extensive links to.

In his post about Republican Hal Rogers’ mess in Kentucky – Fuhrman mentions Democrat Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, who went down in a similarly ignominious flames in 2010. I would like to point out that, while at The Roanoke Times, I took pains to criticize Mollohan’s ethical lapses as well.

Anyway, as much as Jerry and I disagree on a lot of things, we agree that scumbags are scumbags, whether they have a D or an R after their name.

Cuccinelli gets one exactly right

I don’t often agree with Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, but his advisory opinion about whether the state should be able to give money to nonprofit charities despite a constitutional prohibition against giving state money “to any charitable institution which is not owned or controlled by the Commonwealth,” is indisputably correct: The clear language of the state constitution means what it says.

For years, legislators had ignored this clear prohibition, appropriating money for nonprofit charities that, by and large, did good work: Food banks, free clinics, arts organizations, groups that work to prevent child abuse, etc. Since his opinion was issued, the state has been examining payments authorized by the last state budget, and holding up some of them that may run afoul of the constitutional provision.

This is unfortunate. Many of these charitable organizations, as I said, do good work – often more efficiently than the state could provide the same services.

Some legislators are unhappy that an advisory opinion is having such drastic impact. “What has set all this into motion is the attorney general’s opinion,” said Sen. R. Edward Houck, D-Spotsylvania. “I hope that level-headed people would understand that the opinion should not carry the day.”

To which Cuccinelli had a wickedly true response: “For those legislators who are disparaging the attorney general’s office for its plain reading of the state constitution, they should know they are the only ones who can change laws they don’t like. That power does not rest with this office.”

If legislators don’t like what the state constitution says, the process to begin changing it starts with them. Get cracking, guys.

(h/t Jerry Fuhrman)


McDonnell says only the Senate plan is partisan

Virginia’s Senate Democrats wisely tacked their redistricting map onto the bill for the House Republicans, which left Gov. Bob McDonnell with the choice of accepting both or rejecting both. To his credit, McDonnell rejected both. His critique of the Senate map was exactly right: “First, it is apparent that districts proposed in the Senate plan are not compact, as required in the Constitution of Virginia, and do not properly preserve locality lines and communities of interest. These issues were noted in the Independent Bipartisan Advisory Commission on Redistricting (‘Bipartisan Commission’) report as the most significant concerns of the citizens of Virginia.”

Of course, the same can be said about the Republican House districts. Instead, McDonnell laughingly applauds the House plan for its “bipartisan approach.” By that, he means Democratic delegates went along with a map that is every bit as bad as the Senate map.

Aides to McDonnell said he’d prefer to get separate maps from the House and Senate on the next go around, so the House map could move forward if he continues to have problems with the Senate version. Senate Democrats aren’t likely to be so stupid.

McDonnell should judge both maps by their merits – or lack thereof. As Christian Trejbal wrote  on The RT blog, what he should have done was submit the best map drawn up by his bipartisan redistricting commission as a substitute. That he did not, and that he chose to criticize a Democratic plan while praising an equally flawed Republican plan shows just where he stands in this process.

Southwest Virginia representatives will vote to end Medicare as we know it

All three congressional representatives from Southwest Virginia say they plan to vote for Rep. Paul Ryan’s ruinous, radical and immoral budget plan today. Are Virginians paying attention to what this budget would actually do? When voters turned out Reps. Rick Boucher and Tom Perriello in November, did they really want to replace them with good Republican soldiers who would vote with their leadership however reprehensible the idea?

And, let’s face it, shoving health care costs onto the elderly and the poor to pay for tax cuts for the rich is pretty reprehensible. That’s exactly what the Ryan plan would do. Medicare would no longer be a guarantee of health care for the elderly. Instead, older Americans would get vouchers to buy private insurance. Those vouchers wouldn’t even be enough to cover the projected cost of their care, much less cover the overhead and profits for private insurance companies – who, by the way, aren’t very likely to embrace the segment of the health care marketplace that is practically guaranteed to need lots of expensive health care. Medicaid would shift to block grants to states. States would have much more flexibility with their programs – which could lead to some savings, but most likely those savings would come from denying care to the children, indigent, long-term disabled and nursing home residents who now depend upon it.

In exchange, all of the Bush tax cuts – including those on the top 2 percent of earners – would continue. In addition, Ryan wants to drop the top tax rate to 25 percent – with unspecified reforms to the tax code aimed, he says, at making the drop revenue neutral. Does any rational political observer believe those reforms will go through, and stick?

This is what Bob Goodlatte, Robert Hurt and Morgan Griffith are so anxious to vote for.

“It’s nice to be able to move from talking about billions to cutting trillions,” Hurt said in The Times. “Those are the serious numbers my constituents want to see.”

One small problem: The Republican budget proposal actually leads to higher deficits than are currently projected (because it extends the Bush tax cuts).

Is this really what Virginians wanted when they went to the polls in November?

Fiscal calamity or humming along?

Perhaps this gets back to this item about the differences between conservative and liberal brains, but I can’t figure out Jerry Fuhrman’s latest post about Tim Kaine.

First, Fuhrman blames Kaine for the “fiscal calamity” that has befallen Virginia – um, Jerry, perhaps you heard of the global financial meltdown and the national Great Recession, both of which took Virginia on something of an economic rollercoaster ride. Does he really think a Republican governor wouldn’t have faced the same thing? (I know, I know: It’s so complicated.)  But then, just three paragraphs later, he talked about how the General Assembly ignored Kaine’s recommendation for a tax increase, then “watched the Virginia economy continue to hum along.”

OK, Jerry, so which is it: Is Virginia recovering from a fiscal calamity, or did the economy hum right along? It can be one. It can be the other. It can’t be both.

(Hint: The fact that the last budget required something around $6 billion in cuts to bring it into balance might be a clue – maybe that tax increase Kaine was asking for could have helped. Maybe.)

I can’t believe I ever actually asked this guy to write a column for The Roanoke Times.