I’m more interested in orange juice than is probably healthy for somebody who doesn’t work in the industry and, as such, I’m excited to see Bloomberg Businessweek shining a spotlight on the horseshit that is "fresh squeezed," "not from concentrate," and "all-natural." These are all lies. It was squeezed months ago. It was concentrated to a point a hair’s breadth from the legal definition of "concentrated." It’s not natural, it’s created in a lab in a process more complicated than Coca-Cola. If you drank the stuff as its stored in giant vats, you’d spit it out—it’s flavorless at best, disgusting at worst. It’s only through adding a cocktail of lab-created flavorings that it takes like something that came out of an orange. Because those lab-created flavorings are based on molecules that are found somewhere—anywhere—in nature, they can be labelled "natural flavors," instead of "artificial flavors." →
Today was a big day for Senator Henry Marsh. The legislator of twenty years took a rare day off during the Virginia Senate’s 46-day session, to attend President Barack Obama’s second-term inauguration in Washington D.C. For the 79-year-old black civil rights lawyer, attending a black president’s inauguration on Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday is perhaps the most auspicious of occasions. Certainly nobody would object to him missing just one day. Looking at today’s legislative calendar, he would have seen that his absence wouldn’t be problematic, with nothing contentious on the agenda. (With the Senate split 50/50 between Democrats and Republicans, and with a Republican lieutenant governor acting as tie-breaker, that’s no small point.)
Marsh grew up under Jim Crow. He had a ten-mile round-trip walk to his one-room schoolhouse—an awfully long trip for a seven-year-old—while white kids took a bus to a modern school. Marsh didn’t let racism hold him back. He didn’t just graduate from primary school, but went onto college. When he was a senior at Virginia Union University, the Byrd Machine was organizing “massive resistance”—shutting down public schools rather than comply with Brown v. Board of Education—and Marsh got involved, testifying against the policy before the General Assembly. In doing so, he met famed civil rights attorney Oliver Hill; at Hill’s encouragement, he got a degree in law from Howard University, and later went into private practice with Hill, focusing on civil rights law. Marsh and his practice were responsible for huge advances in civil rights over the decades, eliminating “separate but equal,” busing, and racial discrimination in hiring. Along the way he became the first black mayor of Richmond, and was elected to his Senate seat in 1991. Today he chairs the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission and created the Martin Luther King Jr. Living History and Public Policy Center.
So it bears repeating: today was a very big day for Henry Marsh. He must have taken a great deal of satisfaction in seeing his life’s work culminate in the first black president’s reelection, being sworn in on Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. It was a very, very good reason to miss a day’s session.
Today was also a big day for Senate Republicans. They knew that Henry Marsh would be at the inauguration today, and that the 20–20 split in the Senate would become a 20–19 split while Marsh was 100 miles north, among the throngs on the National Mall. So today was the day that they decided—without hearings, advertisements, notifications, or warnings—to take a chunk out of Marsh’s district, along with a handful of others, to ghettoize black voters in a majority-minority district and put 45% of voting-age citizens into new districts.
I sat in the Senate gallery, along with no more than perhaps a half-dozen other people, slack-jawed with confusion (tweeting all the while) as Republican Sen. John Watkins filibustered through the allotted 15 minutes to discuss what was advertised as the third reading of a pretty boring bill, making technical adjustments to district boundaries. Unbeknownst to anybody but the 20 Senate Republicans, the bill had been replaced with a radical redistricting, combining two senators into a single district (eliminating the district of 2009 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Creigh Deeds), reshuffling district boundaries throughout the state to absorb those changes (to Republicans’ apparent favor in a half-dozen districts), and creating a “black district.”
Senate Democrats tried repeatedly to get a word in, but they were blocked procedurally. A series of votes were held (votes about voting, votes about reconsidering voting about voting, and so on), all failing 20–19, during which a few people got to make remarks. One Democratic senator moved to simply put the vote off until tomorrow, so that there’d be time to read this brand-new bill. That vote failed 20–19. Another Democratic senator pointed out that this was simply unconstitutional (“[t]he General Assembly shall reapportion the Commonwealth into electoral districts in accordance with this section in the year 2011 and every ten years thereafter”). One Republican senator insisted that this was simply a racially sensitive improvement, since it was establishing a majority-minority district. Another Republican said that there was no need to hold hearings on this new redistricting, because they held hearings a few years ago, last time they redistricted. Yet it remained unclear throughout what, exactly, this bill did, though Democrats were frantically trying to figure that out as they stalled with round after round of procedural vote, a peeved Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling presiding over the whole affair. Finally there was nothing else to be done—the vote was held, and the bill passed, 20–19.
Lt. Gov Bolling says he would have voted against the bill, if it had been a tie. Which is surely why the bill was introduced today.
Senate Republicans’ MLK Day gift to Senator Marsh and to Virginia is to use the re-inauguration of the United States’ first black president as cover to pass a bill that will make it harder for black candidates to get elected.
Now the bill goes to the House of Delegates, who will no doubt pass it, and then to Gov. Bob McDonnell, who said he was as surprised by this bill as everybody else. We’re about to learn if McDonnell has really become the centrist he’s presenting himself as, or if he’s the same old right-wing extremist. I fear we already know the answer.
Physicist Richard A. Muller was in the news last year after his Koch-funded study of global climate change concluded that it’s real, surely to the Koch brothers’ dismay. Now he’s penned an on-ed for the New York Times in which he says that his ongoing research has led him to the same conclusion as 99.9% of other experts in the field—that "essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases." Muller’s research shows that the UN and the IPCC actually understate the problem. He researched the climate change causes claimed by non-scientist skeptics (urban heating biases, cherry-picking data, faking data, solar activity, and global population), and found that none of them explained climate change. What did explain it perfectly was atmospheric carbon dioxide. →
The NRA’s major constituency isn’t their individual members, but gun manufacturers. We are entering the era of 3-D printers (I have several friends who own them), and it’s entirely possible to print a gun. Including counterfeit guns. The stock, the barrel, the receiver—everything. Adam Penenberg explains how this is liable to to have the NRA begging congress for regulation of the indstury, rather the opposite of the present situation. →
The etymology of “the whole nine yards” is a total mystery. Anybody who tells you that they know its origin is either lying or unknowingly parroting an urban legend. The number of feet of fabric required to make a suit? Number of cubic yards of soil removed to dig a grave? Number of cubic yards of cement that fits in a mixer? The length of a WWII-era ammunition belt? Nope, none of those are it. The earliest known use of the phrase was in 1962, but now there’s been a trio of new discoveries from 1921 and 1912. Why weren’t they found before? Because the phrase was “the whole six yards.” The number was inflated over the years, much as “cloud seven” became “cloud eight” and is now “cloud nine.” The origin of the phrase is still unknown, but one potentially important clue is found in the pair of 1912 uses—both were in Kentucky. →
For those of you not quite clear on what it is that I do, you might be interested in an article that I wrote for the Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, explaining The State Decoded and its application to laws and regulations. The project is more than halfway done, and I’m pleased with its progress. →
When a candidate is described as “divisive,” generally it’s intended to mean that while his own party loves him, the other party can’t stand him. In what’s shaping up to be a race between Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli for the Virginia governorship, there are two wildly divisive candidates who are perhaps more divisive within their own parties than outside of it.
Four years ago, McAuliffe came in a distant second in a three-man race for the nomination for governor (despite raising $8M), won no geographic portion of Virginia, and endeared himself to nobody in the process. He’s never been elected to public office and has no constituency. The percentage of Democrats who would definitely not vote for him exceeds the percentage who would vote for him. That’s not in the primary—that’s in the general election. McAuliffe is a Clinton-era Democrat, the sort of old-school Democrat accustomed to winning elections by sucking up to power brokers, the sort who was purged from positions of power in the party round about 2005. It’s his turn to run for office, you see. He’s a glad-hander (it’s always “good to see you,” never “good to meet you”), always ready with the grip-and-grin. His performance at the 2009 Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner really said it all.
And the Bill Clinton thing. Good Lord, the Bill Clinton thing. Guess who McAuliffe just got off the phone with? Guess who he just played golf with? You know who told him the funniest thing the other day? McAuliffe cannot stop mentioning Clinton because it’s all he’s got. Terry McAuliffe : Bill Clinton :: Marge Simpson : Chanel suit.
McAuliffe’s business bona fides aren’t much better. Global Crossing. (Need I say more?) His current business, Greentech Automotive, recently established an auto plant…in Mississippi. Despite that McAuliffe knew full well that he’d be running for governor of Virginia, touting his business experience on a platform of creating jobs. (“The main reason Terry is running for Governor is to make it easier for companies to create jobs right here in Virginia,” says his spokesman.) Why didn’t he build the plant in Virginia? Oh, it’s not his fault—it’s the fault of Virginia Economic Development Partnership! “It was their decision,” McAuliffe spinelessly informed The Note. How was the location of his factory a decision of tiny state agency? They wouldn’t pay him enough to locate his plant in Virginia. Yes, McAuliffe believes that states should bid for businesses (an economic loser just about every time), even his own business, not by creating environments conducive to running businesses and recruiting employees, but by just offering cash. This, of course, is why this company was located in Hong Kong when he bought it—in a globalized economy, a lowest-bidder approach will leave manufacturing out of the U.S. permanently. Mississippi, you see, is the U.S.’s version of a third-world country. Perhaps McAuliffe will be running on a platform of making Virginia more like Mississippi? In their defense, VEDP says that McAuliffe never even completed their application. McAuliffe shopped around for a state in which to open a factory the same way that he shopped around for a state in which to run for governor. Virginia’s apparently great for running for governor, but not so great for building “cars” that are legally identical to golf carts.
Not one Democrat in a hundred is excited about McAuliffe. Democrats are fired up about him the same way that Republicans were fired up about Mitt Romney. The base will fake it through November and, if he loses, they’ll all say how they never really liked him in the first place. If he wins, of course, they always believed in him!
Then there’s Ken Cuccinelli. Christ, what an asshole. “Extremist” has seldom been a more suitable word to describe a candidate. He supports a no-exceptions ban on abortion, opposes homosexuality (period), thinks Virginia needs Arizona-style anti-immigration laws, believes that global climate change is a conspiracy theory, and thinks that President Obama didn’t really win reelection last month. He has 95% of the traits that have been laying waste to the Republican Party in recent years, save one—he’s not dumb. In fact, he’s an intelligent guy, and a too-common mistake made by Democrats is to believe that just because he professes wildly retrograde, utterly contra-factual beliefs, that he must be a fool. He is not. (This is in sharp contrast with Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, etc., who, even collectively, are dumber than a sack of hammers.) Unlike McAuliffe, he actually has a base, and he’s been elected to office repeatedly. He represented Fairfax in the General Assembly for two terms and, of course, successfully ran for attorney general. While McAuliffe is a generic sort of a centrist-ish Democrat who is hobbled by a terrible personality and the perception that he’s a carpetbagger, Cuccinelli is hobbled by holding views that are wildly out of step with Virginians, Americans, and the facts. I’d guess about 20% of the electorate probably adores him, but far more deplore him (or will, come next October).
Cuccinelli is the sort of social conservative that’s driving a wedge into the Republican Party. Regular ol’ fiscally conservative Republicans have tolerated allowing this type into the tent so long as they’ve furthered the same collective goals, but it’s started to get embarrassing (e.g., the Tea Party). Those regular Republicans were victorious in the nomination process for the presidency this year, allowing Romney to defeat a field that consisted largely of crazies, but after Romney’s loss, it’s not clear which side will be running the party soon. Dick Armey’s departure from FreedomWorks (one of the the Koch-funded companies that created and bankroll the Tea Party) is the latest evidence that the conservative power brokers have lost control over their own creations—the inmates are running the asylum. Cuccinelli is proudly on the inmates’ side of the fence, and unless he’s prepared to tamp down that image, he’s going to have a tough time getting support from the kind of Republicans who supported Mark Warner over Jim Gilmore. This, of course, is why Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling is flirting with running as an independent. His is the wing of the party that thinks that the grassroots need to be trimmed back (to abuse a metaphor), the wing that Cuccinelli is going to have a tough time wooing, and a tougher time still if Bolling gets into the race.
Power-brokers on both sides are pooh-poohing talk of primary challengers and third-party candidacies. When former congressman Tom Perriello demurred a few days ago, that was the prompt for Democrats to declare that it’s time to get behind McAuliffe as our candidate. This has not been greeted with enthusiasm.
All of this reminds me of the Republican presidential nomination process in 2008 and 2012. Reviewing every candidate, there was a clear and obvious argument to be made as to why they couldn’t possibly win the nomination. And yet somebody had to win and, indeed, somebody did. Neither Cuccinelli nor McAuliffe can possibly win a gubernatorial election. And yet—unless somebody else enters the race—one of them will.
This is the worst kind of election, the kind in which a supermajority of the voters in each party have to support not their preferred candidate, but the one whom they loathe the least. (To be fair, this is how some voters feel about every election.) That may be what makes it such an ideal race for a solid third-party candidate like Bolling to take a run at election. Russ Potts’ 2005 gubernatorial candidacy was a threat to Republican nominee Jerry Kilgore, but there was never any danger of him winning the election. Republicans were OK with Kilgore, and Democrats liked Tim Kaine. Things are different this time. If Bolling can trim his sails a bit (he is a conservative Republican after all), he can take votes from both candidates, money from both sides, and I think it’s entirely possible for him to win. At least, then, it’ll be possible for somebody to win.
In a long piece, the New York Times looks at Michigan’s efforts to persuade Hollywood to make films there through enormous subsidies. It didn’t fail—worse, it succeeded. The state lost money hand over fist in the process. Paying businesses to relocate to your state or city is a huge waste, 99% of the time. →
The prior chair of the Florida Republican Party (2006–2010) and former governor Charlie Crist (2007–2011) have both told the Palm Beach Post that they didn’t push voter ID laws and the like in order to reduce fraud (there is none)—they did it to suppress turnout. The more people voting, the better Democrats do. They invented the fraud concern as a “marketing ploy.” Both men are on the outs with Florida Republicans, and this probably isn’t helping them make up. →
We have gone 332 months in which every month has been above the historical average temperature. There hasn’t been a single colder-than-average month since 1985. →
So says Republican leaders in Georgia. The UN! Agenda 21! Rural broadband! RAND! Obama’s 2008 election yielded the Tea Party. His reelection may breed an even stupider brand of nutjobs. →
A press release from Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office one year ago contained this quote:
If we’re going to lead America’s economic recovery, we have to remember that small business, not big government, creates jobs.
That’s a familiar refrain, heard often during the recent election, most frequently uttered by people seeking a job leading that very government that cannot create jobs.
A press release from McDonnell’s office today:
“The opening of the 495 Express Lanes means opportunity for Virginia,” said McDonnell. “The project not only helped create jobs during construction, but will continue to make Northern Virginia a more attractive place to work and live.”
Last year, McDonnell told us that government couldn’t create jobs. But today, he tells us that, it could and it did. I wonder what happened in the intervening year?
Thank God. What an embarrassment it would have been for Virginia if this casually vicious racist had won. He fashioned himself in the image of the unreformed old southern racists of the 1960s, and never bothered to update his mindset, only how to fake it for brief stretches. In the meantime, Virginia—and the whole US—changed around him. Maybe he can spend even more time now fighting against anti-Semitism, since he told Wolf Blitzer in 2006 that he’d “use [his] time on Earth” to do just that. I wonder how that’s been going in the intervening six years? →
Barack Obama reelected by an overwhelming electoral vote. Both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan lost their home states. All the rah-rah-rape U.S. Senate Republicans defeated. George Allen defeated by Tim Kaine. Scott Brown defeated by Elizabeth Warren. Tommy Thompson defeated by Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate. Gay marriage approved in two, maybe three states. Recreational marijuana approved in two states. All of this forecast precisely in polling, polling that Republicans overwhelmingly rejected the very science of, utterly convinced that, mystically, Romney would win. The nation took a big step to the left, and everybody but the Republican Party saw it coming months ago.
Where does the Republican Party go from here? If past is prologue, it goes farther still to the right, finding yet more sciences to reject, new bogeymen on whom to blame their woes, new RINOs to eject from the party in ritual purification.
But if the grown-ups can step in, perhaps the Republican Party has a different future. They’ve got to tamp down the strong anti-intellectual strain in the party that makes it the welcoming home of Donald Trump, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Sarah Palin. Drop the battle against science and facts. Drop the fight against the demographic tide and stop opposing gay marriage and Latinos. And drop the no-taxes-ever schtick—often the opposite of fiscal conservatism—in favor of the economic conservatism that the Republican Party espoused for a century.
Equally important, Republicans in Congress need to stop putting their ideological opposition to some of the president’s policies before the good of the nation. Taking the nation to the brink of bankruptcy to make a muddled point, Mitch McConnell’s famed “single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president” remark, opposing every little thing just for the sake of opposing it. This is why Congress has a 10% approval rating, which ranks below support for the U.S. becoming a communist nation. They’ve got to start leading instead of opposing.
The country has changed. So has the Republican Party. But the two are moving in opposite directions. This nation needs a second party to participate in the political process. We’re facing some big problems right now, and we need two parties working towards solving them, rather than one working towards solutions while the other works towards undermining those solutions. I hope last night’s defeat will help the Republican Party become that party.
A lot of people have been asking me what the deal is with the two proposed constitutional amendments that we Virginians will be presented with Tuesday. Here’s a brief explanation of each.
Amendment 1: Eminent Domain
Shall Section 11 of Article I (Bill of Rights) of the Constitution of Virginia be amended (i) to require that eminent domain only be exercised where the property taken or damaged is for public use and, except for utilities or the elimination of a public nuisance, not where the primary use is for private gain, private benefit, private enterprise, increasing jobs, increasing tax revenue, or economic development; (ii) to define what is included in just compensation for such taking or damaging of property; and (iii) to prohibit the taking or damaging of more private property than is necessary for the public use?
That’s the question that will actually appear on the ballot. Here’s the text that would be added to the constitution:
That the General Assembly shall pass no law whereby private property, the right to which is fundamental, shall be damaged or taken except for public use. No private property shall be damaged or taken for public use without just compensation to the owner thereof. No more private property may be taken than necessary to achieve the stated public use. Just compensation shall be no less than the value of the property taken, lost profits and lost access, and damages to the residue caused by the taking. The terms “lost profits” and “lost access” are to be defined by the General Assembly. A public service company, public service corporation, or railroad exercises the power of eminent domain for public use when such exercise is for the authorized provision of utility, common carrier, or railroad services. In all other cases, a taking or damaging of private property is not for public use if the primary use is for private gain, private benefit, private enterprise, increasing jobs, increasing tax revenue, or economic development, except for the elimination of a public nuisance existing on the property. The condemnor bears the burden of proving that the use is public, without a presumption that it is.
This is in response to the 2005 Kelo v. New London decision, in which the Connecticut city condemned private land to transfer it to another private owner for an ostensibly higher economic purpose. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of New London, and the decision was not entirely well received by the public. In the 2007 session of the Virginia General Assembly, they responded to this decision by passing SB1296, which created § 1-219.1—Limitations on eminent domain, providing a narrow interpretation of the definition of “public use” as used in the constitution, so as to prohibit a New London-style taking. That settled the matter. And yet this proposed constitutional amendment.
A lesser problem with this amendment is that it doesn’t fit in at all with the rest of the constitution. Constitutions are for broad, simple statements to be built upon in statutory and case law. This amendment is very, very wordy, and very specific. It’s 250% as long as the Article I, Section 12, which guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition the government. All too often, the legislature uses Virginia’s constitution as a dumping ground for reelection fodder, converting statutory laws into constitutional law to no apparent benefit (e.g., constitutional regulation of oyster beds—seriously).
This a poorly written, overly specific amendment that does nothing. It’s opposed by nearly every locality in Virginia. I intend to vote against it. It will almost certainly pass.
Amendment 2: Legislative Sessions
Shall Section 6 of Article IV (Legislature) of the Constitution of Virginia concerning legislative sessions be amended to allow the General Assembly to delay by no more than one week the fixed starting date for the reconvened or “veto” session when the General Assembly meets after a session to consider the bills returned to it by the Governor with vetoes or amendments?
The legislature meets in January and February, and then they go home for a while while the governor considers the bills that they passed. Then they get together again in early April, generally just for one day, to vote on whether they want to override any of the governor’s vetoes. They’re constitutionally required to meet on the sixth Wednesday after the session ends.
The problem here is that the veto session date often falls during Passover, the week-long Jewish high holiday. My guess is that there were zero Jews in the General Assembly when this bit of the constitution was written. That’s no longer the case. This amendment lets them pick a different day within a week of the constitutionally prescribed day. This amendment passed the House and Senate unanimously, and there is no organized public opposition to it (or disorganized opposition, that I know about). I can envision no harm in it, and I’m happy to support it.
The only press coverage that Goode is getting for his wacky fourth-party presidential bid is for the possibility that he may be a spoiler for Romney in Virginia. This is another story in that vein. If Romney does lose Virginia by Goode’s Tuesday tally, a lot of people will be upset, but I’m pretty confident that Goode will not be among them. This is his fourth political party in the past decade—if need be, he’ll just join a new one. →
Jason Flanary, failed 2011 candidate for the Virginia Senate, had Twitter all a-flutter over the past few days after sending bajillions of really nasty anti-Obama SMS messages to mobile phones in total violation of federal election law. “VP Biden mocks a fallen Navy Seal during memorial. Our military deserves better” and “Obama believes killing children is a right until the umbilical cord is cut” were two of the messages. Flanary, a Republican, is on the board of the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, and ran against Dave Marsden for Senate, garnering 46% of the vote. The Romney campaign says that they didn’t know the first thing about what Flanary was up to. Apparently Flanary’s company, ccAdvertising, is in the habit of sending out millions of illegal SMSes in the days before elections, in an effort to influence election outcomes. I’m pretty sure this story will have an unhappy ending for Flanary. →
There are two ways to pronounce “Missouri”—neither is right and neither is wrong. It’s become a geographic, political, and generational shibboleth. This article doesn’t mention Nevada, but that’s a state that seems equally divided (“Neh-VEH-duh” versus “Neh-VAH-duh”). →
In 2008, Focus on the Family wrote this letter from the future, warning their members about life in 2012 if Barack Obama were elected president. It’s hilarious. Comedy gold. Everybody’s gay, children watch porn, electricity is all but illegal, prayer isn’t allowed…it’s a hoot. If it wasn’t for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, I don’t think there’d be any media outlet that would later revisit and evaluate these sorts of claims. I wonder what Focus on the Family is claiming Obama will do with his next four years? And who would believe them? →
National Media has provided a bubble chart of beers, graphed by partisanship and likelihood of turning out to vote. Republicans drink Coors Light, Miller Light, and Sam Adams. Democrats drink Heineken and Corona. People who show up to the polls drink Amstel Light, Sam Adams Light, and Molson. People who don’t bother to vote drink Budweiser Select, Natural Light, and Busch Light. Fosters, Miller High Life, Busch, and Bud Light are equally popular among Democrats and Republicans. →