Thursday, December 29, 2011

GAZETTE COLUMN: DIRTY BUSINESS – THIS KEYSTONE XL OIL PIPELINE by John P. Flannery


You all know who congress works for when, around Christmas time, they Scrooge-like hold hostage tax breaks for working middle class families, unemployment insurance for those who can’t find a job, and Medicare monies needed to treat the sick. 
What ransom did these congressional ne’er do wells demand in exchange?  What else?  A deal for their rich oil patrons! 
The American Petroleum Institute, fronting for Canada and its partners in the United States, wants to build the dirtiest, riskiest, $7 Billion crude tar sand oil pipeline called the Keystone XL. 
They want to pump 700,000 barrels of filthy crude every day, along a 36 inch pipe, traveling 1,661 miles from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas.
You might think they’d be embarrassed to make such a push only a year after BP despoiled the Gulf of Mexico and then had an oil leak on its TransAlaska pipeline, and after Michigan suffered a million gallon oil spill.
TransCanada says that there is no risk to the underground water along the pipe route.  (If you believe that, I can show you where the weapons of mass destruction are hidden in Iraq.)
TransCanada is unconcerned that a forerunner pipeline made of questionable steel leaked oil.  TransCanada nevertheless asked the US for permission to lay this steel pipeline across 70 rivers and streams and a huge aquifer, the Ogallala, the source of one-third of all ground water to irrigate farms in the region.  TransCanada is going to dig down four feet below the surface for this pipe line.  So it will be below the water table in many places, putting the water supply at risk from oil leaks.  TransCanada made some limp assurances, telling Texas residents not to be concerned as these pipelines will have a cut-off valve every 20 miles.  If true, then you could only be mired in 20 miles worth of inky black muck, rather than the full length of the pipeline.
TransCanada has also bullied landowners telling them if they don’t permit them on their land, then they’ll take it by eminent domain.  In some instances, TransCanada began construction of the line without official approval. 
On the economic front, some buyers of Canadian crude said there is too much pipeline capacity now so that Keystone is neither necessary nor economical. 
Unsurprisingly, citizens from the region have objected on all the obvious grounds, protesters gathered outside Congress and the White House, and the Administration delayed approval of this pipeline for a year. 
That’s why Congress demanded as its ransom, the shortening of the government’s decision horizon, from a year to a few months, by February 21, 2012.
In exchange, these oil industry stooges in congress gave a green light to middle class tax breaks, unemployment insurance and Medicare.
TransCanada and its PR machine keep saying the pipeline will create jobs.  Not really. 
At its peak, the Keystone XL application promised it would hire 3,500 to 4,200 temps for construction.  Given that the foreign-built pipe has been stockpiled in North Dakota, the actual temp work force is likely to be more like a third of TransCanada’s original forecast.    
As for really helping workers, the payroll tax cut helped 750,000 Americans.
A proposed bill that would really help workers, the American Jobs Act, would create 1.9 Million jobs.
Kill this wrong-headed pipeline and save the farms and homes of people half way across the country because this pipeline has never been about helping us, it’s about making a killing at our expense, about playing us as fools in this latest oil industry con.

Friday, December 23, 2011

GAZETTE COLUMN: Mary and Joseph – a Christmas Meditation by John P. Flannery

            We live so much of our lives in a world of distorted fantasy, too many people wrongly projecting how they see the world, shadow figures reflected on a wall, taken as real and true, but not real at all.
Too many people these days take comfort in these illusory projections – and it’s a self-verifying system of bias that allows too many citizens to do less and less – without regard to what’s best for the common welfare.   
            The best example of cognitive dissonance is the middle class defending the filthy rich that exploit them, by unbridled greed and selfishness, destroying their jobs, promoting insecurity, and transforming benefits into misty vapor. 
Too many middle class project a holograph of the wealthy as heroes rather than the self-aggrandizing overlords they’ve become.  They call them “job creators,” when they’ve done exactly the opposite.  Despite the evidence, too many insist that the wealthy want to employ us all and share the profits that they have horded for years – and the cover story is that evil government has reined in their creative freedom that simply awaits release for our eternal benefit.  Poppycock!
            These same folk insist we should all subscribe to belief in an “invisible hand” with supernatural properties that makes all things right in our economy.  They don’t question why this talismanic nonsense – the “invisible” hand - failed to make its presence known to protect us when our economy crashed in 2008.  Still they are steadfast in their belief in the economic beneficence of this palsied hand – like the members of some long gone primitive culture that trusts in totems carved from woodland trees.
            They save the worst of their projections for the most fragile.  A poor homeless person, who spent last night in a park near Leesburg, doesn’t exist unless we see him walking to McDonald’s with his bed roll of papers and bags, and, if we do see him, it is as likely the deluded observer will fault the poor for failing to do “what he should have done” to save himself.  Similarly, the aged should have planned better for their retirement and medical care.  Heaven forbid that we would think to open a public building on the coldest of evenings so that the homeless might not die of exposure to the elements.  Or that we should care to protect the aged who have contributed so much to their communities and now must fear for their security.
            It is sweet irony that we live in a county that prides itself on being a hot bed of Christian activism – at least when it comes to condemning and circumscribing personal freedoms (and then how they hate).
            The meditation of the Christmas season that tells us who we are is the answer to this question: How many people would open their door after dark to an unmarried pregnant woman and give her and the apparent father shelter for the night?  Of course, we’re talking about Mary and Joseph and, when they knock, as was true in the original account, no one knew she was going to give birth to Jesus or that this unborn child had any significance.  Yet they finally found shelter. Would they do as well today in Loudoun County?
In this County, it’s a nice question, whether it would matter if Mary was dark-skinned (as she likely was) or if she was shabbily dressed?  Do you think it is unlikely that Mary would get shelter if Bethlehem were Leesburg and Nazareth were Mexico?
On Saturday night, a neighbor I’ve always respected told me that he has all this room in his house.  He said he feels badly about the homeless and would have them in his home.  He said he doesn’t require much privacy any more.  He just feels badly that he has space that could shelter others.    There is no question in my mind that he would give shelter to Mary and Joseph – as he would shelter anyone else.  There are many other friends and neighbors in this County who would do as much.  I have seen them do amazing things.  These are the people of heart and soul that are the future of this community and the nation and it is by their character that we fulfill our constitutional promise as a people.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

GAZETTE COLUMN: The 7 dwarfs from Des Moines! by John Flannery

The ABC News Division put on a terrific Saturday night show at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, kind of reality tv meets presidential politics, a demolition derby debate among the Republican presidential primary contenders.
We were short, however, by one dwarf.  Former Godfather Pizza’s CEO and Chairman Herman Cain caught the brass ring when the public wanted anyone but Mitt (Romney), and Herman topped the political polls, gaining altitude with attitude until, like Icarus, he flew too close to the hot sun, busted all records on the bimbo meter, lost his wax wings, and fell to the earth, having “overlooked” to mention to the Missus that 13 year “intimate friendship” he had with another woman.
Michelle Bachman praised Cain and then joined the Greek Chorus of caustic contenders kicking Newt around the stage for his sexual indiscretions.  Perry said, if you’ll cheat on your wife, you’ll cheat on your business partners – an interesting conjunction.  Newt scowled, played piƱata to their scornful remarks, bowed his head, and finally said he’d sought prayerful reconciliation. 
Mitt questioned Newt’s idea factory, starting with Newt’s proposal for a colony to mine minerals on the Moon.  Mitt overlooked to mention Newt’s space mirrors that would reflect the sun onto our highways -- so we can save electricity.  Newt explained another beaut -- to fire hard-working middle class school janitors, add them to the unemployment line, and use child labor drawn from grammar school classrooms, paying the kids less than the janitors of course.
One blogger wrote about the debate, “No, Diane Sawyer. It doesn't help. Give them clubs and don't interrupt!!”
Mitt, a man of the people, tried to make a $10,000 bet with Perry on whether Mitt changed what he’d said about his Massachusetts Health care program from one edition of his book to the next.  Perry couldn’t think to say, “Make it a fiver and you’ve got a bet, or, by the way, Mitt, real people don’t make bets for 10 big ones.”  Someone blogged, “Can Mormons bet?” 
This tied in nicely with Mitt’s explanation about how he knew about the poor.  His dad had been poor – and told him all about it.  Newt hung back because, “What could he know about the middle class when he’s got a running tab to buy shiny diamond treasures at Tiffany’s?”
No dwarf admitted to supporting any government regulations.  Newt did write a book in 1984, called “Window of Opportunity,” where he advocated “forceful government intervention on behalf of growth and opportunity” explaining how he opposed “a neutral jungle of purely random individual behavior.”  By the time of the debate in Des Moines, however, neither Newt nor any other dwarf were concerned with how a poorly regulated corporate America killed workers in mines, spilled oil in the Gulf, broke our banks and collapsed our economy with bogus home loans. 
The dwarfs refuse to increase taxes on the rich but they’re fine with increasing payroll taxes on the middle class.  No one called Mitt on whether his business had been to destroy jobs, and not to create them.  Mitt’s company, Bain Capital, made its fortune taking over companies, forcing some into bankruptcy, and always selling them off for a profit.  Mitt was more like Oliver Stone’s Gordon Gekko who went to Wall Street, than Capra’s Mr. Smith who went to Washington.
On foreign affairs, Mitt and Newt argued about Newt’s remark that the Palestinians were an “invented people” and then they argued, like children, about who knew Israeli Prime Minister “Bibi” Netanyahu better or longer.  Bachmann tried to top this sophomoric exchange by repeating she had worked on a kibbutz – and apparently never learned how to say Chutzpah.
            So what’s America to do? 
If you want to restore the basic bargain that our people made with its government, then you are best to ignore the dwarfs and consider what another presidential candidate said last week in Osawatomie, Kansas. 
“[W]hat’s at stake,” President Obama said, “is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, [and] secure their retirement.”  Obama decried how “the rungs on the ladder of opportunity have grown farther and farther apart, and the middle class has shrunk.”  He proposed an “economy where everyone plays by the same rules, from Wall Street to Main Street.” 
Now, that would be a welcome change!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

GAZETTE COLUMN: WE CAN’T REFUSE TO HELP CHILDREN! by John P. Flannery

Food Stamp Benefit Card
We can’t refuse to help children.
There are parents who resent our First Lady’s suggestion that our children should eat good food and exercise -- if they can.  My Mom told me to eat well and exercise.  My teacher and coach, John Lyttle, at Fordham Prep taught us how to eat well and exercise.  When I was young, President Jack Kennedy inspired the nation to be fit and vigorous -- though he had severe disabilities.  We should welcome, not resist, a First Lady who re-visits these worthy values of good nutrition and exercise and invites our nation to embrace them anew.
Consider that we have 21 million children in school, receiving federally subsidized lunches.  At lunch, they consume 40% of all the calories they eat in a day.  Fully a third of all these children are overweight or obese. 
Congress looked the other way recently, favoring its monied contributors over our children, when it rejected the USDA’s proposed nutritional guidelines and treated pizza with tomato sauce as a vegetable, and approved a diet of French fries, starchy vegetables, and salt for our children.  Congress refused to help our children – so now we must do what Congress failed to do.
We have many other children who are not in danger of being overweight.  They are in danger, however, of going hungry.  We have gone from 18 million children eating lunches in 2006 to 21 million students today.  Layoffs have meant more families qualify for the free lunch program.  A family with an income that is 130 percent of the poverty level, $29,055 for a family of four, can receive free school meals.  A family with an income of $41,348 can receive a lunch for a 40 cent charge. 
Nor does this problem end with the school day.  More families now qualify for the USDA food stamp program to feed their children and to feed themselves after school.  Not that they get stamps any more.  It’s more like a debit card.  The USDA grants money to poor households to buy food and – since the recession – the ratio of poor to the rest of the population went from 130 per thousand in 2007 to 153 per thousand in 2010, an increase of 18 %.
Only a few days ago, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican presidential contender, attacked the food stamp program, criticizing President Obama for feeding the hungry so well, wrongly charging “You don’t get food stamps, you get a credit card and the credit card can be used for anything.  We’ve had people take their food-stamp money and use it to go to Hawaii.”
Gingrich scapegoats the poor with lies to win political support from the unwary and the well fed to advance his presidential primary bid.  We should know three things.  First, there is no “credit” card; there is instead an electronic benefits card – EBT card – and it creates an audit trail of expenditures, like your debit card, and bars the card holder from buying any items that are disallowed.  Second, you can’t buy restaurant meals, beer, wine or liquor, nor vitamins, food that you’d eat at the store, nor hot food, and most certainly not any plane tickets to Hawaii or any place else.  Third, Gingrich told another whopper when he said that “they give food stamps now to millionaires.” Nonsense.  You can’t get food stamps if you earn more than 130 percent of the poverty line.
Speaker Gingrich attacks the poor, as he proclaims in the most reverential tones, his Christian faith.  Perhaps Gingrich follows a different testament than other Christians for Jesus “cursed into everlasting fire” those who gave no meat nor drink when he “hungered.”  Matthew 25:41-42.  Of course, Jesus was not talking about his hunger but of his brothers and sisters.  Jesus explained, “When you refused to help the least of these my brothers, you were refusing to help me.”  Matthew 25:46.  Plainly, Speaker Gingrich wants only to help himself; his soul is as empty of charity as is a vacuum of air.
Unlike Congress and Gingrich, we must not refuse to help our children who are hungry.  Nor refuse to help children to eat better.  If we are truly a family, then we must act like one – and help each other.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

GAZETTE COLUMN: DISTURBING THE PEACE by John P. Flannery


            There is a hue and cry from the right that citizens are disturbing the peace because they have taken to the street to protest.
            But are we really at peace? 
At home, we have social violence, suffered in body and spirit, when those who are ill can’t afford to be treated to become healthy, those who had homes don’t any longer, and some don’t have apartments and live in cars or on the street, those who would work can find none, those who do work can be forced to work longer hours for less pay with fewer benefits, those who would learn can’t afford an education, those who are aged are insecure in the years they were promised would be golden but have turned leaden instead. 
Is the status of aloneness, of lost self-worth, of weakness the indicia of peace and prosperity?  I think not.  If this be our peace, then shouldn’t it be disturbed? 
Fundamental Fairness is an essential clause in the social compact that we made with each other in the formation of this imperfect union – and it’s been ruptured almost irreparably in favor of the wealthy few. 
Abroad, we fight wars for plunder at the expense of the life and limb of our young men and women who can hardly find any other way of life to work and live but to join the service for the promise of grand adventure and unequaled skills when they’ve finished their tours of duty.  Unfortunately, when these men and women come home, if not disabled or broken by PTSD or TBI, they find these promises were a lulling breeze in the wind. 
We support torture as a policy against anyone we deem our enemy and are surprised when these young men and women are tortured.  We unleash destructive and hellish forces into civilian populations against women and children and non-combatants and wonder why the inhabitants don’t praise us as their liberators, why they scorn us, and why they form protective coalitions with our enemies. 
We drain our treasury and borrow funds to fight these wars whose success is indeterminate, at least for the citizens of this nation who underwrite these conflicts with their taxes and loans from Far East nations at the expense of taking care of our own here at home.
It is wrong therefore to think those rude and “disturbing” who merely protest against the social violence that they have suffered at home and in the wars abroad.
It is indisputable that the Darth Vader garbed police, with their plastic head-butting shields, who sprayed pepper point blank into the faces of peaceful protesters, young and old, all passive, used excessive force and committed crimes of assault and battery.
The learned lesson is that freedom of speech is a prepositional freedom.  You may have freedom OF speech but you do not have freedom AFTER speech. 
Our nation’s local leaders appear to be coordinating efforts to circumscribe that freedom to protest with permits and timetables and arrests.  They are so concerned about our safety and our health – they say.  They recoil at the possibility of tents and pizza boxes that might not be cleaned up when, in truth and fact, these protesters have cleared all the waste themselves.  We all know what’s really going on here.  They are muzzling citizens speaking the truth.
These protests are the symptoms of our failure to provide for the “general welfare” and to define what defense of the nation requires – as opposed to jingoistic adventuring around the world to expand American hegemony.  We must steer the nation true again and it is really up to us - because most of our elected leaders are so defensive and disturbed, they don’t appreciate that it’s our nation at risk – and nothing less.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

GAZETTE COLUMN: YOU DON'T PAY INCOME TAXES? by John P. Flannery


Ever since Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) said last summer that 51 percent of American households paid no income tax in 2009, the defenders of the rich and greedy are in a lather opposing the proposal that the wealthy should have to pay any more income taxes – like the rest of America is free loading.
But, if you are married filing jointly, you pay no taxes if your income is less than $18,700 for the year, a little more than $1,500 a month.  As you may know, the poverty level this year is estimated to be about $22,350.00 for a family of four.  So, one way to look at this is that a family that is below the poverty level doesn’t pay federal income taxes.  The government estimates that almost 60% of all Americans will spend at least one year below the poverty line at some time from when they are 25 years until they are 75.
You may ask why Senator Cornyn chose the year 2009 to make his argument that some weren’t paying income taxes.  And why his rhetorical imitators do the same.  Their plain implication is that these taxpayers had the money to pay taxes and were not paying.  But how could he, and his ditto heads, overlook that it was in 2008 that our economy cratered and the middle class began to bleed while the government bailed out the wealthy that shot the cannon ball sinking our economy and leaving it awash in red ink. 
Before 2009, the total number of tax returns had increased slightly from 2006.  But the number of tax returns fell in 2009 by almost 12%, or 10 million returns.  Total adjusted gross income fell by 5% or about $400 billion.  The recession obviously meant that there was less income to pay income taxes.
Senator Cornyn also worded his charge carefully, to the effect, that many weren’t paying federal “income” taxes.  His chorus of followers states it the same way.  But there is abundant evidence that many who aren’t paying income taxes are paying other federal taxes including the payroll tax which funds Social Security and Medicare, also that they are liable for state income taxes, local property taxes, sales taxes and a myriad of fees that are imposed.  When the dust settles, the only ones who don’t pay any taxes at all are our children (those lazy no-goods), some disabled, some elderly and most poor.  Does Senator Cornyn and his chorus of cads think of children, the disabled, the elderly and the poor as free-loaders?  Perhaps they want to tax the books the children read at school, the devices the disabled use, reduce even further the social security the elderly receive, and charge a bag tax for the homeless poor that carry their meager belongings in this fashion, making their home in the streets over gratings and park benches where they can.
Another reason we are collecting less from our citizens is the political class keeps trying to reduce taxes to win votes like we can balance the budget with vapor.  We refuse to reduce our popular tax breaks, treated as “expenditures” in Hill jargon (because they reduce tax income to the treasury).  Nor is this only a few dollars here and there.  We have more than a trillion dollars a year in reduced taxes, with the bulk of those breaks going to, guess who, the top end of the income food chain.
The truth is that we all should be paying more if we care to keep this nation afloat.  But there are folk who would rather not pay what is required and test the premise whether we can borrow from China and Japan and delay any settlement on our debt.  They refuse to re-adjust our war machine to simmer and to increase the tax obligation of those who can afford to pay more – and that means especially the rich.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

SHENANDOAH PRESS COLUMN: DOWN THE YELLOW CAKE ROAD by John Flannery


A Canadian Company called Virginia Energy Resources, natch, that trades on the Toronto Venture Stock Exchange, has come to Virginia, and working with its merged partner, the Virginia Uranium Company, it’s contributing big time to our elected officials, about $100,000 so far, and lobbying them, and taking them on junkets to France (and Canada), with the stated objective of convincing them to lift the 30-year-old ban on mining uranium so that they can dig up about 119 million pounds of uranium, worth about $7 billion.
Having made a mess of the Canadian North Country, land of the Mounty and the Moose, they want to come to Virginia and mess up our backyard and perhaps compromise forever the land that we love and the health – our own – that we treasure. Perhaps they’ve come here because Canada’s provinces have cut back on uranium mining; some have even banned it because of devastation like that which uranium miners left behind in an open pit at the Key Lake Mine in Northern Saskatchewan, and the sand-like Stanrock tailings (70 million tons) at Elliot Lake.
Joseph Conrad, in “Heart of Darkness,” wrote that the “desire” of mining speculators was “[t]o tear treasure out of the bowels of the earth … with no more moral purpose at the back of it than burglars breaking into a safe.”
Canada is not the only place that’s been turned into a moonscape by such mining; we’ve done it in the United States as well. 
At a recent community briefing in Middleburg, Chris Miller, the president of the Piedmont Environmental Council (“PEC”), said, that the nation needs to move to alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power.  He said, “We don’t lack alternatives …, we lack imagination.”
At the same meeting, Jeff Painter, of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, gave a legislative prospectus on what might happen in the upcoming session of the General Assembly, how Virginia might lift the ban on uranium mining or insist that mining regulations be written effective, say in 2013, lifting the ban then.
No person on the planet can ignore that uranium made possible a nuclear weapon that was used twice against Japan, and tested for many years afterwards in the United States and off shore.
We’ve made a valiant effort to tame and harness this explosive power for safe energy production.   But achieving what is “safe” has proven elusive.  Like the sword of Damocles, the threat of nuclear power gone awry hangs over our heads by a thread.
In the first nuclear explosion in Hiroshima, Japanese soldiers looking at the nuclear bomb saw nothing as their eyes melted, running out of their sockets, blinded in the instant immediately preceding their deaths.   J. Robert Oppenheimer, the head of the Manhattan Project, that created the bomb, famously said, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”
We had a chance to indulge this fear in the cold war when as kids we foolishly hid under our wooden school desks to protect ourselves from a nuclear bomb attack.
At the heart of this power, whether the application is to destroy humankind or produce energy, is the chain reaction among atoms of this heavy and unstable element, Uranium (named after a heavenly body, the planet Uranus, by the German scientist, M. H. Klaproth).
Walt Disney gave a demonstration of a nuclear chain reaction in the 50s.  He wiggled his cartoonish moustache, threw a ping pong ball into a room of set mousetraps, each trap holding a ping pong ball where the cheese might normally sit.  The ball struck the first trap randomly, released a 2nd ball that struck another ball, and then another; in no time, the air filled with thousands of small white balls, so densely packed as to obscure any view of Disney himself. 
This is what happens with measured and more devastating effect when neutrons bang into the nucleus of the most highly unstable isotope of Uranium.  A fire erupts, more powerful than anything the mythical Prometheus was imagined to have stolen from Zeus.
The important question is can we control this amazing chain reaction, slow it down, capture the energy, and harness it in nuclear reactors?
When the PEC’s Chris Miller spoke of mining uranium in Virginia to unearth the fuel for these reactors, he expressed concern about radioactive rivers.  Heavy rains and winds carry uranium particles that can be very damaging to human tissue. 
Miller concentrated on a site in Pittsylvania County that is at the heart of Virginia Energy Resources’ joint initiative with the Virginia Uranium Company; he also showed a map of earlier uranium mines elsewhere in Virginia that were abandoned years ago and unexplored Uranium deposits that run North and South parallel to Virginia’s western border and through Loudoun County.
The radioactive decay from uranium, which we all kind of understand intuitively, is the spontaneous breakdown of uranium’s nucleus resulting in the release of energy and matter.  The Uranium atom is so big that it is highly unstable.  It wants to be stable.  So it will decay until it changes (transmutes) into a new element that is stable. It will give off alpha and gamma rays and eventually produce (or become) Thorium. Small successive explosions produce shrapnel rays that rip at living cells, and then the cell damage is reproduced when the cells replicate.  Miller said that these rays were “bioaccumulant” and that they “affect brain, liver, heart, kidneys and other human systems.”  Gamma rays can pass through clothing and concrete and heavy metal to cause damage throughout the body, prompting radiation sickness and cancer.  Alpha rays can’t penetrate the skin but, once in the body, they damage living tissue, so you don’t want to inhale or ingest any uranium tailings or dust, no matter how small.  Miller warned that “at the cellular level, this causes huge problems.” Workers in the 1920s who licked their small thin brushes to paint radium dials on watches died because of their devotion to their work.
We measure how long it takes for half of the atoms of a given unstable mass to decay and call that number the element’s half-life.  No doubt you’ve heard that term and kind of understood what it meant.  Uranium 238 has a half-life of 4.51 billion years. Remember the radium dials on watches? Radium 226 has an intermediate half-life of 1,600 years,  so those watches are a radiation source that runs long before it runs down.
The danger perceived from meltdowns at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl chilled interest in nuclear reactors.  Though we have been assured that it’s safer these days, an earthquake and Tsunami recently caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan that contaminated a wide area around the plant and compromised food and water supplies as far away as Tokyo.  Closer to home, Virginia’s North Anna nuclear plant, which was built on a fault line (I kid you not), shut down after our recent earth quake; but now we’re told it’s safe to fire up again.
Miller commented how the uranium mining company seeks to reassure Virginians by saying there will be federal oversight and regulation of their mining.  But federal oversight and regulation also assured us the mines of West Virginia were safe from gas explosions (when they weren’t), and that the Gulf of Mexico was safe from any major oil drilling disaster (when it wasn’t).
It may be helpful to follow the history that brought us to this legislative juncture when we’re considering lifting the uranium mining ban.
According to Messrs. Miller and Painter, in 1981, the General Assembly directed the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission to evaluate the effects of uranium development. In 1982, the General Assembly imposed a moratorium on uranium mining until there could be regulations governing mining. In 1984, the Commission decided the moratorium could be lifted if its recommendations were accepted.
In 2007, the state granted a permit to Virginia Uranium Inc. to drill test holes for uranium. In 2008, the General Assembly proposed a bill to create the Virginia Uranium Mining Commission; the Democrats passed the bill in the Senate but the Republicans delayed consideration of the bill until 2009. In 2008, the Commission voted to create a subcommittee to study the issue of uranium mining.

In February 2010, Virginia Uranium made a grant of $1.4 million to the Commonwealth to produce a report on uranium mining by this December 1. We are now waiting to see that report, and to determine whether it’s an objective peer review policy finding or another thinly veiled political propaganda vehicle to justify the industry’s pre-ordained objective of lifting the ban.

It will be a short hop time-wise from the publication of that report on December 1 until the General Assembly meets in January, too short, Miller and Painter believe, for legislators to deliberate the matter seriously. So we’ll have to scrutinize carefully what these mining interests try to slip by in Richmond or regret at our leisure afterwards.
Rachel Carson wrote in 1962 in “Silent Spring” that “[t]he most alarming of all man’s assaults upon the environment is the contamination of air, earth, rivers and sea with dangerous and even lethal materials.  This pollution is for the most part irrecoverable; the chain of evil it initiates not only in the world that must support life but in living tissues is for the most part irreversible.”
This legislation, if powerful vested interests overcome rational argument, is likely to release a clear and irreversible danger in Virginia – and that would be our state’s shame and disgrace.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

ELECTING TO GO BACKWARD by John P. Flannery


While Loudoun County and the Commonwealth of Virginia have taken another step to the rear, particularly with its spanking new pro-development board of supervisors, and shall we dub them the Asphaltians and the dirty streamers, there were encouraging electoral signs elsewhere in the nation that give us hope that there are places where politics is not a vast wasteland.
Many of us believe that we have a special responsibility to preserve and protect the environment and to defend individual rights and liberties, and believe that takes work and sacrifice shunned by the Me-party that recoils from anything in the general interest that might even indirectly cost a red cent off their almighty bottom line.
In the nation from one end of the country to the other, Me-party candidates say they are for jobs, been saying it for years but their questionable solution, among others, is to fire public workers, including teachers, cops, firefighters.  It’s like these are not real jobs.  Think about that when Johnny can’t read, a friend is mugged or a nearby house burns down.  The Me-party insists that we should cut back public employees and not allow them to bargain on their own behalf.  In the Yes-Massah State, we don’t have to worry about that.  Virginia is a right to work state – code for you have a right to work when the Massah tells you that you may.  When Ohio Me-party Governor John Kasich set out to curtail the right of the 350,000 state workers to bargain, he ran up against a middle class that put the matter on the ballot and cleaned his clock with a 62% vote in opposition to his plantation view of public service workers.  We should think about this when we say we want to cut the federal government, and thus jobs here, as our local economy sits at the end of the tree limb that some Me-party folk would saw off.  If we can’t respect public workers for the right reason, perhaps our own selfish survival might help us appreciate what’s better public policy.
We had several local candidates pretending to care about jobs in the recent election instead of their regular diet of radical ideas, and I don’t just mean the recently elected State Senator, Dick Black.  Elsewhere in the nation, voters understood that some things that are religious have no business being the law of the land.  Mississippi Me-party Governor Haley Barbour conceded that there would be real problems if we made a fecundated ovum a “person” at law, in other words, if the moment of conception was the definition of life.  Some Irish believe life only begins when you register as a Democrat.  We have at least one presidential candidate who says a corporation is a “person.”  Anyhow, Barbour still voted for this crazy idea despite his expressly stated reservations.  Mississippi was saved from its Governor’s muddled thinking by its voters who rejected the amendment, if for no other reason, than it would preclude many accepted forms of contraception as well as what the Supreme Court has said is permissible.  Even the Roman Catholic Church in Mississippi, under the leadership of Bishop Joseph N. Latino, opposed the amendment as too extreme.
In Arizona, where State Senator Russell Pearce led a controversial crackdown on illegal immigrants, signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer in 2010, that had police refusing to enforce the law, and a federal court throwing out key legislative provisions, the voters demanded a recall election to throw Pearce himself out of office for tarnishing Arizona’s image; and that’s just what they accomplished on election day.  We might learn something from Arizona about how we harm others when some don’t understand that we live in a pluralistic society – and that not everyone of a “different” heritage is by that fact “illegal.”
Thomas Jefferson warned that voters “may be led astray for a moment, but will soon correct themselves.”  I wait to see if Jefferson will be proven right in Virginia when next we vote – as I feel certain that Jefferson would hardly recognize a Virginia that squanders its historic countryside, compromises its legacy of individual rights and liberties, and lags further behind other more forward looking states.
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Thursday, November 10, 2011

GAZETTE COLUMN: WHAT SIDE ARE YOU ON? by John P. Flannery

Are you in the upper 1% of the nation’s income earners who pay proportionally less taxes and garner disproportionally higher incomes than all of your employees?  The top 1% take home 25% of the nation’s income, and control 40 percent of the nation’s wealth.  The top 1% have enjoyed an income rise of 18% in the last 10 years, while the middle class has watched their income fall year to year.  It must make you gag that some of those in the top 1% got bonuses “to fix” the economy that they broke in the first place.
It is remarkable that some of us in the 99% category of income earners are fighting for the right of the wealthiest 1% to exploit us.  Some seek to shore up the security of the wealthy at the risk of our security.  They want to put at risk the public services that we receive in order to lighten the public responsibility of the wealthiest.  This is irrational particularly since the enlightened wealthiest agree that they should pay their fair share – and admit that they aren’t.
Wall Street “wants to be let alone” – like Greta Garbo in “Grand Hotel” – but they want to be let alone to work their ill will, like what they did before Enron and since the mortgage scandal.  Some have drunk the Kool-Aid and argue that, if we just let the wealthy alone, they will create jobs for us.  But when the wealthy on Wall Street got the stimulus funds, they invested in government securities, not in human capital.
Wall Street demands greedy multiples of everyone else’s yearly income and the greatest share of this nation’s income.  They want to do nothing in return.  Their selfish appetite is not reason for us to surrender the education of our young, and for citizens to suffer unemployment, to go hungry, to be homeless, to be disabled without assistance, to go without health care, to surrender public services for gun wars in the middle east where the wealthiest don’t serve (although they do profit), or to suffer the uncertainty and insecurity of retirement and old age.
Some claim that they are puzzled why citizens would occupy Wall Street.  Simple! Because the financial gimmicks, prompted by greed, and an inhumane indifference to the nation’s welfare originated with Wall Street.  Others ask, “why don’t those protesters go to Washington?”  Because the protesters are focusing on the creators of this national scandal, on those who hi-jacked the square deal from the middle class.  They know not to expect much from legislators after Wall Street has tirelessly lobbied its elected lackeys.  Charles Keating paid $1.5 million among several elected officials for what he wanted in the 1980s.  Not much has changed.  Indeed, it’s worse since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United relaxed any constraint on what corporations may spend to elect compliant representatives. 
There have also been comparisons to the Tea Party.  After hearing its presidential aspirants, plainly the Tea Party would have been more aptly named the Me Party because it was never about “us” as a nation.  It seemingly objects to the government having anything to do with service to its citizens.
We recently celebrated without restraint that the citizens in the Middle East protested but now, close at home, we have our own citizens protesting austerity, corruption and our own government’s unaccountable disregard for what its citizens want and need.  And we think it’s something different.  First of all, these demonstrations are not some Machiavellian plot serving some concealed scandalous Ism.  Second and lastly, this is the public’s outcry for the government to be fair and to fulfill its constitutional promise.
So, what side are you on?  Plainly, this is no time to be indifferent.
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Thursday, November 3, 2011

GAZETTE COLUMN: THE IDES OF NOVEMBER by John P. Flannery


There’s a recent movie, “the Ides of March,” about how politicians manipulate us for their personal advantage.  We are reminded by this cinematic exercise that Brutus and Cassius have modern day equivalents who wave American flags while they assassinate good government.  If only there were no such sociopathic political compulsives!
But the intense factional rivalry that has become our national political culture means campaigners are relentlessly misdirecting us to some sensational irrelevancy, rather than having the public dialogue we need for good governance.
Too many hollow men and women shift their policies from one loss-leading polled belief to another.
If we have a candidate in Loudoun County who hopes to mimic such political manipulation, it will be one who wants residential development but who won’t admit it publicly.
We live in a County that can hardly afford the public services required by the residential development in place and in the pipe-line (40,000 units).  We have discomforting traffic congestion from east to west and back again.  We struggle to teach children new to our community at the rate of three newly built schools every year.  Our housing values decline or remain stagnant.
The measure of who is worth our vote in the electoral pairings is the candidate most likely to oppose residential development.
I’m suspicious of first time candidates who’ve never done anything in the community that I can verify.
Each of us should look therefore at what each candidate has done and judge whether they were found worthy or wanting by our friends and neighbors; that’s how I reject outright some folk and support others.
I look askance at any candidate who has accepted developer contributions – particularly from non-resident developers.
I don’t buy the “hard love” of those candidates who tell me not to expect anything from the government.  Really?  Then why are you running if that’s your point of view?  I expect and demand that government restrain those no-good outliers among us, who serve their selfish interests alone, and are entirely unconcerned whether they plunder and despoil our land, the air we breathe or the water we drink.  They won’t go on the record for equal rights for all our citizens.  They won’t lift a finger to lighten the load of those citizens suffering hard times. 
My Irish nature almost reflexively resists any law or rule that restrains freedom but my life experience and intelligence teach that not all men and women are angels for, as Madison observed in Federalist No. 51 in 1788, if we were angels, we would not need government at all. 
It’s also indisputable that we need law enforcement, fire and rescue, prosecutors, public defenders, social services, teachers, road crews, court personnel, elected officials, an array of support staff and more to assure us of peace, safety, and an historic legacy worthy of our children.
We also need men and women in government who understand business but not those that fail to appreciate that the bottom line in business is not the same measure we apply in the same way to the public services that citizens expect.
While the national debate is not entirely irrelevant, it has little to do with the public policy decisions that concern us when electing a local district supervisor, school board member, state delegate, state senator, sheriff or commonwealth attorney?
If we have to squint and take the measure of any candidate, especially for supervisor, the overriding question is can we trust this person to resist more residential development or will he or she fold like a house of cards before those hidden selfish interests, leaving us to brace ourselves for the end of what’s rural and a regretful shift to ever increasing density in what has been suburban. 
I think if we choose carefully, we won’t have any regrets on the Ides of November.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

GAZETTE COLUMN: JIM BURTON FOR BLUE RIDGE SUPERVISOR by John P. Flannery

Jim Burton is running for re-election to the Board of Supervisors to represent the Blue Ridge District.
We should re-elect him because we need a proven and experienced hand to deal with the budget, the first piece of business before the Board next January 2012; and we can’t afford to have someone learning “on the job” – not in these difficult economic times.
Jim has been the Blue Ridge Supervisor, repeatedly elected since 1995 as an Independent, first in the Mercer District before it became the Blue Ridge District.
Jim is well regarded for how he combines thoughtful reflection with constructive action in the County’s best interest.  With his background, that’s no surprise.
Jim is from Normal, Illinois, from a Railroad family, having by-passed a pro baseball career, to join the first class at the Air Force Academy.
Jim’s character was cast during his service with the legendary John Boyd, a defense department reformer and one of the greatest fighter pilots that ever lived.
Jim met Boyd after Jim had graduated from the Air Force Academy, after Jim had flown tankers for the Strategic Air Command (SAC),  and after Jim had attended the Squadron Officers School, the Air Command and Staff College, and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.
Boyd’s most poignant advice to Jim was to do “what was right for the situation.”
Jim lived that advice when, as a specialist in weapons acquisition and testing, he charged the Defense Department’s “business of buying weapons” was “dirty and corrupt” at the expense of the soldier’s safety, focusing on the untested $14 Billion Bradley Fighting Vehicle’s poor design.  Jim successfully fought to make the vehicle safe and combat ready, wrote an award-winning book exposing the scandal, and was portrayed in a movie about the whole incident (played by the leading man from the ‘Princess Bride’ (yes, really!)).
After Jim retired from the military to Aldie, there was a large flap over the sprawl development involving 50 homes west of Aldie.  Jim was concerned, “change [was] coming that [was] dramatic … at a pace that we [were] not able to adjust to,” and there’d be “dislocations.”  Jim believes in “smart development,” that is, “at a rate that the community can adjust to and … for which the community can provide the necessary amenities and facilities.”
Jim appeared at many public meetings to argue this point until a Sheriff’s Deputy served him with a subpoena issued by a developer seeking Jim’s personal records, all because Jim spoke against his development.
While the subpoena was quashed, Jim was angry that this had happened at all, prompting him to run for the first time to the Board of Supervisors.
As a kind of wake-up call, Jim underscored the fact, that presently “we have 41,000 un-built residential units in the pipeline.”   
Jim says that, despite the economic challenges, and the limitations imposed by Richmond on what the Board can do legally, we have still managed to have lower taxes than in 2009, continue to preserve the County’s triple A rating and we can hold to a sound course, if we budget carefully, forego certain expenses in the short term, prevent changes to the comprehensive plan, and resist those who would open the transition area for development.
In conclusion, we need to have Jim re-elected to the Board of Supervisors for all that he’s done and what else he can do to make a difference for the better.
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Friday, October 21, 2011

GAZETTE COLUMN: MALCOLM BALDWIN FOR SUPERVISOR by John P. Flannery

Malcolm Baldwin prunes grape vines and tends to his sheep north of Lovettsville when he is not fighting the PATH power line or engaged in community work to help his neighbors make this a better place to live.
Malcolm Baldwin is running for election as our Supervisor for the Catoctin District on the County Board of Supervisors.
I really think we should elect him.
Malcolm got interested in community affairs when Scott York won election as the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors in 2004 and was relegated to the Vice-Chair slot instead.  Malcolm objected that this was not what the voters expected when they cast their ballot, and he got involved so that voters wouldn’t be disenfranchised again.
Malcolm joined the Board of the Piedmont Environmental Council (“PEC”) because the Board of Supervisors “rejected a host of smart growth management strategies.”  Malcolm sought to protect the transition zone, and to guard against development that our community could not afford.
Perhaps Malcolm is best known for his role as a leader in the recent fight to resist that toxic coal power transmission line that PATH proposed to run from West Virginia, through Loudoun County and Maryland.
Malcolm charged that the line would be “destructive over the properties it passed, have a degrading effect on appearance and value, and we didn’t need the power; we had more than enough.”
“What I learned from our coalition’s triumph over the PATH line,” Malcolm said, “was that you get the facts right, put emotions to one side, work together with differing views in good faith, fight for the best possible outcome, and you can achieve great things as a community.”
After Haverford College, Chicago Law School, and a tour of duty at the Pentagon, Malcolm spent 38 years in environmental law, serving under President Richard Nixon on the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), a division of the Executive Office of the President, and continuing at CEQ until he was its Acting Chairman in President Ronald Reagan’s Administration.
During the recent flap over the questionable health of our streams in Loudoun County, Malcolm considered how best to redress the unhealthy condition of our local streams with a fair and just public policy.  Malcolm wasn’t in favor of the original stream proposal but thought that the final version of the ordinance that the Board of Supervisors considered met his reservations regarding cost and inconvenience to the landowners, and fairly addressed the water quality issues.
Malcolm teaches us common sense.
He questions why we should build a corridor through Loudoun West of Dulles airport if Maryland opposes having the corridor pass through its state – kind of a road to nowhere without Maryland’s consent.  One of my “faves” is Malcolm’s proposal for a roundabout at that infamous traffic choke-point, the intersection of Route 9 and the Berlin Turnpike.
Malcolm says we can’t afford to build $100 million schools, three of them a year, and certainly not if we can expect even more students in the next generation. 
Malcolm supports the needs of food and wine farmers - as he is a farmer himself - and he wants to keep the land open and productive so it can generate revenue to the farmer and for the county.
Malcolm wants to join “a cooperative board of supervisors that reaches decisions based on good and careful analysis and mutual understanding.”
We could use Malcolm on the Board – we need his kind of leadership in making decisions for the County.
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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

SHENANDOAH PRESS PROFILE: TOM BELLANCA by John P. Flannery



My father never understood why I had any interest in politics and, while he taught me many things, he just couldn’t see it.  But that’s not the case for all men who find their way into politics.
Democrat Tom Bellanca, a Realtor, running county wide to replace the current Republican Chairman, Scott York, was heavily influenced by his father’s example.
“I was born at the Naval Hospital,” said Tom, “because my father was a Navy man, formerly a physician on a nuclear submarine, serving under Admiral Hyman Rickover, and he went back to school when he was stateside, because he was book smart, a real workaholic, and he got a degree in public health, and worked at NIH, while still attached to the Navy.”
“My father was a product of Rickover’s leadership,” said Tom.
Rickover believed that “Man has a large capacity for effort.  In fact it is so much greater than we think it is that few ever reach this capacity.”
Tom’s Dad struggled to reach his capacity.
“My Dad’s job was congressional liaison for NIH,” Tom said, and “although attached to the Navy, my Dad wore a suit and, whenever there was any testimony on the Hill, he would represent NIH before Congress.”  “One of my early recollections,” Tom said, “was my father telling me how to answer questions in Congress.”
 “He taught me independence, and not just by his example,” Tom said.  “When we were assigned to the NATO Navy Base in Naples, Italy,” Tom said, “I had to attend the Department of Defense School, from kindergarten through High School.”
“I got to know some Italian, Napolitano, a dialect that was not understandable elsewhere in Italy,” said Tom, “and we traveled around Europe a lot and on our own, on trains, and we all had motorcycles as well.  One of our favorite spots was Carney Park, named after a 4-star Admiral, and located in an extinct volcano Campiglione in the Phlegraean Fields near Naples.  This time at the base taught me how to grow up a lot faster.  When I was 9, I was pulled over with an Uzi pointed at me.”
As for learning how to reason, “my dad played the devil’s advocate with me, the Socratic method, and was always telling me that there was another way to look at things,” Tom said, “He trained me to be the same way – and I am able to see the other side of almost any argument.”
At Randolph Macon in Richmond, “I studied governmental structures that work,” Tom said, “and at George Mason, I earned a Masters in International Business and Finance.”
Tom went abroad to study these governmental structures because, Tom said, “I had to see it to understand it, you can’t read it in a book and understand it the same way.”
“What I’ve learned,” Tom said, “by studying other systems is that government in general has gotten away from doing what’s best for the citizens.”
“We’re seeing that now,” Tom said, “with this global movement, something is happening historically, challenging the rule of thumb world.”
“We have an opportunity here,” said Tom, “or a chance to suffer even more.”
President Kennedy said, “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.”
In Loudoun, the education of our children takes up 70% of the County Budget.
Tom says, “Our primary objective is to solve the Loudoun County school overcrowding.” 
“The coming wave of students within and entering our school system,” Tom says, “must be addressed now.”
“We have to hold that line,” said Tom, “respect the comprehensive plan, not increase the density in the transition zone, or in Western Loudoun.”
There has been a lot of talk about increasing commercial development in Eastern Loudoun but, Tom insists, “he’s also going to focus on Western Loudoun and on the need to preserve, protect and grow its rural economy.” 
Tom relies on a study from the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia that states “the equine industry in Loudoun County is growing larger, but is also under increased pressure in recent years from home development that is threatening the availability of land and pushing the industry Westward.”
Tom says the problem with “home development” is that it “adds traffic to our roads and increases the already overburdened school system.”
“Maintaining the rural area at lower housing densities,” says Tom, “is not only a part of the current citizen generated Comprehensive Plan, but it is essential to reducing and managing growth throughout the County and reducing the overall population growth in the schools.”
“That will keep our property taxes down,” said Tom, “because fewer children added to an already overburdened school system reduce the overall requirement for new schools.”
As for transportation, Tom says, “I will focus on completing Metrorail to Loudoun with at least one commuter stop beyond route 28, reducing commute times on the arterial connections to Route 28, and extending Loudoun County Parkway from the Dulles South Area all the way to Route 7.”
Rickover said, “it is the duty of each of us to act as if the fate of the world depended on him.”
Tom is running for Supervisor like the fate of Loudoun depended on him.