Saturday, November 26, 2011


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


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


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


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


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.