Thursday, August 17, 2017
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kindler

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Want to motivate VA Dems to vote? Dump Dick “TitleMax” Saslaw as Leader.

Hey, I just thought of a great way for Virginia Democrats to motivate the base to turn out and vote for a Democratic Senate.  It occurred to me as I was listening to the first in a series of reports  by Michael Pope on WAMU radio on the rip-off artists known as "car-title lenders."

After discussing how one poor victim took out a loan for $2,600 and ended up paying a whopping $5,515, Pope then shifts to a staunch defender of the industry:

"It's not predatory," says Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw, who has taken about $37,000 from TitleMax in the last decade. He says if people like Waverly didn't have access to businesses like TitleMax, they would find other ways to get the money.

"Well they borrow it on the street," he says. "Borrow $100 on Monday, pay back $200 on Friday, 10,000 percent APR. That's where they were borrowing money. And if they didn't pay it back they got the hell beat out of them and they still had to pay it back."

The report then cites the Center for Responsible Lending, which indicates no evidence of such a black market for loans, but reports that car-title lenders in 21 states are "costing borrowers about $3.6 billion each year in interest on $1.6 billion in loans."

In other words, Sen. Saslaw is doing here precisely what we see conservatives on Fox do every single day: make an utterly ridiculous argument, contrary to all known facts - but in concert with his donors' economic interests.  

Car-Title-Loans-Choices.jpg

Want to motivate VA Dems to vote? Dump Dick “TitleMax” Saslaw as Leader.

Hey, I just thought of a great way for Virginia Democrats to motivate the base to turn out and vote for a Democratic Senate.  It occurred to me as I was listening to the first in a series of reports  by Michael Pope on WAMU radio on the rip-off artists known as "car-title lenders."

After discussing how one poor victim took out a loan for $2,600 and ended up paying a whopping $5,515, Pope then shifts to a staunch defender of the industry:

"It's not predatory," says Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw, who has taken about $37,000 from TitleMax in the last decade. He says if people like Waverly didn't have access to businesses like TitleMax, they would find other ways to get the money.

"Well they borrow it on the street," he says. "Borrow $100 on Monday, pay back $200 on Friday, 10,000 percent APR. That's where they were borrowing money. And if they didn't pay it back they got the hell beat out of them and they still had to pay it back."

The report then cites the Center for Responsible Lending, which indicates no evidence of such a black market for loans, but reports that car-title lenders in 21 states are "costing borrowers about $3.6 billion each year in interest on $1.6 billion in loans."

In other words, Sen. Saslaw is doing here precisely what we see conservatives on Fox do every single day: make an utterly ridiculous argument, contrary to all known facts - but in concert with his donors' economic interests.  

The WaPo Jumps the Shark on Climate Change Reporting

Cross-posted at Daily Kos

Just when you thought the media might be ready to report the facts on climate change - about which 99.9% of scientists who've studied the issue agree - we're cursed with another story in the Washington Post that gets it very, very wrong: "How climate-change doubters lost a papal fight".

This piece starts with the story of Philippe de Larminat, a "French doubter who authored a book arguing that solar activity - not greenhouse gases - was driving global warming," who - sacre bleu! - is denied an audience with Pope Francis before the issuance of the Pope's historic encyclical.  The first problem here is that we are never given any information about de Larminat's scientific credentials - or indeed whether he has any.  (Per LinkedIn, it appears that he has a bachelor's in mechanical engineering and a doctorate in "the sciences," dating from the sixties and seventies. Otherwise, he's mostly a black hole on the Internet.)

There are millions of scientists around the world, and tens of thousands in the climate field.  Why focus on this one?  What are his contributions to the field?

The Post story then brings up the egregious Heartland Institute, which the writers generously describe as "a free-market group that serves as a hub of skepticism regarding the science of human-caused global warming."  They give no background on Heartland, such as its history of being paid by tobacco companies to deny the science of their products causing cancer, or the hundreds of thousands of dollars it has received from the Koch brothers to support their oil investments with climate denial, or their infamous billboard campaign comparing climate scientists to figures like the Unabomber.  

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In Fairfax’s Mason District, Mysterious Newcomer vs. Reliable Incumbent

Have mercy on my mailbox!  It has in recent weeks been carpet-bombed by slick flyers, most of them from a young lady named Jessica Swanson -  also known as "who?"  

Well, a few things about her are clear - she badly wants Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross's job and is willing to say lots of nasty things about Gross to win it. And she clearly has a ton of money and political consultant resources to back up that desire. Hence the mystery...

But that mystery has been clearing up lately, as Gross' team has finally begun to fight fire with fire and send out its own flyers clarifying where Swanson got that cash - a record $87,221 of it from an organization known as Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE).  LEE is described in an American Prospect article as a sort of PAC for the Teach for America / school privatization crowd.  

Now, I don't focus much on education issues and wouldn't be the best person to comment on the battles over how best to save our schools.  But if this is Ms. Swanson's agenda, she is not even mentioning it - all she talks about in regard to education is upping the county schools budget (and blaming Gross for cutting it).  

For that matter, despite her withering criticisms of the incumbent, she proposes very little in the way of substantive policy changes.  Most of the issues page on her website consists of bland statements like "I believe in listening to the community's input in a real way."  After attacking Gross for taking contributions from developers - the main source of campaign funds for nearly every local official - Swanson makes no pledge to refrain from such donors herself.  

Must Virginia Play the Victim of EPA’s Clean Power Plan Rule?

Dominion, and the Virginia politicians who worship it, have an explanation for their support of the utility's bill to deregulate itself.  Our state, they say, is being unfairly targeted by EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan rule because Virginia was assigned higher carbon dioxide reduction targets than some neighboring states.  

It's one of those claims that, while superficially true, conceals many more important truths - like the following three:

1) The EPA rule is still only a proposal.  Legally speaking, there is no EPA rule yet, so why on Earth would we need to defend ourselves against something the details of which are almost certain to change?  

The way Federal regulatory processes work, the proposal goes out for comment, EPA has to review and respond to every comment and revise the final rule accordingly.  And considering that EPA received over 2 million comments, nobody knows what the heck the final rule will look like.  Much of the current bellyaching, then, is really about working the referee - to get EPA to change the final rule, rather than responding in any serious way to it.  

2) Numerous states have more aggressive proposed goals than Virginia - yet the ones with the lowest goals are complaining the most. The Georgetown Climate Center has superb resources on EPA's Clean Power Plan, including a factsheet showing all the state CO2 goals and how they were derived.  Bottom line per this analysis of the proposal is that 15 states have percentage CO2 reductions that are either more stringent than or equal to Virginia's.  So no, we are not the scapegoat here.

But here's the funny part - some of the states with the toughest goals proposed by EPA, like Oregon, Washington and California, are among those who've written letters to EPA in support of the plan. Meanwhile, some of the states with the weakest proposed goals, like Alabama, Wyoming and Kentucky, are among those suing EPA to stop the rule.

Does Dominion Need Our Help? Ask Wall Street.

Dominion and the politicians on their payroll give one justification for the power play bill that exempts the monopoly from govenrment audits until the year 2022 -- that EPA climate regulations will increase the company's costs, forcing it to raise its rates.

When companies face a financial threat, no one is more attuned to this situation than investors. If Dominion is truly in trouble, the alarm bells should be ringing on Wall Street. But are they?

Quite the contrary. In a superb piece on Dominion's endless drive to deregulate itself, Jeff Schapiro drops this bombshell:

As momentum built for Virginia's latest accommodation of the utilities, the investment adviser UBS - in an alert to the markets - labeled Dominion the "king of the hill."

Citing the company's spin to stock pickers at a private meeting in Manhattan last week, UBS said the latest legislation "removes one of the largest single risks" to higher earnings: That the SCC, if only temporarily, would be blocked from determining whether Dominion makes too much money.

Now, hold your horses -- we keep being told this legislation is needed to protect the poor consumer. Yet behind closed doors, Wall Street analysts are admitting that this legislation is really about letting Dominion profit -- at ratepayers' expense?

But wait, there's more. Here's what UBS had to say about Dominion last month:

Many analysts on Wall Street think that the EPA bill signed last year may actually provide a tailwind for this top utility.

Dominion Power Play Not Playing Well Across Virginia

Dominion's bill to shield its books from public scrutiny until 2020, with help from the many legislators it has purchased, is not getting a very good reception across the Commonwealth.  Here's a sampling of the THUMBS-DOWN reviews:

AP/Staunton News Leader:

Sen. Frank Wagner is the chief sponsor of legislation that would weaken state oversight of Dominion Virginia Power's rate setting. The move could help the utility giant's bottom line and its shareholders, of which Wagner is one.[...] As a regulated monopoly, Dominion has a strong interest in staying on good terms with state lawmakers. The utility is the biggest corporate donor to state political campaigns and is the most generous gift-giver to state lawmakers. [...] most lawmakers who own the company's stock did vote for the legislation.

Jeff Shapiro, Richmond Times-Dispatch:  

Saslaw: Power to the Power Company!

Virginia Democrats' Saslaw problem reared its ugly head again, as the alleged leader of Senate Democrats voted to exempt Dominion Virginia Power from financial audits through 2023.

Listen to Dominion's poodle ever-so-gently pretend to bite the hand that feeds him:

Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said doing nothing was not an option.
"I will vote to move it along, but I would just say this has a long way to go. I'm somewhat concerned about not having this biennial review," he said. And turning to Dominion officials in the hearing room, he said: "You might want to answer everything you heard here today from people who have a different perspective, on a point-by-point basis."

Yeah, take that -- happy to exempt the books of a monopoly chartered as a public utility from public scrutiny -- but you "might want to" actually respond to what other people say about you!  I'll bet that hurt!  (But keep those donations coming, please...)

Kudos to Attorney General Mark Herring, one of the few Democrats in the Commonwealth with the cojones to challenge Dominion's power play.  Governor Terry McAuliffe, who has not taken a stand on the issue, needs to step up and follow Herring's lead if he wants to be considered leader of the state.

And it's time for Democrats to stop allowing Saslaw to embarrass us, and finally replace him with a Senate leader who proudly upholds progressive values, and puts the people before the power companies.  

Dominion’s Most Brazen Power Grab Yet

If there's anybody government needs to keep an eye on, it's a MONOPOLY.  But through one of the big loopholes in our system of government, the monopolies that we call utilities get to shovel the money they make from their non-competitive positions into the offices of politicians who are supposed to be regulating them.

The predictable result is these politicians giving the utilities pretty much anything they ask for.  But every once in a while, they get too greedy and go too far - and will find the public coming after them with pitchforks.

Case in point:

A bill filed by Sen. Frank W. Wagner (R-Virginia Beach) would [...] free Dominion from regular financial audits conducted by the State Corporation Commission, which oversees utility rates in Virginia.

We're talking here about legislation to block the state of Virginia from financial oversight of its 8th largest company.  Legislation that Sen. Wagner actually admitted was drafted by...Dominion.

The fox guarding the henhouse? No, more like the fox taking over the whole freaking Department of Henhouses.  

If you're sick and tired of the political tools down in Richmond acting like lobbyists for Dominion rather than doing their job to regulate it, let them know ASAP. Contact your Delegate (find them here) and your Senator (find them here).

And contact Dominion too, especially if you're a customer, to let them know that you won't stand for this powerful monopoly trying to shield itself from public scrutiny. You can send them a tweet at @DomVaPower or post to their Facebook page.

We are the citizens of a democracy, not corporate vassals. Businesses certainly have a role in our society, but is the role of an actor, not that of our ruler. When companies like Dominion go too far, they need to hear from the public, loud and clear. Otherwise, they will keep going until their power over us is absolute. Don't stand for it - fight them while we still have the power to fight.  

The Impending GOP Retreat on Climate: From Denial to Do-Nothing-ism

Cross-posted at Daily Kos

Changes in the political climate can sometimes sneak up on you -- just like changes in the terrestrial climate. Case in point: A recent opinion piece in the right-wing Human Events, "A Conservative's Case for Global Warming", provides a hint that the GOP may be about to start tiptoeing away from climate change denial.

While still repeating a number of easily disprovable climate denial whoppers (e.g., that the earth hasn't warmed in the last 18 years, even though it has, and the usual cheap attempts to downplay the overwhelming scientific consensus), the author seemed to be striving to reposition conservative opinion to accept the reality of climate change -- this, even though he is a member of the Heartland Institute, notorious for (among other travesties) its repugnant Unabomber billboard campaign.    

Others have noted the curious phrase that is now ubiquitous among Republican politicians - "I'm not a scientist" -- and like Jonathan Chait, have speculated on whether this phrase represents a kind of tactical retreat:

"I am not a scientist" makes sense as a way to resolve a tension within Republican politics. It may be a political liability for Republicans to openly associate themselves with the kook conspiracy theories popular among conservative ideologues. One solution might be for Republicans to concede that anthropogenic global warming is indeed real, but that any solution is simply too costly. That might allow Republicans to minimize their kook exposure while still hewing to the bottom line party doctrine that individuals and firms ought to be able to dump carbon into the atmosphere for free.

Climate change denial remains rife in Republican ranks, of course - CAP Action counts 56% of Congressional Republicans in the "climate denier caucus".  But look closely and the signs are of the first troops starting to back away, hopefully heralding the very beginnings of a full-scale retreat.

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