Monthly Archives: May, 2013

A Tale of Two Candidates ~by Stefan Reed

WoollyMammoth and Turbine2

For the environmental movement, this is the best of times and this is the worst of times, the spring of hope or the winter of despair.

Most of the world is now acutely aware of global warming. The evidence for such is occurring in real time, with the Jersey shoreline competing with central Oklahoma for prominence in the US press, if not in Federal aid. A worldwide movement has sprung up and most rational folks embrace renewables and green energy alternatives.

But—the worst of times– there are still holdouts. Atavistic deniers who prefer counting their dollar contributions from big energy to numbering the carbon parts per million in the atmosphere, which, by the way, has just passed the 400 parts per million mark. The last time that happened the woolly mammoth was looking for grub in the Adirondacks and the saber-toothed tiger bounded across the Siberian plains. Say about 2 to 3 million years ago. These denying folks are like that crazy Uncle you have to share Thanksgiving dinner with—the guy with the dead deer head hung over the fireplace who thinks global warming is a secret plot to weaken America. His opinion wouldn’t matter a lick, of course, unless he tried to run for public office, and then it could portend that winter of despair.

APV’s deputy director for the environment, Stefan Reed, has put together a quick comparison of the Democratic and Republican candidates position on the environment for this year.

On one hand, it shows a candidate struggling to integrate environmental concerns with economic efficiencies. On the other, it paints a pretty clear picture of a candidate so bizarrely out of touch he would resort to prosecuting a researcher at UVA in order to prevent information about global warming from simply becoming known. In other words, our crazy climate denying uncle. We’ll let you decide which is which.

**

Ken Cuccinelli (R) and Terry McAuliffe (D) are both aiming for the Governor’s mansion. These two candidates have their own ways of justifying their environmental stances. As the Virginia State Attorney General, Cuccinelli announced in 2010 that he would challenge the fuel efficiency standards that the Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established under the Clean Air Act as well as remove and reduce incentives for renewable energy production in Virginia. Infamously, he spent two years attacking Dr. Michael E. Mann, a climate researcher now at Penn State who was previously an assistant professor at UVA.

Cuccinelli accused Mann of falsifying and withholding evidence while receiving public research funds, something that should have scientists concerned, but not State Attorneys General. Since when did the Attorney General’s office acquire a climatologist? Nevertheless, the State Attorney General attempted to prosecute Mann under the VA Fraud Against Taxpayers Act. But there was no evidence of wrongdoing or fraudulent activity.

Cuccinelli continues to deny both Mann’s valid climate change findings as well as the EPA’s findings that greenhouse gases endanger public health.

We should note that there’s probably a good reason for this. To date, Cuccinelli has received more than $1.5 million from corporations that profit from the deregulation of pollution standards, including the Koch brothers, Dominion Resources Inc, and CONSOL Energy Inc. Additionally he received $1 million from the Republican Governors Association, a 527 political organization that aids Republican governors and gubernatorial candidates. While it is impossible to know the exact origin of the RGA’s $1 million contribution, the organization receives a large portion of its money from less than stellar environmental interests–$1 million from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, as an example, the parent corporation of Fox News that has given climate deniers a national platform. Should Cuccinelli become Governor of Virginia, this trend is likely to continue.

**

Terry McAuliffe has never been elected to public office which makes it hard to figure his voting habits, but his platform is fairly clear on issues of environmental protection and sustainability. He has spent years as an integral part of the Democratic Party as a fundraiser and campaign director. During that period he worked closely with the Clintons and environmental champion, Al Gore. Some may not consider McAuliffe an environmental champion himself, but he’s pretty close.

He advocates energy independence, using local wind power off the coast of Virginia, an excellent source of renewable energy:

“The Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium estimates that in just the 25 most promising offshore parcels open for development of wind power, Virginia could generate around 3,200 megawatts, or 10% of Virginia’s total energy use in a manner that’s cost competitive. This offshore wind project could create between 9,700 and 11,600 jobs right here in Virginia.”

In 2010, McAuliffe became the owner of GreenTech Automotive, an electric motor vehicle company. He has since left the venture, but as a former green business owner, he says he understands the importance of investing in industries that are good for the environment, as well as providing jobs.

A self-proclaimed outdoorsman, Terry McAuliffe has also promised to work with citizens, environmental organizations, business leaders, and government agencies to preserve state parks, forests, wildlife management areas and natural preserves:

“As Governor, I will work with citizens, environmental organizations, business leaders, and government agencies to preserve open space like state parks, state forests, wildlife management areas, natural preserves and Civil War battlefields. I will also work to bring everyone to the table to meet our obligations to clean up our rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.”

**

One of these choices will lead us straight off an environmental cliff, back to those halcyon days of the Pliocene era when woolly mammoths roamed the landscape–and humankind was nowhere in sight. The other choice will tap into the latent potential of renewable energy alternatives, increasing Virginia’s competitiveness world-wide and making the state economically strong and environmentally safe. Seems like a no brainer…unless you happen to like that crazy Uncle at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Your call, Virginia.

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To Build a Fire

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Scandals have no life on their own. Like fire, they need fuel to survive; and the hotter they burn, the faster that fuel goes. This week we saw at least three scandals race across our national attention spans with all the fury of a California blaze. Only they petered out so fast they may as well have been a boy scout’s first effort doused with morning coffee.

But that’s not for lack of trying. According to Dick Cheney, who is quickly acquiring the status of The Crazy Uncle In The Attic, Benghazi was one of the worst incidents that occurred in his career, gracefully eliding the fact that his career encompassed the terrorist attacks of 9/11 that precipitated– with his direct supervision– two disastrous wars, one of which has still to end – at the cost of billions of dollars and thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghanistan lives.

But whatever. It’s not like you would expect someone nicknamed ‘Darth Vader’ to actually tell the truth. Should anyone be interested in the truth, it’s not hard to come by. Read the recently released emails and the story is less one of ‘scandal’, and more one of interagency infighting with a little SOP confusion tossed on top for good measure – something military types would reclassify as a SNAFU. Hardly nefarious in the Dark Empire way that stalwarts of the GOP would have you believe. The only real scandal here is the fact that the GOP faked the emails they handed off to news organization which naturally reported this out without so much as a simple, ‘Hey, are you sure?’… much less an apology for taking the American public for a useless ride for the last six months. To quickly recap: the GOP edited the emails to agree with their allegations that the White House had edited talking points about Benghazi. I’m not even sure there’s an appropriate metaphor to capture this level of duplicity. Really, it’s something that ought to be studied in one of those Ivy League classrooms the rightwing loves to hate. Doctoral thesis: Republican Meta Narratives and the Birth of Red Herrings in Benghazi

Unfortunately, it’s not like the American Public has ever kept track of these things. Say, remember back when the Republicans burned through a few million tax payer dollars investigating Whitewater and came up with a completely unrelated Monica Lewinsky scandal? Do you suppose they’re pulling that same nonsense again?

The next scandal to flicker forth this week managed to get some traction for a day or two, and then like a backyard fire on a suburban track lawn, it died from lack of fuel. Not only did Steve Miller, the relevant agency director, resign, but Obama was in front of it before Hannity managed to check his cue cards and stop shouting ‘Benghazi’! As Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, “there’s no there there”. Seriously. This is about some poor schmucks in the Cincinnati offices of the IRS who were told to keep an eye out for words like Tea Party, Patriots, Constitution and 9/12 on the mostly correct theory that such groups had a hard-on for advocating tax delinquency, if not outright fraud, and were scooping up money from the Koch brothers faster than Imelda Marcos in a shoe shop. The IRS SHOULD of course be watchful of these groups, but none of that seems to have penetrated rightwing zeitgeist. Sometimes, you just want to take these folks aside and explain that screaming at 3000 decibels that the taxes are un-American, that you’re not intending to pay said taxes and that you think the IRS is, itself, unconstitutional, may not be the wisest choice when you’re trying to earn the IRS good housekeeping seal of approval.

But whatever. By week’s end, the scandal du jour had become the AP email scandal which didn’t make the right nearly as happy as it made the left angry; even though the ‘scandal’ really wasn’t one, at least not in the sense that Boehner had hoped it might be. You know, where you get to “send someone to jail”. No, none of the scandals really took hold, mostly because they asked the wrong questions. For Benghazi the problem wasn’t personalities –Hillary had zip to do with this—it was procedural. But you’d have to be after something beyond pure politics to actually understand the problem. Ditto the issue with the IRS whose guidelines for approving 504c organizations was confusing and became exponentially more difficult when Citizens United opened up a floodgate of applications that the agency had to process.

Finally, the AP email scandal isn’t so much a scandal as a symptom of bad law in need of repeal. Namely, the Patriot Act, passed under Bush and re-upped under the Obama administration which has subsequently made notions like a right to personal privacy, a really free press and due process utterly quaint like a Swanson TV dinner. Or an I Love Lucy episode. Or a boy scout’s first attempt to start a campfire.

~~

Here’s one reason the IRS might be especially interested in the Tea Party types:
Judge rules tea party group a PAC, not a nonprofit

Elementary School Magic

Overby-Sheppard Elementary School

(Updated below)

Here’s a magic trick. Tear down an old school (in this case Overby-Sheppard Elementary School in Richmond), build a new one in its place using nearly all allocated capital ground funds for school improvements across the city, and argue that this will help everyone in the entire school system. Magic, right?

It’s the kind of trick School Board members Glen Sturtevant, Kimberly B. Gray, Kristen N. Larson and Mamie Taylor don’t think the Richmond City Council should get away with.

The problem is relatively simple. Out of a 22 million dollar budget, 21 million dollars is going to rebuild one school, while all the remaining schools must somehow manage on what remains.

In an open letter to the council, the group of school board members wrote:
“… on Monday night you allocated less than $1 million for the facility needs of 50 schools and $21 million for the Dove Court School.”
….
“The allocation of the Dove School project is at the expense of the vast needs of our other 50 school buildings and the remaining 23,000 students that occupy those buildings ….”

The letter was necessary, says Kristen Larson speaking with Richmond Magazine reporter, Chris Dovi, in light of the state of the district’s other buildings. She noted that the currently proposed capital budget for schools works out to about $43 per child – a pittance.

And there are relatively dramatic needs that go well beyond the Overby-Sheppard Elementary School: a collapsed ceiling at Carver Elementary, holes in the roof at Fairfield Court Elementary, and exposed, overheating pipes at George Mason Elementary that gave one student there second-degree burns when he accidentally leaned against one.

“So if something breaks at Westover Hills [Elementary], I’m basically going to have to show up with my checkbook,” Larson told Richmond Magazine. “Westover Hills is slated to get a new roof in 2014 at a cost of about $400,000. What am I going to do if something happens?”

It’s not like this information should take City Council by surprise. Three facilities studies have been conducted over the past 10 years to help keep City Council members abreast of the current infrastructure needs for the school system. Studies they have apparently chosen to ignore.

For example, Overby-Sheppard opened in 1978 and is relatively young by the standards of the city’s public schools. Carver Elementary, conversely, dates back to 1886. Forty-one other schools were built prior to 1970. Only seven schools have been built since Overby-Sheppard. In the district’s maintenance plan, it ranks 22nd of 27 elementary school buildings in terms of expected building needs.

Michael Paul Williams writing in the Richmond Times-Dispatch was even more pointed:

“Whatever the objective behind the push to demolish and replace Overby-Sheppard Elementary School, it comes down to an indefensible case of preferential treatment.”

“The Richmond City Council — in allocating $21 million to rebuild a relatively new facility in better condition than the vast majority of Richmond’s public schools — has decided that the middle-class families it hopes to lure to a new Dove Court-area development count more than the children in deteriorating school buildings in other neighborhoods.”

The full letter to the council is linked here.
Infrastructure plans can be found at this link.

Update:

Kirsten Gray spoke to City Council last night regarding the school budget. These were her comments:

“Good evening. I am Kirsten Gray speaking on behalf of the Alliance for Progressive Values.

APV acknowledges the good work of the School Board and their efforts to balance the budget and close an 11.5 million dollar gap.

In February, we urged the School Board to ask the city for additional funds to cover any shortfall, and they have done so. But that is not enough. The school’s basic needs still have not been met.

In support of our city schools, we ask you, our city council, to allocate more money to Richmond Public Schools – the $25 million dollars for facility maintenance needed for the upcoming year, and the $8 million requested by the School Board for programming needs.

We question the Dove Court School project.

Why tear down Overby-Sheppard, slated for cosmetic repairs only, to build a new school costing $21 million when we have 50 schools needing $25 million in maintenance and repairs? A collapsed ceiling at Carver, mystery black substance leaking into classrooms at Fairfield Court and Thompson, overheating exposed pipes at Mason which caused a student’s second degree burns, and that’s only to mention a few. Ginter Park alone needs $1 million in upgrades to remain open. To give 50 schools $500,000 for maintenance is unjust and an insult.

In addition to our schools being in disrepair, we have a supply and staff shortage. My daughter’s 9th grade language class has 15 books for 38 students and not enough desks to go around. From the guidance department, I hear they lack paper. In an elective course, there may be over 30 students, half with Individualized Education Programs and only one teacher – no aides.

We are talking about basics here, a sound roof over students’ heads, books and desks for every student, and a school fully staffed so that teachers can do their jobs and students can learn. These are needs, not wants, of our city’s schools, and until those needs are met, rebuilding a school that doesn’t need it doesn’t make sense.

You might say the Dove Court School is a done deal, however, if the city is willing to front and shuffle money at a moment’s notice for the Redskins, certainly you are capable of reallocating funds to cover the needs of the city’s students.”

The Vagina Monologues and V-Day at Richmond’s DogTown Dance Theater

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(PTSD – trigger alert)

Before he was a blind seer, Tiresias was a hermaphrodite; his ability to experience both worlds was his unique gift and his undoing. Legend has it that Zeus wanted to know who enjoyed sexual acts more—men or women, so naturally he asked Tiresias, who had experienced both.

Tiresias answered –honestly—women. Hera, Zeus’s wife, was so outraged by the revelation that she blinded the poor hermaphrodite, and Zeus, feeling guilty at having caused such misfortune, granted Tiresias the gift of prophecy or ‘second sight’ in compensation.

I suspect Eve Ensler –who knows a thing or two about Greek mythology –might not only sympathize with Tiresias’s fate (and surely borrowed a bit of his/her wisdom) but also probably agreed with his assessment regarding the sex act. Women enjoy it more, in fact, if her Vagina Monologues is to be believed, at least twice as many nerves are condensed into the small area of the clitoris as are to be found in a man’s penis. Twice as many, an actress shouts, producing a V for victory that had the audience applauding: “The clitoris is pure in purpose. It is the only organ in the body designed purely for pleasure. The clitoris is simply a bundle of nerves: 8,000 never fibers, to be precise. That’s a higher concentration of nerve fibers than is found anywhere else in the male or female body, including the fingertips, lips, and tongue, and it is twice, twice, twice the number in the penis. Who needs a handgun when you’ve got a semi-automatic?”

Although I had some inkling men might suffer the short end of the stick (so to speak), I had no idea we were down 2 to 1.

Here are some other statistics, less sensual in nature, but no less important to the play.

One in three women on the planet will be raped, beaten or murdered in her lifetime. That’s an amazing number when you consider it. Chances are a girlfriend, a lover, or a wife can recount an incident. That number, 1 in 3, forms the basis and the backdrop to the Vagina Monologues fifteenth year anniversary and it comes on the heels of Eve Ensler’s latest project: One Billion Rising. On February 14, 2013, the One billion Rising event was held– a call for one billion women (and men) around the world to join together to dance in a show of collective strength against violence.

The V-Day movement, out of which One Billion Rising was developed, was inspired, of course, by Eve Ensler’s play, The Vagina Monologues. It was started in 1998 by Ensler who noted that it was women’s reactions to the play that launched the project. After seeing the play she said women would line up afterwards to tell her their personal experiences, most often of sexual violence and abuse. In direct response she formed V- Day which evolved this year into One Billion Rising. By the way, that ‘V’ in V-Day stands for Victory, Valentine and Vagina—a triptych of meaning tying the heart and ceremony (valentine) to gender (vagina) and empowerment (victory), which brings us back to the 15th anniversary of the Vagina Monologues performed recently at the DogTown Dance Theater here in Richmond, Virginia.

A really brief review might go something like this: wow! Energetic, passionate, without being too preachy. And funny! If I wanted to wax eloquent, I’d say the evening was both entertaining and edifying. But it was actually more fun than that.

The way Julie Willard directed the performance, each of the monologues received a separate treatment, or were combined into a kind of group ‘chorus’ effect, and sometimes both—syncopated or in unison. The initial foray into the word of the night was delivered by the entire ensemble, here’s a short segment to give you the flavor.

“Let’s just start with the word, “vagina”. It sounds like an infection at best, maybe a medical instrument. Nurse could you pass me the ‘Vagina’?”

“Vagina, vagina. Doesn’t matter how many times you say it, it never sounds like a word you want to say. It’s a totally ridiculous, completely unsexy word. If you use it during sex, trying to be politically correct– “Darling, could you stroke my vagina?”– you kill the act right there.”

I kept wondering throughout this introductory spiel, how it would go over with our current state assembly members who have spent so much of their time in the last two General Assembly sessions regulating vaginas, insisting on vaginal probes and such without any of their courageous male members being able to actually pronounce the word in public. “Come on, Bob,” I thought, “you want to examine it, legislate it, TRAP it (so to speak), the least you can do is say it: Vagina. There you go, Bob: VA-GI-NA.”

The ladies on stage did it for them. Broke the curse of the word and then barreled into more intimate concerns. Like, say, orgasms. Tiffany Lee, hailing from the Bronx, New York, gave one of the more hilarious performances of the evening as a lawyer turned hooker who loved to hear women moan.

“I love vaginas. I love women. I do not see them as separate things. Women pay me to dominate them, to excite them, to make them come.” (and then, of course, the dildo prop she keeps in a handy tote bag is waved)

“I discovered that most women loved my moaning, but more importantly I discovered how deeply excited I got when other women moaned, when I was responsible for other women moaning.”

From there, we get into a few intimate scenes and a hilarious catalog of the various types of orgasmic moans Tiffany has encountered. Not since Harry Met Sally have mimed orgasms been so vigorously celebrated. Julie Willard had each one performed by an offstage chorus along with Tiffany Lee so that the effect was vividly choreographed, a kind of theatric jam session.

“There’s the elegant moan (a sophisticated laughing sound)
The right on it moan (a deeper, earth driven sound)
The Diva moan (high operatic voices)
The African-American moan (“Oh, Shit!”)
And the WASP moan (no sound).”

***

The most riveting and heartbreaking moment of the evening came from the “My Vagina Was My Village” monologue delivered by Samatha Kittle, playing the role of a Serbian woman who has been raped by six men.

“There is something between my legs. I do not know what it is. I do not know where it is. I do not touch. Not now. Not anymore. Not since.”

“Not since I dreamed a dead animal sewn in down there with thick black fishing line. And the bad dead animal smell cannot be removed. And its throat is slit and it bleeds through all my summer dresses.”

“Not since I heard the skin tear and made lemon screeching sounds, not since a piece of my vagina came off in my hand, a part of the lip, now one side of the lip is completely gone.”

“I live someplace else now. I don’t know where that is.”

While she spoke, Heather Bailey performed an aerial dance on hanging blue fabric behind her that accentuated and operated as counter point to the emotional trauma. To say it was riveting theater is to understate.

**

Dawn Flores rounded out the evening with beautifully balanced monologue on witnessing birth, reminding us just how important that word is:

“I was there when her vagina changed from a shy sexual hole to an archaeological tunnel, a sacred vessel, a Venetian canal, a deep well with a tiny child stuck inside, waiting to be rescued.”

‘I stood and her vagina suddenly became a wide red pulsing heart.”

“It can ache for us and stretch for us, die for us and bleed and bleed us into this difficult, wondrous world. I was there in the room. I remember.”

**

The Vagina Monologues ended with a poem written for the One Billion Rising movement. I’ll just recount the last bit of it here:

It’s time to tell a new story
It needs to be our story
It needs to be outrageous and unexpected
It needs to lose control in the middle
It needs to be sexy and in our hips
And our feet
It needs to be angry and a little scary the way storms can be scary
It needs not to ask permission

The performance had a transgressive, even revolutionary feel for the women on stage and maybe for the audience, as well. When they ended their performance by reciting the One Billion Rising poem each actress raised their single forefinger above their heads, facing the audience, chanting:

One.

And I glanced across the small theater and saw members of the audience rising from their seats as well with their single fingers raised in response.

One.

I kept thinking this was something our politicians could learn from, although I have little hope. I was reminded again of the beginning of the play, when they were doing their recitative on the word of the night: ‘Vagina’. One of the last women went off script and stretched the euphemism ‘Cooch’ into a very elongated: Cooooooch—iiiiii—neeeelllliiiii… As in our current Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, who has done so much to abrogate women’s rights across the state.

The crowd would not stop laughing.

~~~~
You can learn more about One Billion Rising and the V-Day movement here.

The Ferrari, The Chef and The Cooch

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Isana laughed. “And you, lady? Are you a woman of conscience or of ambition?”
The lady smiled. “That’s a question rarely asked here at court.”
“And why is that?”
“Because a woman of conscience would tell you that she is a person of conscience. A woman of ambition would tell you that she is a person of conscience—only much more convincingly.”
— Jim Butcher, Academ’s Fury

“Ambition is all very well, my lad, but you must cloak it.”
— Jonathan Stroud, The Amulet of Samarkand

Here’s a true story. The first time I saw Ken Cuccinelli he was on the floor of the Virginia State Senate giving one hell of a stem-winder in favor of payday lenders.

Not against them, mind you. Not against their usurious fees that regularly bankrupted their clients and sometimes approached a ludicrous 300%. No! He spoke in favor of the blood merchants. He walked into the lion’s den and grasped them by their manes and said “I LOVE you guys!” using the kind of speech that has since become a subset of speciousness on the right. We must not strangle these poor struggling businesses! We must allow these businessmen to take great risks and such risks as they take, they should be favorably remunerated in kind! For they are the engines of our economy and so forth and so on (I’m paraphrasing, of course). He went on for quite some time. When he was finished, the vote was held. Every Senator in that chamber voted to regulate the payday lender save one man who abstained, resilient in the face of adversity, holding fast to principle despite titanic political odds: Ken Cuccinelli.*

Later, of course, it was revealed that Ken “The Cooch” Cuccinelli received over $27,000 in donations from the payday lenders he had so adamantly defended—which might serve better to explain his energetic defense of the indefensible. Or maybe it was principle, but of the most obscure kind.**

Thus goes the way of principle and ambition in Virginia. The public face is always principled, cloaking ambition’s various machinations. Ken has been at this game for a while; but there’s something a little off about The Cooch, about how he’s playing his hand.

It’s not the current scandal he’s immersed in, per se. That is a problem, it goes without saying, but maybe a deeper problem is his inability to correctly mask that ambitious drive that underpins all his ‘principled’ positions. As any good scholar of Virginia politics would explain, the appearance of propriety is much more important than being proper, itself. Of course, the Governor is apt to take off in a $190,000 Ferrari on a road trip thanks to a special donor’s kindness, that’s standard scandal material. Of course, said donor might have some major legal problems (to the tune of $700,000 in outstanding state taxes) that need to go away. Of course, he has a business that needs kick started. All of that is standard. But do you take thousands in donations from a man who owns such a Ferrari, not disclose it, and all the while publicly prosecuting the Governor’s chef—who, as it happens, knows all about this man, his Ferrari and his favors?– for making off with some kitchen goods and produce? A frying pan and a handful of hotdogs, say? It makes no sense.

But let’s lay out the story in a little more detail. First, roughly speaking, everything above is true. The mystery man who lent Governor McDonnell his $190,000 Ferrari is one Jonnie Williams, chief executive of tobacco-company-turned-nutritional-supplement-purveyor Star Scientific, Inc. For much of its history, Star Scientific focused on “alternative tobacco products” such as Ariva, a tobacco-based lozenge that delivers more nicotine than a cigarette in a convenient pill. But recently, the company has announced that it will stop making tobacco products altogether and focus instead on dietary supplements and facial creams. The dietary supplement will ‘organically’ reduce inflammation and may help folks stricken with Alzheimer’s—or so the company literature suggests.

In Virginia to date, two of Mr. Jonnie William’s biggest political pals have been Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Governor Bob McDonnell. This makes sense because Virginia public servants and tobacco go together like mint and julep. In fact, Cuccinelli is so obviously enamored of Williams’ business acumen that his one and only declared stock investment is in Star Scientific. He has also, it should be mentioned, received gifts from Williams totaling at least $18,000.

According to the C-Ville Times, McDonnell has benefited even more from Williams’ largesse, declaring more than $9,600 worth of gifts from the company in 2011 and 2012, and accepting over $100,000 in free air travel for himself and his political action committee since 2009. Even worse, the governor failed to disclose the fact that the $15,000 catering bill for his daughter Cailin’s 2011 wedding (which was held at the Executive Mansion) was paid by Williams. Around the same time, McDonnell’s wife Maureen traveled to Florida to tout Star Scientific’s latest anti-inflammatory product, and later co-hosted an Executive Mansion luncheon with her husband to promote the product.

Why does any of this matter? Well, the fact that Star Scientific is currently engaged in a legal battle with the Commonwealth of Virginia over a $700,000 tax bill (and was forced to repay $300,000 of a nearly $1 million state grant due to its failure to create jobs) does not instill great confidence in the company. Add to that the fact that both Cuccinelli and McDonnell kept their dealings with Williams hidden as long as legally possible, and the entire thing starts to whiff faintly of scandal, even beyond the usual odor of Virginia politics as usual.

Ultimately, you have to ask, did those revelations come about because of pangs of principled conscience, or because somebody, or something made Ken and the Governor give it up?

I won’t hold you in suspense: I suspect the later. That someone or something is a fellow named Todd Schneider who, until quite recently, was the Executive Chef for the Governor’s mansion.

Now this is where the story gets interesting. Up until the moment that The Cooch had to reveal all his shenanigans with Williams and Star Scientific, this particular story was pretty tame—at least by Virginia standards—which, by the way, ranks 47th in ethics out of all the other states, meaning we’re in the top three for corruption (we excel at some things besides puerility, after all. Who knew?). But If Todd Schneider’s defense is correct in their timeline—and their story is as credible as Cuccinelli’s or McDonnell’s, if not more so—than what went down with Star Scientific and the Governor’s Mansion’s kitchen was something like this:

Several months before Schneider’s March 2012 departure, someone called the state’s hotline for waste, fraud and abuse allegations.

Subsequently, Schneider, a well-known Richmond personality whose Web site says he trained with Martha Stewart, was charged with four felony counts of embezzling more than $200.

Simple on its surface—and rather clean—if that were the end of the story. But it’s not.

According to the Washington Examiner, “In defending himself against the embezzlement charges, Schneider suggests that he was told to pay himself by “taking it out in trade” when the state would not pay him. [In other words, grab stuff in our pantry to pay for your services]. Also, according to Schneider’s defense team, “Schneider told investigators more than a year ago that a wealthy businessman (Williams) paid for $15,000 in food at the wedding of McDonnell’s daughter but that the governor never disclosed the gift. His lawyer, Steve Benjamin, argued that Cuccinelli, who had his own ties to Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr., did not pursue the matter. Furthermore, their questions suggest that McDonnell children not living at the mansion — either because they were away at college or grown up and living on their own — raided the state pantry, refrigerator and liquor cabinet.”

According to the Washington Post, “The attorney for Chef Todd Schneider made it clear at [last] Thursday’s hearing that he plans to push the idea that Schneider is a whistleblower whose tips about alleged wrongdoing by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his wife, Maureen, were ignored by Cuccinelli.”

Among other things, the defense motions seek records concerning “state goods and resources” taken by McDonnell, his wife, Maureen, and their five children, including: “lodging and resources provided to Jeanine McDonnell during her residence at [gubernatorial retreat] Camp Pendleton, believed to be for several months in early 2012; bottled waters, cups, Gatorade, protein powder and other items taken from the mansion by Sean and Bobby McDonnell for use at their college residences; flats of eggs taken from the mansion by Rachel McDonnell; liquor taken by Rachel McDonnell or her boyfriend, Nick, from the mansion for a private party at Camp Pendleton; pots and pans from the mansion given to Jeanine, Rachel or Cailin McDonnell by Maureen McDonnell.”

That’s pretty funny actually, and farcical. So much so that The Rachel Maddow Show spent a few minutes making national fun of the new Virginia food scandal.

“Keeping it classy and fast, Virginia!” she quipped. Ouch.

So did Schneider actually embezzle the state and is he simply politicizing the story in his defense as Cuccinelli contends, or was he a whistleblower whom Cuccinelli is trying to silence through an abusive use of his office?

No one knows, at this point, and frankly, the truth might lie somewhere between those two extremes. But it’s worth noting that neither McDonnell nor Cuccinelli had said word one about their financial relationships with Star Scientific and Williams until forced to do so because of the Schneider case. And, of course, we have Cuccinelli’s history of using, if not abusing, his power as Attorney General for ideological ends far beyond the limits of his office.

The Cooch just doesn’t fit into the Southern gentleman’s suit where such transgressions in propriety would be frowned upon. He’s got a little mean streak, after all. Maybe it’s the Italian in him. Maybe it’s the Northern latitude of his birthplace (born in New Jersey, an area Bruce Springsteen famously noted can ‘rip the bones from your back’). Maybe he has a deeply suppressed desire for men (witness his peculiar fascination with sodomy). Whatever the cause, something isn’t healthy, and besides filing frivolous lawsuits that gets you very much unwanted media exposure as you try to run for public office, it tends to distort personalities in other ways. You write ridiculous books filled with delusions of self-important grandeur. And most importantly, you use your power in vindictive ways that can sometimes come back to bite you.

The Cooch’s vindictiveness is pretty well documented. In a quixotic effort to deny climate change, Cuccinelli sought a broad range of documents related to Michael E. Mann, a climate researcher now at Penn State who was an assistant professor at UVA from 1999 to 2005. The Cooch was trying to set Mann up for a violation of the 2002 Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act—which, frankly, was a real stretch, arguing with no discernible merit that climate change wasn’t real and his research was somehow fraudulent. While climate change skeptics have challenged Mann’s work, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and a Penn State investigation cleared Mann of charges that he falsified or suppressed data. Of course, what should have been– at most– an argument between well-regarded scientists turned into a ridiculous and highly politicized match between climate change skeptics and the scientific community. The Washington Post quoted Rachel Levinson, senior counsel with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) as saying Cuccinelli’s request had “echoes of McCarthyism.”

A. Barton Hinkle of the Richmond Times-Dispatch (one of the most conservative newspapers on the Earth, I would note) criticized Cuccinelli for “employing a very expansive reading of Virginia’s Fraud Against Taxpayers Act.”

But that’s not the only time Cuccinelli used the power of his office to pursue an obvious ideological end.

In June, after nine hours of debate and two votes by the Va Board of Health members agreed to ‘grandfather in’ existing abortion-performing clinics so that they wouldn’t need to immediately comply with the newly passed TRAP (Targeted Regulations Against Abortion Providers) law.

But after a 10-year quest to pass this legislation as a state legislator, Cuccinelli was determined to get what he wanted — the most extreme version possible. So, first, he refused to certify the new regulations if the board didn’t reverse their vote. But then he went even further, and vindictively told members that the state would not represent them if they were sued in response to their decision. So not only did he say he would refuse to sign the regulations, but he threatened to leave them without the state’s legal defense if they were sued as a result of their decision. In other words, sign off on this, and open yourself up to any potential libel suit.

According to the Washington Post, “it was in keeping with Mr. Cuccinelli’s crusading style when he threatened members of the state Board of Health, warning that they might have to bear the cost of their own legal defense unless they toed his line on abortion regulations. That gambit bore fruit a few days later when the board, evidently intimidated, reversed a position it had taken in June and voted to impose severe new regulations on abortion clinics, where most of Virginia’s 25,000 annual abortions take place.”

Happy days for women’s clinics all across the state.

Unfortunately for the Cooch, this destructive victory may have given him a sense of invulnerability he doesn’t really possess. Maybe he decided he could use his power to silence a whistleblower in much the same way.

Whatever the case, if the broad outline of Schneider’s story is true, one can imagine a half-dozen different scenarios in which Cuccinelli might have avoided what is turning into a major political embarrassment. A little more emphasis on propriety, a little less swaggering and pugilistic prosecuting might have sailed him over these troubled seas without a whisper. But The Cooch is The Cooch and one can sense his anger at having some audacious chef taking it to the Governor and his own office. So perhaps he used his power to try to silence him; but as any good Southern gentleman will tell you, Cooch: you don’t burn the help.

Oh, and now The Washington Post reports, the FBI is interested, too.

~~

Link here for the quotes and payday lending information above.

*Cuccinelli was the Only Member of the Senate to Not Vote on Legislation to Cap Exorbitant Payday Lending Interest Rates
In April 2008, Cuccinelli was the only member of the state Senate to abstain from voting on bipartisan legislation to cap exorbitant interest rates charged by payday lenders.
According to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, the bill would cap interest rates at 36 percent, extend the time borrowers have to repay loans, and limit to ten the number of loans that may be obtained in a year. The bill would also require the creation of a database to track borrowers and loans and allow lenders to charge a $5 fee per loan to pay for the creation and maintenance of the system.
The bill was the result of three years of negotiation and passed the Senate 38-0-1 (abstention) and the House 90-7 and was signed into law. SB 588, Vote 4/23/08; Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, General Assembly Preliminary Legislative Report 2008
**Cuccinelli Previously Collected $27,400 from Payday Industry
In March 2011, an editorial in the Virginian Pilot noted, “He has collected $27,400 from predatory lending companies over the past decade, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.” [Virginian Pilot Editorial, 3/09/11]