Monday, September 27, 2010

Catching up....

 I've been slack on posting to the blog lately.
I went on vacation in Vegas and had a hard time getting back into blogging mode. And, I didn't want the blog to be too dominated by posts about Ken Cuccinelli, although he does something worth talking about nearly every week, or the governor's ABC privatization plan. I've written a lot about ABC privatization. I was on that bandwagon before Bob McDonnell.

However, with the full details of the governor's plan available since my last post, I'll hit it another lick in a grab bag full of topics in the news.

  • McDonnell tries to give away the stores...and the wholesaler too: I'm on record as thinking Virginia needs to get out of the business of selling alcohol. It's hypocritical for the state to put people in prison for drug offenses while Virginia markets and sells the drug that has the most disruptive effect on society -- in terms of lives lost to drunk drivers, divorce, domestic violence, etc.  The state should never have gotten into the liquor business in the first place after Prohibition. But it did. We crossed that Rubicon more than 70 years ago. The state controls the right to sell hard liquor in Virginia. And, to paraphrase a now-disgraced former governor of Illinois, "That's a @#!$%&* valuable thing, you can't give that away for nothing." But that's essentially what our governor has planned. He's allowed a commission composed of many of the interests who will probably end up buying the business to set the bid price. They've come in at about $500 million. At a guess, the state's ABC business is probably worth closer to $2 billion, based on annual sales of more than $600 million. That's for 1,000 permanent retail licenses. To give but one example of how the governor has underpriced this asset, Paul Goldman former Zvengali to Gov. Doug Wilder points on at Blue Virginia that Maine will realize about $144 million from leasing its wholesale distribution facilities to a private entity for 10 years. Virginia has about six times the population of Maine, but the governor proposes to permanently sell the state's wholesale operation for $168 million. That doesn't smell right. An audit of the states liquor business, to find out what it's really worth, would be appropriate before the General Assembly proceeds with the governor's plan, which it's showing no inclination to do so far.
  • The McDonnell Miracle: turns up $1 billion in unspent money at VDOT : Speaking of audits, an audit of the Virginia Department of Transportation turns up more than $1 billion in unspent funds. While the McDonnell administration acted surprised by this and said it created a windfall for transportation and inferred that it bespoke of mismanagement by the prior two Democratic administrations, there's less to this story than meets the eye. All state agencies accumulate cash reserves for unforeseen circumstances. In the case of VDOT, with uncertain funding coming partially from the state's general fund and partially from the Transportation Trust Fund from fuel taxes and with uncertain expenses due to weather conditions, it's not surprising that those cash reserves are unusually large. That's what VDOT would have used to clear the roads in a harsh winter or to make repairs if we had a bridge collapse like the one in Minnesota two years ago. It's not that big a deal.
  • Justice Miscarried - Gov. McDonnell refused to intervene in the execution of Teresa Lewis, who was convicted of plotting the murders of her husband and stepson. I'm a supporter of the death penalty and I don't think Lewis should have gotten off because of her sex or because of her intelligence, which was measured in the range indicating she was perhaps slightly mentally retarded. The facts of the case indicate that she was smart enough to know what she was doing and to know it was wrong. But I believe justice was miscarried because Lewis was executed after two accomplices, who actually committed the murders, received life sentences. If the crime merited a death sentence -- and it probably did -- then it merited three.
  • Courts rule in favor of gay rights - Just as African Americans and women found the federal courts more willing to protect their civil rights than the U.S. Congress or state governments, gay Americans are seeing their rights upheld in court. A federal judge recently ruled that California's ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional and served no purpose except to discriminate against gays and lesbians. The judge really had no choice since the proponents of the ban offered little in defense of their position. The judge concluded that stripping civil rights from citizens based on their difference from other citizens was not the proper subject of a referendum or legislation. Another federal judge last week ruled the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy -- which bars openly gay service members -- unconstitutional. That came only a day after Republicans managed to filibuster an attempt to repeal DADT.
  • What happens in weird -- Vegas is an interesting place. Especially for someone who spends a lot of time in Williamsburg. Williamsburg is sort of the anti-Vegas.  While Williamsburg focuses on its history, Vegas tries to obscure some of its past. The marker about Bugsy Siegal at The Flamingo doesn't mention his mob ties. While Williamsburg worries about filling 9,000 hotel rooms, there were more hotel rooms at the one corner of the Vegas Strip, between The Flamingo, the Bellagio, Ceasar's Palace and Bally's. While Williamsburg's ideal of architectural integrity results in everything in town being built with the same two-to-three story ticky-tacky red brick neo-Colonial facades, from my hotel window I could see a replica of the Eiffel Tower, an Italian villa, a recreation of the New York City skyline, a castle and a black glass pyramid, all at least 20 stories tall. Williamsburg planning director Reed  Nester told me that when the national convention for city planners was held in Vegas a few years ago he learned that their conservation program revolved around preserving their vintage neon signs. Vegas is something everybody ought to see once, even if -- like me -- you aren't all that interested in gambling. Just the scale of the place makes it interesting. And there's something very American about the city, obsessed as it is with size, money, entertainment and sex.
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