All posts by Bob Brink

The Lesson of 2006: Stop Political Home Invasions

robocalls.jpgnicholson-shining.jpgEvery election cycle should be a learning experience. In 1988, for instance, the lesson was “Read My Lips: No Tank Pictures.” In 1998, it was “Um, maybe impeachment isn’t such a cool idea after all.” This year, my personal take-away is “Kill Robo-Calls.”

I’ve always thought of these automated, pre-recorded election pitches, which feature the scratchy voice of some political figure or other luminary, as a wen on the body politic: an obnoxious intrusion into people’s homes. I’ve never seen a shred of evidence that they actually, strictly speaking, you know, worked, and my gut tells me that they turn off more people than they persuade.

What is an annoyance for most of us is a threat to the health and well-being of some. Take the case of a Connecticut woman, preparing for breast cancer surgery, who received dozens of unsolicited robo-callsduring that state’s primary season. She was quoted as saying, “I would conservatively say I got 60 calls . . . I’m waiting for biopsy results and I’m getting these phone calls. I was awakened out of a sound sleep the day before my surgery.”

During the 2006 election cycle, voters have reported receiving robo-calls purporting to give information about a candidate, with the message only disclosing at the end that it actually is a negative call paid for by the opposition party. Others have reported that they received the same pre-recorded call many times in a row. I say, get rid of ’em. I’ve asked Legislative Services to draft legislation, modeled on an Indiana bill, placing broad restrictions on robo-calls, including campaign messages, within the Commonwealth. It’s worth a try, doncha think?

More On the So-Called “Columbus Day”

Garrison Keillor says it best about the underappreciated Scandinavians and a most underappreciated Minnesota politician. He may be behind Salon’s premium wall, but here’s his conclusion:

“Look around today and you will find the Viking descendants, a calm and stoical and somewhat formal people, by and large, not given to extremes of fashion or chanting ‘We’re Number One’ or writing memoirs that hang out the family underwear. Walter Mondale is pretty much the prototype. He lost the presidency by one of the biggest landslides in history to an aging actor whose grip on reality, never firm to begin with, was becoming hallucinatory. Mr. Reagan was sort of the Columbus of our time, a better P.R. man than sailor, but so be it. Mr. Mondale is a buoyant man with a sense of humor who enjoys his life in Minnesota, where people are happy to see him, and when you do, you see that losing is far from the worst thing that can happen to a man. Far from it.

“What’s worse is the likely fate of the Current Occupant, who is contending with Pierce, Buchanan and Warren G. Harding for the title of All-Time Worst President. He’s got a good shot at the title if only because he’s had so much more to be worst with. (Any young persons who have been inspired by Mr. Bush to take up public service should be watched very closely.)

“I propose that we change Columbus Day to Bush Day, a cautionary holiday, like Halloween, a day to meditate on the hazards of ambition. We could observe it by going through the basement and garage and throwing out stuff we don’t want or need. Also by not mortgaging the house to pay for a vacation, and not yelling at the neighbors, and not assuming that the law is for other people. A day to honor kindness, industriousness and modesty.”

America’s Dairyland and Its Capitol

Going Kris one better, in honor of Leif Ericson as well as my Olsen and Anderson forebears I spent the weekend at the epicenter of Scandinavian-America: the upper Midwest. The highlight was a visit to Madison, Wisconsin, where I spent my childhood summers, and the State Capitol building.

VA Capitol.JPGWisconsin’s Capitol, like the one in downtown DC and unlike the one in Richmond, sports a distinctive exterior dome — Madison’s is 3 feet and 1/2 inches shorter than the Nation’s and is the only granite state capitol dome in the U.S.. Wis Capitol Dome Night.JPGAt night, it is illuminated brilliantly and is visible for miles across Lakes Mendota and Monona, which border downtown Madison (the building’s website notes proudly that it is “the only State Capitol ever built on an isthmus.”)

Wis Capitol Rotunda.JPGAt the center of the four wings is a rotunda that rises several hundred feet. At the four corners are mosaics that pay tribute to GovernmentWis Capitol Govt Mosaic.JPG and the duties of its three branches (my favorite is “Legislation” — “represented as a powerful older man with a long beard who holds a stylus in his right hand and is seated by a sphinx symbol of wisdom”). Wis Capitol Legislation Mosaic.JPG

Several years ago the state undertook a massive renovation and restoration of the building, from its granite exterior to its oak woodwork and brass fittings. Wis Capitol Restoration.JPGFor those who grumble about the pace of work on our Capitol’s renovation and restoration, it should be noted that the Wisconsin project took over 12 years.

All in all, a perfect fall weekend — the kind of weather the Midwest offers up occasionally to delude people into thinking they might actually want to live there year-round.


kcolc.JPGWhat a pointless couple of days we just spent in Richmond! You’ll recall that during the Regular Session That Would Not Die, it was suggested that the way to deal with the Commonwealth’s transportation woes was to decouple the issue from the budget process and go into a special session devoted solely to transportation. So we did. And what did we get out of it? Bupkis.

Here’s what we’re left with at the end of the Road to Nowhere:

  • There was consensus among four of the five institutional players — House Democrats, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans, and the Governor — that any fix had to include a component that addressed our needs on a long term, statewide basis. In order to move from conceptual agreement to actual legislation, you need a bill bouncing back between the two chambers to talk about. On Tuesday, the fifth players — House Republicans — killed off the only discussion vehicle before us, SB 5013.
  • Additionally, four of the five agreed generally that the critical transportation needs of the two most populous and congested corners of the state — Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads — had to be addressed separately through regional authorities. Once again, on Tuesday the Fifth Horsemen — House Republicans — shot down a couple of vehicles the Senate had sent over to us, SB 5016 and SB 5014. For good measure, they turned on their own, deep-sixing  HB 5056, a good-faith regional proposal brought forward by a handful of House Republicans. 
  • So what was still standing when the full House and Senate convened on Wednesday? A bill to raise around $1.5 billion statewide for transportation over five years. ($1.5 billion sounds like a lot, but in reality it would have netted Northern Virginia about enough to pay for a highway interchange each year.) Oh, and the Senate had signaled in no uncertain terms that the financing mechanism was unacceptable to them, so the bill would be DOA.
  • A bunch of bills tinkering with the transportation bureaucracy — many of them worthwhile, none of them earthshaking.
  • A bill allocating $339 million in surplus funds to various transportation projects around the state. I offered an amendment to redirect some of that money to focus on a transportation problem just over the horizon that has the potential to paralyze the entire Northern Virginia region: the Army’s plan to relocate 22,000 jobs over the next five years to the Fort Belvoir area. The road and transit network down there is totally inadequate to handle an influx of that magnitude, and it could very well create gridlock from the 14th Street Bridge to Fredericksburg. My amendment, alas, went down on a near-party line vote. Mark my words: we’ll all live to regret it.

Here’s the really bad part: by doing nothing this week, we’ve virtually ensured that nothing meaningful will happen on transportation for another two whole years. The reason: the political calendar. 2007 is an election year for all 100 Delegates and 40 Senators. If we couldn’t summon up the collective will to make the hard choices now, do you think we’ll be able to next year? Of course.  And pigs fly.

UPDATE: Channeling Oliver Cromwell, this morning’s Richmond Times-Dispatch summed up Special Session I perfectly.


9-11: Arlington Remembers

Pentagon Flag.jpg Five years ago this morning, at 9:37 a.m., a hijacked Boeing 757 weighing 270,000 pounds, including over 10,000 gallons of jet fuel, slammed into the west side of the Pentagon at a speed of over 400 miles per hour.  The lives of 184 innocent men, women, and children were wiped out in an instant.

What followed from that moment of horror was a tribute to the courage and dedication of hundreds of people.  First responders from Arlington and surrounding jurisdictions flooded to the Pentagon, a location that was at once a crime scene, a conflagration, and the military nerve center of a nation at war.  Day after day they worked to rescue the injured, recover the bodies of those who had died, restore order, and fight a fire that at times threatened to consume the entire building.

This morning we gathered at Arlington’s Justice Center to remember the lives that were lost in the attack on the Pentagon. As a bell tolled 184 times, we honored those who responded to that attack and realized once again how much we owe to those who protect us.


Farewell to Field’s

Marshall Field.jpg For Chicagoans and many other Midwesterners, yesterday was a sad day: the conglomerateurs of Federated Department Stores completed their nefarious conversion of our Marshall Field stores to the Macy’s brand.  The change from the old soothing dark green to the new garish red is just one element of Federated’s Macyfication of retailing from coast to coast:  Boston’s Filene’s and the Washington region’s Hecht Company, among others, suffered the same fate.

But losing Field’s is the worst.Marshall Fields Clock.jpgThe clock outside its flagship store in the Loop;   Frango Mints.jpg the life-changing Frango Mints; fields santa.jpg the One True Santa Claus. Under pressure from an outraged populace, Federated will retain some of the trappings of Field’s.  But it won’t be the same.  They’ve stolen a piece of Chicagoland’s collective experience, and they’ll pay the price. Mark my words: this will go down as the most misguided marketing mistake since New Coke.