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What’s going on
SoVaNow.com / August 29, 2013This is the week I learned what the word “twerking” means. Thanks for that, Miley Cyrus. Let’s see what else is going on:
The major driver of talk around town was, of course, the federal drive-by operation at Cherokee Tobacco last Thursday. Agents with the IRS and the USDA’s investigative arm — and who knows exactly which other agencies — swooped into South Boston to take a peek at the company’s business records. There’s not a lot to say about this episode that people probably haven’t already ventured, but it behooves one to keep in mind that (A) the government has been known to misfire on its investigations and (B) the presumption of innocence until guilt is established is generally sound practice. Cherokee is a good employer and an excellent corporate citizen in our community. One hopes the company doesn’t wind up in unfortunate territory.
In researching possible motivations for the federal intervention, I came across a 2012 report by the Virginia State Crime Commission that produced some striking findings on the economics of tobacco trafficking. Virginia, unfortunately, is a veritable pipeline for contraband cigarettes, with the VSCC estimating that roughly a third of New York City’s illicit smokes filter in from the Old Dominion. It’s not hard to see why NYC would be fertile territory for cheating: With New York state excise taxes (2011 data) of $58.50 on a carton of cigarettes, the profits that can be made by reselling cigarettes purchased in Virginia (state excise tax in 2011: $3.00 per carton) are enormous.
Here’s your data point of the day, courtesy of the state crime commission (vscc.virginia.gov): The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) estimates that a single truckload of 800 cases of cigarettes, smuggled into New York City from Virginia, can produce a windfall profit of up to $4,080,000.
Wow. There aren’t a lot of trucks on the road with that sort of buck-raking potential — legal or otherwise. You can see where problems could result.
Again, a disclaimer: None of this is necessarily, or hopefully, true of Cherokee.
Don’t look now, but the issue of uranium mining in Southside Virginia is flaring up again — which itself is no great surprise, seeing as how that big lump of radioactive ore in the ground in Pittsylvania County isn’t simply going to go away, now or in the foreseeable future.
What is a little surprising — in a good way — is the ongoing diligence of the anti-uranium contingent in Southside Virginia, when a plain reading of the political tea leaves would suggest there’s no pressing need to mobilize the forces at the present time. As we witnessed during this year’s legislative session, the state Senate is implacably hostile to mining, and there’s no real chance that will change until 2015, when members will come up for re-election. Of course, Virginia Uranium Inc. can continue to press the General Assembly to lift the state’s mining ban, but the company’s hopes and dreams will remain bottled up as long as the current Senate remains intact.
There is, however, another possible route of action for VUI: convincing the governor to set in motion the drafting of mining regulations, in the hope, perhaps, of creating an industry foothold and dumping a fait accompli in the General Assembly’s lap. I suppose there’s a miniscule chance that Bob McDonnell might do something precisely this brash and controversial as a way of distracting attention from his Star Scientific troubles, but … nah, that ain’t gonna happen. (McDonnell is in no position to make needless enemies.) That leaves one more possibility for VUI: rooting for a new governor who will be sympathetic to the cause. As it happens, it’s not a fantastical bet.
The Democrat in this year’s race, Terry McAuliffe, may be no great shakes, but he is pretty solid on the big issues facing the state — uranium mining not least among them. McAuliffe has won the confidence of uranium mining’s most stalwart opponents, figures such as Halifax’s Jack Dunavant and Andrew Lester, president of the Roanoke River Basin Association, which counts for something. (Lester told the Associated Press that McAuliffe described mining as “a horrible idea” in a recent conversation between the two men.) On the other hand, you also have Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee and a self-styled proud man of principle and conviction. What opinion has Cuccinelli offered on the issue? In Danville earlier this month, he said, “I think we need I think we need to proceed with regulations that will ultimately lead to uranium mining and milling,” as reported by the Danville Register & Bee on Aug. 2.
Now, it should be noted that the above depiction of Cuccinelli as highly principled is more than a little sardonic — the Star Scientific scandal isn’t exclusively about the governor, y’know — and Cuccinelli is sufficiently in tune with the drill-and-kill credo of modern-day conservatism that any milquetoast language he cared to offer on the subject would be suspect at any rate. But instead of hopelessly obfuscating, Cuccinelli has done us a favor here by saying he wants “to proceed with regulations that will ultimately lead to uranium mining and milling.” Is plain language really so hard to understand? I don’t think so.
In any event, the anti-uranium local business group, the Virginia Coalition, is on the case. They’ve got two rallies-slash-fundraisers on the calendar: a Sept. 6 event in the Town of Clarksville, and an Oct. 11 sequel at Virginia International Raceway, inside the gallery hall. That happens to be a huge building; it would be great to see it fill up for the night.
I can’t help but to be a little amused by all the campaign signs that have sprung up in support of Del. James Edmunds, who is running for re-election this fall.
Edmunds, of course, has been first-rate in the fight against uranium mining in Richmond. His Democratic opponent, Jasper Hendricks of Farmville, has been invisible ever since announcing his entry into the race, and Edmunds’ re-election is a foregone conclusion.
Hence my sense of amusement at all the electioneering on the delegate’s behalf. Once he returns to Richmond next year, however, I hope Edmunds will keep in mind what ought to be his highest priority, after uranium, for improving the lives of his constituents: Medicaid expansion. There are literally thousands of people in the 60th legislative district who would gain reliable access to health care with Virginia’s agreement to expand Medicaid, a key part of the Affordable Care Act. Once expansion kicks in, in 2014, individuals and families making less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level will gain Medicaid coverage, provided that Virginia agrees to the higher eligibility limits. (As things now stand, it’s very, very difficult for adults to qualify for the program.) Just to be clear, expansion is a done deal on the federal level, and if Virginia refuses Washington’s offer to pay the tab — 100 percent of the cost in the first three years, 90 percent after that — the money for the Medicaid program will simply end up going somewhere else.
In moral, social, political and economic terms, it makes zero sense for the General Assembly to deny low-income Virginians — many of whom work harder than your average legislator — the benefits of reliable health care. It would be especially appalling if Del. Edmunds turned his back on citizens of the 60th District, one of the poorest areas of Virginia. There are times in politics when you have to go along with the team, and Republicans as a whole tend to get their dander up about the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare). There are also times, however, when politicians must do the right thing by the people they represent. Let’s hope Del. Edmunds understands the difference.