In the News

Capitol Hill: Warner introduces bipartisan legislation aimed at increasing TARP transparency, posted Tuesday, 4 p.m.
Capitol Hill: Webb backs Senate measure aimed at strengthening government oversight in mortgage, corporate fraud cases, posted Tuesday, 4 p.m.
State News: Kaine signs agreement with Germany on climate change, posted Tuesday, 4 p.m.
State News: ACLU asks state legislators to review Virginia Fusion Center, posted Tuesday, 4 p.m.
Programming Note: AFP editor talks about the Big Mac Attack on WSVA
News: Groups urge support of Paycheck Fairness Act, posted Tuesday, 10:05 a.m.
Event: Daughters of the Appalachians at the Hamner, posted Tuesday, 10:05 a.m.
Event: Poetry and Story Doubleheader Friday, May 1, posted Tuesday, 10:05 a.m.
Event: Valley Women’s Connection luncheon on the schedule, posted Tuesday, 10:05 a.m. 

 

Capitol Hill: Warner introduces bipartisan legislation aimed at increasing TARP transparency, posted Tuesday, 4 p.m.

U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced legislation today to increase transparency in the use of the $700 billion appropriated through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to banks and other financial companies. The TARP Transparency Act directs the U.S. Department of the Treasury to more aggressively compile and disclose how TARP funds have been used – information that currently is submitted in a variety of formats to several federal agencies – for review by the TARP Inspector General, the Congressional Oversight Panel and the public.

The TARP Transparency Act will allow regulators and Congress to use a single database, in a standardized format, to provide a more complete picture of the actions of TARP fund recipients and contractors. The information could be collected and disseminated in near real-time, enhancing its value as a regulatory audit tool and also as a preventative oversight tool.

“Our legislation creates a database and auditing system that will collect and disclose this information in a consistent and standardized format,” Sen. Warner said. “It is inconceivable to me that we are not using the most complete and sophisticated technology available to disclose this information. Greater TARP transparency will allow regulators to be more proactive in protecting the taxpayers’ investment, and it will help us spot potential waste, fraud and abuse. I also believe the release of more information will begin to restore taxpayer’s confidence in how these $700 billion in TARP funds have been used.”

“The data sources required to create transparency for the TARP initiative are presently housed in disparate agencies, systems, and formats. Our legislation directs the Treasury Department to collect all data in a readily usable fashion to make it transparent and traceable,” said Senator Martinez, a member of the Senate Banking Committee.

“Taxpayers deserve comprehensive and robust oversight of how TARP funds are being used,” said Sen. Brown, Chairman of the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Economic Policy. “Given the tremendous investment made by taxpayers, it is critical that Wall Street banks use TARP funds to unfreeze credit markets so that Main Street businesses and families can get our economy back on track. This is about protecting taxpayers through aggressive collection and disclosure to Congress of TARP fund use.”

Neil Barofsky, the special government inspector general assigned to oversee TARP, submitted a 250-page report to Congress last week based on surveys of 364 banks that have received TARP funds. The inspector general noted nearly 100 percent of survey recipients responded, disproving claims that more comprehensive reporting by TARP recipients would be onerous and the information would be difficult to collect.

 

Capitol Hill: Webb backs Senate measure aimed at strengthening government oversight in mortgage, corporate fraud cases, posted Tuesday, 4 p.m.

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) today supported the Senate passage of S.386, the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009 (FERA), to rebuild and strengthen the government’s ability to investigate and prosecute increasing instances of mortgage and corporate fraud.

“This legislation will help agencies root out the mortgage and corporate-related waste, fraud and abuse that contributed to our current economic climate,” said Sen. Webb. “This initiative could yield returns of $15-20 for every $1 invested in increasing the availability of resources and staff to track down false claims.

“We have seen the rate of alleged fraud skyrocket to more than 65,000 reported cases in 2008 compared to just 4,700 in 2001 yet we have fewer investigators than we did during the 1980s savings and loan crisis,” continued Webb. “We must aggressively monitor mortgage and corporate financial industry practices.”

Specifically, FERA would authorize $245 million per year in Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011 to hire hundreds of additional prosecutors, agents, and staff at the Department of Justice, the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S Secret Service, and the Office of Inspector General for the Housing and Urban Development Department to conduct investigations and prosecutions of financial fraud.

The bill would also improve and modernize fraud and money laundering statutes to strengthen prosecutors’ ability to combat fraud. This includes updating the definition of “financial institution” in federal fraud statutes to include mortgage lending businesses that are not directly regulated or insured by the federal government. These businesses account for nearly half of residential mortgages.

 

State News: Kaine signs agreement with Germany on climate change, posted Tuesday, 4 p.m.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and Germany’s Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Sigmar Gabriel, signed a bilateral Joint Declaration at the German Embassy today that commits each government to the common goals of combating the effects of climate change, achieving greater energy efficiency, collaborating on energy research and development initiatives, and developing a more climate-friendly economy. This is the second bilateral climate change agreement signed by Governor Kaine. In February, Governor Kaine signed a similar agreement with the United Kingdom.

“Virginia is pleased to have been a principal U.S. state to collaborate with Germany on global warming and energy security issues,” Gov. Kaine said. “Our work together has materialized over the past year in meetings in Berlin, Washington, D.C., and Richmond. Today, I am pleased that we are formalizing our ongoing working relationship.”

Virginia was represented in Berlin in September 2008 by Secretary of Natural Resources L. Preston Bryant, Jr., when Germany formally launched its Transatlantic Climate Bridge initiative. The Transatlantic Climate Bridge seeks to establish partnerships between Germany and certain U.S. states to develop economic and energy strategies designed to mitigate the effects of global warming.

In December 2008, Secretary Bryant and Secretary of Commerce and Trade Patrick O. Gottschalk signed an initial agreement with Germany’s Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Klaus Scharioth, outlining interim goals in collaborations on community energy planning, renewable energy research, and green jobs initiatives.

“Energy efficiency and renewable energies are a success story in Germany, both in terms of climate protection and jobs,” Minister Gabriel said. “Today, renewables are providing 15 percent of our energy supplies, and we have created 280,000 new jobs in this growing industry. In implementing our goal to bring German GHG emissions down to 40 percent below 1990 levels until 2020, we will double the share of renewables up to 30 percent and raise the number of jobs to 500,000 in this sector. We are happy to cooperate with the Commonwealth of Virginia across the Atlantic to promote energy efficiency, renewable energies and low-carbon technologies.”

Under the Joint Declaration signed today by Gov. Kaine and Minister Gabriel, Virginia and Germany agree to:

– Exchange data and best practices on market-based emissions trading systems and the potential of linking to a U.S. cap-and-trade system at the federal level.

– Work together to develop and apply renewable energy technologies, specifically in solar photovoltaic, offshore wind, and geothermal energy.

– Create new economic development opportunities for renewable energy, energy efficiency, and low-carbon technologies.

– Improve the exchange and application of best management practices on community energy planning, starting with ongoing work between the Northern Virginia Regional Commission and certain regional partners in Germany.

– Advance collaborative research between Virginia universities and private-sector firms and certain German public and private institutions and agencies, starting with Virginia Tech’s clean combustion laboratory and the Deutsches Zentrum fuer Luft- und Raumfahrt to promote clean combustion technologies.

As Virginia and Germany work together on strategies to combat global warming, their governments will seek opportunities to share relevant research and encourage trade in alternative and renewable energy technologies. In particular, the Joint Declaration signed today advances a number of recommendations made by the Governor’s Commission on Climate Change launched in 2007 by Executive Order 59. It emphasizes the importance of a market-based cap-and-trade program designed to limit carbon dioxide emissions that are contributing to the earth’s warming as well as broadening Virginia’s renewable energy capabilities.

The Virginia-Germany Joint Declaration also recognizes the two governments share research interests and assets, especially in offshore renewable energy production. The Virginia Energy Plan, released by Governor Kaine in September 2007, encourages research and development of the state’s coastal resources for energy production – including offshore wind, current, and marine biomass production. Virginia’s colleges and universities and the Virginia Costal Energy Research Consortium are considered leaders in the development of this technology domestically while Germany is recognized internationally as a leader in offshore wind energy research and production as well as solar photovoltaic energy development and deployment.

Today’s announcement comes as Gov. Kaine continues to move his “Renew Virginia” initiative. Renew Virginia is focused on promoting renewable energy, creating green jobs, and encouraging preservation of the environment.

 

State News: ACLU asks state legislators to review Virginia Fusion Center, posted Tuesday, 4 p.m.

Following the Virginia Fusion Center’s publication of a controversial report assessing the threat of terrorism in Virginia, the ACLU is asking state legislators to review the laws governing the state and federally-funded operation. The March 2009 document is posted on the website http://cryptome.com (see direct link below).

The Fusion Center report refers to the state’s universities and colleges as “nodes for radicalization” and encourages law enforcement to monitor activities of educational and religious organizations in ways that are likely to chill the rights of free speech and association protected by the First Amendment.

“This is almost certainly an exaggerated assessment of the threat of terrorism in Virginia,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “Are there really fifty terrorist groups in Virginia, as the report says? And were there 400 encounters with al-Qa’ida in the state in 2007?”

“The report seems to find danger in every nook and cranny of Virginia and uses demographic generalizations to predict terrorist threats,” said Willis. “Hampton Roads, for example, is singled out as a breeding ground for extremism because it has a diverse population due to the presence of military bases, two historically black colleges, and Regent University.”

“Richmond has problems too,” added Willis. “According to the report, because it was the capital of the Confederacy, home to several universities, and has a high concentration of African-Americans, the city fosters the growth of extremist groups.”

The federal government has facilitated the growth of a network of fusion centers since 9/11 to expand information collection and sharing practices among law enforcement agencies, the private sector and the intelligence community. The Department of Homeland Security says that as of February 2009 there are 58 fusion centers in the United States.

“The Virginia General Assembly created the Virginia Fusion Center and is responsible for its oversight,” said Willis. “We are asking every General Assembly member to read this report and to make revisions in the law governing how the Center operates and how it will be accountable to the public in the future.”

In 2007, the ACLU released a report entitled, “What’s Wrong With Fusion Centers?” which was updated last year. The report identifies specific concerns with fusion centers, including their ambiguous lines of authority, the troubling role of private corporations, the participation of the military, the use of data mining and the excessive secrecy surrounding the centers.

The “2009 Virginia Terrorism Threat Assessment” (labeled “Virginia 2009 Terrorism Assessment LE Sensitive”) is located at: http://cryptome.info/cryptout.htm

To read the ACLU of Virginia’s analysis of the Virginia Fusion Center’s Report, go to: www.acluva.org/publications/VAFusionCenterSummary2009.pdf.

 

Programming Note: AFP editor talks about the Big Mac Attack on WSVA, posted Tuesday, 10:05 a.m.

An interview with AFP editor Chris Graham talking about the planned Big Mac Attack event on Friday at the Charles T. Yancey Municipal Building in Waynesboro is running on the local news on WSVA-550AM today.

 

News: Groups urge support of Paycheck Fairness Act, posted Tuesday, 10:05 a.m.

In recognition of Equal Pay Day (April 28) 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, the American Association of University Women of Virginia, and the Virginia Organizing Project are urging Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb to support the Paycheck Fairness Act.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, which overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives on a vote of 256-163 earlier this year, would strengthen the Equal Pay Act, a flawed and ineffective law passed in 1963 to combat wage discrimination against women.

Forty-five years after passage of the Equal Pay Act, it will take a woman all of 2008 and nearly 4 more months into 2009 (until April 28), to earn the same amount that a man earned in 2008 alone. The statistics are even worse for women of color.

“When the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, women earned 59 percent of what men were paid for doing the same job,” said Kent Willis, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia. “Although the wage gap has shrunk to where women now earn 78 percent of what men earn, at the current rate of progress, it will be another 45 years before the gap is eliminated entirely. It’s time that we take stronger measures to bring about pay equity for women.”

“Pay disparities force families to live on less than they rightfully deserve,” said Janice “Jay” Johnson, Chairperson of the Virginia Organizing Project. “In these times of tight family budgets, Congress can help households dependent on single mothers or two-wage earners by putting effective tools in place to remedy wage discrimination.”

“The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed into law by President Obama in January, was a big step toward righting the wrongs of pay disparity,” said Laura Wimmer, Co-President of the AAUW of Virginia. “Named for a woman who for nearly 20 years was paid far less than her male co-workers with the same job and who fought for another 10 years to expose unfair pay practices, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act restored the long-standing interpretation of civil rights laws and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission policies allowing workers to challenge their discriminatory paychecks. Together with the Ledbetter Law, the Paycheck Fairness Act can help create a climate where pay discrimination is not tolerated. It would prohibit employer retaliation against workers who inquire about their employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wage-a provision that would have helped Lilly Ledbetter.”

The Paycheck Fairness Act requires employers to demonstrate that wage differences between men and women doing the same work actually stem from factors other than sex. It also bans retaliation against workers who have simply asked about wage practices or told someone their wages. It gives women the same remedies for gender discrimination that are in place for race and national origin discrimination.

Under this legislation, the federal government would have more tools to stop unlawful pay disparities. Staff at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would receive additional training, and the U.S. Department of Labor would establish new programs to educate employers and employees about best practices and to collect wage-related data.

 

Event: Daughters of the Appalachians at the Hamner, posted Tuesday, 10:05 a.m.

The Hamner Theater announces the opening of Daughters of the Appalachians, by Linda Goodman, on stage Wednesday, April 30 through Sunday, May 10. This compelling play portrays the lives of six unique women, characters drawn from insights and stories culled from Goodman’s family and the community of her southwestern Virginia childhood mountain roots, each offering a glimpse of the Appalachian culture that is fast fading away.

The cast of Daughters of the Appalachians features Kate Adamson, Chris Courtenay, Rose Harper, Kerry Moran, Holly Schumann and Melissa Wender, and is directed by Hamner Theater Co-Artistic Director, Boomie Pedersen.

Daughters of the Appalachians was published by Overmountain Press in 1999 and adapted into a play in 2006. It has been performed to standing ovations & sold-out crowds around the country.

Writer and storyteller Linda Goodman was born in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, where she learned the art of story telling from her father, a former coal miner (and master yarn-spinner). She has performed and taught in storytelling workshops and festivals throughout New England and the South for more than 20 years, entertaining audiences with her original stories, traditional tales and monologues. Her works are best known for their Southern Appalachian flavor.

Says Goodman, “I was born into a culture that is fading away. I feel an obligation to keep that culture alive in my stories. ” She aims “to people my stories with Southern Appalachian characters of intelligence and integrity. This country has a stereotype of a Southerner who is slow & unintelligent. My stories seek to dispel that sterotype.”

Performances of Daughters of the Appalachians will take place Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. from April 30 – May 10. There will be a preview Wednesday, April 29 at 7:30 p.m. The Opening Night performance, Thursday, April 30, will be followed by a champagne reception. Talk-back sessions will be held after both Friday performances. The performance on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 10, will be followed by tea and cookies. All tickets for all shows are pay-what-you-will.

Reservations at 434.361.1999. Visit www.thehamnertheater.com for more information.

 

Event: Poetry and Story Doubleheader Friday, May 1, posted Tuesday, 10:05 a.m.

Join Washington, D.C., poet Brandel France de Bravo and local poet, singer, and monodramatist Browning Porter for a double-header of poetry and story on Friday, May 1, starting at 8 p.m. at WriterHouse, 508 Dale Ave, Charlottesville, 434.296.1922. www.writerhouse.org, Admission is free.

Brandel France de Bravo’s poetry has appeared in Fugue, The Kenyon Review, Black Warrior Review, and The American Voice. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in Poetry and her first collection, Provenance, won the Washington Writers’ Publishing House prize in 2008.

In Provenance, Brandel France de Bravo explores not only her own roots, but the roots of words. Taking her cue from Ralph Walso Emerson who said, “Every word was once a poem,” she has written 26 poems — one for every letter — inspired by etymologies. By braiding autobiography with the biographies of “Apricot,” and “Zygote” and everything in-between, the poet tells a story that transports us to places both familiar and far-away.

Browning Porter has been a poet, a singer/songwriter, and a graphic artist, but for the last several years he has been writing and performing monologues in the tradition of Spalding Gray or David Sedaris. He’s appeared at venues such as Live Arts, Gravity Lounge, and the Barksdale Theater in Richmond.

 

Event: Valley Women’s Connection luncheon on the schedule, posted Tuesday, 10:05 a.m.

The Valley Women’s Connection of Greater Staunton Area will hold its “Dreams Come True” Luncheon, May 13, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., at Mrs. Rowe’s Country Buffet, Mount Crawford.

Sandy Barton from Fairmont, W.Va., will humorously share the saga of her journey through the “school of hard knocks” as she pursued a not-so-impossible dream. Jim Barton, Sandy’s husband, will entertain with familiar tunes from the 50s. Cost of lunch and program is $14 inclusive. Reservations required by Friday, May 8. Call 540.885.7353 or 540.248.3059. Free child care provided.

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