The Commonwealth Iconoclast

A site dedicated to covering issues relevant to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and nation at large, plus other interesting things too, as I see fit...

Sunday, January 28, 2007

50 Thousand Hits for Iconoclast

50,000 HITS!

A Year and a half young!

Iconoclast celebrates another little milestone!

For what it is worth, the Iconoclast just passed the 50 thousand hit milestone.

The Iconoclast made its first post about a year and a half ago on June 29, 2005. As of today, the Iconoclast has made over 200 separate posts or articles on issues great and small.

We started off with a pretty casual attitude that: What the heck, we got opinions too!!! Why not express them?

Good clean fun. Just a few friends fooling around in cyberspace. We have had a few disgruntled readers, but these are usually the same clowns we sometimes write about.

There was no thought of blogging to change the world. I don't even think there was ever the first thought that we would continue this blogging thing for any significant length of time. It was more a matter of playing around with a new toy to see how it worked.

But here we are a year and a half later marking off the 50 thousandth hit on the Iconoclast.

By blogging standards, 50 thousand hits is not a large number of hits. Some of the big name blogs can generate that many hits in the blink of an eye. But, 50 thousand hits is not entirely trivial either considering our rather narrow focus on issues and local geographic coverage (mostly Virginia).

We now know that the blogosphere has played a significant role in the recent political changes here in Virginia and across the nation. The Iconoclast is just one of thousands of individual blogs that participated in this evolving phenomenon.

Now and again, there has been some real interesting discussion. Maybe we have contributed in some small way to help change the world. Hopefully in a positive way.

Thanks for reading and especially thanks for your comments and tips on interesting stories.

NOTE: No, the accompanying photograph is not of the Iconoclast staff. We wish we had such formidable human resources to support our efforts!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Happy Sharks in Virginia!!!

Happy Sharks in Virginia!!!

Shark-Endorsed Bill Sliding Through Murky Waters!

Payday Lenders See Clear Sailing while Consumers Seen as Shark-bait!!!

Just a few words here before going into a well deserved long week-end.

According to this morning’s news, a Virginia Senate panel yesterday rejected efforts by some lonely members for tougher regulations on the so called payday lenders “industry”.

Pay day lenders “industry”. An interesting word choice… like they produce something worth while… like an endless cycle of hopeless debt… getting deeper and deeper.

Oh well. You can read all about it in the Richmond Times Dispatch under the byline of Jeff E. Schapiro titled “Tougher payday loan bill rejected.”

Schapiro points out that the “industry” along with the related car-title lenders have enriched the coffers of 110 Virginia legislators to the tune of $180,000 for this session.

Considering that these Virginia legislators seem solidly on track to preserve the lending fees equivalent to 391 percent annualized interest, it would seem that $180,000 is a small price to pay for a little bit of friendly influence in high places.

The sharks have good reason to smile here in Virginia.

If $180,000 can facilitate these kinds of legislative results for such a reprehensible “industry” one wonders what kind of friendly consideration is possible with some serious money!!!

I am thinking highways and transportation, education, health care, etc. On these important issues, are lawmakers looking out for the little people kind of like they are with payday lending issue, or are they looking out after a different breed of sharks.

Makes you wonder doesn’t it?

But for now, isn’t it comforting to know that so many members of the Virginia General Assembly are so comfortable with treating some of society’s least financially capable citizens as if they are nothing more than shark-bait?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Legalized Loan Sharking in Virginia

Virginia General Assembly Panel Facilitates Sharking!

Legal Charges equal to 391 Percent Interest Annually!!!

A story of personal financial tragedy.

In the past, we here at the Iconoclast have pretty much stayed away from the affairs down in Richmond at the General Assembly.

To be perfectly honest, there are a lot of great bloggers and mainstream media types out there who have the resources and who are very capable of dissecting the important issues and keeping those of you who are interested in such stuff well informed.

But now and again, something just jumps up to demand some comment.

Payday Lending! Wow!!!

I never personally had a pay-day loan; hope to God to never be in a situation where I might be tempted to get one; and pity the poor soul who lets the payday lenders get their razor sharp teeth into them to drag them down into the murky darkness of endless payday loans and staggering fees.

Notwithstanding the fine rhetoric from industry spokespersons and paid lobbyists claiming that payday loans are a legitimate “service” to society, these payday loans are little more than legalized loan sharking taking shameless advantage of pathetic people who are typically too ignorant to realize the danger and hopelessness of the practice until it is too late.

Loan sharking has been around since ancient times. In early times it was called ursury. Their are many religious texts condemning

Payday Lending lobbyist Reginald Jones suggests that the typical payday borrower does so to “avoid a bounced check, late charges or to pay an unexpected bill.”

Think about this for a second folks!

Does anyone really think loan charges equal to 391 percent annualized interest is a better choice than “late charges”? Maybe if your other line of credit is with the Mafia and the "late charges" involve cement overshoes! But otherwise, it is hard to imagine how a 391 percent interest rate could help anyone.

Mr. Jones also suggests that payday loans are justified as some kind of viable option for people who have no other choices like bank loans, credit cards, relatives, churches or pawn shops. He suggests that payday loans serve a legitimate consumer need.

Maybe there is some truth to this… like a drug-addict “needs” drugs; like an alcoholic “needs” the booze; and like I sometimes “need” that extra cheeseburger.

Please give us a break here. Payday loans is more like throwing a boat anchor to a drowning man and yelling “catch!” One could argue that it lessens the anguish of the drowning victim by taking him down faster and deeper.


Of course, people who get them selves into financial problems and find them selves doing business with these cold blooded predators are not always blameless. These people often got themselves into a financial bind all by them selves. Lacking self discipline? Typically yes. Ignorant of the fundamentals of finance (and usually basic arithmetic)? Yes, again. Personally irresponsible? Yes, yes, yes. These people typically have problems! There are also probably some exceptions out there who may have gotten themselves into a financial mess through circumstances beyond their control. It happens.

So just because many of these people are lacking self discipline, ignorant of finance, and personally irresponsible does this mean that Payday loan consumers deserve to be further submerged into a hopeless cycle of outrageously abusive lending charges?

According to some of our Virginia lawmakers the answer seems to be “Yes”.

As bad as the Payday lenders are themselves for such abusive lending practices, we here at the Iconoclast are more outraged at the political leadership in the Virginia General Assembly who seemingly have sold out the victims of this legalized loan sharking practice and who are trying to convince the public that they are going to “reform” the abusive practice.

One of the ringleaders for saving the Pay-day lenders’ “bread and butter” seems to be Virginia Senator Richard L. Saslaw who along with 10 other members of the Commerce and Labor Committee recently voted (11 to 4) to reject a consumer supported drive to repeal the current Virginia pay-day loan laws and to substitute an industry supported so called “reform” bill.

Senator Saslaw's approach to reform comes in the form of Senate Bill 1014.

However, the so called “reform” bill still still seems to leave in place loan charges equal to 391 percent annualized interest.

It is not to hard to figure out why the pay-day lenders would support such “reform” is it?!!!

But one wonders why on earth would the Senator Saslaw and his colleagues on the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee consider it reform leaving in place such a fundamentally abusive problem?

The answer might be found in Jeff Schapiro's recent reporting on the subject.

With reformers like Senator Saslaw in key positions in the Virginia General Assembly, I guess we all best start praying to God that we never find ourselves swiming in the shark infested waters of Virginia.


Disclaimer: Payday lending is perfectly legal in Virginia thanks to the laws passed by the Virginia General Assembly. Morally reprehensible, but perfectly legal.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Iconoclast and other thin skinned people struggle to understand Virginia’s enlightened political leadership!!!

Do Macacas, Muslims, Blacks and Jews have thin skins or maybe cause for concern?

Do the views of Allen, Goode and Hargrove set a good example for progressive leadership in the new century?

Freedom of speech applies to throwbacks too!

What do George Allen, Virgil Goode and now Frank Hargrove, Sr. have in common?

Probably they have any number of things in common including considerable success over the years as Virginia politicians. These three individuals have in the past been widely recognized as leaders, and yes, role models for all the rest of us to emulate.

Their words have taken on extra weight and significance owing to their perceived superior enlightenment. These are the “law makers” who, along with their colleagues in the most august chambers of the Virginia House of Delegates, the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate, make the laws and policies by which all the rest of us live.

We the people apparently have trusted them, or at least, a majority of us have trusted them in the past.

But most recently these three role models have demonstrated a common trait of speaking their mind and expressing a certain “honesty” rarely seen in politicians. This "honesty" that has revealed some disturbing character issues.

With ex- Senator George Allen it was the Macaca comments back in August when his campaign for re-election to the United States Senate took a nose dive. First there were implausible explanations about not knowing what a “Macaca” was. Then there were general apologies. Then there were unseemly and unnecessary gaffs about “eating ham sandwiches” when referring to his Jewish connection.

With current 5th District Representative Virgil Good, it was the unexpected public revelation of his anti-Muslim rants in a letter to xenophobic constituents.

Again Representative Goode's comments were unnecessary but quite revealing of a disturbing lack of tolerance of religious and cultural diversity. Thus far, Congressman Goode is not backing down. There is no apology coming from him.

Now, it is Virginia Delegate Frank Hargrove, Sr. in his advise to black Virginians to “get over it” referring to the slavery thing. He also takes a swipe at Jewish people for “killing Christ.”

Macacas, Muslims, Jews and Blacks just don’t have a good sense of political reality or perhaps even a sense of humor according to these leading Virginia politicians.

What is this... a case of good men gone wild?

Probably not. These leaders say these things because they apparently believe with some justification that at least some of their constitutes expect such comments and positions.

Of course some of our readers might remember that Virginia's political leadership also at one time supported the practice of slavery right here in Virginia.

And much more recently, our political leadership supported the policy of massive resistance.

Thin skins? Maybe. But maybe not.

In closing, the Iconoclast would like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Ex-Senator Allen had a right to speak his mind and we are glad he did. That is why he is “ex” Senator Allen instead of second term Allen.

Also, Representative Goode had a right to express his fears of Muslims. This is a free country and he was just exercising his right of free speech even if it was speech advocating the curtailment rights of others to choose their own religious practices or to participate in the American political process. Apparently Representative Goode enjoys some support for these views and remains quite unapologetic if not oblivious to the hypocrisy of his views.

Delegate Hargrove also has a right to express his views that some of us Virginian’s have thin skins and should “get over” our common history. At least we know where he stands on the matter.

But one is prompted to wonder how the good Delegate can reconcile in his mind how it is OK for some Virginian’s to be “proud of their heritage” but it is not OK for other Virginian’s to have lingering grievances over that same “heritage.”

Just a little something to think about...

The Iconoclast hopes that Virginia politicians will keep exercising their rights to express their "honest" opinions on important issues. Sometimes we learn something important.

Freedom of speech! That is what makes American the great nation it is!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Pork Rind Politics and Corruption Takes another Hit in Southwest Virginia

Eight More Indicted facing 100+ Charges!

The Web Widens and the Noose Tightens!!!

Back in August of 2006, the Iconoclast reported on the widening investigation out in Southwest Virginia involving public officials who bought the local Appalachian Town elections in 2004 with such comical bribes as pork rinds.

The original investigation which started off as a somewhat amusing story about buying votes with pork rinds seems to have spun out of control eventually involving up to three special prosecutors following different paths to other suspected criminal activity. One aspect of the widening investigation was the suspicion that public officials may have been protecting criminal enterprises, misusing police powers for political retribution, taking kick-backs and other unpleasantness.

The use of public offices and local law enforcement personnel to protect large scale, organized gambling operations was one of the suspected criminal activities. These operations were raided last Summer and large amounts of gambling equipment and cash was seized.

At that time we predicted that other indictments were on the way. See “Appalachia Investigation Widens.”

Well, we knew it was coming sooner or later. And yes, another big shoe dropped with the news report out of Roanoke this morning that eight more individuals, not including those previously convicted in the election fraud case, have been indicted and now face in excess of 100 new counts including various racketeering, money laundering, gambling and related offenses.

See “Gambling probe nets more than 100 charges” in the Roanoke Times.

According to this news report, prosecutors are being coy about the details but have indicated that the investigation continues and additional charges are anticipated.

Where will it all end?

Coincidentally, ex-Mayor Ben Cooper, the “Boss Hogg” of Appalachia was scheduled to face sentencing today in the aftermath of his conviction on 243 counts of election fraud stemming from the 2004 election "fix". Thirteen other fine citizens of Appalachia had also been charged and previously convicted including other public officials and law-enforcement personnel. Now facing sentencing as the so called "ring-leader", one has to wonder who else ex-Mayor Cooper has dropped the dime on.

More indictments coming? Mmmm...

Isn’t it funny, in a pathetic sort of way, how one thing leads to another?

Oh well, maybe in time authorities will finally get to the bottom of the sad case of official corruption in this little Southwestern Virginia community.

But for now, this thing just keeps on getting worse.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

Happy New Year folks!

This has got to be the best time of the year. Off for a week and a half. No worries. No problems. Absolutely the best time of the year.

And... not to brag... but 2006 was a great year... Got promoted. Wife doing well in her job too. Little kid growing up... Friends and family fat and sassy.

Yeah, I got to go back to work the second week of January, but I do so knowing that 2007 will be even better yet.

Life is good!!!

What more can I ask?


We have it so good here in America!

While for Americans the New Year is a time of joy and optimisim, such is not the case elsewhere in the world for far too many.

Take the situation in Solalia for example.

Where is Somalia anyway?

Didn't Americans go there a few years ago to help those folks out? I guess that didn't turn out so well.

But there are many other places to think about besides the pitiful mess in Somalia like Darfur, Iraq, Iran, North Korea... just to name a few. People in these parts of the world are oppressed and typically sacrificed for the interests of some brutal dictator, theocrat or military thug in charge.

So... at this time of joy, optimism and celebration for us Americans, maybe we could take a few moments to think of those peoples around the world who do not have it so good at this moment. Prospects for these untold millions of people are uncertain at best.

I guess they have children too.

I guess they want their children to grow up and have a future too.

Maybe they even want their children to grow up and to read and write and be free... kind of like I would hope for my child...

Something to think about perhaps.

But... as I sit here in the warm safe comfort of my den, I get ready for the games to begin... and think of more pleasant things... my family, my many opportunities, the American way of life and... thank God... freedom.

Happy New Year!!!