Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What does a $1.1Trillion Federal Spending Bill buy these days?

At first, I read the CNN article on the $447 billion spending bill that the Senate passed this weekend and then I came across an AP article on the Lynchburg News Advance web site that listed the same story as a $1.1 trillion spending bill. Why the massive discrepancy between the two stories on the same spending bill? The CNN article highlights the domestic, non-Defense spending while the AP article adds both the domestic ($447 billion) and the Defense spending ($626 billion) to arrive at the $1.1 trillion figure. The problem with the AP article is that the Senate hasn’t passed the Defense part of the spending bills yet. But this raises the question: what kinds of Christmas goodies do you get from the Federal Government for $1.1 trillion?

For starters, it will likely mean that the Federal Government’s credit card limit will have to increase. The Senate will have to vote to raise the debt ceiling to accommodate the end of the year funding for the Defense budget. On the $447 billion portion, that goes to mandatory payments towards Medicaid and Medicare and also increases funding to things like the FBI, the Veterans Health Administration, and the National Institutes of Health, public schools, highways, and even NASA. It also covers $3.9 billion in spending on more than 5,000 local projects (a.k.a. Pork Projects), a 2 percent pay increase for federal employees and funding for other small scale projects.

Then there is the $626 billion Defense bill that will likely be passed this week, to continue funding the military and other National Security agencies and includes billions of Pork Projects (most all of them inserted anonymously). While there are certainly loads of things that can be and should be cut from the domestic spending bill the Senate just passed, but is there nothing in the Defense bill that can’t be cut? Defense spending accounts for a third of our Federal Budget. According to the information about the Federal Budget on Wikipedia, the 2009 Department of Defense Budget is $515.4 billion and the Global War on Terror Budget is $145.2 billion (2008). The Defense Budget accounts for around 55% of the Discretionary spending side of the Federal Budget ($1.21 trillion). This is compared to the mandatory spending, which is $1.89 trillion includes things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, Unemployment, Welfare, interest on the National Debt, and other mandatory programs.

Discretionary means that you don’t have to spend the money. In tough times this also means that things will get a harder look and might not get the money they did the previous year or two. In the uncertain economic times we live, and with the fluid situation in the Persian Gulf region, the Defense Budget is the only part of the Discretionary budget that gets a pass with very few exceptions. The Defense Budget dwarfs everything else (even when you don’t add the Global War on Terror). Keep in mind, the Federal Government has no separate funding for the Global War on Terror. Every other war we’ve fought has been funded by some other means than just spending money out of the current Federal Budgets.

So, what does a $1.1 trillion spending bill get us as we head into the Christmas Holidays? We get to keep the Federal Government running. As painful as that is to small government and Tea Party blowhards, it means that maintenance will continue on our roads, bridges, and overpasses. It means that law enforcement agencies (like the FBI) will continue to be funded, as well as keeping open the thousands of crumbling public schools and pay for the teachers, staff, and administrators. State budgets, already cut to the bone, will get another shot in the arm to keep them functioning as well. It also means that the most powerful military in the world will continue to function and they can continue to recycle the thousands of brave men and women that have gone above and beyond the call of duty and get them the best socialized (military) medical treatment in the world, as well as provide them with mental health services that have been severely lacking.

Regardless of what people have been led to believe, our tax money is spent relatively wisely. But, at some point, we are going to have to face reality of choosing between cutting services or raising taxes to pay off the Federal Credit Card (a.k.a. the National Debt).

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Time Magazine Article: The ‘00s – Say Goodbye (at Last) to the Decade From Hell

What will we remember from the first decade of the 21st Century? Time Magazine concludes that it was one of the worst post-World War II, peacetime, decades ever. Quite a bit was pure nature unleashed but most of it was self inflicted. An excellent article by Time’s Andy Serwer hits the highlights spanning the decade from 2000 to today. Even though we haven’t even reached 2010 yet, and 2011 is still a little more than a year away, I have to agree that the faster we can get out of this decade the better.

Regardless of your political views or economic philosophy, the measurable events of this last decade are pretty bad. While my generation, Generation x, is just starting to flex its collective economic and political muscle, I hope that this trial by fire experience has instilled a sense of practicality and common purpose that has been missing for quite some time. A lot of mistakes were made during this decade, mistakes that have rocked us to the foundation of our economy and society. In short, it will get better, it should get better, and it has to get better (just have to get past December 21, 2012).

Please feel free to click on the hyperlink above to the article and come back to offer your thoughts and perspective. Could it be that Generation X is the next Greatest Generation since the generation that led us through the Great Depression and World War II?

Picture found at:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

RNC Purity Pledge: And they call me a COMMIE

I don't know if I should laugh, shrug it off, or be fearful that the Republicans have a list like this. This has the scary ring of "Party Loyalty" that Communist Totalitarianism (or National Socialism) demands. In similar fashion, the Republicans are PURGING the Party of anything that whispers of cooperation, bi-partisanship, or a moderation of Conservative Ideology.

In case you missed it, in order to get Republican endorsements or financial support, you have to support 7 out of the 10 Republican Commandments:

(1) support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama's "stimulus" bill;

(2) Support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;

(3) Support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;

(4) Support workers' right to secret ballot by opposing card check;

(5) Support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;

(6) Support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;

(7) Support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat;

(8) Support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;

(9) Support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing, denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and

(10) Support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership; and be further.

Boy! I'm sure glad they clarified all that. I guess that I'll just have to live with the disappointment of knowing that I won't get their support or money.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Healthcare Reform: Expanding quality, affordable health care options no help to Virginia according to Gov-Elect McDonnell

In case you missed it, Gov-Elect Bob McDonnell made the Sunday morning news circuit to crow about last Tuesday’s sweeping victory in Virginia. When asked about the U.S. House of Representative bill that was narrowly passed (220-215) just before midnight on Saturday, Gov-Elect McDonnell admitted that he hadn’t read the entire bill but that “either way my preference would be not to have Virginia participate from what I know this plan contains.” He went further stating that he’s “very concerned about turning this significant section of the American economy over to the federal government.” Where do I begin…?

First, for all the ranting and raving from the Tea Baggers, Birthers, and the rest of the Conservative Purists about Congressional Members (Democrats and President Obama) about not reading the bill, when are they going to pick up their pitchforks and torches and go after the Gov-Elect for not having “read the entire bill?” The answer… They’re not. They got their guy and they are just fine to continue using duct tape and Crisco for their version of health care.

Second, while the U.S. Federal Government is the largest employer in the nation and has greater collective bargaining power to negotiate rates and reimbursements to private insurers, and the Medicaid and Medicare systems (along with the VA, and Armed Services) are government run and for the most part work very well, they still don’t have the 25% administrative costs that private insurance has and passes along to their policy holders. Also, private health insurers are exempt from federal anti-trust laws which allow them to collaborate and “conspire” to set rates in a totally un-capitalistic and non-competitive system. For all their hollow advocacy for pure market competition, fiscal and social Conservatives continue to support the private health insurance industry which already has a non-competitive advantage over this “significant section” of the American economy.

I guess that the additional public options that Gov-Elect Bob McDonnell supports are laying hands, speaking in tongues, dancing with rattlesnakes and drinking their venom, or praying in front of a TV tuned to the 700 Club. Lest we forget that God gave man FREE WILL to make rational decisions. There’s nothing rational about healthcare reform that doesn’t have some form of a Public Option and doesn’t take away the anti-trust exemption from private health insurance to make them compete. It just isn’t Christian to support suffering and greed.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Healthcare Reform: If you can't get a Public Option, repeal the McCarran-Ferguson Act

The calls are growing louder to repeal a little known law that exempts the Health Insurance Industry from Federal Antitrust laws. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the competitive advantage that the Health Insurance Industry has due to the exemption that the McCarran-Ferguson Act gives the industry from Federal Antitrust laws. This latest salvo comes in response to a questionable report from the Health Insurance Industry that if the current Senate Bill becomes law, that premiums will skyrocket for all Americans. Passed back in 1945, the McCarran-Ferguson Act exempted the fledgling Health Insurance Industry from antitrust laws. Only Major League Baseball is exempt from antitrust laws in the same way.

This exemption has allowed the Health Insurance Industry to work together to collectively establish rates on premiums and manipulate other costs associated with payments to doctors for treatments. We see how well being exempt from antitrust laws has helped Major League Baseball - with multi-million dollar contracts for players and billion dollar ballparks in NTC. The affordability of going to a Major League Baseball game has long since left the average American to enjoy a day a the ballpark with their family. Now, the affordability of Health Insurance is beginning to cripple the financial underpinnings of the nation.

Most Americans, I'm willing to assume, didn't know that the Health Insurance Industry was exempt from Federal Antitrust laws. If Congress repeals the law, it would allow them to break up large Health Insurance Companies the same way that they did to Ma Bell (AT &T) back in the 1980s. This make the most sense, and if the Health Insurance Industry wants to compete across state lines, then do it without the security blanket of the McCarran-Ferguson Act.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Nobel Peace Prize goes to... Barack Obama?

Certainly a surprise choice, but if you can't land the 2016 Olympics not a bad consolation PRIZE. Sooo... TAKE THAT SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE!!!!

President Obama is only the third sitting United States President to wind the prize, joining Presidents Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt and President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson won his in 1919, after the end of World War I. This is truly an exclusive club and also puts President Obama is rarefied company.

Obama has been widely criticized by Republicans and many conservatives for spending too much time traveling the world and not focusing on domestic economic issues and not being more engaged in the Healthcare Reform efforts in the United States. The truly stunning move by the Nobel Prize Committee in naming Barack Obama the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize is that it usually goes to someone who has spent a significant part of their life in the pursuit of peace. President Obama has only been in office for 9 months.

I don't think that the Nobel Peace Prize has ever gone to a leader of any nation that is engaged in any war, let alone two wars. But, Obama has reached out to almost every corner of the world to make that case that the United States is back and intends to full fill the promise that it has been hyped up to be for so long.

So again, TAKE THAT SNL!!!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

VA 5th Congressional District: State Senator Rob Hurt signaling he intends to run

I've had many conversations over the last year about the bench strength of the Republicans in the 5th Congressional District. Nearly 15 people have either announced or indicated their intent to run, but the strongest among them has now indicated he intends to challenge Tom Perriello. According to the Lynchburg News Advance, State Senator Rob Hurt (R-Chatham) will file papers with the Federal Election Commission to become a candidate for the GOP nomination in the 5th Congressional District. While Hurt is little known outside of Southside Virginia, he definitely fits the mold of the young conservative with a traditional wife and kids. Just to be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

Rob Hurt's campaign themes are clear - low taxes, less government, less regulation, conservative social values will put this country back on track. There is little doubt that he is going to bang this drum all day and everyday through the 2010 Midterm Elections, but the questions that he will have to answer at some point are how are we going to pay for all the rural infrastructure that is needed spur economic development, promote job growth and creation, and also digitally connect rural communities with high-speed Internet that is holding so many things back. Our overall national infrastructure has been rated a "D" and this has the greatest impact to economic development and commerce than cutting taxes. At some point, we have to pay for something and cutting taxes will not build roads, bridges, and overpasses. But again, we get the government we deserve.

I can see the money spent in this race exceeding $5 million, easily. The only other question about Rob Hurt is his ability to raise the kind of money it is going to take to mount a serious challenge, and he has not had a race where he has needed to raise more that $200,000 to win. We shall see...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Healthcare Reform double take: Former Senator Bill Frist giving a wink to the Public Option

While promoting is new book today on CNN's American Morning, former U.S. Senator and Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) gave a wink to the Public Option. In his interview with John Roberts, Senator Frist acknowledged the out of control cost associated with the current Health Care System, $15,000 per year Health Insurance Premiums for a family of four in the United States that continue to rise, and that the number of people that absolutely can't afford current Health Plans is around 20 million, out of the nearly 50 million (which is still a massive number of uninsured Americans).

When asked about the proposed Public Health Insurance Option, Bill Frist indicated that something needed to be in place that would hold the Health Insurance industry's feet to the fire and at the end of the day, the possibility of the Public Option should be available, more or less endorsing the "Trigger" proposal by moderate Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine.

There are many liberals and progressives out there that are less than pleased with President Obama and the less than assertive way he has participated in Healthcare Reform efforts. But, it must be pointed out that this is the most that has been done to address Health Care in the United States since FDR. It is unlikely that a Public Option will come out of the Senate and if it survives in the House, it is going to be very difficult to get the two bills reconciled with a Public Option. Maybe having the figurative "Gun to the Head" approach with the Public Option "Trigger" will work and get the Health Insurance industry to do the right thing. Regardless, this seems like the best that can be done at this point.

The saying goes, two things you never want to see made is sausage and laws. Americans got to see how laws are really made in this country and it made them sick. So much for Healthcare Reform...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

How can you be Taxed Enough Already if almost half don’t pay Federal Income Tax?

How can people claim they are taxed to death when 47% of households will pay no Federal Income Tax? According to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, nearly 71 million households will pay no Federal Income Tax during 2009. Now, this isn’t to say that these same household don’t pay sales, property tax [renters pay a portion of this through their rent], various forms of state taxes, or payroll taxes. But for all this uproar and angst about the heavy tax burden that so many people are carrying on about, are people really overburdened with taxes or are the ones that are paying the lion share of the taxes overburdened?

There are several schools of thought out there about the most equitable way to share the tax burden, or responsibility. One group wants to eliminate the IRS all together and replace all Federal Taxes with a national consumption tax (a.k.a. Fair Tax) at a 23% tax rate. Then there’s the Steven Forbes “Flat Tax” proposal which would cap all Federal Income Taxes at a certain percentage (say 10% to make the math easy to figure out). This would mean that everyone, over all income levels, would pay the same proportional income tax rate. Then there’s the Progressive Tax system that the United States currently uses, where over the years the tax rates have increased and decreased with the political winds of the nation. Also, our Federal “Progressive Income Tax” system is honeycombed with loopholes, exemptions, and tax credits which shifted the larger tax burden-responsibility to middle income earners.

Keep in mind, this discussion is only about personal income and not corporate taxes, which is a whole other debate. Do we base our tax codes off of a person’s ability to pay or disregard ability to pay and base it off of everyone pays no matter what your individual income level? There is no question that there needs to be massive tax reform and we need to tackle the eternal question again - what is the most fair and equitable tax system to fund the Federal Government. But, I find it disingenuous when a group of people claims they are Taxed Enough Already when most of them will pay little or nothing in Federal Income Tax. So, let’s be real honest here and admit that you don’t want to pay any taxes and expect the country to run and function at the same level or better by defunding all forms of government. We need tax reform, but not the kind that TEA Baggers are pushing.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Is this what a TEA Party activist’s dream world looks like?

This past Thursday, September 17th, TEA Partiers gathered in Lynchburg and in other communities across the nation in honor of “Constitution Day,” to make a symbolic point as they continue to press their anti-tax, less government stance. There is no question that our national debt is massive and we cannot continue to live beyond our means. But, for all the anger and the animosity being fired at President Obama and Congressional Democrats, why are they standing so close to the ones that are the most responsible for our current financial situation?

Cutting taxes for the wealthiest and then engaging in deficit spending during non-recession years started with Ronald Regan. This approach to financing our Federal Government has ballooned our national debt to the levels they are at today. It continued with George H. W. Bush and was only slowed temporarily by the Clinton Administration. During the Clinton years, the size of government was reduced and the amount the Federal Government spent went down as well. In turn, we saw several years of budget surpluses that helped cut into the national debt. Then conservatives and anti-tax advocates had this notion that if there’s a budget surplus then it must mean that taxes are too high and there is no other debt to pay off.

Republicans pretty much had control of the Federal Government from 2001 to 2007 (when the Bush Administration was sworn in to the time that Democrats officially took control). So, it’s pretty misleading when activist groups like the TEA-Baggers put all this on the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats when the ones standing closest to them (Republicans and Free Market Conservatives) are the most responsible for the economic mess that we are in. Now how does this all fit with a possible, and from all accounts probable, dream world for TEA Party activists?

In the Ohio School District that covers Grove City, the normal sounds on Friday nights these days are the sound of passing cars on the road and chirping crickets at the local High School Football stadium. Grove City is notorious for fighting any tax increase. This is no dream world; this is reality for this working class community. The town voted for a third time in August in a referendum to increase the operating levy for the School District. For a third time, they levy failed to pass and the School Board took the next step – elimination of all extra-curricular activities. This paragraph from the article sums it up best:

The issue has turned neighbor against neighbor and caused shouting matches at school board meetings and on street corners. Those who oppose the levy argue that the district should find a more efficient way to spend the money it already has instead of asking for more tax dollars. The anti-levy crusaders appear to be the majority, evidenced by the fact that the levy already has been voted down three times. Those who support the levy warn that if the district doesn't offer a full program that includes a quality education and extra-curricular activities, parents will leave for another district that does. They also fear that another no vote will force the school board to slice into academic programs, which could trigger a mass exodus. That, they argue, would further erode the tax base and rob South-Western of many of its brightest students. To the pro-levy side, the Nov. 3 vote is nothing short of a referendum on the future of the community.
The situation in Grove City, Ohio should serve as an example of what happens when we don’t fully fund things like schools. Our tax dollars fund programs and services, like schools and infrastructure. I think it’s fair to debate how tax money is being spent. But, to hear the TEA Party activist rail on about being Taxed Enough Already, it’s like the Federal Government is taking every dime they have and they’re out on the streets. What are they really saying? Are they against increasing taxes or opposed to all taxes?

Regardless, taxes serve a purpose and when voters refuse to address critical funding issues that support the common good, the end result is what Grove City, Ohio is going through right now - cutting extra-curricular activities like sports as well as Student Government which helps develop civic skills in our young people. It also makes the community less attractive to potential residents, businesses and industries. Do TEA Baggers support killing communities because they feel they are Taxed Enough Already? I hope not.

Picture found at: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_ih44QfUfNns/Rzq6HJ8PLKI/AAAAAAAAB58/Jt2VOzNmiXs/s400/Baton+Rouge+High+50.jpg

Friday, September 11, 2009

Bold idea: Revisiting Federal Tax Rates of the 1950's and 1960's

This is without a doubt, one of the bravest and boldest suggestions by someone who knows something about business. In an op-ed in today's Roanoke Times, Virginia Tech Finance Professor G. Rodney Thompson suggest that we take a look at raising the top Federal Tax Rate address our National Debt and pay for Healthcare Reform and the laundry list of other things that we have been putting off for far too long. While he doesn't suggest the raising the top Federal Tax rate to the 75 to 92% range that existed during this period, but increasing the top Federal Tax rate to the 50 - 60% level should be more than enough.

There are some things that need to be mentioned that factor into the nation's success during this period. While he does point out that our GDP was consistently over 3.0% during this period, and we were a much bolder nation that didn't complain about taking on a collective challenge that would benefit the common good [Eisenhower Interstate System and the Space Program that put us on the Moon], other things that he doesn't mention is that Organized Labor was much stronger during this period and individual savings rates were much, much higher. This led to the creation of the middle class that we had until the "Great Recession" and also more people were in college and universities than ever before.

We did have significant social challenges, which Professor Thompson points out, but we were not in debt to anyone. Isn't it ironic that when the Regan Era was ushered in and top Federal Tax Rates were cut, that we also saw our national deficit, budget deficits, and personal debt balloon? Something worth thinking about...

Monday, September 7, 2009

Controversy Over: Stem Cells in Fat can be recycled!

Scientists at Stanford may have ended the stem cell debate, solved our national obesity epidemic, and helped cut diabetes all at the same time. It seems that the stem cells in our fat can probably be used for just about anything that the body needs. Still some more work to be done to determine just what that is, but this finding should put the embryonic stem cell controversy to bed. Fat cells can be "coached" to develop into heart tissue and possibly limbs.

Wow! Who would have ever thought that liposuction would be the foundation industry that gave rise to other medical industries. Those self-absorbed Hollywood liberals were on to something. Recycle your fat and save a life!

Hide your children from the President's Socialist Propaganda: Work Hard, Stay in School

This is absolutely absurd. Bush 41 addressed school children during school hours during his first (and only) term, and there wasn't this kink of uproar. There is no indoctrination here. It's not like Obama is staging a photo-op like Saddam or Kim Jong Il to show how much they are loved by the people, or parading tanks and infantry down Pennsylvania Ave like the Soviets did in front of the Kremlin.

There are numerous studies that show people's perception of darker complected skin colors is of suspicion and mistrust. We have a dark complected President for he first time in our Nation's history and the rhetoric coming out of Fox News, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Neal Bortz is "I don't trust this guy!" If we had a white President, would this even be a story or be this level of mistrust or suspicion of the President and his motives? I think not.

I had a conversation with a family member over a online petition to stop Government Run Health Care. I replied that this was total crap and I wasn't going to participate and I proceeded to chastise this member of my family for pushing this stuff. Long story short, I went through the whole list of how the Health Insurance Industry and the status quo was totally unsustainable and that there was little truth to the things they were regurgitating from Conservatives and Private Health Care (opponents) talking points against real Health Care Reform.

I posed the following questions to them to see what aspects of national common good they would do away with to "save" our nation from socialism:

Should we totally dismantle Public Education and only educate people that can afford to pay for Private Schools? Should we only build roads that are paid for by private companies and they charge tolls for their usage? Should we only allow private security firms to take charge of our community policing? Should we trust utilities and pharmaceuticals to do the right thing and not monitor if they are polluting our water and air or putting drugs on the market that have not been tested to see if they are safe?
They agreed with me on all these questions, that doing away with all this stuff would be a bad idea. But, then they said that Obama was "shady and slippery as hell." They don't trust him. I go back to what I said at the beginning - There are numerous studies that show people's perception of darker complected skin colors is of suspicion and mistrust. We have a dark complected President for he first time in our Nation's history and the rhetoric coming out of Fox News, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Neal Bortz is "I don't trust this guy!" If we had a white President, would this even be a story or be this level of mistrust or suspicion of the President and his motives? Coincidence? Ironic?

Again, I go back to Dick Cheney's roll in the CIA Terror Suspects "Enhanced Interrogation" techniques. If Bush (43) had continued to listen to Cheney, the First, Forth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Amendment would have totally been erased from the Constitution, all in the name of National Security and fighting terrorism. Thank god that GWB finally figured out that Cheney was trying to shred the Constitution.

So, how is detaining and questioning suspected terrorist a threat to the Bill of Rights? In the name of National Security, anyone (even natural born Americans) could be accused of supporting terrorism if they spoke out against the Government or questionable policies (possibly, but that wouldn't happen in this country). When people are not feeling financially secure, spreading mis-information and governing by fear is much easier.

So parents, you have more to fear from Dick Cheney's attempt to shred the Bill of Rights and governing by fear than the "Work hard, stay in school" capitalist message of indoctrination from President Obama. All of this misplaced fear and mistrust of Obama is firmly rooted in bigotry. People need to grow up.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pick you poison: Trading liberty for security or the “Public Option”

As we continue to argue amongst ourselves about Federal Government’s role in healthcare - the proposed “Public Option,” reforming the Private Health Insurance industry, rationing healthcare [private health care rationing or Federal Government rationing] - the one intrusion by the Federal Government that should be scaring every American but seems to be OK with many, are human rights abuses of terror suspects all in the name of National Security. For many people, abusing and torturing suspected Terrorists is just fine and should be done as often as possible. But, the key word in the last sentence is “suspected.”

But why is roughin’ up suspected terrorists such a big deal? Don’t they deserve it for the 9/11 Terrorists Attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.? Terrorists don’t treat our people like they are staying at a Ritz Carlton, so why shouldn’t we treat them the same way? Why should the average American fear the Federal Government more as it relates to the way the CIA interrogates suspected Terrorist than fearing more government in health care reform?

In my mind, there is one simple reason why we should fear how our government treats criminal suspects. It puts us only a few steps away from doing the very same thing to our own citizens [which some would argue already happens]. Whether we realize it or not, the United States Federal Government, the very government that we either support or don’t, already has access to our financial records, driving records, criminal records, health records, and can monitor/listen in on our calls, emails and the web sites we visit every day.

Private Health Insurance and other private businesses that make billions from the current system are playing off the fear of “Big Brother” to stall or kill any reforms to a private health care system that already rations care to the healthiest and wealthiest. Health Insurance premiums continue to increase at unsustainable rates and millions of dollars from those premiums go to lobbying against any health care reforms, as well as CEO pay and bonuses.

Private Health Insurance administrative costs are massive compared to Medicaid and Medicare, which is around 2 to 3% compared to the average of 25% for private health insurance administration. They are fighting like hell to kill the proposed “Public Option” because it will cost the private health insurance industry billions and force them to actually provide coverage to everyone, regardless of pre-existing conditions. But, has the private health insurance industry actually provided a good, quality product that is cost effective and competitive in the free market? If it had, we wouldn’t be having this debate.

But back to what we should really fear: Federal Government listening in on your phone conversations, reading your email, monitoring the web sites you frequent, all in the name of “National Security.” I keep coming back to Ben Franklin’s quote: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” The CIA broke the law and that is why the United States Attorney General is moving in the direction of prosecuting those that authorized enhanced interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists that may or may not have produced reliable intelligence. Former Vice President Dick Cheney can complain all he wants, but he’s a supporter of strictly interpreting the United States Constitution so he shouldn’t have anything to worry about if he wasn’t involved.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Delegate Hamilton and ODU: AH HA! I knew this one stunk to high heaven!

And the truth comes out. As I posted back on August 1st when questions surfaced about the relationship between the powerful Republican House of Delegates Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman, Delegate Phillip Hamilton, and Old Dominion University over a $500,000 state appropriation for ODU's Darden College of Education, that something didn't smell right about this relationship. Back in 2007 Delegate Hamilton sponsored the $500,000 budget amendment that helped fund the ODU teacher training center on the Peninsula. Shortly thereafter, he was awarded a $40,000 per year contract by ODU that came out of that money. Both Delegate Hamilton and ODU President John Broderick denied any inappropriate relationship or "quid pro quo."

According to the Virginian Pilot and recently obtained emails through their FIOA (Freedom of Information Act) request, it is very clear that there was an expectation from Delegate Hamilton to be compensated for his work to obtain the $500,000 in state funding. ODU has now severed it's ties and terminated the contract with House of Delegate's Member Phillip Hamilton (R-Newport News). Hamilton is in a hotly contested race with local attorney and House District 93 Democratic Candidate Robin Abbott.

Now, in all fairness, this deal was cut before John Broderick took over from Rosann Runte as President of Old Dominion University. The nail in the coffin for Delegate Hamilton might be this excerpt:
On Feb. 26, 2007, Hamilton wrote that the center would receive $500,000 in fiscal 2008 and added: "Currently, my part-time salary with NNPS is around $37,000. I need at least that amount from the ODU Foundation to have a part-time salary of $75,000 per year. Of course, more than that is always appreciated."
NNPS is Newport News Public Schools. What Delegate Hamilton has done here is violate General Assembly ethics rules and state conflict of interest laws, that forbid Legislators from benefiting financially for services performed from the work they do in the General Assembly. It is clear from the email that the Virginian Pilot obtained, that Delegate Hamilton's assertion back in July that he did nothing wrong was a lie.

Let's see how fast Hamilton drops out of the race, the rats flee the sinking ship, and the Republicans scramble to find another candidate to run in this heavily Democratic District. It will also be interesting to see if the House of Delegates GOP Leadership asks Hamilton to resign his seat. According to the Virginian Pilot, a violation of state conflict of interest laws is a misdemeanor that carries a one year jail term and a $2,500 fine.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Healthcare Reform: AP reports Sarah Palin ABSOLUTELY WRONG about "Death Panels"

While this is an Associated Press story by Richard Alonso-Zaldivar from yesterday, August 11th, this story was front and center on the Lynchburg News Advance web site as of last night. The News Advance doesn't go out of their way very often to highlight obvious falsehoods or do a great deal of investigative reporting, but they went out on a limb this time, so good for them.

The Healthcare Reform debate is bringing out all the anti-government, xenophobic, anti-tax, Tea Baggers, Birthers, and of course the propaganda machines of the Health Insurance Industry. They will be the big losers if real competition is injected into the Health Care System.

One thing to keep in mind when the cries go out from the private sector that there is no way to compete with the Federal Government. Just point to how well FEDEX, UPS, and all the other overnight delivery companies have been able to compete against the United States Postal Service, which is withering away faster than a slug on US 29 in August. Here is the story as printed in the Lynchburg News Advance:

Associated Press
Published: August 11, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP)—Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin says the health care overhaul bill would set up a “death panel.“ Federal bureaucrats would play God, ruling on whether ailing seniors are worth enough to society to deserve life-sustaining medical care. Palin and other critics are wrong.

Nothing in the legislation would carry out such a bleak vision. The provision that has caused the uproar would instead authorize Medicare to pay doctors for counseling patients about end-of-life care, if the patient wishes. Here are some questions and answers on the controversy:

Q: Does the health care legislation bill promote “mercy killing,“or euthanasia?

A: No.

Q: Then what’s all the fuss about?

A: A provision in the House bill written by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., would allow Medicare to pay doctors for voluntary counseling sessions that address end-of-life issues. The conversations between doctor and patient would include living wills, making a close relative or a trusted friend your health care proxy, learning about hospice as an option for the terminally ill, and information about pain medications for people suffering chronic discomfort.

The sessions would be covered every five years, more frequently if someone is gravely ill.

Q: Is anything required?

Monsignor Charles Fahey, 76, a Catholic priest who is chairman of the board of the National Council on Aging, a nonprofit service and advocacy group, says no.

“We have to make decisions that are deliberative about our health care at every moment,“ Fahey said. “What I have said is that if I cannot say another prayer, if I cannot give or get another hug, and if I cannot have another martini - then let me go.“

Q: Does the bill advocate assisted suicide?

A: No. It would block funds for counseling that presents suicide or assisted suicide as an option.

Q: Who supports the provision?

A: The American Medical Association, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and Consumers Union are among the groups supporting the provision. AARP, the seniors’ lobby, is taking out print advertisements this week that label as false the claim that the legislation will empower the government to take over life-and-death decisions from individuals.

Q: Should the federal government be getting involved with living wills and end-of-life questions - decisions that are highly personal and really difficult?

A: It already is.

The government requires hospitals to ask adult patients if they have a living will, or “advance directive.“ If the patient doesn’t have one, and wants one, the hospital has to provide assistance. The mandate on hospitals was instituted during a Republican administration, in 1992, under President George H.W. Bush.

Q: How does a living will work, and how is it different from a health care proxy?

A: A living will - also called an advance directive - spells out a patient’s wishes if he or she becomes incapacitated. Often people say they don’t want to be kept alive on breathing machines if their condition is terminal and irreversible.

A health care proxy empowers another person to make medical decisions should the patient become incapacitated.

There’s also a power-of-attorney, which authorizes another person to make financial decisions for someone who is incapacitated.

Such legal documents have become standard estate-planning tools in the last twenty years.

Q: Would the health overhaul legislation change the way people now deal with making end-of-life decisions?

A: It very well could.

Supporters of the provision say the main consequence would be to formally bring doctors into a discussion that now takes place mainly among family members and lawyers.

“When you execute a legal document with your lawyer, it ends up in your files and in the lawyer’s files,“ said John Rother, a senior policy and strategy adviser for AARP. “Unless the doctor is part of this discussion, it’s unlikely that your wishes will be respected. The doctor will be the one involved in any decisions.“

The American Medical Association says involving doctors is simple common sense.

“There has been a lot of misinformation about the advance care planning provisions in the bill,“ AMA President Dr. James Rohack said in a statement. “It’s plain, old-fashioned medical care.“

Q: So why are some people upset?

Some social conservatives say stronger language is needed to protect seniors from being pressured into signing away their rights to medical treatment in a moment of depression or despair.

The National Right to Life Committee opposes the provision as written.

“I’m not aware of ‘death panels’ in the bill,“ said David O’Steen, executive director of the group. “I’m not aware of anything that says you will be hauled before a government bureaucrat. But we are concerned ... it doesn’t take a lot to push a vulnerable person - perhaps unwittingly - to give up their right to life-sustaining treatment.“

The White House says it is countering false claims with a “reality check” page on its Web site, http://www.whitehouse.gov .

Right now, Democrats, the Obama Administration, every progressive group and social justice organization are getting their teeth kicked in by opponents to meaningful Healthcare Reform. It's time to take off the gloves and bear some teeth. PUSH BACK, AND PUSH BACK HARD. Opponents are hanging Congressional Members in effigy and making banners, posters, billboard with President Obama in Nazi uniforms and Swastikas. Come on!

When people are scared and uncertain about change, they will listen to the craziest propaganda and revert to bigoted and marginalizing behaviors. SPREAD THE TRUTH, KILL THE LIES ABOUT HEATHCARE REFORM.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Healthcare Reform Events: Change That Works Campaign holding two Emergency Meetings in Danville

Win Carlisle with the Change That Works Campaign asked that I help spread the word about two meetings they are holding in Danville to dispel the misinformation about the current Healthcare Reform proposals and bills being considered in Congress:

August 12th and 13th (Wednesday and Thursday) at 7:00 pm

Change That Works Campaign Office
308 Craghead Street
Danville, VA 24541

For more information, please call Aaron at 616-648-4555.

Please come out and spread the word. It’s time to SPREAD THE TRUTH AND KILL THE LIES about real Healthcare and Insurance Reform that works.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Healthcare Reform: Let's all read the bill to stop the lies about Healthcare Reform efforts

As the chants of "READ THE BILL, READ THE BILL" continue to be shouted across the country, I thought that it would be a good idea to take their advise and read the bill. Well, at least one of them, and well read through some of the bill. But, I suspect that the ones screaming "READ THE BILL" the loudest, haven't read it themselves. So I have a link to one of the bills, the one that has the most traction in the House of Representatives, provided by OpenCongress.org:

I hope that this will help some out there to get the FACTS for themselves and stop "Parroting" the talking points of the Health Insurance Industry. I do think that some of the outrage and disruptions at the Town Hall Meetings across the country are organic, but the vast majority of the disruptions and the drowning out Congressional Members trying to answer questions about this very complex bill are staged and deliberate.

I do have to wonder if people feel ashamed that once they have the facts and learn that all the mis-information that is being shoveled to the public, was nothing more than them being used by playing on their fears? I wonder if they've read the bill, or bills, that they are so opposed to?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: Sonya Sotomayor CONFIRMED by U. S. Senate

68 – 31

Warner - Yes
Webb - Yes
Update: 5:25 pm
Republicans that broke ranks:
Senator George Voinovich (OH)
Senator Susan Collins (ME)
Senator Olympia Snow (ME)
Senator Judd Gregg (NH)
Senator Richard Lugar (IN)
Senator Kit Bond (MO)
Senator Mel Martinez (FL)
Senator Lindsay Graham (SC)
Senator Lamar Alexander (TN)

APA concludes that being Gay is OK, programs to make them straight can be harmful

In case you are not familiar with the APA, it's the American Psychological Association. As reported on CNN.com, the APA has concluded after a two year study and review of 87 other studies since 1960 that "there is little evidence that efforts to change a person's sexual orientation from gay or lesbian to heterosexual are effective."

If the "Family Values" groups haven't picked up on this story, I suspect that there will be a flurry of Press Releases over the next few days. Put simply, scare straight programs and guilt tripping people for being wired differently than "normal" people does more harm than good and THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING GAY. But, this is going to be hard for evangelicals and other conservative groups to swallow.

According to Judith Glassgold, chairwoman of the APA task force:

"Contrary to claims of sexual orientation change advocates and practitioners,
there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological
interventions to change sexual orientation."
The APA's governing Council of Representatives passed a resolution urging the mental health community and professionals not to recommend that therapy or any other methods can change their sexual orientation.

"The task force noted that some people attempt to change their sexual
orientation because it conflicts with their religious beliefs, and recommended
that their mental health care providers help them 'explore possible life
paths that address the reality of their sexual orientation, reduce the stigma
associated with homosexuality, respect their client's religious beliefs,
and consider possibilities for a religiously and spiritually meaningful and
rewarding life.
Again, for those out there that exclusively subscribe to Creationism and that anything other than heterosexual orientation and a man-woman relationship is outside of the "mainstream," they will still find justification to marginalize and openly discriminate against "those people" that aren't like them.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Post-9/11 GI Bill has perfect timing for increase of VA in-state tution

Talk about perfect timing. The Commonwealth of Virginia got $126.7 million in federal stimulus funds for 2010 to help keep down the increase with in-state tuition. The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill went into effect the first of this month. The State Council of Higher Education reports that tuition at the Virginia's in-state schools will increase by 5% for the upcoming school year.

College affordability is a huge issue for Virginia, considering the economy and the rising unemployment numbers. At least for our nation's bravest men and women who have put their live on the line for this country, this updated G.I. Bill will enable them to afford college during a time when it is increasingly getting beyond the financial reach of so many. This bill was due to the hard work of Senator Webb and former Senator John Warner.

Virginia SCC approves rate increase for Appalachian Power for 7.7%

Appalachian Power got their rate increase, just not the 13% they originally sought. According to news reports, the SCC approval will increase the average utility customer's monthly bill around $7.16 for 1,000 kilowatts of use. The rate increase will go to cover increases in fuel costs for Appalachian Power, who gets 98% of it's power from coal.

This isn't the last application for a rate increase. Appalachian Power has three more in the hopper. Keep in mind that AEP, Appalachian Power's parent company, reported a 2nd Quarter profit even though revenues were down.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Appalachain Power shows 2nd Quarter profit, still seeks rate increase

Rate increases and cost cutting in Virginia, Oklahoma, and Indiana helped boost the bottom line for Appalachian Power's parent company, AEP, by 12% according to an article in the Roanoke Times yesterday. But still, AEP wants another rate increase because "even though the SCC allowed the utility a return on common equity in its Virginia territory of 10.2% in calendar year 2008, the actual return was only 2%." Profits increased despite a drop in revenue.

In other words, they didn't make enough of a profit and they need the rate increase to make more than a 10.2% profit. What they didn't add is that they need the rate increase to help cover the cost of building the new Coal Fired Power Plant in Wise County. Also according to the article, Appalachian Power gets about 98% of its electricity from coal.

A couple of thoughts about this. First, AEP did things to cut cost and increase efficiency across the states they operate, which is a good thing. Second, just like all those conservatives out there that say increasing taxes during a recession is a bad idea, so is increasing utility rates. AEP's revenues were down, which means that their customers were cutting back because of the economy and were trying to conserve energy to put more money back in their own pockets. AEP's request for a rate increase is just like raising taxes on people that don't have the money to spend on more expensive energy. Third, Appalachian Power gets 98% of it's energy from coal. That's way too much. They need to diversify where they are getting their energy from. I know that the United States is the Saudi Arabia of Coal, but the less coal we use and the more clean energy or biomass energy sources (chicken and cow poop) we use, the more we will reduce our carbon footprint.

If this doesn't convince the SCC that Appalachian Power's request for a rate increase is not necessary, I don't know what will.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Delegate Hamilton and Old Dominion University: Something don’t smell quite right

The Virginian Pilot reported earlier this week that Newport News Republican Delegate, Phillip Hamilton, a 20 year incumbent and a senior member of the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee, received a $40,000 contract in 2007 from Old Dominion University to coordinate the University’s Center for Teacher Quality and Educational Leadership.

Hamilton was awarded the contract after he sponsored an amendment that provided the funding for the center. Since that time, the center has been awarded $500,000 every year since 2007. Yesterday, Old Dominion University President John Broderick said that after a review of Delegate Hamilton’s contract that “Everything that we looked at indicates there’s no conflict here.” Delegate Hamilton says that he wasn’t on the payroll of ODU when the money was added to the state’s budget.

This still doesn’t smell right. So, let me get this straight. Delegate Hamilton introduces an amendment to the state’s budget in 2007 that benefits ODU’s Center for Teacher Quality and Educational Leadership. Delegate Hamilton gets a $40,000 contract from the money he got for the Center. The Center gets $500,000 annually from the state and Delegate Hamilton continues to benefit financially from that state appropriation through his $40,000 contract with ODU. So, I guess neither Delegate Hamilton nor ODU see how improper this appears. No quid pro quo here, right?

By the way, Delegate Hamilton is in a hotly contested race in the 93rd House of Delegates District against Newport News Attorney Robin Abbott. Hamilton has been a member of the Virginia House of Delegates since 1988.

I always find it hard to believe any elected official that rails against the size of government and the taxes needed for the state to function, and they belly up to the big government trough for their piece of the pie.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Obama nominates Timothy Heaphy out of McGuire Woods to be U.S. Attorney for Virginia's Western District

It seems that the whole lobbyist ban doesn't apply to Federal Prosecutors. President Obama has nominated Timothy Heaphy out of the powerhouse Law/Lobbying firm McGuire Woods to be the next U.S. Attorney for Virginia's Western District. According to OpenSecrets.org, Heaphy contributed a grand total of $3,101 to Democrats (including President Obama) during the 2008 election cycle. This is the same district that former U.S. Attorney John Brownlee headed before he ran for the Republican nomination for Virginia's Attorney General.

Ca$h for Clunkers UPDATE: Program gets a $2 billion High Octane boost from the House

The House of Representatives voted today to divert $2 billion in funds from a U.S. Department of Energy loan guarantee program to the "Cash for Clunker's" program. Now, if there was some way to show the Blue Dogs and the Republicans that the Public Health Insurance Option is a good thing and the Federal Government won't come between you and your doctor, and is Deficit Neutral, then maybe they'd move this fast too?

Not too bad for a Federal Government bureaucracy that can't do anything right.

Cash for Clunkers out of CA$H already?

It seems that the much debated program to incentivize consumers to trade in their gas guzzling vehicles, those that are at least 10 years old and get 18 mpg or less, for a new fuel efficient vehicle has been the best stimulus package to date. After less than a week, the $1 billion set aside for the “Cash for Clunkers” program is running out of money. I will have to admit that I was skeptical at first about how many people would take advantage of the program, being that the national unemployment rate is approaching 10% and tens of millions more people are having to take mandatory furlough days or have their hours reduced. I didn’t think that most people, who are struggling to make it through the toughest economic conditions since the Great Depression, would be able to fit a new car into their tight personal finances.

Taking another look at this, when you are getting a $3,500 to $4,500 refundable voucher for the program, and there are thousands of dollars of manufacturer and dealership rebates, this might be the right time to buy a new car or truck that gets more than 25 mpg. The original amount proposed for the program was $4 billion. Both the Obama Administration and the Congress will probably have to revisit this to add more money and extend the program. There are a lot of up sides to this:

    • It puts money into the hands of consumers to purchase a big ticket item.

    • These purchases will help save and even create jobs at a time when the nation continues to lose hundreds of thousands of jobs.

    • Those jobs saved or created will provide a desperately needed shot in the arm for the nation’s consumer confidence (people will spend more money).

    • The money spent by consumers, plus the money spent by workers whose jobs were saved or created, will begin to ripple through the economy (this is a good thing).

    • The newer, more fuel efficient vehicles will mean less money spent on gas and more money to spend on other things.

    • The higher fuel efficient vehicles will reduce the amount greenhouse gases produced by the traded in, gas guzzling cars, trucks, and SUV’s.

These are just my back of the napkin thoughts on the positives of the program. While consumer debt will go up a little bit, the money gained by overall savings at the pump, plus the jobs saved or created as a result of the program, will be spent on other things and even go to paying down other debts in the long run.

Picture found at: http://static.howstuffworks.com/gif/1980-1989-ford-trucks-44.jpg

Thursday, July 30, 2009

8th House of Delegates District Update: Turner gains endorsement of Salem Mayor over Griffith

In what was considered by most state political pundents as a non-race, it seems that the switch of challengers for House Majority Leader, Morgan Griffith (R-Salem), has presented him with a bit of a wrinkle. In a statement released by the Cater Turner for Delegate Campaign, Salem City Mayor Byron R. "Randy" Foley is giveing Turner his full throated support for the 8th House District:

“I am proud to announce my endorsement of Carter Turner for the Virginia House of Delegates in the 8th District. Carter has been my close friend for over thirty years, and I am confident that he has the intelligence, demeanor, and vision to bring effective leadership to Richmond. Please join me in supporting Carter Turner as he works to move our city, district, and state forward.”

Mayor Byron R. “Randy” Foley
Salem, Virginia

According to Turner, “Having grown up in Salem, with deep ties to this wonderful community, I am extremely honored to have Mayor Foley’s endorsement. I look forward to representing our district in Richmond with the same non-partisan focus on solutions that I continue to hear supporters say we need.”
While I'm not sure of the full extent of the relationship between Mayor Foley and Delegate Griffith, it is clear that a 30 year friendship goes a lot father in Salem than Republican Paty senority. This has to be at least a little disconserting for Delegate Griffith. I will be keeping my eye on this contest.

Racism in America: Has the scab been ripped off because of the Gates-Crowley event?

Earlier this week, I posted about the Professor Gates-Sergeant Crowley event in Cambridge, Massachusetts and how there had been little focus on who made the 911 call. Since then, that person has been identified and the recording of the call made public. My questions about the “nosy neighbor” were fully answered as I listened to the 911 call as reported on TV. Lucia Whalen, at the urging of an elderly neighbor who saw two men trying to gain entry in to Professor Gates’ house, called 911 and never mentioned the race of the two people in her call. Despite this revelation, Lucia Whalen was called a racist, bigot, and labeled in other similar ways, compelling her to hold a tearful press conference yesterday. So, because of this incident and the series of events that have followed since the 911 call to the Cambridge Police, has the scab of racism been ripped off in America?

In many ways it has. This went to a whole different level when President Obama called the Cambridge Police Department out and said that they acted “stupidly” when he didn’t have all the facts. Then it went back and forth on was Sergeant Crowley a rouge or racist cop? Turns out that he’s a police veteran of more than 10 years, and has taught other police officers how to avoid Racial Profiling tactics and techniques. Then it came back to Professor Gates and how he acted. Did he overreact? Did he deserve to be handcuffed for disorderly conduct in his own home? The discussions and debates took off from there.

Former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell, added his assessment of the whole situation saying on Larry King Live, “When you’re faced with an officer trying to do his job and get to the bottom of something, this is not the time to get in an argument with him.” Powell went on further to say “I would have thought at that point some adult supervision would have stepped in and said, ‘Okay, look, it is his house. Come on, let’s not take this any further. Take the handcuffs off.

Things seemed to start settling down a bit and some substantive discussions about Racial Profiling were happening. Several well know African Americans, including Colin Powell, came out and said that during their lives they had been Racially Profiled. During my time as a Community Organizer, I heard this all the time from the black community and when it was addressed with white conservative lawmakers in Virginia or with local Police Chiefs or Sheriffs, they either said that Racial Profiling doesn’t happen in Virginia or our officers don’t use Racial Profiling. But, it does happen. The only other debate at this point was about the beer that President Obama, Professor Gates, and Sergeant Crowley were going to drink at the White House. Then, Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh weighed in. Listen to what Glen Beck and then what Rush Limbaugh has to say about race and racism:

After these two excellent displays of white privilege and superior intellect by Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, it’s fair to say that the scab of racism has been ripped off. I hope that their racist and hate filled rhetoric brings them all the ratings and attention they truly deserve.

It is clear that there is still a lot of work to be done by everyone (White, Black, Hispanic, etc.). Whether it’s playing the race card at the drop of the hat or white people being oblivious to the fact that white privilege gives them a huge advantage in our society, there is still hard, hard work to be done to overcome the stigmas and stereotypes that come with every color of skin. It’s just that knuckleheads like Beck and Limbaugh make millions off of the trash that comes out of their mouths and millions of people absolutely agree with every word they say. When no one tunes in to watch or listen to boneheads like them anymore, then we can say that we've turned the corner.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Healthcare Reform: Blue Dog Democrats have an apparent deal on Healthcare Reform

According to a Reuters report, Blue Dog Democrats in the House of Representatives (fiscal conservative Democrats) have reach an apparent deal they can support to overhaul the nations healthcare system. There are still some final details to be worked out, but according to the Blue Dog coalition leader, Representative Mike Ross (D-AR), they will send the bill to the full committee on House Energy and Commerce on Wednesday, but the full House vote won't happen until after they get back from the August break, in September.

Some of the key provisions of the deal that got the Blue Dogs on board:

  • Cost of the bill is now under $1 trillion.

  • 86% of small businesses exempt from any government mandate to provide coverage to employees.

  • Businesses with payrolls under $500,000 are totally exempt.

  • Businesses with payrolls between $500,000 to $750,000 would not be exempt but be phased in.

  • States would have the option to set-up healthcare insurance cooperative.

  • Federal Government would be required to negotiate prices with healthcare providers.

These are positive developments and its clear that there was some "horse trading" going on. We will stay tuned to see if this thing holds together.

Corporate Polluter round-up and 2nd Quarter profits: TVA, Dominion Power, & Massey Energy

Last week, the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) admitted culpability in the Fly Ash Sludge spill into the Emory River after the release of a stinging report highlighting a string of failures, deficiencies, and internal cultural problems. It’s kind of hard to hide millions of cubic yards of toxic coal fly ash when it ends up in the yards and homes of residence along the river and it comes from your facility. Estimates put the clean-up of the spill to be around $1 billion. I wish that Dominion Power would follow the lead of the TVA, concerning the situation with the coal ash construction fill that has contaminated the well water of the residence around the Battlefield Golf Course.

Dominion Power is asking a Chesapeake, VA judge to throw out the $1 billion lawsuit filed against them by nearly 400 residence affected by the toxic contamination of their well water. According to the motion to dismiss, if the judge refuses to dismiss the suit Dominion Power would like a change of venue because it feels that “the jury pool and any trial proceedings in this jurisdiction would be tainted.” Dominion also feels that the residence have not proven that specific injury or harm has been done to individual residence, and also that the fault lies with the construction company that built the golf course. I guess it doesn’t matter that Dominion Power kept an internal study secret about the potential environmental impact from the use of fly ash as construction filler, for SEVEN YEARS.

I find this astonishingly arrogant and callous on the part of Dominion Power. It’s their fly ash from their Coal Fired Power Plant at the Deep Creek facility, they had a study that said this would happen, they don’t think the residence have a case and if the lawsuit is not dismissed, they feel the jury pool is contaminated because of all the bad press they have gotten. Dominion Power coal ash contaminates well water, and potentially drinking water for the City of Chesapeake (who gets about half of their drinking water from the Northwest River which is very close to the golf course) and they are afraid that the pool of potential jurors would be contaminated? That’s a good one. Well, I guess when you have deep pockets to file motions like this when it’s pretty clear Dominion Power engaged in a cover-up of the original study to get the toxic fly ash off their hands and committed fraud when they presented the more favorable study to the Chesapeake City Council back in 2001, that it cost less to do it this way than to do the right thing.

It appears that the lawsuit that Massey Energy is involved with against Harmon Mining isn’t affecting its bottom line too much. Massey Energy will post a 2nd Quarter profit of $20.2 million, citing an 8% increase in its coal shipments (which Dominion Power is a likely recipient). No real connection here to the other stories except that it’s coal related. Just thought this was interesting.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Star City Harbinger/Off K Street EXCLUSIVE: Carter Turner takes over as the Democratic Candidate against Morgan Griffith in the 8th House District

I came off the bench today to help out my friends at the Star City Harbinger cover the Carter Turner annoucement. So, this is a co-Exclusive.

Today in Salem, at the entrance to the Roanoke County Courthouse, Carter Turner stepped in to become the Democratic Candidate for the 8th House District. Former Democratic Candidate Jenny Weisz decided last week that she would withdraw from the race to concentrate on her Doctoral Studies at Radford University. Despite his late entrance into the race, Turner seems confident that he will be able to compete against the 15 year incumbent and House Majority Leader for the Republicans, Morgan Griffith.

Carter Turner has a number of things in his favor that previous candidates who have run against Morgan Griffith didn’t have. First is that Carter grew up and went to school in Salem, and also played Football at Salem High School on their 1986 Regional Championship football team. This is something that matters in Salem. He attended Virginia Tech and graduated with a degree in History. So, Turner is a bonafide local boy. After graduating from Virginia Tech, he went on to get his M.A. from the Iliff School of Theology and his Ph.D. in Religious and Theological Studies from the University of Denver.

He's currently an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Radford University and was most recently involved in the rezoning fight next to the Glenvar School area over the proposed rock quarry. Here is my post-announcement podcast interview with Cater Turner:

Racial Profiling: Henry Louis Gates vs. James Crowley – Who’s right, who’s wrong, or can they blame the nosy neighbors?

In what was a relatively local event that started with a 911 call about two black men who appeared to by trying to break into a house in a Cambridge, Massachusetts neighborhood, the nation will now have a long overdue discussion about racial profiling. As it now appears, this is not a simple case of a young white police officer hassling a black man and presuming that because he is African American that he’s got to be up to no good. It also appears this is not an incident of a white police officer answering this call and not following proper procedure.

This story is now several days old but the discussions continue. Distinguished Harvard scholar Dr. Henry Louis Gates, who also taught at Duke University for a time, came home and discovered that he either left his keys inside or left them somewhere else. He and another man tried to gain entry through other means. A person in Dr. Gate’s neighborhood sees these two gentlemen at the house, looking through windows and other doors, makes a call to 911 to report suspicious activity. Arrives Cambridge Police Sergeant James Crowley with another officer (who is African-American) and begins to interact and question Dr. Gates. Dr. Gates becomes upset and the rest of the story unfolds.

So, who is right and who is wrong? It seems that Professor Gates overreacted when questioned by Sergeant Crowley. This isn’t to say that he was in the wrong, but it probably could have gone much differently if he hadn’t. And what about Sergeant James Crowley? He’s been a police officer for more than 10 years and he has taught at the local Police Academy about Racial Profiling and how to avoid those policing practices. This story went to a totally different level when President Obama, the first African American elected President of the United States, made the statement that he thought the police acted “stupidly” in this situation. The President has sense walked that statement back and has invited both to the White House for a beer. In all the ruckus, the one thing that I haven’t read or listened to about this event is the person who made the 911 call.

Now, they should remain anonymous because to identify this person or people that made the 911 call would set a bad precedent and would negatively impact the ability to bring criminals to justice. But, how well did Professor Gate’s neighbors know him? Did Professor Gates interact with his neighbors or did they try to get to know him? Even if Professor Gates and the neighbors did know each other and spoke civilly, when they see a black person around someone’s home is it their first reaction to call the police even if they think they know who it is? There are still lots of questions being asked and the national discussion has begun on racial profiling, but does Professor Gates have a good reason for being defiant, defensive and assuming a bunker mentality whenever he might be questioned by police?

Here are some things to consider about being black in America. Around 26% of the United States population is non-white as of 2007, with whites making up the majority at 74%. As of June 30, 2007 there were 2,299,119 inmates in jails and prisons in the United States. 70% of all prisoners are non-whites. Nearly one million are in prison for non-violent crimes. Over 93% of all prisoners are male. As of July 1, 2007 there were 40.7 million African American residence in the United States, making up around 13.5% of the total United States population. Out of all African American Males between the ages of 25 to 29, about 10.4% were in jail or prison compared to 2.4% of all Hispanic males and 1.3% of all white males.

Here are some other numbers to consider about being black in America. According to an article by Philip Walzer of the Virginian Pilot this past weekend, 14.7% of all African Americans were out of work in June of this year in the United States, compared to 8.7 percent for all whites. Historically, the African American unemployment rate has always been higher than whites and other non-white minorities. But this was of significance because of the current Recession. Nationally, around 30% of whites have at least a bachelor’s degree while around 20% of African Americans do. Barely half of all African Americans and Hispanics graduate from High School, 58% for Hispanics and 54% for African Americans, while nearly 78% of white students graduate.

These are some very sobering numbers to consider. There are white people out there that will roll their eyes and say “Give me a break. Stop already. They (those people) need to take responsibility for themselves and quit blaming others for problems they bring on themselves and blaming white people for all their problems.” But, you cannot deny the disproportionate number of non-whites in this nation living in poverty, not graduating from High School, not going on to college, not graduating from college, and that are also locked up in our jails and prisons. 70% of all prisoners in the United States are NON-WHITE.

So, with all these numbers stacked against non-white people of the United States can whites still claim that they don’t see the color of a person’s skin when they decide to not hire a person or when they see a non-white person walking around a nice house in a nice neighborhood? Did Professor Gates overreact? Likely. Did Sergeant Cowley follow proper procedure? Probably. Does Professor Gates have justification for being defiant, defensive and assuming a bunker mentality whenever he might be questioned by police? With the numbers listed above, yes. Why wouldn’t he? He’s an accomplished and highly educated African American male. Why shouldn’t he be defensive and upset when questioned by police at his own home? But again, the people or person that called 911, did they see a Harvard Scholar or just another black male up to no good?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Minimum Wage: Increase to $7.25 per hour is an economic stimulus that lifts all boats

The last phase of the increase to the Minimum Wage will happen this Friday. In 2006 there was a big push to increase the Minimum Wage at the state level, since the Federal Government hadn’t done so for more than 10 years. This effort was so popular that even in ruby red Virginia a Minimum Wage bill independent of the Federal law almost got through the Virginia General Assembly. State elected officials on both sides of the isle realized then that asking someone to live off of $5.15 per hour was unacceptable when the cost of living had eroded the livability and the purchasing power of the Minimum Wage. But, what is the acceptable standard that a person should be paid for their labor and does the increase in the Minimum Wage help or hurt the overall economy?

In an opinion article distributed statewide by John Sweeney of the national AFL-CIO and Doris Crouse-Mays of the Virginia AFL-CIO, the last phase of increasing the Minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour will put just a little more than $2,000 per year in the pockets of 120,000 minimum wage earners in Virginia. That’s an infusion of $5.5 billion of consumer spending that happens immediately, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Money spent by low wage earners doesn’t have the chance to see the inside of a savings account. It goes right back into the economy in order for people to survive that earn money at or just above this income level. They will see their yearly earnings go from $10,712 per year in 2006 to $15,080 per year of gross income. For an individual earning this minimum wage of $7.25 per hour in 2009, it will put them over the Federal Poverty threshold of $10,830 per year. If there are two people in the household, that level increase to $14,570 and for a household of three it goes to $18,310. Even at these levels, an individual and a family of two or three still have to rely on the social safety nets of the Federal Government.

One of those social safety nets is the Federal Food Stamp Program (or SNAP-Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). In order for an individual to be eligible for $200 per month of SNAP, their gross monthly income must be less than $1,127 and their net monthly income must be less than $876. For a family of two, monthly gross and net income must be less than $1,517 and $1,167 respectively to get $367 in SNAP. A family of three, monthly gross and net income must be less than $1,907 and $1,467 to get $526 in SNAP. Do Food Stamps help the economy? A recent study by the North Carolina Tax and Budget Center concluded that the $1.6 billion in SNAP payments were directly tied to generating more than $2.8 billion in economic activity.

Federal Housing Assistance through HUD (United States Department of Housing and Urban Development) is calculated at 50% of the median income for the area a person lives. So, if you live in a place like Northern Virginia, Richmond, Hampton Roads, and Charlottesville, there is no way that an individual can live off of $7.25 per hour even with $200 extra per month of SNAP and still expect to have a roof over their head.

So again, what is the acceptable standard that a person should be paid for their labor? If you take in these three parts: actual pay for work at the new Minimum Wage, SNAP payments, and any rental/housing assistance that exceeds 30% of an individual’s income, a person would need to be making a minimum wage of around $10 per hour to lessen the need to rely on Federal Social Safety Nets. So to answer the question of an acceptable minimum standard for a person’s labor, the Minimum Wage should be higher and at $7.25 per hour it is still insufficient to be able to afford to live in the United States.

The last question, if the increase in the Federal Minimum Wage will hurt the overall economy, the answer is no. It actually helps and the results of the North Carolina Tax and Budget Center also prove that money distributed to needy families for food assistance also helps to lift overall economic activity. Another way to look at increasing the Minimum Wage is that any increase of money put in the hands of low income earners benefits the entire economy and generates economic growth upward, which cannot be said for more money being put back in the hands of the wealthiest among us.