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.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

SCOTUS Sotomayor Confirmation: GOP count is up to five that will support Sotomayor

United States Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is the latest member of the GOP to announce his support for United States Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor. This increases the number to five Republican Senators that have announced their intention to vote for Sotomayor’s confirmation to the highest court in the land. This list includes Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snow from Maine, Mel Martinez from Florida, and Richard Lugar from Indiana.

It is expected that all 60 Democratic members will support Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation and that there are a few more GOP members yet to announce their support. While Lindsey Graham’s support of Sotomayor didn’t change the likely outcome of the vote, his support is significant as Graham is increasingly being viewed as the leader of a rebranded GOP in need of a steady Captain.

Here is Senator Graham’s statement from the floor of the United States Senate today, announcing his intention to support Judge Sotomayor:


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Challenge to States: Building Strong Early Learning Systems

I received this from Gayle Lucado who heads-up the Successs by Six program through the United Way of Central Virginia in Lynchburg. This comes from the National Womens Law Center. This past weekend there were Poverty Forums held across Virginia and at many of them, education was one of the answers to combating poverty. There are numerous studies that say the earlier children are exposed to learning and education, the less likely they will fall or remain in poverty or turn to crime or drug use. Bottom line, the more education a person has the more money a person makes over the course of their life and the more involved they are as citizens. Report is posted below:

A Challenge to States: Building Strong Early Learning Systems
by Karen Schulman, Senior Policy Analyst, and
Amalia Reiss, Intern,
National Women’s Law Center

The President and Congress are demonstrating their commitment to early care and education by issuing an important challenge to states: Develop strong, high-quality early learning systems that help ensure children enter school ready to succeed. States that accept the challenge will receive new resources and support to meet this goal, which is essential for our children and our nation.

An Early Learning Challenge Fund, first discussed by President Obama during the campaign and included in his budget proposal earlier in the year, has now been fleshed out in legislation introduced by Representative George Miller (D-CA) on July 15. The Early Learning Challenge Fund, which is proposed as part of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009 (H.R. 3221), would provide $1 billion a year over 10 years to states that agree to work toward a comprehensive strategy for improving the quality of their early learning programs, particularly those serving disadvantaged children.

The initiative would make two types of grants available to states: Quality Pathways Grants for states that already have made significant progress toward establishing systems for improving the quality of early learning settings and that can serve as models for other states, and Development Grants for states that have some elements of a strategy to promote early learning but need an extra boost to achieve a truly systemic approach. States would be able to use the grants for several key components of a high-quality early learning system, including initiatives to boost the education and compensation of the early learning workforce, a system for rating the quality of early learning programs and helping them achieve progressively higher levels of quality, parent outreach and engagement, and coordination with other services for children and families—many of the same key components addressed in the Center’s Child Care Agenda.

In his address to the NAACP on July 16th in New York, President Obama described the Early Learning Challenge Fund initiative as an integral part of his broader strategy for reforming the education system so that it offers support from “cradle to career.” In his words, the grants will encourage states to “raise the bar when it comes to early learning programs” and “demonstrate how [the states] will prepare the lowest income children to meet the highest standards of success” with the ultimate goal of helping “prepare all our children to enter kindergarten all ready to learn.”

This initiative is the second major step forward on early care and education this year. It follows the significant investments made as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in several major early childhood programs, including the Child Care and Development Block Grant, Head Start, Early Head Start, and services for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with disabilities under Section 619 and Part C of the IDEA. With the federal government displaying leadership and states encouraged to take initiative in bolstering their early care and education programs, the Early Learning Challenge Fund would lay the groundwork for a system that would give all children a strong start.

Healthcare Reform: There’s already someone coming between you and your doctor, Private Health Insurance

I posted this in response to a comment on the Lynchburg News Advance story about the Healthcare Reform event held this past Sunday at the Unitarian Church in downtown Lynchburg. There are some edits and revisions:

Job well done by Don Manning and the Social Justice Committee at the Lynchburg Unitarian Church this past Sunday. This is exactly the type of grassroots effort that needs to happen with Healthcare Reform. There are a lot of opinions about what real healthcare reform looks like and who should be paying for it. Whether it’s single-payer or the status quo, better than 60% of the public wants wholesale change and a better healthcare product.

I’ve heard lots of reasons for not doing anything. Tops among them are that most people CHOOSE not to have health insurance even if it’s affordable. So, why should we change a system that most people choose not to use even if they can afford to pay for health insurance? That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard and a statement that is used over and over again that has zero basis in any fact. The fact is that the people that fall into this category of “choosing not to have health insurance” fall into the “crack” of making too much money for Medicaid and not enough to pay for a basic health insurance plan that is out of reach for millions.

And then there’s the ones that can afford health insurance but the health insurance companies won’t cover because of a “pre-existing condition. “ These two groupings of uninsured Americans that I just described make up nearly all of the 47 million that are uninsured. A respondent on the comment section of the story expresses one of the last of the major reasons for doing nothing to change our healthcare system. Not wanting a government bureaucrat coming between patients and doctors.

For those that keep beating this dead horse here’s a News Flash… It is already happening and has been since the last time we tried to get healthcare reform back in 1992-93. That bureaucrat that you fear so much is the Health Insurance Industry, and they don’t work for the big, bad Federal Government. The mis-places faith in their benevolence that they will take care of us because they have a “profit motive” to do a good job has been proven time and time again that they serve their shareholders and not the people they insure. Their goal is to provide the least amount of healthcare coverage for the maximum amount of profit. If they actually worked the way as described, then we wouldn’t be having this discussion and need for wholesale healthcare reform.

The Healthcare Reform that millions want and are working for right now can be a totally innovative American solution. Why do the Privatized Insurance Lobby and supportive Congressional members keep on referring to the Healthcare Systems of Canada and Great Britain and not looking at nations that have figured it out like France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Japan, Italy, China, and Korea? It’s because if the general public actually saw that there was a better system out there, they would have to start providing better coverage. By trying to scare people it helps them ensure they continue making huge profits by only insuring the least likely to use their insurance. Why do you want to offer health insurance to someone who actually needs it and will use it regularly? You can’t make money like that.

The countries that I have just listed have different forms of national healthcare that range from true socialized healthcare to a mix of privatized and public options. And, they all work. Canada and Great Britain know they have to fix their systems, but they can’t be the reason why we continue to do nothing. Stop talking about why we can’t and start talking about solutions that lower costs and don’t exclude people based on pre-existing conditions.

Good job on the forum Don Manning. Keep up the good work!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

OFF K STREET ALERT: Financial Services Industry trying to stop Congress from fixing the problems they caused!

Interest Only Mortgages. No Money Down Car Loans. Credit Card Companies on College Campuses. Payday and Car Title Lending. Derivatives Markets. These are just some of the things that led to our national economy almost (close to it) entirely collapsing. The slow, methodical dismantling of financial rules and regulations that had been in place since The Great Depression started in the 1980's and continued through both Democratic and Republican Presidential Administrations, and Democratic and Republican controlled Congresses. So, here we are. Consumer demand at its lowest point since the Great Depression. Very few people being able to qualify for a car loan, let alone a mortgage. Students having to get their parents to co-sign for Federal Student Loans that they wouldn't have needed to just two years ago. Consumer debt finally going down because the collective American Credit Card is maxed out. But, some of us just haven't learned our lesson.

The Financial Services Industry is declaring ALL OUT WAR on President Obama's proposed Consumer Financial Products Agency. This agency's sole purpose is to look out for regular, ordinary consumers (you and me, and everyone else). The Financial Services Industry spent $373 million on lobbying in 2008 (in one year alone). Keep in mind, this is the industry most responsible for the state of the global economy right now and they don't want anything to change as far as consumer protection with financial products. But, this effort is not going unchallenged. Americans for Financial Reform, a coalition of more than 200 consumer groups, is mounting just as formidable challenge to Wall Street's efforts to maintain the status quo.

This affects every Virginian and every American. This is one issue that I will be writing about extensively. $373 million worth of lobbying members of Congress (Democrat and Republican alike) buys a lot of access. Please visit Americans for Financial Reform's web site to learn more about what Wall Street is trying to do and how regular consumers like you and me can fight these crooks. For me, Healthcare Reform and Financial Reform are the top priorities to restoring our shared prosperity. If we can get these two issues figured out, it kicks open the door to financing new "green" companies and jobs and also having a more healthy and productive workforce. But, the financial rule and regulations that protected us since the Great Depression and were dismantled, need to find their way back in one form or another.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite dead at 92 - Tiger Woods misses cut at British Open

What more can be said. Walter Cronkite is the Gold Standard of for Journalism. This man's influence on the nation as "the most trusted man in America" spanned the birth of TV Journalism all the way to is contributions for the Huffington Post. He broke the mold.

As life would have it, Tiger Woods missed the cut at the British Open. This is only the second time in his professional career this has happened. You know it's a tough day when two of America's most famous people have a milestone convergence like this.

One more irony for good measure. Healthcare Reform on the ropes. Can a nation persevere?

Health Care Reform: A Design Charett Event - Lynchburg

I received this information from Don Manning in Lynchburg. Please spread the word. See below:

Heath Care Reform: A Design Charette Event – Addressing policy that affects health care delivery at a local level by joining your thoughts and ideas with others in a community-led initiative.

Problem: Lynchburg can no longer settle for a health care system that costs too much, wastes too much, and leaves too many without care.

Social Justice Principles:
1. Broaden the population that receives health care coverage through a combination of public sector insurance programs and private sector insurance companies
2. Expand the array of health care providers that consumers may choose from
3. Improve access to health care specialists
4. Improve the quality of health care (prevention, wellness, personalized medicine)
5. Decrease the cost of health care

Charette: An intensive, social-justice collaborative design session involving small groups of stakeholders whose intentions are to promote local, joint ownership of solutions

Phases: Dreaming or Visioning
Planning
Doing
Celebrating and Evaluating

Advocacy: Could you please encourage others to call Senator Mark Warner: 888-436-8427

For more information, contact Don Manning at 582-4703 or donmanning@verizon.net.

BREAKING NEWS: DELEGATE SAXMAN CONFIRMS HE'S OUT

It's official. Chris Saxman confirmed that he is withdrawing from his race for re-election and will pursue other interest (whatever that really means). While this changes things a bit, it is no secret that this district is a solid Republican district. That's not to say that it's totally impossible for Erik Curren to pull off the shocker of the cycle.

Chris Saxman's announcement that he will not seek re-election is a shocking and as baffling as Sarah Palin's decision. The difference her is he has served eight years in state elected office and is not resigning before the end of his term. But still, his reasons for getting out are odd. We will have to see who the GOP gets to run in his place. The Virginia GOP bench is starting to look more and more sparse.

Reaction from Erik Curren on rumors of Delegate Saxman retirement

I just got off the phone with Democratic Candidate Erik Curren about the rumors of Delegate Chirs Saxman's withdrawal from the race. Erik commented that he has heard and read the same reports and if true, anticipates this will give his campaign a boost.

Erik Curren is an incredible person who made the courageous decision to take on one of the darlings of the Virginia GOP and the Predatory Lending industry. I am going to disagree with Ben Tribblet of Not Larry Sabato who feels Saxman's retirement is a "loss to the House" of Delegates. My experience and dealings with Saxman has been one of condescendence, arrogance, and indifference to issues that directly affect working Virginians. On top of his blind support for Payday and Car Title Lending, his opposition to increasing the Minimum Wage, and support of anything that puts profit ahead of people, the last example of how out of touch Saxman is with the needs of his constituents and all Virginians was his "follow the herd" vote tuning down extension of Unemployment Benefits.

If the rumors of Delegate Saxman's retirement are true, this is nothing but a win, win, win, win, win for all Virginians.

Please visit Erik Curren's web site to learn more and give him the financial support he needs to be the next Democratic Delegate from Staunton!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Healthcare Reform: House and Senate proposals would be a drag on the weak economy according to the CBO

Ice cold water was poured on the current House and Senate Healthcare Reform proposals by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). According to the Washington Post, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf testified today before the Senate Budget Committee that the proposed legislation by both chambers of Congress "significantly expands the federal responsibility for health-care cost." It appears that the populist approach, of taxing the rich to pay for healthcare reform, won't be enough.

According to Elmendorf, things that would be needed to curtail the growth of healthcare spending include ending the tax free treatment of employer provided health care and also changing the way Medicare reimburses providers so that it incentivize's cost savings.

In other words, if real healthcare reform is going to be a reality everybody's going to have some skin in the game, not just the rich. This is going to be a hard pill to swallow.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Appalachain Power proposes 18% rate hike

Yea, that's right. AEP is proposing yet another rate hike. This one's only 18%, a far cry from the 24% rate hike that got knocked back down to around 11 or 12% by the State Corporation Commission a few years ago. This will be an average increase of around $16 per month.

The average AEP customer's bill will go from $93 per month to $122 per month for 1,000 kilowatt-hours. This increase is separate from the Fuel Surcharge increase a while back.

What doesn't make sense to me is that with unemployment increasing, less people working in a place of business, and if you are out of a job you are likely not keeping all the lights on or driving a whole lot, wouldn't there be an increase in the fuel supply and less demand to drive up the cost? I know that this has something to do with "global markets" but isn't the rest of the world in a global economic downturn as well? So is this rate hike really needed or are they just trying to find more money for their new Coal Fired Plants?

SCOTUS: Sotomayor Confirmation Hearing Coverage – Day Two ‘wise Latina”

Yet again, Dan Radmacher and the Roanoke Times Editorial staff have articulated a far better point about the tone and tenor of the Conservatives questioning Judge Sonia Sotomayor during yesterday’s hearings, than the one I was trying to make. In today’s editorial, the Roanoke Times highlights a theme that was as consistent and coordinated as any that the Republicans have put together.

It seemed as if this was their opportunity drill into the public record the “wise Latina” remark from Judge Sotomayor. It was obvious that Republicans wanted to send the message that they are tired of being labeled “racist” by focusing on this one remark and the double standard that is being unfairly applied and the pass give to Judge Sotomayor. But, as the Roanoke Times points out – “Those fears, of ethnic bias and judicial activism, are so much political posturing.”

Addressing the comment earlier in the day, Judge Sotomayor admitted that it was a poor choice of words and that she does not feel that a person’s ethnicity gives them more of an advantage or disadvantage than someone else’s ethnic background. But, this answer was not enough for the Conservatives on the committee. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is also a JAG Officer in the Air Force Reserve, drove home the point about the double standard being applied to Judge Sotomayor and the “wise Latina” remark this way:

If I ever said something remotely like that, my career would have been over.”
Senator Graham point taken that if you, as a privileged white male, had made a comment like Judge Sotomayor you would be finished in politics. (Now, can we move on?) He does and highlights the most critical of comments from an anonymous survey from litigators that rates Judge Sotomayor’s professionalism and judicial temperament, which call her a “bully.” He does say that there are positive comments as well but, those negative comments stuck out like a “sore thumb”. Careful, Senator Graham. Are you calling Judge Sotomayor a “racist” “bully”? Or did you just want to get this on the record? All of this, coming from a Republican Senator that “likes” her and may still vote for her confirmation.

Whichever way you slice it, this was a tough day for Judge Sonia Sotomayor and she handled it masterfully. But, Republicans are getting very close to overreaching and this hard line of questioning has the potential to blow up in their faces. Judge Sotomayor can no more take the “Latina” out of her than Supreme Court Justice Alito can dislodge his Italian heritage when considering the facts of a case and making her decision. Here are Judge Alito’s own words during his bruising confirmation hearing about how his cultural background and heritage play into his judicial considerations:

“When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.”
I understand the point that Conservatives are trying to make, but they can make it in a more mature way than saying - “look at what she said and you call me a racist?” Conservatives still cannot hide the fact that all white male judges and Supreme Court Justices populated the bench until Thurgood Marshall, Sandra Day O’Connor, Clarence Thomas, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Judge Sonia Sotomayor is qualified for the highest court in the land and her confirmation will not change the ideological make-up of the Supreme Court on bit. But, maybe that’s the problem for Conservatives. Stop the politics and confirm Sonia now!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

SCOTUS Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings: Senator Kyl and GOP treading on thin ice

They can't pick apart her rulings as a Federal Judge, so they continue to push on things she has said in speeches, to groups, and legal conferences. Justice Alito even said during his confirmation hearings that his Italian-American heritage is part of who he is and those experience growing up. It's strategically dangerous for the GOP Judiciary Committee members to continue to press the issue of the "wise Latina" comment. The inference here of reverse racism is insulting when she has a long record of applying the law based upon the facts given for each case.

Keep it up Republicans. Continue to push away the third largest voting block in the country. If Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma hasn't had his turn yet, I wonder if he will cross the line and say something stupid (which he has a reputation for)? Quit trying to score political points and confirm Judge Sotomayor. Quit acting like a bunch of back-benchers and confirm her. Everything else is just semantics.

Poll: Only 33% of Republicans think that Palin qualified to be President (ouch!)

According to a newly released poll taken after Alaska Governor Sarah Palin announced she was not running for re-election and will be resigning her Governorship by the end of July, the majority of Americans feel that she is not qualified to be President and only 33% of Republicans feel that she is qualified. So, that means 67% of self-identified Republicans think that she's not qualified or they had no opinion.

It's safe to say that this wasn't the result that Governor Palin was anticipating by taking an unconventional approach to testing the waters for national office. But, what does she expect? If being Governor of Alaska, a state with less than 600,000 people, was stressful what did she think being President of the United States was going to be? Quitters make lousy leaders. I shutter to think where we would be if she was President at this time.


Take the Reality TV Show and Book deal and run, Governor Palin.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Predatory Lending: Payday Lenders dealt another blow!!! Car Title next???

No matter if you are working in the private sector or working for the government (local, state, or federal), the economy, or lack of one, is hitting everyone. According to an Associated Press story in posted to the Virginian Pilot Online, Governor Kaine announce today that the Commonwealth of Virginia will " offer state employees short-term loans up to $500 in an effort to prevent them from turning to payday or car title lenders during tough economic times." The loans will be available through the Virginia Credit Union, which you must be a member of and have at least $5 in a savings account.

In the spirit and purpose of Off K Street to provide commentary and analysis on how politics and issues DIRECTLY AFFECT PEOPLE, this exemplifies how grassroots pressure in a non-partisan way can affect real change. During my time working in the non-partisan world on this issue, we (myself and many other social and economic justice minded people, groups, and organization) pressed Democrats and Republicans alike to take action on this issue of economic injustice. Two things have happened this year that I can say, have moved this issue in the direction of positive change that makes a CONCRETE IMPROVEMENT in the lives of thousands of Virginians.

The first is the closing of the open-ended credit loophole that Payday Lenders were exploiting (tied very closely to the one Car Title Lenders have utilized) after the compromise legislation passed the 2008 General Assembly. This was legislation that they (the Consumer Credit Industry) had a seat a the table and were full part of shaping the legislation. After it was passed and signed into law, they arrogantly chose to exploit the loophole and offer open-ended lines of credit on loans less than $1,000. While that might seem like a positive option, the problem was they were still charging interest rates comparable to the 396% they charged with their original products.

The second is today's announcement that the Commonwealth of Virginia will at least help out their state employees that are members of the Virginia Credit Union to weather these tough economic times. The 25% interest rate is still high, but it is less than the 36% cap that was sought by grassroots groups and it is structured to benefit paying off the loan early, thus paying a lower interest rate the sooner the loan is paid in full. Just imagine if car loans and mortgages were structure this same way? There would be virtually no consumer debt or national debt for that matter. Financing that rewards early pay-off. What a novel idea!!!

At any rate, this is another blow to the Payday Lending Industry. Next up, are Car Title Lenders who charge similar interest rates against the assessed value of a vehicle. Here's what most borrowers don't understand. They are using their vehicle as collateral, which means it's a secured loan. Secured loans can only be assessed a maximum 36% interest rate under Virginia's Consumer Finance Act. For some reason, Car Title Lenders are not obligated to the regulator parameters of the Act. State Senator Richard "Dick" Saslaw has put the Car Title Lenders on notice that they will be getting a thorough examination during the 2010 General Assembly Session.

Candidate Fundraising Report: Deed's shows impressive haul for June 30th filing period

I just got the Press Release from the Deeds Campaign. This is a very impressive report, considering that Deeds raised the least out of the three Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 13, 2009

Contact: Jared Leopold

571-303-2275

Deeds Announces $3.4 Million Raised in June Fundraising Period

“We are well on our way…” Says Deeds

Following his come-from-behind primary victory, gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds will report raising nearly $3.4 million during the fundraising period ending June 30.

“I’m happy that so many people from all across Virginia have supported my campaign in the past month," Deeds said. "We’ve had support from all areas of the state and from Republicans and Democrats. I’m grateful for the support from business leaders like Ted Leonsis, the help of my primary opponents and a unified party, and grassroots support from thousands of donors across Virginia. The key to winning this campaign will be to show who has the best plan to keep Virginia moving forward, and this month has shown that we are well on our way to having the financial resources to do that.”

A wave of grassroots support marked the latest fundraising period for Deeds, which ran from May 28 through June 30. Deeds received the support of 2,500 different donors during the period, 68 percent of whom were small donors contributing less than $100.

In 2009, 63 percent of Deeds' nearly $5 million raised came from Virginia. By contrast, just 30 percent of McDonnell's 2009 funds to date have come from Virginia, with more than $4 million coming from out of state.


[http://click.icptrack.com/icp/relay.php?r=1036213115&msgid=1889543&act=91BR&c=423348&admin=0&destination=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.vpap.org%2Fcandidates%2Fprofile%2Fmoney_in_locality1%2F5666%3Fstart_year%3D2009%26end_year%3D2009%26lookup_type%3Dyear%26filing_period%3Dall]

Deeds’ total eclipses the amount raised by Governors Warner and Kaine, Mark Earley and Jerry Kilgore in a similar time period in their gubernatorial elections. In a similar period in June 2005, Jerry Kilgore raised $2.0 million while Tim Kaine raised $1.0 milion. In 2001, Mark Earley raised $1.7 million and Warner raised $1.1 million over the same period of time.

Deeds has also received the financial support of business leaders across Virginia, such as Austin Ligon, Josh Darden, David Goode, Elliot Schewel, and Til Hazel.

The Deeds campaign’s latest report more than doubles the amount Deeds raised for the entire campaign to date. Deeds reported raising $2.8 million to date on his June 1 report.


DEEDS FOR VIRGINIA FUNDRAISING TOTALS


Period: May 28 – June 30th


Raised: $3,373,505.02


Spent:$1,172,799.85

Committee Totals to Date


Raised: $6,205,583.25


Spent: $3,482,927.67


Cash on Hand: $2,722,655.58


###


The most impressive was that 68% of contributors gave $100 or less. That's as solid a grassroots fundrasing base as any I've seen. It appears that Deeds is going to be very competative financially.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The role of government in our lives: Secret CIA programs or Government backed Healthcare?

More information is coming to light about the extent of the CIA’s domestic spying and counterintelligence programs, which were engaged much sooner after September 11th than previously knows. According to an Associated Press article released last night, Congress was intentionally kept in the dark about specifics regarding these programs and possibly others upon the orders of former Vice President Dick Cheney.

This latest revelation is a continuation of information being released to the United States Congress and the public by current Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta. This began back on May 15th when Panetta notified Congress he had ended the waterboarding program that had existed under the two previous CIA Directors, exposing the extent that the waterboarding interrogation technique was used on Gitmo detainees to gain intelligence. This also ignited a back and forth of “he said, she said” between the CIA and Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi if the CIA had briefed her and seven other House and Senate leaders on top secret intelligence matters, including the extent of waterboarding.

A couple of questions come to mind regarding this latest development. The first is how much executive power did President Bush abdicate to Vice President Cheney during his tenure in the White House? The second question is, was Vice President Cheney going rogue during this period of time and who else was involved? There is a strong appearance of abuse of power on the part of Vice President Dick Cheney, but I am not a lawyer.

There is a concern that during the Bush Administration, legal interpretations of the Constitution were strained to justify programs to gather intelligence at the domestic level as well as foreign, or laws were broken all in the name of National Security. While the Posse Comitatus Act might not have legally been violated, there are strong indications that the spirit of the law was violated, again in the name of National Security.

The Washington Post is reporting that United States Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. is “leaning toward appointing a criminal prosecutor to investigate whether CIA personnel tortured terrorism suspects after Sept. 11, 2001,” a move that is being described as trouble for the Obama Administration and its desire to move beyond these issues in the Bush Administration.

This brings me to the point of the choice between two evils, one perceived and one very real. Americans for Prosperity and Conservatives for Patients Rights are pushing hard on the whole boggyman message of “Government run healthcare.” Conservatives and supporters of the Private Health Insurance sector are resurrecting the fears of government controlled-rationing of health care that was used during the Healthcare Reform debate back in 1992-93. There has also been a lot of comments to the effect that “most of these uninsured people choose not to have health insurance” or they are uninsurable because “they made bad choices in their lives that have created pre-existing conditions” so that health insurance companies don’t want to insure them.

While these comments might hold true for some people, my experience working on the issue of Healthcare Reform revealed the vast majority of the 47 million Americans that are uninsured either make too much money to qualify for low income health insurance (Medicaid) or can’t afford to purchase private health insurance plans. What is obvious is the status quo is not sustainable.

It might be an unfair question to ask, but if you had to choose between keeping Congress in the dark on secret CIA programs in the name of “National Security” or the Federal Government having a role in making healthcare accessible and affordable to everyone, which would you chose? It appears that Conservatives would support secret CIA programs that jeopardize Constitutional integrity over public health and the common good. What is certain is that the prospect of an investigation into former Vice President Dick Cheney will hijack a large part of President Obama’s agenda and failure to figure out Healthcare Reform will derail it. The convergence of these two issues might be the moment of truth for President Obama, on top of how he continues to handle the economy.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Campaign Finance Reform: Fate of Massey Energy – Harmon Mining case rests in the hands of a substitute Judge

The West Virginia Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case between Massey Energy and Harmon Mining, for the third time. The September 8th hearing will be different this time. West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice, Brent Benjamin, will not be on the bench to hear the case. Instead, a retired Circuit Court Judge, James Holliday will be on the bench as a result of the United States Supreme Court ruling on June 9th of this year.

In an effort to gain a more favorable ruling in their case against Harmon Mining, Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, bankrolled the Judicial Election Campaign of Brent Benjamin to the tune of $3 million in the 2004 West Virginia Supreme Court election. Those efforts paid off and Massey Energy received favorable rulings in their legal battles with Harmon Mining until the United States Supreme Court ruled against Massey Energy.

In a 5 to 4 ruling, the Unites States Supreme Court ruled that “Just as no man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, similar fears of bias can arise when - without the consent of the other parties - a man chooses the judge in his own cause," and went further to say "Not every campaign contribution by a litigant or attorney creates a probability of bias that requires a judge's recusal, but this is an exceptional case,”. The Supreme Court also found there was no evidence of judicial misconduct with West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin.

Ruling in the majority were Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens. Ruling in the minority were Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

In Virginia, State Supreme Court justices are appointed to the bench. But, Virginia’s state campaign finance laws do not limit contribution amounts and allow direct contributions from businesses and corporations. The only requirement Virginia’s state campaign finance laws require is full disclosure of any contributions of $100 or greater.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), from 2005 through today, the Coal Mining and Processing sector of Energy and Natural Resources has contributed $2.58 million to Virginia state candidates. Massey Energy has contributed $128,000 during this period, all to Republicans in Virginia. The leading contributors are Alpha Natural Resources (Abingdon), VA Coal Association (Richmond), Richard Baxter Gilliam (Keswick), Consol Energy Inc. (Pittsburg, PA), and Cumberland Resources Corp. (Abingdon). Again, the lion’s share of contributions have gone to Republican candidates in Virginia.

All of these contributions are a far cry from the $3 million that Don Blankenship contributed in 2004 to Brent Benjamin. The legal costs in case between Massey Energy and Harmon Mining have now grown to more than $84 million.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Rumors of an economic recovery may be exaggerated: VA International Terminals container traffic down 22%

This is bad news. According to the Virginian Pilot, container volume at Virginia International Terminals has dropped from a high of “about 85,000 to 87,000 a month at the peak of 2008, they have been in the low 60,000 range for the past four or five months.” While the Port of Miami and shipping terminals like Charleston, New York, Boston have likely seen the same relative drop in their traffic as well, the Virginia Port Authority container traffic gives us a good idea of how much consumers have cut back on their spending.

I am no economist, but I remember remarking to my wife that we’d be lucky if unemployment didn’t hit 10% nationally. Taking into account the number of houses still on the market, the number of pages in the Roanoke Times dedicated to job listings is barely 2 or 3 pages on any Sunday, the number of 2008 model cars still sitting on the lots, and the increase in spending at thrift and discount stores, this is not surprising that the container traffic has dropped this much. But, this is still very disconcerting.

There is probably about another two to three months that the American public will give President Obama the benefit of the doubt about the economy that was passed off to him. But even I could see, with my liberal arts degree, that it was likely the unemployment rate would surpass 8%. Despite some companies in the auto supply chain seeing an increase in orders for products to build the new, fuel efficient cars, who will be able to buy them as unemployment approaches and probably surpass 10%? The 8% or 8.5% projected unemployment rate by the Obama Administration missed the mark by a long shot.

The federal government had to take drastic measures to make sure that the American and global economy didn’t fall off the cliff. These moves started with the Bush Administration in September and October of 2008 and continued through the first 100 days of the Obama Administration. Things were so bad that President Bush had a literal road to Damascus conversion, from a no regulation free market advocate to government is the solution believer.


The reality of how bad the American and global economy is doing, is reflective in the dip in the container traffic, continued revisions of state budgets and shrinking revenues, and the political unrest in Iran and other parts of the world. Iran’s unrest isn’t only about a disputed election. It has a great deal to do with their struggling economy as well. The clock is ticking on President Obama to get the stimulus money out faster and to show he has taken the appropriate steps to get us out of the recession. Fair or not, the American public’s patience is wearing out and the President’s standard line of “this is going to take time” for things to turn around is starting to sound like an empty promise.

Healthcare Reform: Taxing the rich to pay for quality, affordable healthcare for everyone

According to an Associated Press story posted on the Virginian Pilot Online last night, House Democrats are floating the idea of a “surtax” on individual incomes over $200,000 per year and couples with incomes over $250,000 per year. My first response to this is sure. Why not? Didn’t these folks get lots of tax breaks under the Bush Administration and a Republican controlled House and Senate until they lost control in 2006? But, the real value of incomes over $200,000 and $250,000 varies widely geographically.

To play a little “devil’s advocate,” here are a few thought on what will be said of this proposal:

Isn’t this just taxing a person’s prosperity?

Isn’t this is just warmed over wealth redistribution, the next step to
(dare I say) Socialism?

Why should someone making over $200,000 a year be penalized for some else’s
inability to earn a living through innovation and risk-taking and be rewarded
for that lack of skill and savvy?

This is a tax increase. This is worst possible thing that can be done
during a recession, especially one as deep as this recession.

Individuals making over $200,000 per year and couples making over $250,000
per year pay most of the taxes in this country. Why do you want to raise
taxes on these hard working people when they already pay more than their fair
share?

The shouts of “Class Warfare” will travel through the halls of Congress from small government proponents, Tea Bag Party goers, anti-tax conservatives and free market advocates. They will also say, “what about the stimulus money that isn’t getting out fast enough or the TARP money to bail out the GM and Chrysler, or AIG? The economic recovery has been a FAILURE! It’s time to put us back in charge of the Federal Government to halt the march towards SOCILAISM and government run healthcare.” This is just a short list of things that Conservatives will be saying about the “surtax” on incomes over $200,000 per year. The focus will be on the bottom numbers, the $200,000 and $250,000, and not the “above” part. So what does $200,000 of adjusted gross income get a person these days?

Like I said before, the real value of individuals making around $200,000 per year and couples making $250,000 varies widely geographically. For instance the cities and communities in the megalopolis (the area from Boston to Washington, DC), $200,000 doesn’t get you that brand new Honda Accord or the ability to afford a 2,500 square foot house with on a third of an acre of land, supporting a family of four while at the same time trying to save money for college tuition for their kids. $200,000 doesn’t mean the same in real value if you live in places in or around Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, Orlando, or the major cities in California where you are lucky to find a 1,500 square foot house for less than $350,000 or $400,000 that only sits on the ground it was built.

Then again, there are lots of places across this country where earning an income of around $200,000 per year affords you a level of comfort that enables a person or family the opportunity to have that brand new SUV, a home that exceeds 3,500 square feet and sits on an acre of land and the ability to put money away for their kid’s college education. But this all comes down to individual choices on how this money is spent at those levels of income. The one thing that will obviously be glassed over by all these anti-tax conservatives is the fact that individuals earning less than $200,000 or couples that earn less than $250,000 will not be assessed this “surtax.”

So, the question comes down to individuals and couples earning $200,000 or $250,000 (respectively) or more. Have they been paying their fair share in taxes? Again, the focus will be on the magic bottom numbers of $200,000 and $250,000 for conservatives. I haven’t seen the details of the bill or the proposal, but maybe a graduated scale based on geographic cost of living that starts at these levels of income and increases to the target amount of the “surtax,” would be more palatable. The truth is, high income earners haven’t been paying their fair share for a while now and this is one way to nudge them in the direction of investing in healthcare for the common good.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The politics of personal destruction: Not even Michael Jackson can escape it, alive or dead

I was really hopping that I wouldn’t have to post anything about Michael Jackson, but it seems the political world really has no shame. Case in point, New York Congressman Peter King (R-Long Island) just couldn’t keep his mouth shut about how much he doesn’t like Michael Jackson and the obscene amount of media coverage that Jackson’s death, memorial, and funeral have attracted. Not only does he make a video and put it up on YouTube, but just for good measure to make sure that his feelings about Michael Jackson were clear and to unambiguously state his opposition to a postage stamp of the Pop Icon as suggested by the Reverend Al Sharpton. Here is the YouTube video and below, Congressman King’s latest statement:



"I will certainly oppose a stamp for Michael Jackson," King told PIX News."I tapped into something that many people have been thinking about but were afraid to say," King said in explaining his decision to make his views on the extensive coverage of Jackson's death public via the YouTube video.

"I think that those of us in public life have an obligation to try and stop something when we have something that is going so far in the wrong direction." King went on to say "I just had enough and I felt there are too many good people in this country who do good work and are not acknowledged and that we should not be canonizing someone like Michael Jackson."King also discussed the scandals that often followed Michael Jackson, "Whatever talent he had he also behaved totally inappropriately with young boys. It is a horrible message to send to the country and the world."


First point I want to make, there are lots of people out there (elected officials and faith leaders are no exception) that have strange and odd behavior. While there are lots of things that make the United States and its unique American Culture attractive to billions of people around the world, there are just as many that think our attitudes and behaviors around sexuality and the fascination with personal gun ownership is strange and odd. This man was admired and loved by millions, if not billions, of people around the world. Congressman King only has the support of 50% plus one in his Long Island Congressional District. A far cry from the fan base of Michael Jackson, on a global scale.

Secondly, whether you think Michael Jackson is a pedophile, child molester, or he makes you uncomfortable regarding his behavior towards young boys, the man was put on trial in the courtroom and the court of public opinion and was acquitted! The law isn’t about the truth, it’s about who has the best lawyer (I think I saw this in a Delegate’s District Office somewhere). When you are a public figure with the global status like Michael Jackson, people are going to try and take advantage of that status in a variety of ways. Guilty or not, in the eyes of the law, Michael Jackson was found not guilty. Period. End of discussion. Let’s move on.

Lastly, I don’t recall Congressman King casting stones at is former colleague Mark Foley for his lewd behavior, or former Senator Larry Craig. Reaching way back, probably before Congressman King was a member, is former Oregon Senator Bob Packwood who wrote in his personal diary that it was his “Christian duty” to make love to a woman who had not been intimate with a man for a while. Right now, it seems that most of the ‘low life’s” are among the members of the GOP, a list that now includes Nevada Senator John Ensign and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. It’s clear that Congressman King doesn’t know which glass house he lives.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

“Should I stay or should I go?” A tale of two Governors and EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Carol Fowler

This classic line from the 1980’s band the Clash has renewed meaning in Republican political circles these days. Prior to the July 3rd, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford was the only one that had to answer that question. Defiant that he wasn’t going to go despite calls from his own State Party Chair to step down. The day before the 4th of July, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin shocked the Republican political establishment with the decision that she should go, and announced she was resigning by the end of the month.

Before the story broke about Sarah Palin announcing her decisions to not run for re-election and pending resignation, I spoke with South Carolina Democratic Party Chair, Carol Fowler, about the situation with Governor Sanford. In response to my question if Governor Sanford had lost the ability to effectively perform his duties as Governor, Carol Fowler said, “He never had that ability. Completely ineffective.” Carol Fowler also admitted that the Governor and South Carolina Republicans could care less about the Democratic opinion regarding Sanford. One thing is clear, there seems to be consensus among South Carolinians in one regard. This has been an embarrassment to the state.

According to an article in Columbia’s The State, Dianne Skripek from Hilton Head, who is organizing a group of South Carolinians urging the Governor to resign, feels that “If he left office, at least we’d get some self-respect back,” said Skripek. “If we continue to allow him to stay, it’s a horrible reflection on us. We have to demand better and expect better.” In my conversation with State Democratic Chair Fowler, she felt that Governor Sanford “is embarrassing himself and needs to resign” but she didn’t think that he would.

Carol Fowler’s instincts seem to have been proven correct. According to Columbia’s The State and CNN.com, the South Carolina Republican Party’s Central Committee deliberated for almost four hours and decided to censure Governor Sanford for his conduct, a move that has never happened with any sitting GOP Governor in South Carolina. Last week, South Carolina State GOP Chair, Karen Floyd, as well as the majority of the state’s GOP leadership and Federal Delegation were calling on Sanford to step down. This decision by the South Carolina GOP seems to put this issue to rest, for now.

Soon to be former Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin, has taken the opposite approach to taking on her critics. On July 3rd, in a rambling and sometimes incoherent press conference, Palin announced she was not running for re-election and was resigning as Alaska’s Governor by the end of July. Depending on who you talk to, from her own office and Lieutenant Governor Parnell which are defending the move, to most Republican commentators and analysts, this is unexpected and has the potential to be the worst move that Sarah Palin has made yet. According to the Anchorage Daily News, Palin states “Especially when all these lawmakers are lining up for office. Their desire would be to clobber the administration left and right so that they can position themselves for office. I'm not going to put Alaskans through that," as the latest reason for why she came to this decision.

This is yet another blow to hopes of a Republican rebirth, or resurgence, at the national level. Both Mark Sanford and Sarah Palin were, and in some ways may still be, regarded as potential Presidential Candidates for 2012. The political battle cry from the party that pushed “traditional family values,” self reliance, and fiscal responsibility, now rings hollow and there is no indication that they are able to run on these issues in the near future. The question that now needs to be answered by the GOP, have they purged all the adulterers and quitters from their ranks?


Monday, July 6, 2009

What about Healthcare in other countries?

Change.org has a great blog post by Tim Foley, who had done work for Obama for America and SEIU. He makes a point that has been ignored for far too long. What does healthcare look like in other countries besides Canada and Great Britain? We hear so much about how bad their "national healthcare system" is in both these countries, but what about France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, etc...?

It is disingenuous for Conservatives and the Health Insurance Industry to only focus on the two, yes two, examples of bad national healthcare systems from the world's industrialized countries. Any changes away from the status quo will cost the US Health Insurance Industry billions. I guess they think the more they beat the government run, government controlled healthcare drum the more they can scare us into not taking action. Time's up. We can't wait any longer.

No one has said that healthcare reform in the United States has to look like Canada's or Great Britain's. United States Healthcare Reform can be totally unique and incorporate the things that work in other countries' versions of national healthcare. Visit the link above to read more...

Delegate Morgan Griffith and the traveling Seal Show!!!

While at the Salem Fair this weekend, I came across this scene. I'm not quite sure what Delegate Griffith (R-Salem) had in mind by hanging his campaign banners at a traveling Seal Show, but there they are. There's gotta be an appropriate metaphor that fits this image. Regardless, if the Republican Majority Leader for the House of Delegates is looking for applause from the crowd for being one of the leaders in the House that voted down extension of Unemployment Benefits to struggling Virginia workers, the only ones clapping are the seals.

Traveling carnivals are notorious for rigged games, lame sideshows (Bearded Lady, Smallest Horse in the World, Monkey Boy), shaky rides and P. T. Barnum. I guess the message here from Delegate Griffith is "There's a sucker born every minute." In stead of throwing him a fish, maybe voters in the 8th House District should just throw him out of office.

If you want to suggest a good, bad, witty, or lame label for this picture, feel free to comment. Who knows, we can make a contest out of this and see where it goes.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

4th of July Open Thread

Happy 4th of July to everyone. This 4th of July marks some key events and turning points for our nation. The United States has pulled out of the major cities in Iraq and turned over those responsibilities to the Iraqis. The largest military operation in many years is going on in southern Afghanistan with 4,000 Marines in their efforts to root out Al Qaeda.

Iran is still grappling with a disputed election, and in the United States we have resolved a disputed election (finally) in the Minnesota U.S. Senate Race between Democrat Al Franken and now former Senator Norm Coleman.

North Korea continues to threaten the world with war if the international community does anything to reign-in it's nuclear threat.

We have a surprise resignation by Alaska Republican Governor, Sarah Palin, and another Republican Governor, Mark Sanford of South Carolina, that is being called on to resign because of his Argentinian Mistress, by his own party. U. S. Senator John Ensign has resigned as Chair of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee over the revelation of his infidelity, as well.

Many other things going on in the entertainment world as well. Most notable is the death of Michael Jackson. A lot has been going on, so feel free to openly discuss these and any other topics.

Picture found on: http://www.norcalblogs.com/post_scripts/archives/DC%20Fireworks.jpg