Friday, July 30, 2010

Remembering falling heros and coping with the "what if"

Thousands of people came with heavy hearts to remember and honor two of Rocky Mount's finest on Thursday, July 29, 2010.  For those of us that have not heard this story, Rocky Mount, VA Fire Chief Posey Dillion and Firefighter William "Danny" Altice were responding to a call on Tuesday, July 27th.  As they crossed an intersection, one that they both had crossed hundreds if not thousands of times over the course of their lives, their Fire Engine struck an SUV, rolled over three times before coming to rest on another car.  When it was all over, both Dillon and Altice were dead.  The SUV their Fire Engine struck, had a green light. 

As tragic as this event is, the most tragic aspect of this whole story is that this could have been a preventable accident if it were not for the tough economic times that communities across this country are facing today.  A traffic system called Opticom, mounted along with the Stop Lights at intersections that is activated to give emergency vehicles the right of way as they approach, was not present at the intersection where the accident occurred.  In fact, none of the intersections in the small town of Rocky Mount have this system. 

Rocky Mount is like many small communities across America, facing tight budgets because of falling property and sales tax revenue.  According to reports, the Opticom system or something like it, would have cost around $100,000 to install at all the intersections with traffic lights in town.  That is about 1/4 of the town's road maintenance budget.  The town council decided against purchasing this type of system, for the time being.  The whole irony of this story is that Posey Dillon was also the Vice Mayor of Rocky Mount and probably voted on this very budget item. 

Both Dillion and Altice were integral parts of this community, many of whom are still in shock and moving through emotions of anger and disbelief.  Also feelings of holding someone accountable for this tragedy.  But again, the SUV had a green light and no one knows if the driver could even hear siren or see the emergency lights to take appropriate action and not proceed through the intersection. 

So, what has this tragedy cost the Town of Rocky Mount?  For starters two incredible citizens with a combined 70 years of First Responder experience.  A Fire Engine, which cost as much as $299,999.00 for a 2010 International 7400 1250/1200/24 or as little as $24,500.00 for a 1991 Pierce Plumper 1000/1000.  (The Town of Rocky Mount has a Volunteer Fire Department, so they will either have to raise the money to purchase a replacement or have it donated.) 

But, the toughest cost to bear is the second guessing of that vote to not invest the $100,000 into a system like Opticom that likely, probably, could have, prevented this tragedy.  At this point, it is futile to try and place blame.  We all make decisions everyday and have to live with the results.  What's important is the lesson learned so we can make better choices as we continue to live our lives. 

Both Posey Dillion and William "Danny" Altice will be laid to rest today 

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Great Recession: It could have been far worse

Conservatives can say what they want, and we will continue to haggle over what the real unemployment rate is (9.5% or at high as 16.5%), but the consensus among leading economists and financial experts continues to support the actions taken by both the Bush and Obama Administrations to prevent Great Depression 2.0.

In a report released on Wednesday, July 27, 2010, Mark Zandi (Chief Economist for Moody's Analytics) and  Alan Blinder (Gordon S. Rentschler Memorial Professor of Economics at Princeton University) state that while there are good questions about the need for TARP, extending Unemployment Insurance, the Stimulus Package, Cash for Clunkers, Home Buyer Tax Credit, etc..., "it is clear that laissez faire was not an option; policymakers had to act."  Zandi and Blinder go on further to conclude: 
"When all is said and done, the financial and fiscal policies will have cost taxpayers a substantial sum, but not nearly as much as most had feared and not nearly as much as if policymakers had not acted at all. If the comprehensive policy responses saved the economy from another depression, as we estimate, they were well worth their cost."

Which brings me to another point.  Why haven't some of these Bankers and Hedge Fund Managers gone to jail?!!!  Why hasn't there been universal, bi-partisan support for Wall Street Reform like there was back in 1934? 

I think we all know the reason why.  Just in case you don't here is a great article in Vanity Fair about the (Ferdinand) Pecora Commission and how it lead to the formation of the Securities and Exchange Commission and passage of the Glass-Steagall Act (strict separation of Commercial & Investment Banks).  

When you totally repeal the laws that were suppose to prevent our economy from coming close to another Great Depression, and you weaken the SEC's enforcement powers, you shouldn't be surprised that we are in the shape we are in right now.  So, when did all this happen?  The total repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act happened in 1999 and the SEC saw it's enforcement powers steadily stripped from 2001 - 2007.  In case you are wondering who was in control of Congress during those times, Republicans

As the 2010 Mid-Term Elections get closer, you need look no further than the full-court press that Conservatives are putting on K Street donors in anticipation of the GOP taking back control of either the House or the Senate, or both.  No wonder Senate Republicans refused to lift the filibuster on the most recent revision of Campaign Finance Reform

If the GOP can overcome the Tea Party takeover and they do win control of Congress back from the Democrats, does this mean that K Street Lobbyist will be writing their legislation (again)?  Does an elephant have a trunk? 

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

TAXES!!! Are we really OVER TAXED like conservatives claim?

Taxes, Taxes, Taxes.  Its that dirty five letter word that elicits grumbles and raises blood pressure.  So, lets face it, nobody likes to pay taxes but most realize that it's the price we pay to live in a democratic and free society.  Our taxes provide the lubrication for interstate and intrastate commerce by building and paving our roads and a few other intangibles tied to our national economy.  They pay for our military, national security, and law enforcement which provides for the national defense and protects the citizenry. 

Our taxes also provide for the general health and welfare of the country so that we can respond to emergencies, natural disasters, outbreaks of communicable diseases, ensure fair wage and labor standards, and even provides for universal education up to the 12th Grade.  This universal education part is probably the most important because once we passed laws for compulsory education, we became the most productive nation in the world. 

We work hard and expect a lot from our multiple levels of government (Federal, State, and Local) for the taxes we pay.  So, when I hear phrases from conservatives and tax cut advocates like "Over Taxed" and "Overly Burdensome" when referring to the taxes we pay, I have to ask:  Compared to what? 

I came across a CNN Opinion Article last night written by John Avlon, who also writes for the Daily Beast.  In it he makes several great points about Goldwater-Regan Conservatives circa 1964, and that if they were running for office today as a "Conservative" they probably wouldn't be elected to Dog Catcher for their support of "Liberal" policies like how Regan raised taxes by a Billion dollars to close a state budget gap while Governor of California.  Or how both Regan and Goldwater supported Gay Rights.  Let's not forget that Regan was an Organized Labor man, being the President of the Screen Actor's Guild for a time. 

So, when it comes to taxes and do we pay too much to the Federal Government, what exactly is too much?  I came across the web site for the Tax Foundation (which is a conservative groups) and came across a publication on their site with the Federal Tax Rates from 1913 to 2010.  One thing that jumps out is that we are paying a lot less in Federal Income Taxes than we did back in 1964.  There are two side to the issue of Tax Liability/Burden/Responsibility:  what we think we pay and what we actually pay. 

In several conversations I've had over the years with conservative friends of mine, the general perception is that we pay close to or over half of our income in taxes.  That covers Federal, State, and Local taxes.  In a short conversation/Facebook chat I had last night with a friend, he estimated that he payed about 45% of his income in taxes.  If we are just looking at Federal Income Tax for 2009-2010, the top marginal tax rate of 35% kicks-in at $373,650 of earned income.  He clarified and made sure that I included all taxes, so here we go: 

Federal Income Tax for 2010  (Tax Bracket and Earned Income - Filling as Head of Household) 

35%          $373,650 and higher 
33%          $190,550 to $373,650 
28%          $117,650 to $190,550 
25%          $  45,550 to $117,650
15%          $  11,950 to $  45,550
10%          $           0 to $  11,950

Federal Income Tax for 1964  (Tax Bracket and Earned Income - Filling as Head of Household) 
(Selected Tax Brackets and Income Levels)

77%          $200,000 and higher 
71%          $100,000 to $120,000 
61%          $  52,000 to $  60,000
39%          $  18,000 to $  20,000 

Well, you can see my point and if you want to pour over a very boring chart with lots of numbers, click on the link above to the Tax Foundation's Tax Chart from 1913 to 2010. 

For anyone that owns a home or has a home equity line of credit, you are able to deduct the lion share of the mortgage interest, so that cuts down on your taxable income.  Child Tax Credits, Primary Care Giver Health Care, etc...  The point here is that with all the available credits and deductions, a person's taxable income at the federal level is reduced even further. 

In the Commonwealth of Virginia the top marginal rate for State Income Tax is 5.75% and that kicks in at around $20,000 of earned income.  So, everyone making that much money a year or more pays the same State Income Tax Rate, and this is based off of your ADJUSTED Gross Income from your Federal Tax Return. 

Federal Gas Tax is 18.4 cents per gallon.  Then states tack on their gas tax. 

Virginia's State Sales Tax is generally around 4% or 4 cents for every dollar spent. 

Then there are Local Taxes (Personal Property and Local Sales Taxes).  In Chesapeake, you will pay $1.04 or $1.05 per $100 of assessed value on your property/house (the difference in the two rates depends on if you live in an area where they spray for mosquitoes or not).  If you own a home assessed at $200,000 you will pay something like $2,100 per year to The City of Chesapeake, which goes primarily to fund the schools, teacher salaries, and Administration. 

In Campbell County, the Personal Property Tax Rate is around $0.42 per $100 of assessed value.  That same $200,000 house in Campbell County will be taxed at around $840 per year. 

Then you pay local sales taxes, which varies from locality to locality.  And then there are the other fees and assessments the Commonwealth of Virginia and localities charge its citizens. 

The bulk of tax payers are in the 25-28% Federal Income Tax Bracket.  According to my "back of the napkin" math, taking into account all taxes and potential fees paid, a person's total tax liability/burden/responsibility is in the range of maybe 35-38%.  Compared to the 1964 Top Marginal Income Tax Rate of 77% which kicks-in at $200,000 or the 61% Income Tax Bracket at $52,000 of earned income, OUR TAXES ARE LOW

So, where is the wealth redistribution and Socialism?

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

BP shows Hayward the door, when will Massey Energy give Blankenship the boot?

For anyone following the BP Oil Spill Disaster, the news that BP is cutting CEO Tony Hayward loose should begin to bring a small sense of vindication to residence of the Gulf of Mexico.  As Hayward made one PR gaff after another, paving the way for his exit, Hayward's statements and actions began to reveal the massive disconnect between everyday people laboring to make a living and the lifestyles of corporate elites. 

Whether it be Hayward's statement that he understood the anger of Gulf residence and he too "wanted his life back", or his yacht outing as millions of people and small business owners lived the reality of their livelihoods destroyed, it is clear the financial elites of the world have a different mentality when it comes to lives being disrupted and live in a different reality all together. 

As one big corporate CEO exists the stage (with a "Golden Parachute" severance package of $1.6 million per year for causing the largest industrial disaster in American history), another Big Energy tycoon is aggressively defending his company's commitment to safety despite mounting evidence to the contrary. 

Richmond based Massey Energy and its outspoken CEO, Don Blankenship, defiantly continue to claim that they do not put profits over people.  The disaster at the Upper Big Branch Mine on April 5, 2010 that caused the deaths of 29 miners continues to reveal a corporate culture at Massey Energy that can best be summarized as:  mine the coal, disregard MSHA and Federal Safety Regulations, pay the fine(s), ignore fixing safety problems, keep the coal coming. 

Up to this point, the common thread connecting BP and Massey Energy (besides being giants in the energy sector of the world economy) was the corporate culture of profits over people and safety.  In order to provide some context and perspective about corporate culture in the oil industry, NPR's Wendy Kaufman compared the most recent safety records of BP and Exxon: 
"In the last three years, when we look at refineries, 97 percent of the violation considered egregious and willful were given to BP.  So, BP had 760.  Exxon had one," says Pavel Molchanov, and oil and gas analyst at Raymond James.  "That's a colossal difference." 
Exxon's change in corporate culture, resulting from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, is reflective in its current safety record.  Since 1989, Exxon began taking safety seriously and realized that if they strictly adhered to safety standards, the profits would be there and the company would survive.  But, this change in Exxon's corporate culture didn't happen overnight.  It took years and as the NPR story points out, many of the fisherman who were directly affected are now dead and were never compensated for the damage the Exxon Valdez caused.  With BP's removal of Tony Hayward and American Robert Dudley taking over effective October 1, 2010, BP is at least letting their actions speak louder than their words regarding changes in its corporate culture. 

So, what does this say for Massey Energy and Don Blankenship?  Let's make a comparison, all-be-it an apples to oranges comparison (Big Oil to Big Coal) between the BP safety violations at its refineries since 2007 and Massey Energy's safety violations at the Upper Big Branch Mine from 2009 to 2010.  PB's violations cover all its refineries and total 760 over a three year period.  Massey Energy's violations at the Upper Big Branch Mine alone total 639 (515 safety violations for 2009 and 124 safety violations for 2010)That's at just ONE MINE.  While being interviewed by Bloomberg Television's "In Business" Don Blankenship states
"The feeling of the industry is that we're regulated too much and not too little.  Tragedies lead to more regulation." 
Well, it seems that all those burdensome regulations didn't make one bit of difference to the 29 miners killed at the Upper Big Branch Mine since Massey Energy ignored them.  Blankenship is right about one thing, events like Sago and Upper Big Branch do lead to increased scrutiny, reviews of safety standards, regulations, and a tightening of those regulations due to non-compliance or blatant disregard of the regulations.  As pointed out by today's Roanoke Times Editorial, the Mine Safety and Health Act passed in response to another mine disaster, "coal mining deaths have declined significantly. There were 260 deaths in 1970. Since 1984, there has not been a year with more than 100 deaths."  Below is a link to a chart on the MSHA web site tracking the number of deaths in coal mines since 1996: 

Coal Fatalities by State 1996 - 2010 

At this point, Massey Energy and Don Blakenship don't seem to be getting the lesson that Exxon learned years ago, and BP seems to understand:  If you put safety first, the profits will follow.  Again, despite evidence to the contrary Don Blankenship (along with business friendly conservatives in Congress) want the Federal Government to leave corporations alone. In their mind, self regulation will magically lead to better safety, decrease the number of job site accidents, and fewer deaths.  So just that I get this clear, too much regulation leads to more accidents, deaths, and most importantly costs people their JOBS? 

Lets see, Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Banking and Finance aggressively lobby Congress and give heavily to the campaigns of business friendly lawmakers to look the other way, deregulate, and cut taxes.  During the Bush Administration, household incomes remain flat or decline while corporate profits skyrocket and the top 1 percent got wealthier.  The economic crisis that starts around 2007 and accelerates in September of 2008 leads to the loss of over 8 million jobs, as well as trillions of dollars in savings, investments, and property values disappearing, in some cases over night.  Sago, Upper Big Branch, and the BP Oil Disaster leads to numerous deaths and erases the way millions of people earn a living. 

As I stated earlier, it is clear the financial elites of the world have a different mentality when it comes to lives being disrupted and live in a different reality all together.  So, the question now becomes how long will it be until Massey Energy shows Don Blankenship the door?  Or will they continue thumb their noses at the American people and stand by "The Don"? 

The American people want justice but they're so mad and frustrated they don't know who to blame.  Americans are worried about keeping the jobs they still have and the unemployed are still trying to find work.  Their anger and angst has shifted from the ones responsible for the mess we're in to the current Presidential Administration and Congress. 

Business friendly conservatives have been so effective in crafting this "Enemy of the State" mentality that's focused on the Obama Administration's legislative agenda and Congressional Democrats, that they very well could take control of the House or Senate or both. 

It remains to be seen if Democrats can refocus the attention and anger on Corporate America before the 2010 Mid-Term Elections, the ones that are really responsible for the majority of the fiscal ills of the nation.  One thing that could go a long way towards a national feeling of vindication is if someone like Don Blankenship went to jail.  That would be justice.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

So, how exactly did Shirely Sherrod get fired? Oh yeah! Tea Party Activist Gone Wild!

The phrase "teachable moment" continues to be repeated ever since the last "teachable moment."  It seems that no one, not even White House staffers or Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack, learned from the Henry Louise Gates incident.  ENGAGE BRAIN BEFORE OPENING MOUTH.  VERIFY, VERIFY, VERIFY.  I have come to expect this type of behavior from conservatives and the various forms of right-wing political pundentry, but then again maybe they do. 

It seems that even when the rantings and ravings of the conservative talking heads proves once more that they are deaf-as-a-post to issues of race, they boost their readership and trick everyone into looking at the train wreak of social discourse they generate.  This was the point that Politico was trying to make in their article today, The Tucker and Breitbart Show.  Tucker Carlson, former co-host of CNN's Crossfire, even admits it's hard not to get caught up in the sensationalism needed to generate viewership on their blog.  Carlson is one of the conservative pundents that I admire (but don't agree with) because he at least tries to be a real journalist. 

There's a name for the type of journalism that has been promoted by Tea Party activists, as well as conservative political operatives:  Yellow Journalism.  It's that "gotcha" type that shouts "LOOK AT WHAT THEY ARE DOING AND THEY CALL ME A (RACIST, HYPOCRITE, DISHONEST, etc...).  It doesn't even try to use facts to support their story, just rhetoric, accusations, and counter-accusations to push their version of the truth. 

While I was finish up my undergrad degree I worked in high end hotels, primarily at a place called the Siena Hotel (by the way if this looks like a place you would like to go for a weekend get away, tell Anthony Carey that I sent you).  One of the first things you learn in the hospitality industry is that for every person that you provide excellent guest service to, they will tell maybe 1-3 people.  For every person that gets bad service, they will tell 10 or more people. 

Throughout my political and grassroots advocacy career, this rule has applied.  That's why grassroots work for positive social change is so difficult and demagoguery is so effective.  It's easier to spread a rumor than to take the time to learn the facts or discover the truth. 

The casualty of this latest battle was Shirley Sherrod who, as many of us know, was fired/forced to resign from her job with the USDA in Georgia.  The reason was a heavily, heavily edited tape of her giving a speech at a local NAACP banquet where she talks about the event that lead her to her "ah-ha" moment on race and discrimination. 

A very teachable event of realization was butchered by Tea Party Activist and conservative political hit man Andrew Breitbart.  Thank goodness the NAACP put the whole video up on their web site so we could get the entire context and hear what she really said.  Problem with what Breitbart did, he picked the wrong person to accuse of reverse racism.  Talk about a major backfire. 

If there was any person, any African American person, that should have bigotry in their heart it's Shirley Sherrod.  But she doesn't.  A woman who's father was killed by a racist, she went on to fight for Civil Rights and against injustice her entire life.  While nobody is perfect, and Mrs. Sherrod would I'm certain would agree, she too had to work though a lot to get to the place she is regarding race relations.  In many ways, I am no different. 

But again, because of Tea Party Activists (the racist and extremist elements of the Tea Party Movement) we are talking about race and discrimination again.  The bigotry of the conservative media gets a boost in their viewership and readership, and we are all distracted from the most important issue at hand, getting people back to work and fixing our economy. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Perriello down 23 points to Hurt according to WDBJ 7 poll

A new WDBJ 7 (CBS-Roanoke) poll has Tom Perriello down 23 points to 5th Congressional District GOP nominee State Senator Robert Hurt. While the 2010 Mid-Term elections are still months away, this is further proof that being an incumbent will not give you and advantage in this political climate.

This could also mean that, while Tom Perriello has sponsored more legislation and done more as far accessibility and accountability for the office than Virgil Goode did during his entire time in Congress, the right-of-center leanings of the 5th Congressional District are more comfortable with someone South of the James [River] than from Charlottesville. 

WDBJ 7 went on to say that Perriello was down by more than 30 points at the same time in 2008 and went on to beat Goode by just over 700 votes. But, this is not 2008 and Obama's approval rating continues to fall. The next question becomes, how close does Robert Hurt stand next to Virgil Goode and people that self-identify with the Tea Party Movement?  Does Robert Hurt need the Tea Party to win? 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fallout from the Tea Party-NAACP not a barrier to formation of Tea Party Caucus

There have been casualties on both sides of the Tea Party-NAACP dust-up.  As a result of the Tea Party Resolution the NAACP passed last week, The Tea Party Federation (the defacto governing body of the movement) have expelled the Tea Party Express and it's leader, Mark Williams, because of a racist satirical blog post in response to the NAACP resolution calling elements of the Tea Party Movement, of all things, "racist."  As a result, leaders from both the NAACP and The Tea Party have been engaged in dueling interviews and sometimes being interviewed at the same time.   

It appears that the NAACP, and people tied to the civil rights organization, are also being caught up in the aftermath.  Because of a video tape that surfaced and has caught fire in the conservative bloggaspher, the United States Department of Agriculture has sacked  Shirley Sherrod, its Director of Rural Development in Georgia.  In the excerpt that has been circulating, Sherrod speaks at an NAACP event where she talks about how a white farmer she was trying to help, was being difficult and because of his race, she admittedly doesn't bend over backwards to help resolve his problem with possible foreclosure on his farm.  This occurred over 24 years ago and while she was at a different job.  According to interviews with Sherrod, she had repeated calls from officials at the White House pressuring her to resign, because the story was going to be on Glenn Beck. 

Some notable members of the GOP, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner, are putting as much distance as they can between them and the Tea Party.  But, with all the public discussion about the racists and extremist elements within the Tea Party Movement and the recent moves by the Tea Party to address these issues, it has not diswayed Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann from filing paperwork to form the Tea Party Caucus in Congress

Its pretty clear that the Tea Party has made an indelible mark on the GOP and the candidates that are running under their banner for the 2010 Election Cycle.  The movement has propelled some of the GOP's most conservative and extremist members to the primary nominations over more establishment candidates.  An election cycle that was shaping up to be the best for the GOP since the 1994 GOP tsunami is now looking less like a probable wave and more like a ripple in a small pond because of the rift(s) that are forming within the Tea Party Movement. 

With the newly formed Tea Party Caucus being led by Michelle Bachmann, it will be interesting to see who will self-identify with the Tea Party now that the labels of racists, bigots, and extremists are permanently tattooed to those that stand with the movement. 

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Wall Street Reform: Is the GOP really that out of touch with reality?

There's more evidence that the 2010 Campaign Season is in full swing.  Invoking the mantra of "Repeal" used as a call-to-arms for Health Care Reform and reason to turn the keys to the Federal Government back over to them, the GOP is now using this same campaign theme on Wall Street Reforms.  Seizing on the broad dissatisfaction with President Obama's first major legislative victory with Health Care Reform, with most Americans feeling the reforms didn't go far enough, House Minority Leader John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are calling for the repeal of Wall Street Reform, the second major legislative victory for the Obama Administration this year.  The problem with this move, Americans across the board support these reforms. 

The question now is how disconnected from reality are the GOP with regard to Wall Street Reform that includes the strongest consumer protections against predatory financial products, ever?  Also, massive Government bailouts will never happen again (at least as long as this legislation stays intact). 

Just like with Health Care Reform, the Wall Street Reform legislation is not prefect by any means but it does put the Federal Government in a position to implement corrective measures and fixes to make it better over time. 

As far as claims that this legislation will kill jobs, stifle economic growth, raise interest rates, and make it harder for people to borrow money, we are already there because of Republican/neo-con/deregulation economic philosophy that lead the American Capitalist System to financial ruin and almost drove us off a cliff. 

As for the chances of the GOP repealing anything, Health Care Reform or Wall Street Reform, the 2010 Mid-term Elections would have to produce such a massive repudiation of Democratic Party governance that upwards of 70 House seats or more would be needed, as well as more than 20 Senate seats, to give the GOP the legislative muscle to override any Presidential Veto.  The best estimates right now indicate that the GOP have a shot, at shot, at winning back control of the House and in the Senate, the Democrats will have a much smaller majority but still retain control. 

When I was a teenager, my family had a 1977 Honda Civic that survived my two sister's and college at Radford University before I got a turn at the wheel.  When I got my chance, I made sure that I had a lot of fun in that car.  I gunned the engine and made donuts in the gravel parking lot of my High School with a good friend of mine, among some of the more noteable activites.  It was my chance to have control and freedom to go places without parental oversight. 

Then I blew the head gasket.  No big deal, dad will fix it.  I had no idea what that entailed.  In order to save money, my dad took the engine apart and replaced the head gasket.  Then I went out and did much of the same, not changing my behavior or the way I drove the 12-13 year old car by then.   Blew another head gasket.  My dad looked at me and asked what I was doing (but he knew).  I played dumb and said I don't know why its blowing head gaskets because I was driving responsibly and not reeving the engine, too much. 

The second time my dad took that engine apart to replace the head gasket, I could tell that he was pissed.  But, he didn't take the keys away from me and continued to let me drive.  It wasn't unit I was a father and had kids have I realized the time and money I cost my father because I acted irresponsibly and didn't change my behavior.  But as I look back on those events, my father should have also taken the keys away from me when he knew what was going on.  You don't just blow two head gaskets because of responsible driving behavior. 

As we look back on where our nation was, heading into 2008 and 2009, with millions of jobs lost, people loosing their homes, people declaring Bankruptcy because our nations finances were mismanaged, we will have no one else to blame but ourselves if we give the keys back to the people that brought us to the brink of another Great Depression, and that is still not totally out of the realm of possibility. 

Since the Democrats have been in charge, they have taken our financial engine apart to fix the damage cause by conservative/neo-con economic deregulation practices that blew our economy apart.  The GOP have learned nothing from their mistakes and we will pay the price, again, if they get the keys back to the nation's economy. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tea Party: Would there be a movement without Nativists, Birthers, Bigots, Anti-Semites, Gay Bashers, Ultra-Nationalists, and Racists?

The NAACP has passed a resolution labeling the Tea Party Movement as racists.  The Tea Party has denounced it calling the resolution "unfair."  Sara Palin, darling of the Tea Party Movement, has quickly fired back calling the NAACP resolution "false, appauling, and a is a regressive and divisionary tactic to change the subject at hand.

The real simple way to prove the Tea Party Movement isn't racist is to kick these people out of the movement. But wait,... would their be a Tea Party Movement with out the racists, nativists, birthers, bigots, Anti-Semites, gay bashers, and ultra-nationalist that have taken over the movement?  

I understand the anger and frustration with the mismanagement of our Federal Government and its finances, but the watershed event by which the movement has galvanized around, The Boston Tea Party, was not a reaction to being taxed but being taxed without their representation, input, or consent. 

In the modern world, governments cannot function without tax revenue by which to reinvest into it's citizens and create the conditions of individual liberty and freedom for private citizens to live free or die.  Things like roads for the commerce of our nation and individuals to be able to participate in that commerce.  Schools, so that individuals can gain knowledge and understanding to see how people with power and money manipulate the uneducated to advocate for the benefit of the few rather than the greater good. 

Americans have representation, can provide input into the democratic political process, and can offer their consent or opposition. The Tea Party Movement is a shame and is represented by those that the NAACP has accurately labeled, racists.   

So again, would their be a Tea Party Movement with out the racists, nativists, birthers, bigots, Anti-Semites, gay bashers, and ultra-nationalist that are the face of the movement? 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"America's Toughest Sheriff" under investigation for Abuse of Power

It seems that political rivals and opponents of the famous/infamous Arizona Sheriff from Maricopa County, Joe Arpaio, get the same type of attention as his prisoners.  Sheriff Arpaio is under investigation for Abuse of Power.

Arpaio is known for his boasts about how tough he is on prisoners under his watch, like housing prisoners in Army Tents, dressing them in pink underwear and pink/black stripped prison garb, and claiming he spends more money to feed his dog than he does on the prison food.

The Federal investigation comes at a time when Arizona's new Illegal Immigration law is also being challenged by Federal Government.  According to the CNN article (link posted above), Sheriff Arpaio has launched one investigation after another into the activities of his political rivals and his most ardent opponents for such things as pedophilia and embezzlement.   Sheriff Arpaio has also come out in strong support of Arizona's new Immigration Law. 

To put a more local spin on this, just imagine the outcry if the City of Lynchburg Commonwealth's Attorney, Lynchburg City Police Department or Sheriff's Office launched an investigation into the alleged illegal activities of the Liberty University leadership to influence an election or settle a political score?  Oh, wait... Liberty did something like that except they didn't take over the Lynchburg City Council. 

But, Liberty University does have a major political ally in Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli who launches investigations into Climate Scientists, challenges the Federal Government's ability to enforce Health Care Reform and issues opinions to state supported colleges and universities that it's OK to discriminate.  I guess its all a matter of who's in charge and where. 

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Don't tell the Tea Party (TARP turned a PROFIT!)

As reported on Politico's Morning Money section, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (a.k.a. TARP) has turned a profit.  According to a new report issued by the Financial Analyst firm Keefe, Bruyette & Woods on July 6, 2010,... "Overall, TARP CPP investments appear to provide positive returns to the Treasury."  Additionally, for the 61 banks that have fully repaid their TARP loan the average Return on Investment (ROI) was 10.3% with six having a ROI greater than 20%. 

Keep in mind that TARP was a program started under the Bush Administration and carried over to the current Obama Administration.  While a 15% ROI is generally considered a good measuring stick for the soundness of a good investment, at this point anything that shows positive returns from the Treasury's bailout of these badly (if not criminally) mismanaged banks and global financial firms, indications are that things are moving in the right direction. 

Another bit of good financial news today comes from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  As reported by the Associated Press the IMF has raised it's 2010 World Growth Forecast, lead by the United States and China.  But, the IMF does offer a bit of caution.   According to Jose Vinals, who oversees the IMF's monetary and capital markets department, Europe's debt problems "could spill over to other regions and stall the global recovery." 

This leads to the question that everyone that has been negatively affected by the Great Recession has asked:  What would things look like and were would we be if the Federal Government hadn't enacted TARP, bailed out the American Auto Industry, or passed the Stimulus?  Would we be looking at national unemployment at the levels of the Great Depression of 25% or greater if we hadn't? 

Unfortunately, in may areas of the nation this is the reality.  In Martinsville and Danville, Virginia the actual unemployment numbers are over 20% and 16% respectively.

For all the anger and railing against the Federal Government from the Tea Party over bailing out these financial institutions, and how the Government has done nothing but screw things up since the Obama Administration and Democrats have been in control, this strategic investment in our Capitalist system seems to be working right. 

The surest way to reduce the size of the Federal Government, or any state and local government, is for unemployment to continue at the current levels of around 9.5%, or have them go higher.  When people are out of work they pull back on spending and paying sales taxes, and among other things they can't pay their income and property taxes.  All of these revenue sources are what funds our Federal, State, and Local governments. 

Counter to the path that much of Europe is taking these days through Austerity (focusing on reducing their national debts by cutting their budgets and government services), Political Scientist and Economist Paul Krugman argues that the Stimulus was too small to begin with and we need more, not less.  There is nothing more that will send fiscal conservatives and Tea Party activist into a tirade than calling for more government spending that adds to the national debt. 

But, as Krugman suggests from his rounds on this past Sunday's talk shows, more government spending now could be all the difference in sustaining the recovery or having us slide into a full blown Depression.  More Stimulus will not impact the level of long term national debt, which will take years to pay down. 

At this point, with incumbents from both major political parties hunkering down or heading for the hills for the duration of the 2010 campaign season, the likelihood of a new stimulus package along the lines Paul Krugman is suggesting are about as likely as Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and Neal Bortz becoming normal/reasonable people. 

The point is that TARP is actually working and not everything that the Federal Government does turns into a train wreck.  It is going to take time to correct 30 years of financial deregulation and bad monetary policy. 

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

In "post-racial America" Black Farmers are still casualties of Partisan Politics

After taking a long break, Off K Street is back to ponder, question, comment, opine, and address issues of injustice and absurdity that affect large cross sections of our community.  To that end, one that issue that has received increased attention over the last few months but continues to be under-reported, the Federal Government's complicity for years of discrimination in the USDA Farm Loan program of Black Farmers. 

All the way back to just after the Civil War, Black Farmers have struggled to till out a living from the land.  Hoping to be paid, not just fairly but be compensated at all, for their labor in the fields that were worked by slaves and then as sharecroppers, Black Farmers were hopeful that their day of justice was at hand.

Unfortunately, the same partisan politics that has derailed the latest jobs bill and extension in Unemployment Insurance, has also stalled the $1.25 Billion settlement to Black Farmers from years of discrimination from the USDA Farm Loan program.  

This brings up another point, in the spirit of less government and cutting the size of the Federal Budget.  The Environmental Working Group has been tracking Farm Subsidy payments for several years now, of which the lion share going to "Corporate Farms."  The EWG has a great web based tracker where anyone that is interested can find out who and how much is being doled out to Corporate Farms

In a supposed "post-racial" America, why is this still an issue?  It appears that Black Farmers are being teed-up to be used as a sound bite as we get closer to the 2010 Mid-Term Elections.  The GOP continues to be deaf to racial, social, and economic justice and the Democrats are being obscenely opportunistic.  This is just wrong.  The entire Congress should just let this issue be voted on as a stand-alone bill and be done with it.