Wednesday, November 23, 2011

OWS: A ship in search of a rudder

A few days ago, someone I went to High School with and haven't spoken to in over 20 years (but none the less is one of my Facebook "Friends") posted a picture on Facebook of some National Guardsmen with a sign that said - Occupy Bagram: Quit your bitchin' and get back to work.  This set off a response from me and a little back-and-forth about the OWS movement.  Needless to say, I was put-off,...no, offended, by this little protest by men and women who I have enormous respect for.  Mainly because most of these same National Guard personnel will be in the very same boat as the OWS folk when they get back to the States - no job and little prospect of getting one anytime soon. 

The image that's being conveyed by the conservative right about OWS is being fed by the liberal left - a mob of out-of-work slackers with no leadership and no sense of direction.  Regardless of what narrative or picture the right wing establishment wants to portray, the reality of who these people are (the Occupiers) is far from their truth but also confirms what is painfully obvious.  This movement is a rudderless ship drifting out to sea, in desperate need of rescue. 

The facts that get in the way of the truth, on how OWS grew, are somehow debatable.  But regardless of how the right wing establishment wants to frame "the Occupiers", there is a national consensus for a re-balancing of relative equality between the 99% and the top 1%.  So what are the organics behind this movement? 

From the post WWII era up to the late 1970 to early 1980s, Democrats & Republicans (Liberals, Moderates, and Conservatives), were in relative agreement on Corporate accountability and responsibility to the nation. The same goes for personal and corporate taxes, as well as Capital Gains taxes. During that time, while the nation went through some incredible social changes, our overall economy was relatively stable, with small to moderate recessions that we were able to come out of relatively quickly. 

Since the late 1970s early 1980s, people that felt success and those that take risks (in business) were not being rewarded enough for their "prosperity" were able to gain incredible access to elected officials. This started a movement to massive tax cuts and deregulation that eroded the relative economic stability we had as a nation. Within this thirty year time frame or so, we have had three Stock Market crashes - two directly attributed to financial bubbles and one as a direct result of the Terror Attacks on 9/11. Prior to that, the last Stock Market Crash was in 1929. 

All during this 30 year time frame, our nation has run continual budget deficits as a result of cutting taxes and deferring to the judgement of Wall Street hacks (which has developed into a defacto fourth branch of our Federal Government that is more powerful than the three branches that our Constitution is structured on). This has piled up to our current level of national debt. 

To bring my point to a close, the American Taxpayer has given these folks on Wall Street bailout after bailout - whether it be two rounds of stimulus, direct bailouts, deregulation, or tax loopholes where the largest corporation pay next to nothing or nothing at all in taxes. What have we gotten in return? More bonuses for Wall Street CEOs, Hedge Fund Managers, and their lobbying firms on K Street. They have shipped manufacturing and high tech jobs overseas, and parked their corporate profit in off-shore banks to avoid paying taxes.  But somehow this is OK, because they are rewarded with disproportionate influence over our lawmakers in DC and in every state capital in this nation.  All because they have money to fund political campaigns. 

So, why not protest the place and the people that are clearly running this nation. The people we elected to do what's in the best interest of this nation are clearly answering to the Wall Street CEOs and their Boards of Directors.  As for the folks that are being told to get back to work in the sign being held by these warriors, believe me if there were jobs to get back to - that were in a relative pay range or income level prior to the Great Recession - they would be there in a heart beat. 

The students that have graduated college during this time, most (I'm not going to say all) don't want to be living back at home with mom and dad - in the basement or attic playing Call of Duty on their XBox 360 - and would rather have a job. The older folks that got laid-off or lost their job, they're not getting hired because their "too old" and have too much experience. You might say, start a small business.  But the banks are so tight with their lending, that it's next to impossible to get a loan.  They'd rather give their top managers and Board Members bonuses for hording money.  By the time a loan gets approved (if they do at all), they're out on the street or living out of their car - if they even have a car. 

Take a good look and it will become clear that these folks that are part of the OWS movement are doing almost the only thing they can do - bringing attention to the massive income, wealth, access, and accountability disparity between those with money, power and access and those without. I agree that folks need to get back to work, but there are not jobs to get back to work to. 

For a long time, we were a nation where if something wasn't working for us (individually) we could change gears or take a different path professionally. What we've lost is the security of being able to do just that. Making the case to prospective employers that you have transferable skills is falling on deaf ears. Same goes for trying to start a small business and prove to lenders that you are a smart and safe business risk. We have lost that ability and its frustrating, and in many ways - depressing. 

So, where does this put the OWS movement?  Almost all of the encampments have been cleared.  With the exception of clashes with local or campus police, the press coverage has slowed to a trickle.  The decision making structures of the disparate OWS groups has been modeled off of a group consensus format, where participants are held accountable by each other.  In the short-term, this method has worked fine but the momentum has stalled and the larger message is being repackaged by those outside the movement - that of a movement of unemployed, upper-middle income and liberal trust fund babies, just stirring up trouble, that are disconnected from working class Americans. 

A movement that once sparked global action is now drifting out to sea, mainly because there is no focus, no cohesive message, and most importantly no leadership.  Someone, please rescue this movement before it sinks under a wave of obscurity. 

Image found at:  http://i2.cdn.turner.com/money/2011/10/10/news/economy/occupy_wall_street_protest/occupy-wall-street-rich-homes.gi.top.jpg 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Is poverty being mischaracterized?

A few weeks ago, the United States Census released their latest report on Poverty in America.  It showed that the official number of people who now live in poverty rose to 15.1% in 2010 from 14.3% in 2009.  This is the highest level since the Federal Government started tracking it in 1959.  This breaks down to a little more than 46 million Americans that are living in poverty. 

While these numbers are depressing enough, the part of their report that is starting to receive more attention is the number of people that are living in EXTREME POVERTY.  This has reached a record level over 20.5 million people. 

Extreme Poverty is classifieds as people living 50% below the poverty line.  The Federal Government sets the poverty line at just under $23,000 per year for a family of four.  So, those 20.5 million Americans living on half of that is pretty awful. 

This week, CNN's Belief Blog tackled some misconceptions about poverty.  They ranged from questioning if poverty exists in America, are people doing fine if they make above the poverty line, the rational for Safety Net programs, and why only half of Americans pay taxes.  Needless to say, much of this was to address lack of understanding about poverty and how many of us view the poor. 

One perception about poverty that was not addressed was the view that if you are living in poverty, it's your fault.  There are lots of people out there that are of the opinion that poverty is the result of bad life choices. 

While some of that might be true, the reasons for why more people are living in poverty these days is largely due to a bad economy.  Millions of Americans are now living in poverty because their jobs were directly and indirectly tied to poor financial and management decisions made by our national business leaders. 

In short, to paint all people that find themselves in poverty with the same broad brush of generalization, disgust, and sanctimony by those that are not in these dire straights, mischaracterizes the underlying reasons for poverty today.

By and large poverty is not the result of bad life choices, but to a certain degree bad timing and the result of bad decisions made by a very few that affected millions of Americans who were just trying to live their life to the best of their ability.  The reality is that there are more people that are living in poverty, or just above it, that look like you, me, close family, and your neighbor down the street.  Whether we realize it or not, we are being judged by how we treat the least of us among us. 

Image found at:  http://realestateimpresario.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/poor-man.jpg 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Does Bob Goodlatte even get it?

Forget the 12% approval rating of Congress, and the 6 out of 10 people polled that are not willing to re-elect their own Congressman.  And let's just ignore the fact that back at the end of July and beginning of August, we had a very small group of House members who couldn't find common ground with the President on the Debt Ceiling, even if they fell out of a tree and landed on their heads.  This last little maneuver brought the nation to the brink of default and let to a downgrade of the country's credit rating. 

As posted on the Roanoke Time's Blue Ridge Caucus blog, Congressman Bob Goodlatte continues to obsessively push his signature piece of legislation, that, by the way, every economist that's worth the title "Economist" says will cause more harm than good to the US economy.  Let's not forget, Bob Goodlatte led that small group of House members to hold the nation hostage over the Debt Ceiling if the Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) wasn't added to the House Bill, which was Dead On Arrival (DOA) in the Senate. 

They say that the definition if insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again and expecting a different result.  Not only will the BBA never pass Congress or make it to the President's desk, where it will be VETOED, it will never be added to the Constitution of the United States.  Good bumper sticker, bad economic policy. 

So, take you pick.  Bob Goodlatte either a) doesn't get it? or b) doesn't care?  The BBA is a cure that's worse than the disease.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The name of this GOP natural disaster: STUPIDITY

How many different ways can the GOP shoot themselves in the foot?  Here are a few examples from just this past week:

  • As Hurricane Irene approached, Tea Party darling and GOP Presidential hopeful, Congressman Ron Paul renewed his call for the elimination of FEMA, stating that funding FEMA contributes to the “deficit financing” of the Federal Budget.


If you're keeping a running tally, add all the above plus the bill that Speaker Boehner was pushing just prior to the August 2nd deadline to raise the Debt Ceiling, which was held hostage by Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte, until the Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) was added to the bill.  Should I mention that Boehner's bill was DOA without the BBA?  Or that virtually every credentialed economist, to a one, has concluded that a BBA is one of the dumbest public policy ideas ever conceived?  

It seems as if the GOP is going out of its way to say “screw the working poor and middle class in this country. They don’t pay their fair share anyway. And you can clean up your own mess, figure out how to restore your own power, get clean drinking water, bandage your own wounds, search and recover your own dead bodies from the aftermath of an earthquake and hurricane.” 

WOW!  And this group want to lead our nation?  Thanks but no thanks.  I'll take my chances with another natural disaster over leadership like this, ANYTIME

How in the world can this political party say they care about America, they love this country, but if you don't do as they say, they'll destroy the nation unless their political agenda and policies are adopted?  How can any American support people like this?  

Image found at:  http://www.carolinalifestyles.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/hurricane-warning-flag.jpg 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Robert Reich on the Economy: KISS (Keepin' It Super Simple)

I'm not the biggest fan of MoveOn.org, but this is one of the easiest to understand videos about the current state of the economy I've seen.  Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich does an excellent job of "Keepin' It Super Simple" explaining the truth about our economy.  Take a look: 



Thursday, August 4, 2011

DOW DROPS OVER 400 PTS: GOP & Tea Party cure worse than the disease

Just when people were catching their collective breath from the drama that was the Debt Ceiling Crisis, the Dow has dropped over 400 points

This hasn't happened since December 1, 2008.  The day's not over yet, and stocks could claw their way back, but this is a bad day on Wall Street. 

I sure hope holding the nation hostage over no tax increases for the wealthy and the Balanced Budget Amendment was worth it?  Consumer demand is the problem, not Government spending. 



Image found at:  http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-Erp_kcz-pe0/TgS55W98cyI/AAAAAAAAAc4/-Fix6IVWWk8/s1600/ask+Dr_Mom%252C+taking+medicine%252C+children%2527s+health.jpg 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hold your nose!

There's no other way to say it, but this vote stinks!  While I'm sure that there are plenty of Republicans that held their noses or had one hand over their eyes, this one didn't sit well with the Democrats either. 

There's still the vote in the Senate, and they have to get 60 to cut off debate to even have a vote.  But it will likely just be a process matter. 

What else can be said about this particular vote.  No one was a winner, the losers were the American people, and we still kicked the can down the road to deal with on yet another day. 


Here's the Roll Call for the Virginia delegation: 

Yeas – Cantor (R), Connolly (D), Goodlatte (R), Hurt (R), Rigell (R), Wolf (R)

Nays – Forbes (R), Griffith (R), Moran (D), Scott (D), Whitman (R)

http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2011/roll690.xml#Y 

Correction: 

Yeas – Cantor (R), Connolly (D), Goodlatte (R), Hurt (R), Rigell (R), Wittman (R), Wolf (R)


Nays – Forbes (R), Griffith (R), Moran (D), Scott (D)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Goodlatte's fingerprints all over the pulled vote in the House

For years, Congressman Bob Goodlatte has been one of the biggest, if not the biggest, champions of the BBA (Balanced Budget Amendment).  According to CNN this afternoon, one of the reasons why Speaker Boehner pulled the vote last night was that the bill didn't have the BBA in it. 

It pretty clear now that Goodlatte is at the center of this mess, as one of the lead hostage takers of the nation, all because they wanted to insert the Balanced Budget Amendment.

I’ve just got one question: What do we do if the nation finds itself in another situation where we have to actually declare war, or take extraordinary measures to address a national crisis?

In order to address the worst case scenario, we would have to repeal the BBA, which would take weeks or months, and by the time that happens it would probably be too late. Otherwise Congress (both the House and Senate) would have to break the law. 

At that point everyone in Congress that voted to ignore the BBA, and the President once they signed the bill, would be eligible for impeachment because they violated the Constitution in order to save the country.

Talk about a Constitutional Crisis! 

This is just insane!  Goodlatte, Cantor, and all the other Tea Party hostage takers would rather burn down a nation in order to pass a bad law that could usher in a constitutional crisis. 

This isn't leadership.  This is wholesale extortion

Call Congressman Goodlatte and tell him to stop holding the nation hostage and give up the Balanced Budget Amendment

Harrisonburg Office
P: 540-432-2391

Staunton Office
P: 540-885-3861

Lynchburg Office
P: 434-845-8306

Roanoke Office 
P:540-857-2672

Washington, DC Office 
P:202-225-5431

Image found at:  http://www.thepoliticalguide.com/Images/reps/bobgoodlatte.jpg 

Krugman is right!

No matter how many ways you slice it, President Obama has bent over backwards to work with the GOP and their Tea Party leadership to address: 1) raising the Debt Ceiling, and 2) making painful cuts to entitlements. 

Even when the GOP gets what they want, which is massive, massive cuts in entitlements and other government programs, they are still not willing to concede the other part to the problem - Revenues

Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, lays it out in his column this morning, how if the GOP and the Tea Party really cared about governing and what's best for the people of the United States, they would have agreed to the President's and Democrats' conditions on revenues by closing tax loopholes and eliminating some very popular exemptions in order to pay down the national debt and start bringing cost under control. 

As further evidence of the willingness of Democrats to do what's best for the financial stability of the nation, and the world, they even proposed taking out most of their demands on the revenue side of the ledger by pointing out that with both Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, we would be able to count that funding towards reductions in spending. 

But yet again, the GOP and Tea Party deny that the money spent on both wars counts towards our deficit spending.  Are they really that departed from reality that they thought the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were freebies?  That Iraq and Afghanistan didn't cost this nation a dime?  Come on! 

So Paul Krugman is absolutely right.  Even when the GOP and Tea Party gets everything they want, and more, they care more about what's best for their own political base than what's best for the nation. 

Even if Obama agreed with them that the world was flat and that the planet was actually cooling rather than heating up, it still wouldn't be good enough for them. 

Don't look, but the GOP and the Tea Party are about to off all the hostages.  In case you're wondering who the hostages are - they're US. 

Image found at:  http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-EgYwwg1_cu4/TZf72R5dPvI/AAAAAAAAA7I/_Hgg663rLm0/s1600/hostage.jpg 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

GOP playing "Chicken" with the Debt Ceiling

On Tuesday, May 31st, the GOP controlled House of Representatives voted down a "clean" bill to increase the Federal Government's Debt Limit by $2.4 trillion.  By a vote of 97 - 318, the symbolic vote on the "clean" bill went down to defeat as expected.  All House Republicans voted against it and were joined by 82 Democrats

The current debt limit is set at $14.3 trillion and if the bill had passes, would have gone to $16.7 trillion.  Now you might say that teaching the Federal Government a lesson, like credit card companies do by not increasing a person's credit limit when they have maxed out their credit card, seems reasonable and the Federal Government should live within their budget.  Fair enough except for one thing,...the Federal Government is not the average consumer. 

Tied to the debt ceiling is our credit rating, which as it stands now is still very, very good.  Just for comparison sake, Greece was recently downgraded, again, from B1 to Caa1.  As one international business analyst on CNBC described it, this is almost Junk Bond level and very close to a point where the nation of Greece could default on its debt payments.  The United States is still in the AAA rating level, but if we can't pay our bills it affects the rest of the world in really bad ways. 

The simple fact is that the Republicans are more scared of the anti-tax, anti-government Tea Party wing of their caucus than they are of an even worse, shall we say nightmare scenario, of the U.S. government possibly defaulting on its debt obligations.  Heck, the GOP won't even consider raising taxes on the wealthy.  Their solution, only balance the budget and reduce our national debt by cutting the Federal Budget.  Tied to that faulty logic is cutting Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security which are paid for separately and aren't even the reason for our national debt.  That's it.  That's their path to prosperity. 

The Democrats on the other hand, don't want to cut any more from the budget and see their best opportunity to drive home the point that while tax payers don't want to pay anymore in taxes, they don't want to see any cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.  If it means tax payers have to pay a little more in taxes to continue these programs, as well as other popular social programs, they'll do it. 

This sentiment has been aided by Congressman Paul Ryan's budget proposal that turns Medicare into a voucher program and shifts more of the health care costs away from the Federal Government and onto seniors.  Simply put, this idea has gone over like a lead balloon. 

It seems like the GOP would clue in and be more fearful of the American Voter than the fringe elements of their Tea Party caucus.  During the 2010 Mid-Term elections, Republicans did a masterful job in scaring seniors and others that depend on the very programs they now propose gutting in order to balance the Federal Budget.  They were just as adept at painting Democrats as out of the mainstream and tagging them with the bad guy lable.  It's clear now, the tables have turned. 

It's not an overreach, or a stretch, to label what the GOP and their Tea Party caucus are trying to do as outside of the mainstream of America, or shall we say extreme or FRINGE.  This is a very dangerous game the Teapublicans are playing with the Debt Ceiling, and if they don't stop the losers will not only be their House Majority or chances at regaining the Senate or the White House, but the American people.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Is Trump the second coming of Jesse Ventura?

Some would liken Donald Trumps second flirtation with a Presidential run to that of Ross Perot.  But then again, Trump has taken several steps that indicate he is more serious this time than in the past.   There's no question that Donald Trump is a media darling, but the conventional wisdom from the "eye rolling" political establishment is that he's not a serious candidate.  Or is he? 

According to Politico, Trump has reached out to conservative faith leaders and groups, has contacted several high level Republican consultants and media firms, started looking at potential campaign managers, and is preparing FEC paperwork that would provide more concrete details about his vast financial holdings.  All this seems to be adding up to running in the GOP Presidential Primary.  Then again, the possibility of an independent run is not out of the question. 

With an American electorate that is weary of the overexposed hyper-partisanship, an independent run by Trump would parallel that of former Navy SEAL, former Pro-Wrestling star, and former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura.  No one took Ventura serious from either side (Democrats or Republicans).  Because of this he was able to tap into frustration with establishment party politics and mobilize a block of non-traditional voters (WWF/WCW/WWE) that propelled Ventura to the Governorship.

Now, we're talking about a Presidential run here and not something small like a Governor's race.  But the reason why any one should even entertain the thought---The Donald has deep, deep pockets and is one of the few people that could even come close to competing with Obama, dollar for dollar.  Nice to speculate but is it really that inconceivable?  We will see... 

Images found at:  http://nymag.com/daily/intel/30_trumpconcern_lgl.jpg and http://www.prisonplanet.com/images/july2005/010705ventura.jpg

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bloomberg News yankin' the ski mask off of TARP recipients

It looks like the American Taxpayer will finally get to see which banks got the bailout.  The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by the Banking Industry to keep secret the details of who got what from the TARP.  Thanks to Bloomberg News filing a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request, the Federal Reserve will have to disclose the "names and details of the banks that borrowed money from the “discount window,” where U.S. banks have turned for emergency funds — confidentially — for nearly a century.

This is just another example of the hubris and the disconnect that corporations (specifically the Banking Industry) have from Main Street and reality.  When you take taxpayer (public) money to bailout a private enterprise, the taxpayers get to see who you are and what you spent it on.  Once you've paid us back, then we'll get out of your business.  Simple as that. 

Bloomberg News, you have the thanks of a greatful taxpayer.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Speaker Boehner: "so be it" if Federal workers lose their jobs

President Obama's proposed budget doesn't cut deep enough for the GOP.  If the GOP gets their way with the austerity ax, the jobs of the Federal workforce are on the chopping block.  According to CNN, during a news conference today, Speaker of the House John Boehner said that,

"Over the last two years since President Obama has taken office, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs and if some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it."
It would seem that Speaker Boehner and the GOP have declared war on Federal Workers.  Now this 200,000 new federal jobs number cited by Boehner seems like a lot and would lead you to believe that the Federal workforce is growing faster than the private sector.  But not so fast.  The folks over at Political Correction, a project of Media Matters, did some fact checking and found that Speaker Boehner's numbers don't jive.

Since President Obama took office, the Federal workforce has grown by 58,000.  Since Obama's economic policies have taken effect, it has only grown by 25,000 jobs.  This is all according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. 

Now to provide a little context, from December 2007 to July 2009 (the end of Bush's second term and the first six months of Obama's first term) the private sector lost 7,796,000 jobs.  The private sector went from 115,574,000 people in the workforce to 107,778,000 during that same period.  What this means is that during that same period government spending remained the same and tax revenue (income taxes, federal gas tax, etc.) fell as well.  When that happens, what do you get...?  Not just a Budget Deficit, but an exacerbated budget deficit.  This all gets added to the National Debt. 

In July of 2009, there were 107,649,000.  As of January 2011, there were 108,030,000 people in the private sector workforce.  That's an increase of 381,000 private sector jobs.  In the whole scheme of things, relatively flat job growth but still positive.  Keep in mind that the Federal Government added and shed thousands of temporary Census Worker jobs and still, there was only an increase of 25,000 federal jobs. 

In short, Mr. Speaker, you need to get your facts straight.  Also, don't be so quick to take the ax to the budget in the rush to austerity.  Take a look at how well taking the ax to the budget has worked in Britain.  According to an article on Salon.com by Andrew Leonard,
"Wasting no time, the new coalition U.K. government led by Prime Minister David Cameron, made a dramatic package of government spending cuts its first order of business. Many U.S. conservatives have looked with great longing at the austerity surge. The numbers are staggering -- an average 19 percent cut for all government departments, resulting in half a million public sector layoffs.

And look! Just as the Keynesians predicted, the economy immediately slumped, apparently proving that the last thing a government should do in a weak economic climate is suddenly kick the legs out of the demand side of the economy. It could happen here, Obama should argue! It's still too soon, and the U.S. economy is too fragile, to make austerity the watchword of the day."
This anit-worker, anti-government worker (at any level of government) attitude coming from the Speaker of the House is reckless, but more importantly its just disappointing.  Sure, there are lots of stories out there about government employees, at any level, that are caught in the act of being lazy or waisting tax payer dollars, but for the most part these are people that do their jobs and are good stewards of our tax monies.  I would wager to say that there's more waist from private sector employees than public sector.  The only difference is the public sector is under a much bigger microscope. 

Its a fact that the U.S. Federal government is the largest employer in the country.  You start cutting thousands, hundreds of thousands of government jobs it just might be a cut too deep.  The only saving grace is that Democrats control the Senate and the White House.  Does this mean a government shutdown is inevitable?  Not necessarily.  At this point, they're just a bunch of turkeys struttin' around, puffing up their chest to see who's the biggest, baddest turkeyOh well,...

GO HOKIES!

Monday, February 14, 2011

God Bless America and no one else?

There's no getting around it.  Religion is serious business, it matters, and is relevant to everyone (beliver and  non-beliver alike).  According to the many scholars and people that advanced the concepts of Secularization Theory, the United States and much of the world should have let go of their attachments to spirituality and faith by now, replacing it with critical thinking and rationality.  Events of the past few weeks in a rural, mountainous county, as well as the chambers of the Virginia House of Delegates and the Kentucky legislature, disputes this theory. 

The issues of hanging the Ten Commandments and prayer on school property are once again being hotly debated.  On one side, citizens who profess America's foundations as a Christian Nation.  On the other, advocates for strict separation in matters of faith and state.  This tug-of-war has found a new ground zero in this ongoing national debate:  Giles County Virginia

Back in December, in response to a complaint from a group that advocates for the strict separation of church and state called the Freedom from Religion Foundation, the Giles County Schools Superintendent agreed to remove prints of the Ten Commandments from the classrooms after conferring with the attorney for the School District. 

In late January, the Giles County School Board vote unanimously to rehang the prints of the Ten Commandments after more than 200 parents, citizens, and leaders from Giles County churches packed the School Board meeting room and spoke passionately to defy the law.  This has brought strong reaction from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, as well as the Virginia ACLU who has threatened to file a lawsuit. 

Eric Gentry, Chairman of the Giles County Board of Supervisors, expressed support for fighting any legal action that may come, as well as fighting any "hate groups" like the ACLU.  In response to Eric Gentry's statement, Virginia ACLU Board Member David Drachsler has written an op-ed in the Roanoke Times that address this charge and does an excellent job of framing the historical context and perspective of why it is a really, really, bad idea for any government body to promote one faith over another. 

Then we have Delegate Bill Carrico, (R)-Grayson County, who again introduced a bill to amend the state Constitution, HJ 593, to guarentee the right to pray on public property, which includes public schools in Virginia.  It passed the House of Delegate easily, but it is likely to die in the State Senate. 

In Kentucky, three Democratic legislators have introduced a bill to "teach Bible literacy", as an elective.  Opponents argue this is noting more than a "backdoor approach to teaching religion" in public schools. 

These might seem like well intentioned efforts, but one has to question the raw motivation behind challenges to longstanding state and federal legal rulings on Church-State separation.  So why do we have a First Amendment which states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment off religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;", or the constitutional guarentee that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States" (U.S. Constitution, Article VI sec. 3), or state laws that reflect the same legal philosophy?  It seems the reasons can be found much farther back than those of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

Contrary to what we have been told or learned in school, the founding of the original colonies were not based on a desire for religious freedom.  It seems that when any of the religiously oppressed groups landed and established their communities, they also enacted laws and other rules that established their faith and prosecuted anyone that did not conform. 

In an article published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion in 2005 titled "Political Origins of Religious Liberty", Anthony Gill, PhD., Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington, offers a very insightful section on religion in the colonies called "The Early United States."  If you can picture a map of the original Thirteen Colonies, Congregaionalists had New England, down south (Virginia to Georgia) was dominated by Episcopalians and Presbyterians, the Quakers had Pennsylvania and the Catholics controlled Maryland. 

Each colony had some form of a religious tax or mandatory tithing.  Individual towns and communities had religious laws, some of which were quite strict.  What became clear very early on, it's extremely costly to enforce a strict set of religious laws.  As Anthony Gill states,
"While some denominations tried to maintain strict control over the beliefs and practices fo the local population, de facto religious pluralism and freedom gradually resulted from the mere fact that people could up and move if they did not like the laws under which they were living,..."
What is also interesting is that strict enforcement of religious laws started impacting interstate trade.  So much so that religious orthodoxy almost resulted in a trade war between Puritans and Quakers in 1659.  In essence, the desire to engage in commerce and trade trumped religious dogma and purity.

So, all this nibbling around the edges with introducing bills to change state constitutions to allow prayer on public school property, elective classes on Biblical literacy, and fighting to post the Ten Commandments in every classroom, is a little disconcerting to say the least.  So again, what are the motives behind these efforts to introduce religious regulations into a secular government?  Political pandering, plain and simple. 

Religion is a private matter that has a public presence.  Billions of people draw personal strength from their respective faiths.  By and large, most people that publicly profess their faith are good people.  But then there are those that profess those same beliefs and take them a step or two, or three further and politicize their faith.  There are just places that are meant for faith and places that should be neutral ground.  Our public schools are a place where religion can be discussed as part of the learning process, but not where one faith is promoted over all others. 

While these recent moves to post the Ten Commandments in classrooms, allow government sanctioned prayer on public school property, and teach Biblical literacy are not likely to withstand longtime legal precedent on the matter, if it did would this also mean that we would be on the path to laws that forbid the United States from doing business with China or the Middle East?  Who knows, but one thing is clear, the United States was founded on commerce and trade and not Christian principles.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Apparently Kaine hasn't actually said NO, (yet)...

The Virginian Pilot has issued a correction on former Governor and current DNC Chair, Tim Kaine, regarding his interest in running for Virginia's open U.S. Senate seat. 

According to the Virginian Pilot, "Kaine previously said that he wasn't interested in the office if Webb didn't seek re-election." 

So, the real question is will Kaine run?  The Virginian Pilot does a good job, for the most part.  Maybe and actual quote from the source would be good next time. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Tim Kaine not interested in open U.S. Senate seat

According to a story on the Virginian Pilot's website, former Governor and current Democratic National Committee Chairman, Tim Kaine, has indicated that he is not interested in running for the now open U.S. Senate seat in Virginia.  Perceived by many on the left to be the strongest candidate to run against either of the declared GOP candidates, Kaine's announcement will keep the speculation going as to who will run for the Democrats in a seat that is now considered by several to be a possible to likely GOP pick-up. 

So far there have only been two announced GOP candidates, the GOP establishment favorite former Governor and U.S. Senator, George Allen (who Jim Webb defeated in 2006), and Tea Party activist Jamie Radtke.  Whoever emerges for the Democrats will face a political landscape that is currently not favorable for them. 

Some other names that have been mentioned are former 5th District Congressman Tom Perriello, former 9th District Congressman Rick Boucher, former DNC Chair and Democratic Candidate for Governor in 2009 Terry McAulliffe, State Senator "Chap" Petersen, and so on and so forth...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Banking lobby defeats bipartisan effort to stall foreclosures in Virginia

Times like these are very few and far between when you have bipartisan legislation in the Virginia General Assembly that takes on the Banks.  On the House side you have Bob Marshall (R) Manassas (yes, that Bob Marshall), Betsy Carr (D)-Richmond, and Vivian Watts (D)-Annandale who introduced HB 1506, and on the Senate side, Chap Petersen and Don McEachin are carrying the companion bill, SB 836

These bills require Banks and Mortgage Lenders to give 30 days notice of intent to foreclose and sell.  Currently, they only have to give you 14 days notice.  As we all know, the Great Recession has forced hundreds of thousands of people to go into bankruptcy and lose their homes.  In several cases the rush to get these bad mortgages off their books snagged people who were financially sound and had never missed a mortgage payment, or been even late on a payment, leading to the foreclosure and sale of their homes. 

So, how could this happen you ask?  Not doing their jobs, that's how.  Also, sloppy record keeping.  By doing a simple titles search and comparing that to the home owner's payment history would have avoided anything like this happening.  For years, the Mortgage Industry has been relying on a system called MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration System), where they entered the information into the system and basically forgot about it until a homeowner was far enough behind on their payments that it would notify the lender.  The problem with that is people enter the data and sometimes that information isn't accurate. 

But do the Banks care?  Clearly not.  What's wrong with giving people more time to see if they can scrape together the money to get caught up, or prove that they've been making their payments on time so they can clear up these problems?  Evidently, not even a staunch conservative and a Tea Party populist like Delegate Bob Marshall being the Chief Co-sponsor of this bill, could convince his fellow Republicans to do the right thing.  They need time to,... "STUDY IT"

When bipartisanship like this occurs in the Virginia General Assembly, it should be celebrated.  As for the Banks, they get bailed out, again. 

Images found at: http://homesfortmill.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/foreclosure-home-sale-sign.jpg and http://www.sarasotahomesforsalenow.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/BofA-forces-foreclosure.jpg

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Eric Holder: Takin' down the MOB, Ken Cuccinelli: Hasslin' college professors

While it might be unfair comparing the jobs of the Attorney General of the United States to the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia, but this merits the comparison. 

U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, announced the arrests of 110 out of 127 people connected to organized crime in New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island
.  According to the FBI, this is one of the "largest single-day operations ever to target the Mafia." 

As for Virginia Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, he's still focused on bringing down Climate Change researcher Michael Mann, who doesn't even work at the University of Virginia anymore.  Cuccinelli's "Climate Change Inquisition" has prompted several legislators in the Virginia General Assembly (albeit, Democratic Legislators) to introduce a bill to reign-in Cuccinelli so that he actually does his job. 

Definitely a contrast in, should we say, styles.  Makes you wonder if Cuccinelli understands that the job of the Attorney General is to prosecute actual criminals, not persecute those who don't think like you. 

Image found at: http://www.cbsnews.com/i/tim//2010/07/02/ken_cuccinelli_370x278.jpg