Blast from the past, We are all Wisconsin

3-17-11                    We are all Wisconsin 

Confused by recent events in the Midwest? Don’t be—behind Conservatives smokescreen of self congratulatory rhetoric and talk of fiscal responsibility lies a sea of unconstitutional power grabs and no-bid corporate giveaways. Their actions were never about balancing budgets.

gop power grab

The economic crisis this country experienced from 2007-09 was precipitated by irresponsible Wall Street financiers; aided and abetted by intentionally inept regulators & legislators, along with the hidden cost of 2 unfunded wars, and unnecessary tax cuts for the rich.  Republicans “shock doctrine” economic policies of fiscal belt tightening in the name of reducing the debt ensure that only a few select corporations and individuals will benefit.

Behind all their talk of “fiscal responsibility” is an obsession with controlling state legislatures and Congress, not creating jobs, or even balancing budgets. What they are attempting to do is to turn the country staunchly conservative in state after state on every issue, legally and permanently.

Meanwhile, state and local municipalities are facing a sharp drop in revenues, increased demand for services, a loss of recovery funds and are facing unprecedented deficits. During the final three months of last year, state & local government cuts reduced growth by .5 %.

Economists predict states will cut an additional 2.5 % this year, and estimate these cuts will exert a bigger economic drag than last year’s cuts, with 900,000 jobs lost. December’s “unemployment compromise” extending tax cuts for the rich will cost states an additional $11 billion in lost tax revenue over the next two years.

Congressional conservatives significantly increased the deficit during the Bush era while simultaneously decreasing revenue with irresponsible tax cuts.  When those chickens finally came home to roost, they pleaded for even more cuts. Even our feckless congressman Eric Cantor acknowledges that 700,000 jobs would be lost if these Congressional proposals are enacted.  While House Speaker John Boehner’s response was, “So be it.”

Wasn’t their plan to be laser focused on creating jobs, and promoting an economic recovery?

In states across the Midwest Republicans have demonstrated their intent to take this country ­back to the Gilded age to a time when there the robber barons ruled the land. Make no mistake about what is happening, these efforts are part of a well funded RICO like effort by the folks like the Koch Brothers to make these changes permanent.

It’s no coincidence that these states have proposed or passed legislation abridging citizen’s rights across the spectrum: voter access, collective bargaining, woman’s reproductive rights, and the legal status of immigrants & gays, while similar legislation is being introduced in Congress.

In Michigan, the Republican controlled legislature voted to allow the Governor to appoint individuals, called “Emergency Managers” for financially troubled cities. These managers have the power to rewrite labor agreements, city & town budgets and service contracts, and  invalidate local elections, denying municipalities control of their own destinies. http://readersupportednews.org/video/4-video/5346-rachel-maddow-michigans-dystopian-corporate-republican-future

If this clandestine corporate takeover of local governments is allowed to flourish in other states, American life will become unrecognizable in a remarkably short time.

After a state wide referendum overturned this heinous law in 2012, the Republican dominated legislature took advantage of an extended inflamed duck session to “repeal” this referendum and make this Emergency Manager a permanent feature of Michigan’s “law.” Passing some 282 bills through in a couple of weeks, far more than they did during the entire year. http://www.eclectablog.com/2012/12/michigan-republicans-prove-their-hypocrisy-on-small-government-by-passing-282-bills-during-lame-duck-session.html

Not to be outdone, they followed those actions up by making it virtually impossible for the citizens to recall any state legislator in the future.  http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/12/19/1171906/-At-2AM-Last-Friday-Michigan-Changed-its-Recall-Laws-to-Inoculate-the-GOP

Since the Supreme Courts Citizens v. United decision opened the flood gates for unrestricted corporate contributions, Republicans and Democrats alike have become enthralled to the interests of the financiers, and the wealthy, and less responsive to their constituents. It’s no coincidence that both parties are proposing remarkably similar legislative solutions.

Deficits aren’t the reason why our economy is doing so poorly, it’s  a lack of demand caused by declining wages and high unemployment. That  is the problem.

When it comes to deficits, at the Federal and state level we haven’t been spending too much, we’ve been spending too little, particularly when it comes to infrastructure. With interest rates at an historic all time low, if there was ever a time to borrow and embark on rebuilding our infrastructure it would be now.

For several decades, working class Americans have been getting an increasingly smaller share of the nation’s total income, while corporations and the super rich have been getting even more of it, while contributing a steadily-declining share of their wealth in taxes. In a fair and  just  society, these free riders would be giving back more to the nation, and the states and communities they profit from.

How society deals with human capital issues like chronic under employment, and the lack of wage growth should be a greater priority than reducing a manufactured deficit crisis­—a deficit which incidentally will continue to grow as long as there is insufficient ability of consumers to purchase the goods and services that drive our economy. Especially when coupled with a rigged economic system that allows the ultra wealthy and corporations to extract the middle classes wealth at little or no cost.

A budget isn’t just a legal document, it’s a moral one. It’s not subversive to challenge politicians when they are using their fake deficit crisis’s to attack the poor, the disabled and the elderly-it’s a Christian responsibility.

Nearly 4 years after this letter was first written, little has changed in Virginia as we head into 2015. Republicans “reduce the deficit” sleight of hand continues with budgetary deceptions like the General Assembly saddling the citizens of the Commonwealth with yet another hidden expense in the form of increased prices at the gas pump.

A new class of revenue which dares not call itself a tax increase will automatically kick in because the state was unable to collect revenue from internet sales, a source of income intended to address the states chronic underfunding of transportation projects.

It should be noted that this new source of transportation “revenue” was built around the false premise that Congress would pass legislation by the end of this year which would simplify and compel state sales tax collections on online purchases. Since that never had  had any realistic chance of happening in Congress, taxes on sales of gas at the pump will automatically increase on January 1st from 3.5% to 5.1%, an increase of roughly 5 cents per gallon.

This tax that dare not speak its name will do relatively little to when it comes actually improving the states chronic under funding of transportation.  According to an analysis from the Commonwealth Institute, this increase would bring in $783 million over five years, but would not fully replace the $978 million in projected revenue from the online sales legislation.

The Institute also found the amount of sales tax revenue designated by the transportation fund would be capped at 2015 levels instead of rising, reducing transportation funds by an additional $220 million by 2018. http://www.tricities.com/news/article_5e126508-777e-11e4-a96e-b3bfea76db53.html

This “tax” barely passed the Republican dominated House by a vote of 60 to 40, with few Republican’s crossing over to vote for it. The following year, one of the few who did, the Republican chair of the Transportation committee Joe T. May was primaried out of office by a radical tea party candidate.

His party later denied him any chance of running as a Republican for an open Senate seat by holding a closed caucus vs. an open primary, and he was drummed out of the party for not being sufficiently “conservative”.

GOP Rebranding

Democratic Delegate Brenda Pogge, summed the General Assemblies vote, saying that “we kicked another can down the road.” After approving across the board state budget cuts of 5% this year and 7% the following year it’s clear they are passing the real cost of these cuts … ahem budget reductions downward to the counties and incorporated towns.

It should also be noted that the strategy the General Assembly  is determined to pursue is remarkably similar in design to the infamous Sequester which automatically made draconian cuts to the federal budget should the Republican House not be able to agree on a budget. An assumption which predictably lead to a  further slowing down of our already fragile economy.

Meanwhile Republicans in the House of Delegates and especially after taking control of the Senate earlier this year are disingenuously claiming that  these cuts are the only way to reduce the size of the states budget deficit—a deficit crisis which incidentally was created by their earlier irresponsible tax cuts during the McDonnell administration.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the Republican budget supposed to create jobs, and promote an economic recovery in Virginia?

Readers of the Central Virginian should be demanding that their representatives start fixing the states problems.

Jon Taylor

Blasts from the past, Wisconsin edition

02-24-11                    Pay attention to Wisconsin 

What’s happening in Wisconsin is not complicated. At the beginning of this year, the state would have ended FY 2011 with a budget surplus of $120 million. Newly elected Republican Governor Scott Walker signed business tax breaks which lowered the states overall tax revenues. He then used the deficit he created to justify selectively assaulting the rights of the state’s public employees.

Walker and his conservative allies talked about this plan almost immediately after the election along with right-to-work southern-state Governors, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that links state legislators with right-wing think tanks, leading anti-tax activists and corporate money.

It’s no secret that his campaign was heavily funded by the billionaire Koch brothers Astroturf group Americans for Prosperity who have never hidden their desire to turn this country into a profit center for oligarchs.

Wisconsin’s public workers have made many sacrifices to help balance the budget; 16 unpaid furlough days and no pay increases the past two years, and have repeatedly shown their willingness to make concessions on benefits. This bill is an assault on their fundamental right to collectively bargain, and effectively strips them of the right to negotiate for anything except higher pay. Employees would be compelled to re-certify the union annually with contracts lasting only one year.

This isn’t just about the rights of public employees. What a majority of the protesters in Wisconsin don’t know is that this law would also place distribution all of the state’s Medicaid funding directly in the Governors hands.  Based on his past history, the inescapable conclusion is that Governor Walker plans to defund state Medicaid programs making it impossible for it to serve as part of the health care safety net.

The right has always enjoyed great success with their divide and conquer message, playing the middle class against the unions, and state workers with loaded question like: “How come that guy’s getting what I don’t have?” This is the politics of grievance, not of workable solutions.

When it comes to protecting worker rights, Americans should be asking a different question: “What’s keeping me from getting what that guy has?” It’s because of the actions of progressives and unions in Wisconsin that we all enjoy a 40 hour work week, workman’s compensation, and unemployment insurance. If the rights of workers can be taken away in Wisconsin, they certainly can be taken away in right to work states like Virginia.

The tremendous shift in political power we saw take place in the 2010 midterm election can be traced directly back to the Supreme Courts, Citizens v. United decision in 2010, which essentially opened the flood gates for unrestricted and unchecked political contributions by corporations, and the ultra wealthy. In that context, labor and unionized workers have long been viewed by corporate leaders and the right as the last remaining line of resistance against their wholesale takeover of government.

This attack on the people of Wisconsin is an attack on the rights of all Americans. The question I would ask the readers of the CV, when faced with the loss of their workplace rights just how reasonable and accommodating do they think we should be?

3-3-11            It’s not only about Wisconsin

In light of what has transpired in Wisconsin this past week, my previous letter in last weeks CV significantly understated the magnitude of Governor Walkers and the Republican parties agenda. Last Wednesday; he was taped in a 20 minute call from a reporter pretending to be his billionaire sponsor, David Koch.

In that call, he openly discussed numerous unethical and illegal tactics against the protestors and 14 Democratic Senators who have fled the state, denying that legislative body a quorum. He openly contemplated  planting “troublemakers and agitators” amongst the protestors, endangering them and law enforcement officers who despite crowds numbering in the tens of thousands,  haven’t made a single arrest.

Governor Walker also discussed an arrangement with the Koch sponsored astro-turf group Americans for Prosperity for a TV ad campaign supporting him, and openly bragged that Wisconsin was the “first domino” in their efforts, and how the other governors would have to hold fast. He also discussed pretending to negotiate with the 14 Democratic Senators, and once they returned, have the 19 Senate Republicans “go into action” to pass their bill.

Which is exactly what happened when the Wisconsin Assembly met this past Friday. After debating their union busting bill for 60 hours, the Republican leader suddenly called for a vote at 1:00 am. Within seconds, all 51 Republicans cast their votes and scurried for the exits, with the vote taking place so quickly that 28 Senators were unable to cast their votes.

This is all about a political takeover, not budgets. Even as they go after the unions, Walker and his legislative allies want to end same-day voter registration, and pass voter ID laws that would especially burden lower income residents. Last week he signed into law a bill that will require a two-thirds supermajority in the legislature, or a statewide referendum, to raise income, sales or corporate franchise taxes.

This story is being repeated with different variation in Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana and Kentucky. Other states such as Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, and Missouri are trying a different approach, banning the check off of union dues. In the end the results will be the same, less workplace rights, representation, and the unions ability to financially support issues and candidates of their chosing.

In the past, most governors, and state legislators regardless of party affiliation remained conscientious objectors to the battles taking place at the Federal level. Not any more.

In 2009, almost all the Republican governors came out against the economic-stimulus package, and lobbied congressional Republicans to oppose it. After it passed, several GOP governors rejected increased unemployment aid, claiming it would force them to increase spending. Recently, Republican governors in Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin renounced federal money to build high-speed rail.

Apparently, the need for economic stabilization or job creation was never part of their crusade to reduce deficits.

It’s true that elections and Supreme Court decisions (Citizens United) do have consequences; and the Republican’s are mobilizing every conceivable asset in an anti-democratic effort to lock in their ideological policies for what might prove to be a temporary conservative majority. In just a few short weeks, we now have less protection for the very air we breathe, the water we drink, and apparently our right to earn a living wage.

This won’t be the first time that this country has experienced a corporate dominated weak central government. The others happened to coincide with our two worst economic eras, those following the Panic of 1893 and the Great Depression.

Wonder what history will be calling this one?

Jon Taylor

American Oligarchy

Note: Finally printed in the Charlottesville Daily Progress, http://www.dailyprogress.com/opinion/opinion-letter-voters-conned-on-energy-issues/article_2db998e0-7599-11e4-a088-e7baeac11d3c.html

If there was any doubt that American democracy has been replaced by an oligarchy, that doubt is now removed.   The November 14th  Charlottesville Daily Progress article  titled “Votes in Congress” shows our Congress rushing to bypass American environmental laws to promote the interests of wealthy oil billionaires who funded their election campaigns, e.g., Koch brothers, and advance their agenda of building the Keystone XL Pipeline so they can gain more wealth.

Congress also voted against legislation that holds oil companies accountable for the cost of any oil spill clean up that they produce, i.e., the American taxpayers pay for clean up!  James Hansen of NASA says that “Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history.”

American voters have simply traded their clean water and air for a short term supply of oil … the Koch brothers now own America’s government.  I guess the wealthy elite funded campaign of lies repeatedly promoted about Obama being a bad President and about government regulating policies being bad took its intended toll upon voter’s thinking and they voted against their own best interest.   Canadian observer Richard Brunt summarizes “…U.S. corporate profits are at record highs, the country’s adding 200,000 jobs per month, unemployment is below 6%, gross national product growth is the best of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. The dollar is at its strongest levels in years, the stock market is near record highs, gasoline prices are falling, there’s no inflation, interest rates are the lowest in 30 years, U.S. oil imports are declining, the deficit is rapidly declining, and the wealthy are still making astonishing amounts of money.  So Americans vote for the party that got you into the mess that Obama just dug you out of? This defies reason.”

So I say to all those voters who support American oligarchy instead of Democracy: “Where will you spend your money gained from oil stocks when our planet becomes so polluted that it no longer supports life on it?”

Mark Chapman

The return of the zombies

Shortly after the 2010 election , I asked if conservatives throughout the 7th Congressional District were ready to deal with the consequences of zombie ideology and politics in the House of Representatives after re-electing Eric Cantor. Along with voting for him again in 2012  their actions helped to enable the two do-nothingest Congress’s in our nations history.

low information

This year, another wave of zombie thinking backed by the most money ever spent during any election in our nations history swept through the country; an inchoate protest which gave Republicans control of the Senate, presumably because a do-nothing House works better when accompanied by a take no prisoners Senate. To which Mark Twain once remarked, “There is nothing to be learned from the second kick of a mule.”

While it’s true something can be learned from that first kick, making the same mistake twice offers nothing that couldn’t have been learned the first time. Likewise conservatives around the 7th District collective decision to replace Eric Cantor with Dave Brat is little removed from deliberately standing in the path of a second kick.

Nor will there be much appreciation for another one of Mr. Twain’s observations, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect,” or apparently for the consequences of their actions. With our oldest and whitest members determining the outcome of the last two midterms, anyone claiming all they want is for everything to go back to a mythical past is being extremely charitable.

A cynic would say that when ideologues and old dogs refuse to learn new tricks, or  get out of the way of that second kick they are effectively passing the costs of their prideful decisions down to the generations behind them, and that such fearful choices are the easiest one’s to make, especially since they won’t be around to face the consequences.

A bigger concern is how this new alignment will affect Congress’s ability to govern. Last session, the House voted over 50 times to repeal the ACA. While minority Republican Senators spent the last two sessions blocking executive branch and judicial appointments at levels this country has never seen before.

The new Republican dominated Senate will follow the Houses lead even knowing they don’t have the votes to overturn a presidential veto in either chamber.  Instead, they will be more subtle with their obstructionism using control of the budgeting and appropriations process to deregulate whatever they can, starting with the EPA’s proposed limits on carbon emissions, cutting corporate taxes, defunding social programs, along with blocking immigration reform and minimum wage increases.

Mandate

Their strategy is simple, to force as many funding and legislative logjams along as many fronts as possible hoping to force “concessions” from the Democrats and the President. Knowing full well that behind their newly found facade of being “reasonable“, lies the hidden threat that if the President doesn’t do what they want and pass their brand of legislature, they will shutdown the government.

Remember the damage Republican’s shutdown of our government had on our economy last year?  With a deeply red Congress and “mandates” dancing through their heads—another one is quite possible. While the smartest play would be to avoid the fallout from another shutdown by passing a badly flawed budget that’s just good enough for the president to sign

S agenda

Even before they regain control of the Senate, Republicans are scarcely able to  conceal their desire to reward one of their largest sponsors this election,  the Koch Brothers with an estimated $100 Billion in additional profits by rushing to authorize the Keystone XL pipeline, convinced that there are enough turncoat corporate Democratic Senators to make it happen.

Nor did we have to wait very long for the feckless Democratic Senate to join them, claiming that their “voting” on this issue will  help to preserve Senator Mary Landrieu’s  endangered seat in Louisiana. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/11/12/louisiana-lawmakers-jockey-to-approve-keystone-xl-pipeline/ 

That would be quite the feat, considering that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee recently announced after the general election that they were cancelling most of their television advertising for her upcoming December runoff.  So despite winning the general election (but not by a majority) Senator Landrieu has almost no financial support from her party.

If  that weren’t bad enough, the Koch Brothers bought up significant amounts of airtime hours after the general election results were announced. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/11/05/1342116/-Kochs-have-already-bought-Louisiana-nbsp-airtime Meanwhile, Landrieu is expected to lose this runoff election by double digits.

Meanwhile the sell outs in the Democratic Senate remain convinced that they have successfully disguised their true intentions and their constituents are none the wiser. Predictably their plan failed by 59-41 vote, falling just short of being brought to the floor for a full vote.

Make no mistake, once the Republicans take control of the Senate next year, they will try again.  Knowing they have 54  Republican votes, plus enough Democratic turncoats to reach the required 60 votes necessary to bring this bill up to the floor for a full vote.

Even still they won’t have enough votes in the Senate to overturn a presidential veto, pinning their hopes on the belief that enough Democrats will turn on this issue to give them a veto-proof majority.   Magically believing that that it will somehow “convince” the president that he has no choice but to sign the XL pipeline bill. A plan which ignores the reality that even if this happens, they still won’t have enough votes in the House to overturn a presidential veto.

Some other indicators of Republicans lemming like and knee-jerk support for the miracles of a divinely ordained free market and how the next two years are likely to unfold will be their attempting to pass bills like the Trans-Pacific Trade (TTP) agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), along with passing chained CPI calculations for social security benefits while disingenuously calling it “reforming the system”.

Thanks in no small measure to a complacent news media willing to do anything to increase their ratings, along with an apparent devotion to promoting Republicans lies and fear mongering about Ebola, ISIS, and Immigration. They have helped to rally the oldest whitest and most fearful viewers and voters to the Republicans cause, opening the flood gates for a zombie takeover of Congress.

About the only unanswered question at this point, is will this Congressional session will be an even less productive one than the previous two do-nothingest ones.

fallout

Or will will their newly found control of both chambers finally allow these Ayn Randian zombie’s to pass whatever neo-conservative fevered dream pops into their minds? If this were a bad B movie the cameras would be fading to black as the zombies in House and Senate wander aimlessly around the Capital Building feasting on every brain they stumble across.

So, who’s ready for another round of magical thinking and zombie ideas?

Jon Taylor