It’s an Inside Job

I recently re-watched the 2010 Oscar winning documentary “Inside Job,”  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1645089/ and was reminded just how little things have changed since it first came out. Especially since most of the circumstances which lead to the “Great Recession” of 2008 which cost the middle class 40% of their wealth remain in place.

2010 saw many sweeping changes in how politics and business were done in this country, starting with the Supreme Courts “Citizens United” decision http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_United_v. Federal_ Election_Commission which struck down provisions of 2002 McCain-Feingold Act prohibiting corporations, nonprofits, and unions from making independent expenditures and “electioneering communications” within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary.

It should be noted that then Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, and now Senate Majority Leader was one of the plaintiffs in a losing case heard by the Supreme Court in 2003 – claiming this was an unconstitutional infringement on First Amendment rights, and that he led several Senate filibusters to block its passage.

Predictably, the Supreme Courts January 2010 decision unleashed a flood of campaign contributions that year which swept the Tea Party influenced Republicans back into control of the House. Four years later that same dynamic helped Republicans regain control of the Senate

Senator McConnell was one of the driving forces behind Congress’s recent “CRomnibus” session which tacked on several last minute and from all appearances unread riders onto the appropriations bill (H.R. 83). Changes which rewarded Wall Street by allowing a ten fold increase in campaign contributions and relaxing the regulations on derivatives which were at the heart of the financial meltdown back to pre-meltdown standards.

The language for this rider in the appropriations bill was literally taken from Citibank’s legislative proposal.

Citi Group bill

Nor is it any coincidence that Senator McConnell’s has publicly stated his first priority as the new Senate leader is to further reward his party’s benefactors … I mean pass the Keystone XL bill.

Also hidden in this appropriations bill H.R. 83 http://www.gpo.gov/ fdsys/pkg/CPRT-113HPRT91668/pdf/CPRT-113HPRT91668.pdf was another rider (see pages 809-829) which essentially gives Wall Street unilateral power to cut retirement benefits to millions of current retirees whose pension accounts are in the same private plans that they nearly wiped out six years ago. Allowing them to effectively gut the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) in a way they were unable to do with the proposal to privatize the Social Security Trust Fund  first introduced during the Bush era.

What few people realize about the recently passed “CRomnibus” appropriations bill is just how radical it really is. Budget laws are supposed to decide what to fund and what to cut. A budget bill is not supposed to make new laws, or to rewrite laws, but that is what happened.

Nor do most people know that this special “rider” to the budget bill was first introduced last spring by the House Budget Committee. Yet somehow when the committee approved this anti-labor pension rule, no record could be found listing which members voted for the radical change, and who opposed it. http://www.alternet.org/economy/how-wall-street-and-its-democratic-allies-are-waging-war-against-pension-funds

Riders like this are not isolated incidents, they are part of a rapacious mindset summarized by Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfien who said in 2012 that people expecting to receive Social Security and pensions in their twilight years “are not going to get it,” claiming that their lifelong investments are something that “we can’t afford.” Apparently he is convinced that that “what’s yours in now mine,” that this money somehow belongs to the entitled “we” of corporate CEO’s and the 1%, not to the people who paid into them throughout their working lives.

Feudalism now and then

If you want to know how this scam works in Virginia, look no further than how McDonnell and the Republican House borrowed against the Virginia Retirement System for years to cover the Commonwealth’s operational expenses, concealing their sleight of hand in plain sight with deferred pension contributions. In the case of the 2010-11 budget these deferments accounted for nearly one-fourth of the budget.

The General Assembly as a whole and particularly the Republican dominated House of Delegates knew full well when they set up their plan to repay the retirement fund in 2010 with a 10 year IOU that would be paid back at 7.5% interest a year starting in 2013 that all they were doing was kicking their long term financial responsibilities down the proverbial road. http://www.richmond.com/news/state-will-dip-into-pension-fund-repay-with-interest/article_5fc2cbea-c766-53af-9e9b-188950f8ae8d.html

The intent behind the General Assemblies delaying tactic is simple, to set the stage for defunding and ultimately bankrupting the states pension plan.  It is a tactic that fits in nicely with conservatives of both parties long standing desire to privatize the assets of what remains of America’s middle class. Starting with their pension plans, and ending with privatizing that last remaining pot of gold, Social Security.

Another way to view what is happening is that as an economic system, capitalism has reached its “mature” and perhaps terminal phase.  One which has evolved from making its profits by selling their customers the best possible product at the lowest cost possible, to focusing on capturing increasing numbers of customers in domestic and international markets, to engaging in monopolistic and anti-competitive practices to maintain their stranglehold on their customers, and finally to exploiting and extracting whatever wealth their “customers” have left.

In that regard, the General Assemblies strategy is not a new one, or a particularly creative one. It mirrors how the Republicans in Congress during the Bush era designed their tax cuts for the so called “job creators” to expire in 2010, conveniently during the middle of the next administrations term, leaving their mess for someone else to clean up.

Such short sighted actions have contributed mightily to the states current budget shortfall, and have been hamstringing counties ability to function because over the past few years effectively passing many of what used to be the states “operational” costs downward to the counties. This deferred malfeasance pales in comparison with the way the General Assembly has been inadequately funding the state largest obligation, Medicaid for years.

Here in Virginia, their deliberate underfunding of Medicaid is a slow motion economic disaster. Republicans know that if they were to allow the ACA to pass in Virginia  given its huge impact on the states budget they would have little choice but to acknowledge just how much they have been financing the Commonwealths budget on smoke and mirrors.

In this regard, it is a trait they share with many other Republican dominated state assemblies, attempting to hide their fiscal “elephants in the middle of the room” in plain sight hoping no one notices

Republicans along with their conservative Democratic brethren are deathly afraid that if this information becomes common knowledge, even at this late stage of the game it might tilt public opinion and the balance of power away from them. They are prepared to do whatever is necessary to prevent that from happening, starting with denying there even is a problem no matter what the cost.

It was this mindset that was the heart of the Republican’s vehement obstructionism over “Medicaid Expansion” aka the Affordable Care Act in states that they controlled, and it is essentially the same dynamic that will be driving their resistance to implementing any of the EPA proposals to reduce harmful emissions from coal fired power plants in 2015.

EPA rollback

When the General Assembly convenes later in January you will undoubtedly hear Delegate Peter Farrell claiming along with Senators Garrett and Reeves that the Commonwealth needs across the board budget cuts of 5% this year and 7% next over the next 2 years if the state is to balance the budget.

If you’re interested in asking them why, you can contact them at:

DelPFarrell@house.virginia.gov (804) 698-1056,

district22@senate.virginia.gov (804) 698-7522,

district17@senate.virginia.gov (804) 698-7517.

If you want to see how this fiscal model works in other states, look no further than how Republican Governor Brownback of Kansas grand experiment with “growing” the states economy by introducing radical tax cuts has panned out. Cuts which have resulted in a 45 % reduction in state revenues, the slashing of virtually every program in the state to the bone, including cutting state employee pensions to pay for even more tax cuts. http://www.alternet.org/what-happened-when-extremist-christian-fundamentalist-got-run-whole-state?paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

This model is being repeated with different variations in states like; Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Missouri. Make no mistake about what is happening here, this is a dynamic which goes well beyond greed. It is special kind of greed which knows few bounds, a greed that stems from an ideological conviction that no one except for the wealthy elite should or deserves to have anything.

Since the mid 90′s, this greed has metastasized into a lust for the power to make that greed legal and permanent, backed by many bad actors; from the Koch brothers to a host of extractive businesses, particularly the financial industry whose actions continue to undermine our economy and our society. An approach which has fostered a world wide drift toward oligarchy which Thomas Piketty describes in his book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_in_the_Twenty-First_Century 

While as an economic system capitalism has always favored the ultra wealthy and the captains of industry what used to be a economic tilt in their favor has now evolved into a mad dash to collect as much wealth and power as possible, one that threatens to overrun and overwhelm us, unless we stop it.

Now that the Wall Street financiers and like minded ideologues such the Koch Brothers and their network of proxies like Americans for Prosperity (AFP) have successfully captured many state legislatures and now control 68 out of 98 partisan state legislative chambers — the highest number in the parties history.

State Control

They will use them, along with majorities in both chambers of Congress to change the laws and regulations even further in their favor. http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/republicans-in-state-governments-plan-juggernaut-of-conservative-legislation/2015/01/02/6a0a82be-92bd-11e4-a900-9960214d4cd7_story.html

 

Their control of so many state legislatures will give Republicans an unprecedented degree of influence that makes it even easier for them to use industry proxies like the American Exchange Council (ALEC) to help the states copy …. ahem write their model legislature. Crafting bills designed to eliminate public state and even private sector pensions in the name of “fiscal responsibility” impoverishing much of the population and enriching their benefactors in the process.

Readers of this blog and The Central Virginian should keep in mind that the CV’s unusual and premature disclaimer at the end of my November 20th letter to the editor that … “The Keystone XL project failed by a 59-41 vote in the U.S. Senate on Tues. Nov. 18th stems from the same unwavering support for the miracles of an unrestricted free market.

This business at any cost ideology driving both the Republicans and the Democrats will lead to their approving the Keystone XL pipeline, along with the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement (TTP), the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). At a minimum, they will try to use chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) calculations for Social Security benefits as a pathway to undermining future social security benefits while disingenuously claiming those changes will somehow “reform the system”, with an eye to abolishing Social Security altogether.

What our President will do once these bills arrive on his desk is a matter of conjecture, but if the claims in this article are an accurate description of what has happened to the Democratic party  – http://www.salon.com/2015/01/01/democrats_middle_class_hypocrisy_why_omnibus_will_haunt_them_partner/ he will likely sign most if not all of them, calling it a “bi-partisan” effort.

A set of circumstances that the comic Lewis Black once observed, “In our two-party system, the Democrats are the party of no ideas and the Republicans are the party of bad ideas. The only thing dumber than a Republican or a Democrat is when those pricks work together.

Jon Taylor

 

Trash For Cash

For those of you who read Betty Moody’s letter http://bluelouisaorg.fatcow.com/2014/12/10/selling-our-landfill/about the county’s proposal to open our landfill to outside trash as a way to fund the James River pipeline, you might have thought it would have been one of the topics of discussion at the December 15th Board of Supervisors meeting. While her letter noted that there would be a work session on this issue prior to the 6:00 Board meeting she couldn’t have anticipated that the Board would vote unanimously to remove it from their agenda.

During the earlier work session, County Administrator Christian Goodwin proposed another trash for cash solution, to sell the county’s trash to a local recycling company, along with charging fees for certain types of trash. If approved by the Board it would raise approximately $ 1.5 million in revenue a year, offsetting some of the $ 2.5 million that it costs the county to outsource the management of their dump and trash collection centers.

Considering that county faces a projected budget shortfall of roughly $ 4.5 million, this plan clearly doesn’t cover the cost of managing the county’s trash let alone fund the James River pipeline. When Mineral Supervisor, Stephanie Koren brought up the subject of the budget deficit during the work session, the reaction from other Board members was contentious and disingenuous.

Louisa Supervisor Troy Wade said it was “naïve” to think that the county could fund this pipeline project and several other projects without additional funding sources such as an increase in property taxes on the order of 13 cents per $ 100 of assessed value. Supervisor Willie Gentry (Cuckoo) seemed very concerned about being able to “sell any need to increase taxes”, along with convincing people living outside of the Zion’s Crossroads area how this water project will benefit them. About the only thing any of the Board members agreed on during that work session is that there were a lot of unanswered questions and concerns about this project.

Another missing item from the Boards conversation about the counties budget shortfall was how they plan on raising an additional $1.5 million for housing the counties prisoners at the Central Virginia Regional jail. Of the five counties funding this regional facility, Louisa County houses the majority, approximately 35% of their 400 inmates.

This statistic speaks to Louisa’s disproportionate incarceration rate compared to other counties. Considering that Louisa County doesn’t have a significantly higher crime rate than other counties, perhaps we should be looking at how overzealous prosecution and incarceration adds to the budget shortfall. These numbers do not include other hidden costs to county’s budget, such as the officers needed to transport inmates back and forth to court and medical appointments.

It would be interesting to see a breakdown of the budget to see where the big revenue costs are. Perhaps if the Board of Supervisors were more forthcoming about these figures, along with the long term costs of other projects the people of Louisa county would be in a better position to ask their supervisors what they intend to do about it.

Jon Taylor

How Democratic nomination process works

As reprinted in the Progress Index:  http://www.progress-index.com/article/20141211/News/141219949

In your December 5th article ” Mouse Jones seeks House of Delegates seat“, Mr. Jones questioned the timing of the Democratic nominating caucus and labeled it “exclusionary” and a “non-violent coup d’etat“. As one of the local Democratic committee chairs who was involved in the caucus logistics, I would like to clarify our nomination process.

On Monday morning, November 24th, the Republican Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, William J. Howell, issued his Writ of Election decreeing that the special election for the 63rd House seat will be held on January 6, 2015. This writ specified that all candidates, including political party nominees, be certified by 5 pm on December 3rd, allowing only 9 days for the nominating process in this historically Democratic district.

By that evening, a nominating committee was formed consisting of the local Democratic committee chairs from the 63rd District or their appointee if the chair did not not reside in the 63rd. Waivers to notice requirements from the Democratic Party of Virginia were obtained (Democratic Party rules require 7 days notice of any meeting), a central voting location that met ADA requirements was secured, and a meeting of this 63rd House District Nominating Committee was convened by conference call at 9 pm.

Because of the time constraints imposed by Speaker Howell’s writ, decisions on voting locations and caucus rules had to be made during this late-night conference call- after business hours for the district’s usual polling places and during a holiday week. While it was the desire of the members of the Nominating Committee to have a voting site in each locality, the time constraints imposed on them made that a virtual impossibility. Though disappointed that their voters would have to travel farther to participate, the compromise of one central voting location at Petersburg’s Union Train Station was approved by the Nominating Committee as their best available option.

All candidates who had been identified in the media as seeking the Democratic nomination were contacted that night to apprise them of the process. Caucus rules were disseminated the following day to the local media, and to area Democrats by state and local Democratic party websites, email, and social media, and volunteers were recruited to work at the caucus site, all during the week of a major holiday.

When the electoral process is rushed, the likelihood that voters are disenfranchised increases. That is NOT the Democratic way. The voters of the 63rd District were dealt a difficult hand by our Republican Speaker of the House. I commend my fellow Democratic chairs in the 63rd District and their appointees on this Nominating Committee for working so diligently under the Republican leader’s time constraints to organize a nominating caucus, and to Lashrecse Aird, who so ably chaired this committee. Without their hard work, the Democratic Party would have no nominee in this race.

The Democrats of the 63rd District have selected an outstanding candidate, Joseph Preston, as our party’s nominee. We look forward to a fair and open General Election on January 6th and urge all voters in the 63rd District to participate.

Elizabeth Hardin
Chair, Chesterfield County Democratic Committee

Selling our Landfill

You may or may not know the Louisa Board of Supervisors has decided once again to pursue the idea of opening our county’s landfill for outside trash deposits.  This means that tractor trailer loads of trash, not belonging to Louisa County citizens, will be trucked in and out of the facility every day, all day.  As a result, the life of our landfill will be greatly limited and our roads, which are already maxed out with traffic, will be even busier and less safe. If the current landfill operation continues, there is enough landfill space for the next 200 years but bringing in 400 tons a day would reduce its lifespan to 38-42 years.

On a daily basis, the landfill currently processes 5 vehicles every hour.  Bringing in 400 tons would mean an additional 6-8 trucks per hour.

The trucks that would be coming in hourly would also be coming out.  If 5 are presently coming in and going out over the scales and between 5 and 8 more trucks are added to the mix – that total number per hour has to be multiplied by 2.  So, 10 trucks in and out of the landfill within an hour amount to 1 truck every 3 minutes.  This would not only increase the travel and activity on the roads that are already maxed out but pose greater safety issues and deterioration to the roads causing major expenditures in the near future.

The supervisors gave citizens an opportunity to make comments on this issue at the beginning of their Dec. 1 meeting.  Then the board had a discussion of this plan which is being considered to offset the cost of bringing fresh water from the James River mainly to the Zion Crossroads and Ferncliff areas.

A presentation by county staff followed during which it was stated that no medical or hazardous waste would be allowed in the landfill. However, the reality is that there is no way for anyone at the landfill to check all of these trucks and monitor their cargo prior to them being dumped.

It was noted at the meeting by one supervisor that since only a handful of persons attended the meeting and spoke against this plan, it must mean that everyone else in the county supports it. Let’s show them that this is not true and put this matter behind us permanently!

The supervisors will be meeting again on Monday, Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. following a work session on this issue.  This is your opportunity to express your opinion if this issue matters to you.  Please know that this is NOT a NIMBY issue.  Importing trash from other areas affects the entire county.  If you can’t attend the meeting, then contact your supervisor by phone or email.  Tell her or him what you think before the meeting on Dec. 15.

Thank you for taking the time to help save the landfill.

Betty Moody Mineral

Contact information for the supervisors is listed below:

Willie L. Gentry, Jr., Chairman – Cuckoo district – 540-894-4751 (home) 540-894-6437 (cell); email: LCBS_CD@louisa.org

Fitzgerald A. Barnes, vice chair – Patrick Henry district – 540-967-1967 (home); 434-996-8534 (cell); email: LCBS_PHD@louisa.org

Stephanie L. Koren, Mineral District – 540-894-0487 (home); 540-894-6607 (cell); email: LCBS_MD@louisa.org

Tommy Barlow, Mountain Road District – 804-556-4656 (home); 804-310-4130 (cell); 804-556-4666 (work); email:LCBS_MRD@louisa.org.

Dan Byers, Jackson District – 540-872-3539 (home); 540-872-6652 (cell); email: LCBS_JD@louisa.org

Richard Havasy, Green Springs District – 540-967-2393 (home); 540-894-1023 (cell); LCBS_GSD@louisa.org

Troy Wade, Louisa District – 540-967-5374 (home); 434-466-8349 (cell): 540-967-9233 (office); email:LCBS_LD@louisa.org.