Week 3 – Conflicting Economic Priorities

Virginia’s Republican’s slavish adherence to “free market” ideology and unquestioning belief that the interests of business come before the interests of the people is rapidly leading the state and the people of Virginia down a path from which there may soon be no return. Nowhere is that clearer than in the vast difference between their legislative proposals and those of the Democrats.

Just compare the priorities of the House Democratic Caucus; to making voting more accessible, expanding economic opportunities, improve education, increase the availability of healthcare, promote public safety, and ethics reform. http://www.vahousedems.org/blog/house-democratic-caucus-2015-legislative-session-agenda

To those of the Virginia Conservative Caucus; whose agenda consists of limiting government and defending freedom, while giving lip service to making, jobs and economic opportunity, and protecting families. http://vaconservativecaucus.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/ConservativeCaucusAgenda%28012115%29.pdf

First, let’s take a look at the economic health of the Commonwealth. On one hand, the states unemployment rate continues to go down, but is still nowhere close to the states normal 2-3 % range which we saw prior to the Great Recession of 2007-08. According to Nobel economist, Paul Krugman, part of the problem is that we have a jobs deficit, where there simply aren’t enough people working in decent paying jobs, which in turn lowers the states tax revenues.

With Virginia having a significantly higher percentage of Federal employees than most other states, along with high numbers of Federal contractors, particularly in Northern Virginia and the Tidewater region, the state is relatively insulated from a reality which plagues most of the country. One where most of the new jobs being created are low income jobs, inadequate for covering the cost of living, let alone paying a wage that allows workers to thrive and prosper, and is just one aspect of the rapidly growing economic divide (aka inequality) that continues to tear our country apart.

While the nation was slowly recovering from the Great Recession, the Republican’s response to this slow motion crisis at both the Federal and state level, including here in Virginia was to cut, cut, and cut some more. And when that failed to achieve the desired effect, they shut down the government like petulant children with an economically damaging sequester.

Since Virginia has already cut all the way down to the marrow there are now two economic options facing the General Assembly; either continue cutting (along with increasing massive tax giveaways to connected corporations) or change course to one that would meaningfully improve the states economy and benefit all the people of the Commonwealth,

This week, the General Assembly, particularly the House has chosen the first option, following a clownish Alfred E. Neuman like approach of “what me worry?” In less than half an hour the House Commerce and Labor Committee killed 7 bills HB1987, HB1889, HB1990. HB1973, HB1976, HB2011, and HB2191 respectively, which would have curtailed the ability of payday and title loan companies to continue their usurious high interest rate loans that keep piling on debt even after borrowers made their monthly payments. http://www.dailypress.com/news/ politics/dp-nws-ga-open-end-credit-20150127-story.html

This committee which incidentally, our Delegate Peter Ferrell sits on, did such a perfunctory job of doing its job that lobbyists for the lenders didn’t even bother to testify for the first six bills, while Chairman Terry Kilgore, who at a couple points in the meeting loudly noted that the committee was familiar with the arguments, while disingenuously asking if anyone wanted to speak against the measures.

Democratic Del. David Yancey, figured that was progress, saying “The first time I tried, I couldn’t even get a motion. Last year, I got a motion, but no second. This year, at least they voted.” Later, in that meeting while Yancey was attending another committee meeting, the House Commerce and Labor Committee moved to kill one of his bills with no discussion, just a motion to kill the measure and a voice vote.

The committee also killed two bills which would have set higher minimum wages for Virginia’s workers, HB1512, which would have increased hourly wages to $15. 15 an hour, and HB1654, that proposed to increase wages to $ 8.00 an hour, along with measure requiring employers give people paid sick days HB2008  —— a bill HB1945 that would of granted leave from work due to domestic or sexual violence ——  and finally one that would have increased the damages people can claim if they can prove they were paid less than others because of their sex. HB1823.

With the last bill, Republican Delegate Greg Habeeb said it would have no effect because discrimination cases of that nature are covered by federal law, an argument you will hear later when it comes to their reasons for not passing the constitutional amendment for the Equal Rights Act. Disingenuously claiming these bills were designed to embarrass Republican legislators when they run for election in November.

This is not to say that the Commerce and Labor Committee did nothing but say no , they did move forward 4 of their own bills, 3 “reforming” unemployment compensation, and Peter Ferrell’s bill HB1820 that “reforms” workman’s compensations.

Meanwhile elsewhere in the House, Chris Jones the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee says he is moving forward with a long overdue pay increase of at least 1 percent for state police and other state employees, and 1 to 2 percent for teachers and for state-supported local employees. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/va-house-budget-writers-react-to-rise-in-revenue-back-raise-for-state-workers/2015/01/29/99334b68-a7f1-11e4-a06b-9df2002b86a0_story.html There is currently no bill number for this proposal.

Jones said these raises would come from new sources of revenue which are up about 6.8 percent so far this year, with the total cost of the raises coming in around $ 130 million. According to his counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Walter Stosch, “We will probably be pretty close, in every discussion, the House and the Senate both wanted to do something for state employees, particularly state police,” who will also have approximately $ 4 million in overtime pay restored. http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/government-politics/general-assembly/article_eb68096e-ff9d-5466-af3b-7a157f140ff9.html

If you look closely there’s a catch to this entire proposal, since Delegate Jones, and presumably most of his fellow Republican in their newly found sense of generosity to the states employees, also want to keep the tax credits for electric utilities which are still burning coal in place. Nor is this likely to be the only subsidy they have in mind.

Such resistance on this seemingly minor issue strongly indicates that he and his party have absolutely no intention of moving away from their cut and grow mindset. Expecting us to believe that they have somehow magically “transformed” themselves in the past few months away from their previous devotion to “tax cuts” for corporations and the rich into an enlightened state of being where supporting state sponsored corporate subsidies has become their path towards economic salvation.

Never mind the inconvenient fact that these subsidies would produce little in the way of positive economic effect for the Commonwealth, other than enriching the corporations receiving them. Especially with coal mining as an industry in Virginia and the surrounding region is declining rapidly due to the price of coal, which is being mined far more cheaply in Wyoming and Montana, the cost of any subsidies thrown towards direct mining would be negligible.

This subsidy is aimed squarely at the General Assemblies single largest political contributor, Dominion Power who coincidentally owns most of the states newest coal burning plants used to generate electricity in the state. http://www.virginiaplaces.org/geology/coalfired.html Look for more on this subject in the coming posts.

On the slightly less bad news front, at least this week, the Senate didn’t do as much harm on the economic front, with their only action being to kill Senator McEachin’s bill, SB722, a sexual wage discrimination bill similar to HB1823.

Jon Taylor

Week 3 – Denying Votes

So far, week three’s coverage of this winter’s General Assembly session has evolved into a study of “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” and there’s a whole lot of bad going around. So much that one might be tempted to think that the Republican’s had dug up Lee Van Cleef and pasted a smiling face on his corpse.

Some of the proposals flying around in the General Assembly are rehashed versions of their perennial losers, while others appear to be working in tandem with their new found strength in the Senate. A legislative strategy straight out of the ALEC playbook, introduce as many similar bills as possible, knowing that eventually enough of them will pass both chambers.  Allowing them to “crossover” where they can be passed and trussed up like a stuffed turkey, ready  for the Governors signature.

Their deceptive ploy starts with finding more ways to restrict your ability to vote. Borrowing from the punch line of one of the comic Ron Whites jokes “we now have the right to remain silent, but not the ability.” In this case HB1318, which requires absentee voters to include a copy of their photo identification when applying for a ballot by mail.

The implications of this bill are significant enough that I’m going to stretch the common blogging standard of “fair use” well beyond the usual 3-4 paragraphs and use most of a recent Times Dispatch Article.

Unsurprisingly, this bill was passed out of the House Privileges and Elections Committee by 16-6 party-line vote, and is now headed to the House floor. The bills sponsor, Republican Del. Jeffrey Campbell, claimed “We put the bill forward because there is a gap in the law. In my opinion, if a person has to submit photo ID in person, they should certainly have to do so by mail as well.” Along with “It’s basically treating classes of voters differently, so I felt it was needed.

Democratic Del. Mark Sickles, a member of the elections committee criticized the legislation saying that “Republicans seem to think that the Democrats can’t win an election unless we cheat, for some reason, and they keep trying to think of ways people are fooling the system. But voter fraud for ID purposes has not been found anywhere; it doesn’t exist.”

While Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of the civics group New Virginia Majority, said the legislation would add “a whole new category of voters” that would have to get a state-issued voter ID. “One of the reasons why photo ID implementation last year didn’t cause as many problems as we have seen in other states is because there was no photo ID requirement for absentee mail-in voters.

That took care of a lot of seniors who no longer drive or folks with disabilities, because they could vote by absentee mail and didn’t have to have a photo ID in order to do that.” She also identified a weakness in the bill.

“If the intent of the voter ID is to compare the voter to the photo to verify the identity, and you are mailing in a copy of an ID, registrars have nothing to compare the picture to. So it’s really not doing anything other than adding another barrier for voters and creating more work for registrars.”

When asked about this, Sen. Campbell said that. “Off the top of my head, I can’t answer that.”  http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/article_f026389d-c81f-51df-93fe-2b49dedd611f.html

As mentioned in a previous blog entry, Republican’s concept of “voting integrity” has always about restricting the vote to the party faithful, while disenfranchising everyone else, even if it means excluding their largest voting bloc, senior citizens. http://bluelouisaorg.fatcow.com/2015/01/31/week-3-legislative-fear/

While it is certainly good news to learn that SB719 which would allow voters over 65 to vote absentee for any reason has passed the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee  by a 12-3 vote, and is now headed to Senate floor for a vote.  It should be noted that Louisa’s own Tom Garrett was one of the 3 Senators who voted against this bill.

Should this bill pass the Senate, exactly what will happen to it once it crosses over into the House is anyone’s guess.

Which brings us to Louisa’s other quisling Senator, Bryce Reeves, who introduced a self serving bill, SB1237 that changes the boundaries of his 17th Senate district in an election year by flipping some precincts in Albemarle County with Senator Creigh Deeds 25th district. This bill has already passed the full Senate along party lines 21-18, and both Reeves and Garrett voted for it.

 Deeds said of the bill “I voted against it in full committee and I voted against it on the full floor, and if it makes it off the floor, I’d ask the governor to veto it,” the bill is unconstitutional; the legislature adjusted Virginia’s constitution in 2004 to mandate that redistricting happen only once a decade.”

Anna Scholl, executive director of ProgressVA, was even blunter. “It looks like a blatant partisan attempt to redraw the district lines in an election year to ensure that he’s reelected.” Combined with another redistricting bill making its way through the Senate, she estimates Reeves’ would get a roughly 600 Republican vote boost “in a district he won in 2011 by around 226 votes.

This election year redistricting of the 17th Senate district seat in Bryce Reeves favor gets even worse with SB986, introduced by Tom Garrett, and co-patroned by Delegate Peter Ferrell.

It rearranges 2 of Louisa County’s precincts, moving Fredericks Hall from Bryce Reeve’s 17th District to Tom Garrett’s 22nd District, and South Anna from Garrett’s 22nd district to Reeve’s 17th District, and has already passed the full Senate along party lines 21-18 with both Reeves and Garrett voting for it. Supposedly this was to address the fact that the South Anna district was “split” between the 17th and 25th Senate districts and was causing confusion amongst the voters living there.

This move will likely result in a shift of roughly 150 likely Republican voters towards Senator Reeves, while possibly costing Senator Garrett 50 likely Republican voters, since Fredericks Hall is one of the few precincts in Louisa county which nominally votes Democratic. A move he can easily afford since most of his conservative “base” is concentrated in the Lynchburg area, and having won his previous election by 17 points.

What’s more is that this precinct swap literally divides the counties Senate District voters, with Frederick Hall (22nd) now being located in the upper Northeastern quadrant up by Lake Anna, nestled among the other 17th Senate District precincts. And with South Anna now being located in the lower Southeastern quadrant of the county, abutting Goochland County and I-64 amongst the other 22nd Senate district precincts.

That’s how Republicans are rolling these days, enacting hidden agenda’s that will legally and permanently stack the deck in their favor. Especially now that this past 2014 election has given them a majority (66/99) of state legislative bodies expect to see them move even more boldly in the coming weeks.

Jon Taylor

Week 3 – Legislative Fear

As the third week of Virginia’s General Assembly winds down, several distinct trends are emerging.

First and foremost, whatever the Commonwealth’s legislator’s donors want they get, starting with; the energy industry lead by Dominion Power, the NRA and other “gun rights” organizations, and above all the integration of those interests personified by organization like ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The second development is that many of these bills appear to be swimming upstream against the current of social, economic and scientific reality, passing or failing solely on the strength of party unity.

Some of the proposals introduced by members of the General Assembly are perennial losers, cropping up every year like a bad fungal infection. Bills which if passed would allow even more mischief to flourish. Reversing the order of “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” let’s start with the most hideous of these proposals.

Leading off is; SB 1060, introduced by Sen. Mark Obenshain, which calls for voter registration by party in state primaries.

For those of you not familiar with him, you may remember him as the Republican who narrowly lost the 2013 Attorney General race. He should be better known for having introduced bills in 2009 and 2013 which would have essentially criminalized miscarriages, requiring women to report themselves to the state police within 24 hours of miscarrying or face criminal charges.

This video of him responding to Sen. Chap Peterson on the Senate floor should make it abundantly clear where both he and his party stand on the issue of voting rights. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flFHnT6twI8&x-yt-cl=85027636&x-yt-ts=1422503916&feature=player_embedded

When called out on the House floor by Peterson, Obenshain tried to lie his way out of it, claiming he knew what the bill would do while making snide remarks that this wasn’t his “first time at the rodeo.”

Republican’s concept of “voting integrity” has always about restricting the vote to the party faithful, while disenfranchising everyone else. It’s never been about promoting policies which would benefit all citizens of the Commonwealth, gaining their party even more supporters in the process. Fortunately his proposal died in committee without having come to a vote.

Another bill, HB 1414, sponsored by Del. Bob Marshall, better known as  “Sideshow Bob” for his role in helping pass the infamous 2006 amendment to the state constitution which “defined” a marriage as being strictly between a man and a woman, a law which is currently being contested in the Federal Appeals court as well as the Supreme Court.

His bill proposes that …. no person with a government issued license, registration or certificate would have been required to participate in any action that would “violate the religious or moral convictions of such person with respect to same-sex marriage or homosexual behavior.”

Like Sen. Obenshain, when confronted with this in committee, he insisted that his proposal had been misrepresented and that he was being “vilified” by his opponents, insisting that it had nothing to do with “denying gay people” their rights. It too was killed in committee without a vote. http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/article_1cda4826-3936-5f56-a3b3-f2217c134487.html

Nor are Republicans alone in introducing such heinous bills, SB1393 sponsored by Democratic Sen. Richard Saslaw  gives the Director of the Department of Corrections authority to make contracts with an external entity to compound the drugs used in  lethal injections. While ensuring that any information relating to the identity of the entity compounding drugs used in executions and all documents related to the execution process are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, and are not subject to discovery or introduction as evidence in a civil proceeding.

Unlike the two previous bills, this one was passed out of the Senate Education and Health sub-committee: Health Professions where Louisa’s own Tom Garrett sits with no recorded vote. However, they did amend it to require the state to disclose what drug or combination of drugs is used in any execution, but left the secrecy provision intact, sending it to the full Education and Health Committee, with the recommendation that move to the Courts of Justice Committee.

On a larger scale this bill represents an institutionalized and reflexive support for the death penalty, and an attempt to avoid even discussing the subject. Many of you will recall the public outcry which ensued after the three horrifically botched executions happened last year — in Ohio, Oklahoma, and Arizona which painstakingly illustrated the dangers of such cruel and unusual methods of punishment.

Many states have responded by taking a sneakier, and constitutionally more suspect, path: dropping a veil of secrecy over executions. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/va-senate-panel-advances-bill-to-ensure-supply-of-lethal-injection-drug/2015/01/29/b022565a-a6ef-11e4-a7c2-03d37af98440_story.html

More than a dozen states have adopted such policies, and others are considering similar measures. Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration’s proposal through their proxy, Senator Saslaw, goes well beyond even the draconian Ohio law which Governor Kasich signed shortly before Christmas last year.

All of which ignores the fact that the use of the death penalty has been steady declining in America, with fewer states using it and those that do, are executing fewer every year. The fact that this trend is largely due to public opinion is no excuse for maintaining them in silence. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/after-botched-executions-states-add-secrecy-to-the-lethal-injection-process/2015/01/27/4a763f78-a592-11e4-a06b-9df2002b86a0_story.html

None of which answers the question of why is so much effort being put forth on a national scale to maintain a system of state sanctioned executions which are clearly diminishing?  The answer is as disturbing as it is obvious — we are no longer have a functional democracy. http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/princeton-experts-say-us-no-longer-democracy

Over the past few decades America’s political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield the political and economic power. Call it what you will, an oligarchy, or kleptogarchy we have essentially become sacrificial pawns in their quest to acquire what remains of our wealth.

Putting executions outside of our traditional legal process and making it a matter of state secrecy is part of a trend that’s hard to ignore. We see it when our politicians continue to keep uncharged prisoners in an offshore prison well beyond the reach of federal courts. And we see it with the feverish intensity with which Republicans and Democrats’ alike have turned defending torture and the death penalty into some kind of ideological litmus test.

Quite simply, the United States is a police state, one which both parties support. The only difference is one of degree, collaborators or storm troopers. A state of civic affairs which reminds me of a famous line from the movie, Star Wars, where Grand Moff Tarkin said about the Death Star, “fear will keep the local systems in line.”

Jon Taylor

Regulatory Capture is the Virginia Way

Editors note: After three weeks, it’s clear that our local paper the Central Virginian has no intention of printing this letter to the editor, and has chosen to fill their op-ed pages with conservative syndicated content, along with local letters which to put it mildly in terms of their accuracy and content are highly regressive. __________________________________________________________________________

If you checked your mailbox several weeks ago you might have noticed a slick color survey from your 56th District Delegate Peter Farrell, and even though it is now well past the fliers January 25th deadline, presumably he’s still interested in what his constituents think.

This survey, like last year’s was filled with leading and biased questions, a disinformation campaign dressed up as constituent service. What most of the Central Virginian’s readers may not know that this survey was released on line just hours before his January 19th Tele-Town Hall Meeting.

A teleconference of approximately 1,100 participants, where Ferrell asked a number of additional “survey questions”, press 1 if you agree, and 2 if you disagree. Given the nature of those questions, one might have thought they were designed to cloud the issues rather than clarify them.

Jeff Shapiro of the Richmond Times Dispatch made this observation that the General Assembly “… has become a screen behind which complex and costly issues unfold often unnoticed…”, and where “…with apologies to Calvin Coolidge: The business of Virginia is business.” http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/government-politics/jeff-schapiro/article_6b0c5d18-ea8b-5e31-87ef-39339897993c.html

For example, take a proposed bill (SB 1349) that it patron, Senator Frank Wagner admits was written by Dominion Power officials, allowing them to lock-in their rates through 2020, guaranteeing their rate of return (profits), along with preventing the State Corporation Commission from conducting any reviews of their rates for the next six years. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/va-bill-would-put-a-pause-on-dominion-audits-linked-to-refunds-or-rate-reductions/2015/01/28/2eb21e4a-a64d-11e4-a2b2-776095f393b2_story.html

It should be noted that a previous review by the SCC led to a $78 million refund to Dominions customers.

Over in the House of Delegates, Lee Ware has introduced a similar bill, HB 1475 which would allow Dominion to charge their customers for building new gas pipelines – regardless of whether those customers use that gas, explicitly stating that pipelines are “in the public interest”, and that there is no need to determine if there are any negative consequences.

An even greater concern thanks to a 2004 state law, coincidentally written by Senator Wagner allows gas companies to access private property without an owner’s permission, first to survey the property — and in the case of pipelines using eminent domain to secure easements with minimal compensation.

This greatest impact of this law is how hydro-fracking operations have been conducted for more than a decade in Southwest Virginia. Companies can legally extract the gas from under your property without paying any royalties. Sen. Creigh Deeds, who voted against this bill, says “I thought then and I think even more now that it’s unconstitutional.

Utility companies have been trampling private property rights for more than a decade, and now Dominion seeks to stack the deck even further, essentially writing off their costs of doing business at consumer and taxpayer expense.

Wikipedia defines regulatory capture as “a form of political corruption that occurs when a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, advances the commercial concerns of the industry it is regulating, a form of government failure which creates opportunities for firms to behave in ways that are injurious to the public.”

So the next time Peter Farrell sends you a flier talking about his legislative priorities, keep in mind that during the last state election cycle in 2013, that Dominion Power contributed more than $800,000 to state candidates, and that his father, Tom Farrell is their CEO .

Lewalta Haney

Virginia Legislative Update-First 2 weeks

While the real fireworks, along with meaningful progress has yet to take place in this years first General Assembly session, almost all the news worth reporting has so far has taken place in the Senate. Before going into the details, some additional information is needed to better understand the unique nature of the Senates dysfunctional dynamics.

First, several long serving Senators are retiring at the end of this legislative session. Chuck Colgan, a Northern Virginia Democrat, who served 40 years in the Senate, is joined by Richmond-area Republicans John Watkins and Walter Stosch, each with 33 years of legislative experience.

Second, the so called gentile atmosphere of the Virginia Senate has been a myth for over 20 years. It is a body that has long been riven by partisanship, when Republicans and Democrats are not fighting amongst themselves — their caucuses beset by generational tension — are busy fighting among themselves.

Coupled with an impending court mandated redistricting of Congressional districts, which could possibly affect the Commonwealth’s House of Delegate and Senate districts, a potential change which threatens to shift the balance of power back to the Democrats, ensuring that the toxicity in the Senate will only increase.

Most significantly, the imminent departure of these 3 Senators, mean that the political center where Democrats and Republicans actually come together to solve the Commonwealth’s problems is rapidly crumbling. Of the 21 Republicans in the Senate, at least 16 are to the right —many to the far right — of Stosch, and Watkins. http://www.richmond.com/ news/virginia/government-politics/jeff-schapiro/article_9383bcde-b642-59c2-8eed-3219f5abb804.html\

In light of the “Sponge Bob” McDonnell scandal, the General Assemblies unofficial motto has clearly become “…with apologies to Calvin Coolidge: “The business of Virginia is business.” Coupled with the fact that this is an election year, the Senate in particular has become  “…a screen behind which complex and costly issues unfold often unnoticed.”

It’s no secret that many of our legislators’ votes are dictated by deep-pocketed lobbyists, and their adherence to party orthodoxy, along with calculating if there is any risk to themselves in aligning themselves with the politically radioactive interests of their corporate sponsors. With both Democrats and Republicans alike kowtowing to the wishes of the highest bidder. http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/government-politics/jeff-schapiro/ article_94050df0-2296-5d7a-bc2b-e07e0431576a.html

Take for example, the only noteworthy action in the House of Delegates where on January 21st, the Campaign Finance Subcommittee, voted lines along party lines to kill HB 1983, an ethics reform bill which would have banned campaign fundraising during special sessions. http://www.vahousedems.org/blog/icymi-republicans-vote-against-banning-fundraising-special-sessions

Nor did it take long for the reasons for this bill to become evident when Republican Delegate “Sideshow BobMarshall was caught fundraising during general session. The Washington Post reported that he had maintained a live contribution link on his campaign website during the session, and that he received a donation via this link after the General assembly session started.

Afterwards, he was quoted by they Post as saying “You’re not supposed to raise money during session,” while disingenuously claiming “to think that a grandmother from Roanoke who sends me $ 25 would have undue influence,” conveniently ignoring the fact that when it comes to Virginia’s campaign prohibition while the General Assembly is in session there is zero ambiguity.

House Democratic Caucus Executive Director Trent Armitage said that “Delegate Marshall has shown a reckless disregard for the General Assembly’s efforts to deliver an honest and open government to people of Virginia.http://www.vahousedems.org/blog/shocking-del-bob-marshall-caught-fundraising-during-general-session

While “Sideshow Bob” may be one of the more brazen ethics scofflaws, he is hardly alone in his devotion to fundraising. Last year, Republican Speaker of the House Bill Howell, received $277,950 in contributions, 73.9 percent of which came from business lobbyists. While his counterpart in the Senate, Majority Leader Thomas Norment , reported $407,680 in contributions, with 67.6 percent coming from lobbyists.

On the other side of the aisle, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Richard Saslaw, deserves special mention, having received $417,562 in  contributions last year, with 73.7 percent  coming from business interests. Beyond his longstanding history of doing the bidding of companies who contribute money to his campaign, is the fact he is utterly incompetent as a party leader.

Some notable examples; blowing hundreds of thousands of dollars on the special election for Phil Puckett’s Senate seat, a district which went 2:1 for Cuccinelli in 2013.  Or losing control of the State Senate in districts where those lines were drawn and approved by him.

And that’s not even counting the fact that Saslaw completely missed the embezzlement of $600,000 of his own money by his trusted advisers. http://www.bluevirginia.us/diary/11205/video-in-crude-language-sen-dick-saslaw-argues-that-ethics-laws-are-irrelevant-unnecessary

The truth is that for all their talk about “making government more transparent”, neither party particularly the Republicans controlling the General Assembly are serious about ethics reform, unwilling to  to reform Virginia’s pathetically weak campaign finance laws. Their current proposals deliberately overlook the elephant sitting in the middle of the room, lobbying and corporate donations which are driving their actions.

As previously mentioned, most of the action in first two weeks of the General Assembly took place in the Senate, where Republicans did their part to ensure that the Commonwealth’s economy would not be improving anytime soon. Voting along party lines 11-3 in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee to defeat Senate Bill 681 passing it by indefinitely” rendering it effectively dead for this legislative session. This bill would have increased the minimum wage in Virginia to $8 an hour by July 1st, going up to $9 an hour next year and to $10.10 by July 1, 2017.

It should be noted that retiring Senators; Watkins, Stosch, Colgan along with Saslaw all serve on this committee.

This same Committee, all male membership voted 11-3 on the 19th, to “pass by indefinitely,” SB 1277, effectively defeating a bill that would have increased access to prescription contraceptives by mandating that insurance plans cover more of them. http://www.naralva.org/get-involved/take-action/housecourtssb617.shtml

It remains to be seen if January 27th’s   Emergency session of the Senate Privileges and Elections Subcommittee Meeting, Equal Rights Amendment Legislation (SJ216) chaired by Louisa’s own Tom Garrett will die a similar death, ensuring that it will not make it out to the afternoons, Committee on Privileges and Elections meeting. Or will this bill actually move out of the full committee to the Senate floor?

Just in case you were wondering, SJ 216 ratifies the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution proposed by Congress in 1972. The joint resolution advocates the position that the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment remains viable and may be ratified notwithstanding the expiration of the 10-year ratification period set out in the resolving clause, as amended, in the proposal adopted by Congress.

About the only good news coming out of the Senate, was that Sen. Dick Black’s bill SB 722 which would have prevented students with deferred action status (aka the Dreamers) from being eligible for in-state tuition at Virginia universities was defeated in the Senate 20-19. Predictably our two Republican Senators, Tom Garrett and Bryce Reeves voted against it.

The bill basically states that absent congressional intent to the contrary, any person granted Temporary Protected Status, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or Deferred Action for Parental Accountability by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is ineligible for in-state tuition charges at public institutions of higher education in the Commonwealth.

Protecting their ability to access in-state tuition will help them reach their full potential as productive, contributing members of our society. Especially since these are students who are legally reside in Virginia, can get a driver’s license and a Social Security number, and will have to apply to Virginia state schools and be accepted like anyone else.

Jon Taylor

Prison Industrial Complex

These two recent letters to the editor in our local paper, The Central Virginian touch upon some aspects of the Prison Industrial Complex which has expanded dramatically over the past 40 years, to a point where the United States with ~ 5% of the worlds population, now houses 25% of all the worlds inmates.

We can no longer continue to deny how this systematic predation, particularly in our minority communities diminishes our freedoms and affects us all. A subject touched on by an earlier Blue Louisa series, starting with …. http://bluelouisaorg.fatcow.com/2014/08/23/consequences-of-willful-ignorance/ describing some of the legal and law enforcement practices that are contributing to our nations current and institutionalized disregard for human life and civil liberties.

1-22-15  A call for change

Did you know that law enforcement can pull you over, seize your money, and then make you prove you didn’t get it through illegal means?

You think it couldn’t happen to you, well, think again. In order to get your money back, you must hire a lawyer and spend thousands of dollars, not to mention being denied the use of your own money for months or years, causing you immeasurable harm, loss and distress, not only for yourself, but for your family.

Furthermore, you will not be paid interest by the seizing agencies or the Commonwealth for their error. This is real folks, and the beginning of a nightmare for anyone stopped in the process called civil asset forfeiture.

Do you recall the criminal asset forfeiture program?–another law enforcement cash cow. Well, this Virginia civil stop and grab your money program, highlighted in a series of articles in the Washington Post, allows state and local law enforcement agencies to seize a person’s money or property if an officer simply suspects for any reason he deems justified. Even if no drugs are found or seized and the person’s property has a “substantial connection” to illegal drug activity, law enforcement can seize, and most of the time keep, the money or property, regardless of whether they ever charge the person with a crime. Sometimes, they don’t even provide a receipt for the money that they took. It is your word against theirs, remember.

Yes, this is true! This program has become a cash cow for Virginia law enforcement and 90 percent of the assets forfeited go directly to the law enforcement agency that seized the money or property. Since July 1991, Virginia law enforcement agencies have collected more than $91 million from asset forfeitures.

It’s time to stop this program and to stop policing for profit. The criminal forfeiture program was designed to punish criminals by taking away the benefits coming from their criminal enterprises. In a democratic society, you must require a criminal conviction before a person’s assets can be taken by the state. Every person who is suspected of a crime is innocent until proven guilty.

Gloria Pope  Louisa

1-15-15 Virginia makes a stand on HR 1447

I commend Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine for their courage to stand up and vote to pass House Resolution 1447, the Death in Custody Act, which became public law on December 18, 2014.

This crucial legislation will go a long way to not only understanding the phenomenon of the deaths of Americans while in custody, but also may alleviate the environment of suspicion, concern and mistrust that currently exists in many racial and ethnic minority communities across America by providing much-needed transparency in our nation’s criminal justice system. The data collected will also help us craft future policies and legislation to address problems which may exist in an informed manner.

The current lack of uniform reporting requirements have made it impossible to ascertain how many people were dying in custody and from what causes. Estimates by those concerned suggested there were over 1,000 deaths in custody each year, some under very suspicious circumstances.

Indifference to prisoner rights and the safety of those in custody made scrutiny of suspected deaths a low priority, so such questionable causes were rarely investigated.

The result, besides a loss of life, has been a contribution to a general mistrust of law enforcement by many Americans, especially Americans of color often disproportionately affected by contact with law enforcement.

Melvin Burruss, Esq. Louisa

Running Unopposed – Fake Messages

It’s been said that one of the best indicators of what someone is likely to do in the future are their past actions, and in the case of our state delegate, Peter Farrell (R-56th) there appears to be a considerable degree of truth to that observation.

Last year, just as the General Assembly was about to get underway he conducted a “survey” asking his constituents some questions about what they thought should be the legislative priorities for the coming year. http://bluelouisaorg.fatcow.com/2014/01/10/messaging-and-fake-surveys/

To say that this survey was leading, biased and deliberately designed to reinforce certain attitudes would be an understatement. This year’s survey held a week into the General Assemblies legislative session saw more of the same. The biggest difference, unlike last year’s survey, there was absolutely no provision for constituents to comment on any other issues and concerns they might have.

This survey was posted up on his re-election webpage, along with his Facebook page http://survey.house.virginia.gov/ Survey.aspx?s=36fb37692d384ba593ab74f3fec206e9 just a few hours before his telephone “Town Hall Meeting” later that evening.

During this telephone conference, Farrell stated that the biggest issues  facing the Commonwealth and his legislative priorities were to; implement ethics legislation, presumably in response to the recent McDonnell scandal, reduce job killing regulations like the EPA’s new CO2 standards, pass a budget which addresses the commonwealth’s budget shortfall, and to improve the states educational system.

The first call he took was “live” and the rest of questions were read aloud, purportedly coming from concerned citizens, like “John” from Hanover, and “Fred” from Spotsylvania. During this survey a number of questions were asked by Ferrell of his remote audience, press 1 if you agree, and 2 if you disagree.

A more cynical observer might be tempted to think that his Town Hall involving approximately 1,100 participants was nothing more than a concerted propaganda campaign dressed up as informational content. Disinformation designed to reinforce their one sided messages, clouding the issues rather than clarifying them, adding to their constituents ignorance of what is really happening.

For example, take his claim that one of the General Assemblies goals is to improve the states educational system.  After all who could object to such a worthy endeavor that should have wholehearted bi-partisan support in both the House and the Senate? However, such outward appearances of noble civic mindedness can be deceiving.

If you didn’t listen closely to the questions Ferrell asked you might have easily missed the only nuanced question asked during this teleconference. Where he asked with regards to the Federal Head Start program, if we should; 1) continue to accept unreliable Federal money which could leave the state on the hook for implementing their a one size fits all model, 2) move to a private sector model, 3) make it universal for all the states children, 4) do nothing to expand or improve the program?

It should be noted that shortly after all the other questions were asked, Ferrell would proudly announce that this issue was supported by 70+% of the Town Halls participants.  Surprisingly, he stated that the responses to the Head Start question only enjoyed a plurality. At no time during the Town Hall meeting did Ferrell ever made clear what that plurality might have been.

One obvious inference to the responses to this question might be that the target audience for Ferrell’s Town Hall doesn’t do nuance. Another possibility is that this lack of clarification on this question was not an oversight, it was a deliberate omission. One designed to lead participants away from Ferrell’s and the General Assemblies true intentions.

To get a better sense of where the Republicans in the General Assembly are likely to be going with this, take the time to revisit question # 4 on his online survey, where it asks, do your support giving school boards the ability to begin classes before Labor Day and set their own academic calendars?

On its surface it’s an innocuous enough proposal by the General Assembly to give local school boards the ability to set their own schedules, rather than following a statewide schedule. What is likely to happen is that the Republicans will follow their usual pattern of stealth legislation, inserting some kind of last minute hidden provision that gives local school boards even more autonomy than just setting their own schedule.

Don’t be surprised if they try to use this bill to give school boards the “freedom” to authorize charter schools. Their ultimate goal is to set the stage for privatizing local schools, and cancelling programs like Head Start altogether while using whatever local, state and government funding they can get their hands on.

Just as Republicans at the state level, particularly their take no prisoners Tea Party brethren are increasingly advocating for “States Rights,” there is a similar movement within their ranks promoting “local control” especially of school boards. If you wade deep enough into this muck, you will find an offshoot of ALEC – The American Legislative Exchange Council http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed called the American City County Exchange (ACCE) somewhere at the bottom of the ooze.

Continued with: http://bluelouisaorg.fatcow.com/2015/01/21/running-unopposed-alec-and-acce/

Jon Taylor

Running Unopposed – ALEC and ACCE

Last year, a posting in BlueLouisa  http://bluelouisaorg.fatcow.com/2014/04/26/local-media-complicity-in-our-fake-town-halls/ outlined a project to take control of villages, towns, cities and counties was being managed through an ALEC spin off, known as the American City County Exchange (ACCE) and coordinated through ALEC state chairs.

Here in Virginia the person best know as man behind the ALEC curtain is House Speaker Bill Howell, who coincidentally is also the national chair of their effort to bring back wayward corporations who fled when their participation was publicly exposed several years ago, along with Louisa’s own Pat Mullins, the soon to be retiring Chair of the Virginia Republican’s.

Like ALEC, the American City County Exchange (ACCE) offers corporate America a direct conduit into the policy making process of city councils and municipalities. Where lobbyists acting on behalf of major businesses are able to propose resolutions and argue for new profit-enhancing legislation in front of elected city officials, who will then return to their council chambers and seek to implement the proposals.  http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/06/conservative-group-alec-city-local-government?CMP=twt_gu

Just in case your inclined to think that claims like this are little removed from tin foil hat wearing conspiracies, consider that ALEC’s own website proudly announced this past July that according to the Culpepper Star Exponent, Jon Russell, director of the American City County Exchange, had just been sworn in as a Culpepper city councilman.

While it’s true that one isolated example of their involvement isn’t sufficient evidence of a trend, you should be aware that Culpepper has become a hotbed of Republican activism, and that their local paper the Culpepper Star Exponent has been giving them an unusual amount of exposure.  So much exposure, that one would be tempted to call them fluffers for the cause.

For example, take this thinly disguised op-ed, dated November 13th 2014 by Kara Kerwin the president of The Center for Education Reform calling for increased local support for charter schools http://www.dailyprogress.com/starexponent/opinion/letters/newly-elected-leaders-must-separate-fact-from-fiction-on-charter/article_1b7404a0-6a7b-11e4-8431-f73a06199ef5.html?mode=story

Given the long standing history of our own local paper, The Central Virginian, most letters to the editor from local conservatives should be taken with a very large grain of salt. But this letter from Christina Shaw of Culpeper a few days later also calling for local support of  charter schools was unusual enough to set off anyone’s BS radar. http://www.dailyprogress.com/starexponent/opinion/letters/letter-to-the-editor-charter-schools-need-to-be-more/article_c0c2b5f0-6d82-11e4-9909-9fbf710daa61.html

Exactly where Peter Ferrell fits into this picture of promoting charter schools is a matter of conjecture, but the best guess is that he and his parties support for this innocent sounding proposal to allow local school boards to set their own schedules will follow their usual pattern of stealth legislation, with some kind if hidden provision being added to the bill giving local school boards even more autonomy.

When it comes to making such sweeping educational changes the smart thing to do if you going to create legislature based on a hidden agenda is to proceed incrementally, implementing a little “reform” here and some more there, using the “frog in the slowly boiling pot of water” technique to gradually raise the temperature before anyone realizes what’s happening then unveil your true intentions.

In the aftermath of  Republicans victories last year, and the General Assemblies past history of this kind of legislative behavior don’t be surprised to see them think they have mandate, and go for broke and give school boards the “freedom” to authorize charter schools. A move that would virtually guarantee that school boards would be headed for a collision course with the county and city boards over the economics of education.

Like most of his fellow Republicans, Ferrell supports the notion of a free market world where government doesn’t interfere with business freedom to dictate what kind of education our children should have. If you haven’t noticed this national trend before, charter schools are increasingly being imposed on communities – either by legislative fiat or well-engineered PR campaigns. http://www.salon.com/2014/10/02/the_great_charter_school_rip _off_finally_the_truth_catches_ up_to_education_reform_phonies/

This business at any cost mentality dovetails nicely with the goals of the Christian home-school movement where supporters of evangelical home-schooling are demanding increasingly greater levels of “separation” from the Secular World.

As far as these educational charlatans are concerned the home schooled religious right are the best kind of useful pawns, people who have willing allowed their energy and paranoid hatred of “sinful” America to be exploited, enabling these profiteers along with the GOP to launch a religious, social, and economic crusade against their own country. http://www.salon.com/2015/01/20/ the_rights_home_ school_conspiracy_how_i_helped_gop_launch_ a_religious_war/

Speaking of  the devil, or as one of the local Democrats calls him Smiley, it’s telling that when the subject of ALEC came up in a conversation after last April’s Clown Hall meeting which Ferrell, Senator Garrett and Reeves hosted in Louisa, he immediately chimed “I’m not a member of ALEC, my wife won’t let me spend that much time away from home.”

Too bad no one thought to ask him, “so why are you following Speaker Howell’s and ALEC’s agenda so closely?”  For the rest of us a  better question might be who is ALEC, and what do they really want? http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed

Continued with: http://bluelouisaorg.fatcow.com/2015/01/21/running-unopposed-local-takeover/

Jon Taylor

Running Unopposed – Local Takeover

When it comes to Peter Ferrell the bad news is that in all likelihood he will be running unopposed for the third time as Louisa’s 56th District delegate and will he continue to push his party’s hidden agendas regardless of the consequences. And as of this posting, he will be working across the aisle with the likes of Senator Tom Garrett (R-22nd) who is also running unopposed.

The good news is that Democrat Traci Dippert is challenging Bryce Reeves for the 17th Senate seat, previously held by Democrat Ed Houck for nearly 30 years. With her campaign based out of Culpepper, a stronghold of Republican support she will have her hands full. http://www.dailyprogress.com/starexponent/news/local_news/district-state-senate-race-heating-up/article_44277806-a085-11e4-9d7f-c74f1c87d940.html

What you may not know is that this is the only election at either the local or state level which currently being contested; everyone else that folks in Louisa county can vote for are running unopposed for re-election.

This promises to be a busy year at the local level; starting with the Sheriff, the Treasurer, the Commissioner of Revenue, the Clerk of the Court, and the Commonwealth Attorney races. There also are elections being held for three school board and Board of Supervisors seats in the Louisa, Jackson, and Cuckoo district, along with two soil and water board representatives

In theory, all candidates running for local office in our county elections are supposed to be independent of party affiliation or politics; however if their recent voting history is in fact an accurate indicator of their beliefs, it is not very likely that there are many candidates who are independent minded enough to act on the merits of the issues.

This is a much bigger concern than one might otherwise think, because what happens at the local county level affects us all far more than the actions of Congress on Capital Hill. Of all the local candidates running for re-election, only two or three of them based on their voting records could even remotely be considered supportive of democratic and progressive ideas.

How many of the rest of our local candidates are ideologically and philosophically aligned with the aims of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), American City County Exchange (ACCE), and Americans for Prosperity (AFP) remains to be seen. One thing we do know is that we live in a state where the Commonwealth’s state legislative and regulatory bodies have been captured by corporate interests.

Like the so called gentility of the “Virginia Way” the myth of independent local candidates is a convenient social fiction, one that is not currently supported by the available evidence. Nor is it any secret that many of our non-elected officials administering the day to day affairs of the counties affairs along with the wealthy families who operate behind scenes also support conservative ideals.

If you need more examples of how corporate interests are trying to take over local legislatures take a look a what took place last year in Chesterfield County, when Ben Knotts, the director of coalitions for another one of ALEC’s allies, Americans for Prosperity a national conservative organization founded by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch spoke at the County Board meeting urging county residents to oppose a 4.5 cent increase in the counties proposed budget.

Prior to this meeting, AFP had been robo-calling Chesterfield residents, urging them to oppose this increase in the county’s proposed budget.

When the people attending this meeting publicly called him out as a representative of the Koch Brothers, and not a local citizen who has legitimate interests in the affairs of Chesterfield County he immediately retreated to the standard Republican tactic of bullying a local resident, Reportedly this confrontation was so bad that a sheriff’s deputy had to run over ran to break it up. .http://www.timesdispatch.com/news/local/chesterfield/out-of-county-anti-taxer-prompts-confrontation-in-chesterfield/article_53bf3b08-d832-51b3-a7e6-71dbf3410265.html 

By not participating in local affairs and elections we are in essence giving corporations and other vested interests free reign in taking over our government at the county and city level. If we continue to allow our local counties and city politicians to represent organizations like the  American City and Council Exchange along with Americans for Prosperity interests and l not yours, this will happen in county after county and in city after city.

The only way you can stop this from happening is to pay close attention to what is going on at the local level, participate in local government and politics and vote the worst of them out of office as they come up for re-election.

Jon Taylor

The Economic Recovery is Coming ?

Six years after the end of the Great Recession, it’s beginning to look like a real recovery is finally underway.

economy picks up

Just look at these  impressive economic growth and robust job figures

2015 Jobs

which have been coming out these last few months. Numbers that according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republicans deserve credit for, claiming “We’re finally starting to see a glimmer of hope in the economic data, … which appears to coincide with a new Republican Congress, …  so this is precisely the right time to advance a positive, pro-growth agenda.”

Considering that Republicans in Congress and at the state level have fought tooth and nail against anything which would actually benefit the countries economy, starting with not a single vote for the 2009 Stimulus, and once they regained control of the House in 2011 they went out of their way to push a woefully counterproductive pogrom of austerity, one which ended up shutting down the Federal Government.

According to the research firm Macroeconomic Advisers, their budget cuts decreased the nation’s annual growth by 0.7 percentage points, and their austerity measures increased the unemployment rate by 0.8 percentage points.

At the same time Republican’s pushed for sharp cuts in unemployment compensation and food stamps that took money out of the hands of people who would have otherwise spent it in the economy.  According to Moody’s Analytics, food stamp benefits generate $1.74 in economic activity for every dollar put into them.

More than half a decade into this post Great Recession recovery,  most of the economic benefits have accrued to the nation’s wealthiest citizens, and only in the past few months have American workers finally experienced a real improvement in their economic fortunes, increasingly shown by recent data on GDP, employment, and wages.

The simple truth is this – our nation’s economy has improved despite, not because of, a Republican Congress. http://www.salon.com/2015/01/07/mitch_ mcconnell_credit_republicans_for_the_economic_ recovery_ they_did_ everything_in_their_power_to_prevent/

Given the indisputable reality of economic numbers like these, one might be tempted to suspect that the current Republican leadership has been smoking way too much high grade marijuana. If only that were the case, the reality is that Congress is controlled by men who never acknowledge any mistakes, let alone learn from them.

Paul Krugman of the NYT’s recently pointed out that we are “dealing with a political subculture in which ideological tenets are simple not to be questioned, no matter what. Supply-side economics is valid no matter what actually happens to the economy.” and that we “…can’t have meaningful cooperation when we can’t agree on reality, when even establishment figures in the Republican Party essentially believe that facts have a liberal bias.” http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/09/opinion/paul-krugman-voodoo-time-machine.html?_r=0

A set of circumstance which has changed little since I first wrote this a letter to our local paper the Central Virginian back in 2011 http://bluelouisaorg.fatcow.com/2015/01/08/another-blast-from-the-past-and-link-to-the-present/ shortly after the Republicans took control of the House. In this case their leadership was trying to take credit for the previous quarter’s economic improvement.  With former Congressman’s Eric Cantor’s office issuing the following statement: “There are jobs.  Republican’s prevent massive tax increase. Economy begins to improve.”

The only way those claims, or even those of Mitch McConnell’s could be true is if they were conservative Dr. Who like time lords, cosmic time travelers capable of bending the very fabric of the space-time continuum.   Unfortunately, just as hydrogen and helium are the two most common elements in the universe, misdirection’s and lies are the most common elements found in the universe inhabited by the Republican’s.

Modern day Republicans have become increasingly adept at buying into their own hubris, and selling it to an unsuspecting public. I also recall Karl Rove saying at the height of the Bush era in a national televised interview that “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Karl_Rove  A decade after those words were first uttered, most Republicans and many Democrats remain arrogantly convinced that everyone has forgotten what caused the economic crisis of 2008.

Just in case anyone needs any reminders; it was the Republicans Wild West everything is good about unrestricted capitalism mentality which dominated the Bush Era. A mindset which gave us multiple irresponsible tax cuts, along with two unfunded wars, and a universe populated by irresponsible financiers and deliberately inept regulators and enabling legislators whose actions helped set the nation on an unprecedented course of borrowing.

All of which combined to further deplete the government’s dwindling coffers, leading to even greater borrowing, and increasing our national debt two fold. A trend which has slowed down somewhat over the past few years, but is still twice the level that Bush’s Republican dominated Congress left us with.

It was Darth Vader I mean Dick Cheney who famously claimed “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.”  In today’s post Great Recession America Republicans have managed to convince themselves and voters that only by reducing this mountain of debt can we create jobs and prosperity. Claims that in the end turned out to be nothing but hubris and lies.

The unvarnished truth is that these unrestricted free market policies helped ensure that only a few corporations and individuals could possibly profit during our “recovery,” while ensuring that most Americans would continue to lose ground.

Nobel economist Paul Krugman made this analogy, “Suppose you started hitting yourself in the head with a baseball bat. You’d feel better when you stopped. Your head wasn’t hurting because you were sick; it was hurting because you kept hitting it.” In the aftermath of the world wide recession, this is exactly happened to several major economies. Like Britain, whose conservative government declared in 2010 that a sharp reduction in deficits was necessary to stimulate their economy.

And sure enough, over the next two years the British economy stalled. When growth finally picked up in 2013 — the Tories proclaimed their policies “spot on,” Simon Wren-Lewis of Oxford University points out their absurdity. “If rapid growth after a prolonged slump constitutes success, then the governments of the world should close down half of their economy; ensuring even better growth next year.”

What actually happened was they stopped making further cuts, their economy started to improve. Here in America, thanks to the federal sequester and sharp cuts by state and local governments, we’ve had our austerity. Now that we appear to have stopped tightening the screws, we’re seeing the kind of growth, particularly in employment we should have been seeing all along.

The main reason for this; the private sector which has done surprisingly well, adding 6.7 million jobs since President Obama took office, compared to 3.1 million under Bush. What held back economic growth was unprecedented public-sector austerity. During the Bush years, government employment was up by 1.2 million, now it’s down by 600,000, a net loss of 1.8 million jobs.

During the first days of the new congressional session, the Republican dominated  House went out of their way to pass a bill authorizing the Keystone Tar Sands XL pipeline. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keystone_Pipeline Now that it has moved over to the Senate, it will likely pass both chambers. All that remains to be seen is if the President will veto it or not. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/01/09/1356667/-House-passes-Keystone-XL-bill-but-the-28-Democratic-ayes-won-t-be-enough-to-override-Obama-s-veto

Even if he does, Republicans know they still have several ways to get this bill passed. The first is to send it back to the floor for another vote hoping to garner the 67 votes in the Senate necessary to override a presidential veto, and so far, there are an estimated 63 supporters. That this effort will die in the House because it’s highly unlikely that the Republicans will be able to raise the 293 vote’s necessary to override a presidential veto is apparently a detail Republicans don’t consider relevant to their calculations.

The second option is an open amendment process, in which Senators and Congressmen will spend days and perhaps weeks offering amendments to the bill with few restrictions hoping to sweeten the pot enough to either win 67 & 293 votes or persuade President Barack Obama not to veto the bill by adding popular amendments, such as “jobs bills”.

The third option is the more likely possibility and represents a longer-term strategy. Should the first two options fail to get President Obama to sign the Keystone bill, Republicans will try to force his hand by attaching the measure to must-pass legislation, like the recently passed “Cromnibus” bill was.http://www.politico.com/story/2015/01/keystone-on-the-brink-114057.html?hp=t1_r

Given the current low prices of oil this pipeline makes little economic sense, nor does it make sense from an ecological perspective. According to Dr. James Hansen of NASA the long term extraction and burning of ”one of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet” is a step in the wrong direction, and promoting this project “indicates that governments either don’t understand the situation or that they just don’t give a damn“.

What the Republicans are desperately trying to conceal by trying to pass this bill is the fact that it is nothing more than a multi-billion dollar post election “reward” to their financial backers, the oil industry, and particularly the Koch brothers, who through their proxy, Americans for Prosperity are now firmly in control of the third largest political organization in the country. http://realkochfacts.com/washington-post-americans-for-prosperity-is-our-nations-third-largest-political-party/

Meanwhile both parties continue to work in a “bi-partisan” manner along with the President to quietly pass the Trans-Pacific Trade (TPP) agreement http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Pacific_Partnership, and its companion agreement the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transatlantic _Trade_ and_ Investment_Partnership along with the highly secretive Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), https://wikileaks.org/tisa-financial/?iuf#efmAXiAZz.

What’s significant about all of these proposed agreements is that they are being negotiated in secret, and are being given surprisingly little coverage by news media and they have little to do with trade. Collectively they are nothing more than a series of deregulatory strategies designed to give world’s largest corporations and financial houses an even greater ability to control the global economy primarily by avoiding regulations and public accountability.

Regarding the TPP trade proposal, Paul Krugman of the New York Times writes that … “trade deals in general … aren’t what they used to be”, and that “trade … is already fairly free, so the TPP wouldn’t make that much difference. In short, there isn’t a compelling case for this deal, from either a global or a national point of view,” and that the … “push for TPP seems almost weirdly out of touch with both economic and political reality.” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/28/opinion/krugman-no-big-deal.html?_r=0

The phrase “weirdly out of touch” is one that everybody should pay attention to, particularly in the case of the TISA not only has the draft been classified to keep it secret during the negotiations, the actual contents of the agreement will remain secret for five years after TISA goes into force. To better understand what this agreement is about look at USTR’s Anti-Transparency Rules For TAFTA/TTIP Documents Published

Some other key points to be aware of, conspicuously absent from the negotiations are the BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China. Nor is it any coincidence that the exclusive nature of TISA will significantly weaken their position in any future negotiations. In fact the entire agreement appears to be predicated on maintaining US-European economic hegemony in trade agreements.

Furthermore, it provides the financial institutions which failed to effectively self-regulate, causing a protracted global recession, a much greater degree of freedom and ultimately subordinates governments to their will since it requires national law to conform to the (final) terms of the agreement for their (the banks) ultimate benefit.

The United States negotiators are pressing hard for data “protection” clauses that will in effect, provide financial institutions free access to consumer financial data across borders and “protects” them from having to disclose information to consumers, making them considerably less transparent. Along with a “ratchet” mechanism which forces liberalization of financial services while holding at standstill existing regulatory controls, and blocking new regulations which would strengthen controls on financial institutions. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/06/22/1308780/-Wikileaks-Posts-Secret-TISA-Draft-GREAT-News-for-Obedient-Serfs

Looking back on recent past “trade agreements” and legal rulings there appears to be a progression of ideas. In the 90’s NAFTA and CAFTA were all about giving corporations more power than people. The Supreme Courts Citizens United decision granted corporations the rights of “citizenship”, and more or less the same rights as people. Now treaties such as TPP, TTIP and TISA are being crafted to give corporations more power than governments, essentially raising them to a status of supreme authority – ie granting them sovereignty.

In layman’s terms, the concept of sovereignty means that all countries are granted inalienable rights to govern themselves without any interference from external agents such as other governments. In terms of western political theory, sovereignty is a basic principle behind the Westphalian model of state power, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Westphalian_ sovereignty and is apparently a power and inalienable right that corporations seek to bestow on themselves

Meanwhile back at the state level here in the United States, Republican dominated legislatures are resisting implementing EPA environmental regulations meant to address an even bigger threat to the future of mankind, Global Warming even harder than they did last years expansion of Medicaid, while continuing to promote crony capitalism projects such as Dominion’s gas pipelines that will only accelerate this world wide problem.

And sure enough, just before the Virginia General Assembly is due to convene next week, comes this completely un-fact checked editorial in the Richmond Times Dispatch from the state director of Americans for Prosperity another one of Koch brothers front groups. http://www.richmond.com/opinion/their-opinion/guest-columnists/article_932b4bc2-6daf-5d73-8c94-a9b1078a4a28.html

Understanding these basics about how austerity economics really works and what’s driving it means you a better grasp of the situation than most of our politicians. As always, the question remains what you prepared to do about it between now and 2016?

Jon Taylor