Out with the Old Blue, in with the New Blue

After two years of editing the Blue Louisa blog, I will be turning it over to the Louisa Democratic Committee next year. And barring any further contributions from other writers before the end of the year, this will likely be the last of the old version of Blue Louisa.

While I plan on contributing articles to Blue Louisa from time to time, its day to day operations and content decisions  will be handled by the committee.  In parting, I would like to address several trends affecting blogs in general and with Blue Louisa in particular.

Daily KOS_Viewers

Starting with the story of one of today’s most successful progressive blogs; the Daily KOS which has seen their traffic go up five-fold since 2010.

While the analytics for Blue Louisa are measured somewhat differently, what is happening with the Daily KOS, parallels what is happening with Blue Louisa. Where traffic has gone up from 3-4 thousand hits a month during its few months to nearly 45 thousand hits a month in 2015.

Blue Louisa_ Viewers

In the months leading up to this years elections, Blue Louisa passed 70 thousand hits during the months of September and October, the highest sustained level of viewers that this blog has ever had.

Meanwhile, over at the Daily KOS, their daily reader “comments” have been steadily shifting from their internal comments section where they average some 13,000 comments a day to their Facebook links, where they are now averaging more than 30,000 comments a day.

According to their founder, Markos Moulitsas this wholesale shift in viewer commentary to social media giants like Facebook, and Twitter has hit many other progressive blogs even harder, with many struggling to stay afloat.

Daily KOS_unique posters

During this same time period, the number of unique Daily KOS posters and diaries has dropped tremendously, and is on an unmistakable downward trajectory.

One of the markedly different things about Blue Louisa when compared to other progressive blogs is the level of viewer interaction, particularly in their comments section.

And unlike the larger national blogs which have seen reader comments grow tremendously on Facebook and Twitter,  reader comments on either the Blue Louisa comments section or the Louisa Democratic Committee Facebook Page where they are cross posted are virtually nonexistent.

While the data clearly shows that Blue Louisa has greatly increased the number of visitors; it doesn’t do a very good job of describing how well it engages them, along with persuading them into becoming active and participating members of the local Democratic Party.

One of the primary reasons for starting this blog in 2014 was to get Democratic and progressive messages out to larger audiences. Starting with a giving local writers a forum free of word limits imposed by local papers.

Allowing them to discuss local, state and national issues in greater detail along with subjects not usually covered by the Central Virginian Louisa County’s paper of record.

By those measures, writers contributing to Blue Louisa over the past 2 years have remained fairly constant, even as the number of unique contributions have dropped from 47 to 24.

What few know is that up until this year, most of the Committee’s communication costs (Including; Blue Louisa, iContacts, banners, fliers/and pamplets etc) were largely covered by individual members, and were not always included in past budgets.

Blue Louisa accounts for $200 to $250 of the Louisa Democratic Committee communications budget this coming year. A budget which starts at  $500 a year,  and is likely to increase well beyond that during next year’s presidential election.

Unlike many larger blogs, Blue Louisa isn’t considered “big” enough by advertisers like Google AdSense and Blogads to justify their posting ads, which would have helped reduce the costs of maintaining Blue Louisa.

Costs which bring up the following questions; is the Louisa Democratic Committee prepared to sustain a communications budget of this magnitude, especially when they are having problems finding enough members to effectively carry out their existing goals?

While declining participation is a problem plaguing all civic groups these days, the simple fact is that too few people have been doing too much work for too long. And that needs to change if the Louisa Democratic Committee and Blue Louisa blog are going to continue to be effective in getting their messages out.

Especially since one of the Committee’s goals next year is to increase their coverage and discussion of local issues.

If this effort is to be successful, more committee members need to step up and start attending our Board of SupervisorsPlanning Commission, and School Board meetings, and write about them in this blog and possibly the Central Virginian.

That being said, committee members should be aware that over the past year the local Tea Party has been making a concerted effort to attend these meetings and they are discussing them in their own meetings.

Whatever else you may think about their politics and even personalities; as a group they are far more knowledgeable about local issues than most members of the Democratic Committee.

Like their many recent letters about bio-solids in the CV, and the fact that this topic dominated the public comments period in the recent December 7th Board of Supervisors meeting,

And while their point about unregulated and unmonitored human waste being applied to county lands presenting a clear public health hazard is well taken. But, don’t be fooled for moment because they happen to be on the “right” side of this issue.

Since their current arguments against bio solids revolve around a core of science and logic, it does beg this question; How long will it be before such a common sense approach winds up on the wrong side of some previously undisclosed ideological conflict?

In their  galaxy of beliefs,  conservatives support for bio solids lie somewhere on the outermost rim of their convictions about the sanctity of personal property.  Given that degree of separation from their core beliefs, it was surprising to see how quickly any attempts to discuss possible connections between their opposition to bio solids and other quaint notions of ”public good” were quashed.

Where apparently, in their eyes any attempt to generalize specific ideas into larger contexts is  …  unforgiveable.

One indication of the depths of their newfound commitment to responsible local government will be how much they actually write or speak at these meetings about other issues; like high speed internet, funding for the James River Pipeline etc.

That being said, remember that the financial affairs of Louisa County is dominated by a loose network of players connected by mutual ideological and often financial interests.

An arrangement that has been decades in the making, finely tuned to  the needs of a few connected and wealthy individuals who operate largely out of the public eye. Where sometimes their deals are routine, and actually contribute to the county coffers, and where other times they are in direct competition with the County’s interests, like the recently proposed Purcell/Dominion Solar Farm.

And since many of the counties “connected” are not government officials they have no legal obligation to respond to requests from the public.  Nor are our public official’s much better, grudging complying with public FOIA requests.

Upton Sinclair once wrote that “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”  An observation which applies to the Board of Supervisors, who have often been strangely incurious about the issues before them.

And while money has never been an issue for the Board, their reflexive habit of deferring to outside “experts” and the “connected” comes with a price.  They  have become so habituated to depending on others to “assist” them in making their decisions, that they’ve apparently lost  their capacity for independent judgement.

And this “get along to go along” mindset is about to run headfirst into a perfect storm of conflicting economic realities and ideological agenda’s next  year. And which one they will respond to remains to be seen.

It is unlikely that any of conflicting agenda will be openly discussed at their meetings. What will be discussed, at least once they have reached consensus on their “done deals” is how much their decisions will cost the taxpayers.

Like how last years 4 cents per hundred property tax increase was hardly mentioned by the CV, at least until right before it came time to pay the piper.

Actions that enable the Board to act with relative impunity, because as long as there is an uninformed public that doesn’t participate in civic affairs they will.

And on the flip side of that argument, if enough pressure is applied to the Board of Supervisors they will respond, like they did with last year’s trash issue. Yet it becomes a different story when it comes to critical infrastructure projects, like; high speed internet, or even the James River pipeline.

And it remains to be seen if covering these stories in Blue Louisa will spur greater civic involvement, or shift local opinions.

If one were to take the Tea Party’s many bio solids letters in the CV and the huge turnout at the December 7th Board meeting at face value, you might have been under the impression that this was indeed an important local concern.

So far, nothing that happened at that meeting has warranted a single word from Louisa County’s paper of record, the Central Virginian over the course of 4 consecutive issues. While we may eventually hear something,  the value of that information diminishes with each passing week.

This is how local issues get buried; they start with a flurry of concern, then the Board punts, and finally the story disappears.

A chain of circumstances which effectively grants the Board a lifetime “get out of jail card” for having to account for … well basically everything; like holding a bio-solids “hearing” after the permits were approved, and in all likelihood another “hearing” after they are applied, effectively sweeping away any public safety concerns until next year.

Call it their no representational, problem free philosophy. Like how they deferred on voting on funding the initial roll out of high speed internet at their December 21st meeting.

Whether it’s because they needed more time to “review” financial information they should have been aware of months ago, or were simply trying to avoid the bad optics of being caught stacking the deck for next years internet vote, remains to be seen.

And with our local paper apparently committed to minimalistic coverage, sweeping the public’s concerns about open and transparent local governance under the rug becomes a mater of routine … I mean public record.

The fact that this insular culture of closed room deals has been so effective over the years, should give you give some sense of how much work needs to be done if you want a voice in how your local government operates.

So what are you prepared to do when it comes to helping shape the future of Louisa County?

Jon Taylor Past Editor of Blue Louisa &  Past Vice Chair of Communications, Louisa Democratic Committee

 

Wrap up of the 114th Congresses first year

The first year of the 114th Republican controlled Congress was filled with tax loopholes and giveaways for their corporate and plutocratic benefactors, legislative time bombs, and manufactured fiscal crisis’s.

And leave it to the Republicans to  finish out the year with a bang, with a new  Washington DC tradition called the capital holiday rush where “the holiday season becomes the perfect cover – and opportunity for aggressively forcing through otherwise unthinkable ideological priorities with minimal public outcry,” or legislative recourse.

And it’s a tactic with a track record of success, one that uses policy riders –  hung like Christmas ornaments – upon last minute must pass spending bills. And during the Republican’s first year of controlling the House and Senate, they have been using these midnight riders to pass a multitude of  extreme agendas.

Deliberately circumventing the traditional give and take of the legislative process with dead of the night proposals. Knowing that few of them would have survived any close inspection by the public, or being openly debated.

With their majority in both chambers, they can undermine open debate in Congress, along with forcing the President into an either – or decision when it comes to passing their bills.

Either he veto’s a critical spending bill because it is filled with bad intentions and consequences, putting the nation’s economy and the government’s ability to function at risk. Or pass the spending bill knowing exactly what it’s filled with.

Like last year, when the Republican’s repealed the regulation of derivatives under Dodd-Frank, made deep cuts to federal pensions, and Pell grants as their price of doing business.

This year, there’s so much to be done, that it won’t fit in one bill, with the Republican Congress’s holiday rush starting the day before Thanksgiving, when President Obama signed a defense authorization bill.

Where for the fifth consecutive year, it was crafted to hamstring the president’s or anyone else’s ability to do anything about the detainees in Guantanamo Bay.

So far, the president’s response to these heavy handed tactics has been to talk about the need to close Gitmo, while reluctantly signing these spending bills.  Presumably, since these are the same Republicans who shut down the government in 2013, the President was acting less out of fear of “hurting the troops,” than giving them any excuse to do something even more monumentally stupid.

This year’s biggest Christmas present is the omnibus spending bill that will fund the government beyond its apparently flexible deadline of December 11th, 15th, and finally the 18th. And since House Speaker Paul Ryan has openly statedthere will have to be some riders” for it to pass, its clear they intend to exploit them every way possible.

Perhaps Speaker Ryan has different definition of “some,” than most, since there are literally hundreds of riders embedded in this omnibus spending bill. Maybe all of these riders won’t make it, but enough will to make a difference in the air we breathe, the products we buy and the economic risk we tolerate.

While there’s no immediate solution to this problem, a couple of things seem worth a shot. Since you can’t restrict Congressional legislating to non-holiday periods, it is worth demanding that they do their job on time.

With the traditional calendar setting the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1, it means that Congress is supposed to have completed all spending bills – including the must-pass legislation ripe for rider shenanigans – by that time.

Under Republican leadership, this simple remedy has been optional for years. With no real incentive or even organizational structure left to hold lawmakers to that timetable, there’s little standing in the way of more “Holiday Rush’s.”

Even a small push back on a particular rider can make a difference in Washington –if the leadership feels the pressure. That being said, its clear that the Republican  Congress has gone out of their way to avoid any hint of pressure by scheduling their most devious schemes in between Christmas parties.

While we’re not at Bernie Sanders’ political revolution levels yet, with millions of fully engaged citizens, public pressure against these riders is not impossible. All it takes is a certain level of awareness and willingness to push back.

Meanwhile, as they have grown accustomed to using these hostage taking tactics, Congressional Republicans have  institutionalized end runs around the entire legislative process. And it should be mentioned that nearly all of the riders attached to the 2014 “cromnibus” budget agreement were re-upped in the 2015 version.

As reported last year, the 2014 omnibus agreement included everything from nullification of voter-backed marijuana legalization in Washington, DC, to $479 million for war planes the Pentagon didn’t ask for, to rolling back restrictions on risky derivatives trading that was quite literally written by lobbyists for CitiGroup.

Leading Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU to say “Once again, members of Congress are using the government funding bill to pursue their extremist agendas, Sneaking damaging and discriminatory riders into a must-pass bill usurps the democratic process and is irresponsible.”

While they may be irresponsible, Republicans are most responsive to the needs of their sponsors; particularly when it comes to finding ways to cut their taxes.

To better understand why meeting the needs of their benefactors is so important to them try taking Deep Throat of Watergate fame advice and “Follow the money.”

Next: follow the money

Jon Taylor

Following the Money

When it comes to following the money, the most important rider in the omnibus spending bill repealed the nations 40 + year ban on exporting oil and natural gas. Prompting House Speaker Ryan to say that passing it was “… like having 100 keystone pipelines.” Giving  our domestic oil companies lucrative financial incentives to produce and export even more oil and gas.

Conveniently  burned out of sight and out of mind,  assuring that even more carbon gets spewed into the atmosphere, an increase that our leading scientists believe we can no longer afford.

And it’s a success which pits the power of unbridled capitalism and oil based economies against the survival of the human race.

Nor is this the industries only incentive, with the prices of gas and oil so low there is little opportunity increase profits domestically. In fact, the entire industry is serously overextended. Especially the drilling companies at the very bottom of the oil industry food chain that  do their dirty extraction work for them.

Loaded with excessive inventory and financed largely by junk bonds that pop when overly inflated. And it’s little surprise to see so many of them going out of business. And now with the oil industry dangling a congressional mandate to “drill baby, drill,” salvation is in sight.

Nor are they the only ones promoting this zero sum game, all in the name of economic prosperity.  With governors in four Southern Atlantic states, particularly Virginia pushing for off shore drilling. Offering assurances of prosperity which deliberately avoid any mention of their impact on the environment.

And with our Governor so hard at work promoting three new gas pipelines crossing the state, apparently unaware that the  glut of oil and gas means the states share of those profits will be considerably  less than expected, what could possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile, the first bill which the President signs into law after the historic international climate agreement in Paris will accelerate the sale of gas and oil on the international market undoing any progress they might have made.

Still, when it comes to protecting economic privilege, you can’t beat the Congressional Republicans for chutzpa, where apparently their motto “every tax loop hole is sacred.”

This year’s omnibus budget kept every tax deduction, exclusion, and credit which benefits wealthy individuals and big corporations in place, while ensuring that additional economic hardships land squarely on the vanishing middle class.

And this coming year, their tax breaks will take $1.5 trillion out of the government coffers, including; than $1 trillion for unemployment insurance, basic nutrition assistance, child care, and Pell grants, and another $400 billion to provide health insurance to low-income families and nursing home care for seniors.

Ask any Republican, why this is necessary, and their reflexive response is to say they are concerned with reducing the federal deficit, claiming it is a “dangerous financial crisis.”

The fact that they couldn’t find a single tax loophole to sacrifice in dealing with this crisis, makes it clear that those concerns are far less important to them than protecting the special tax arrangements of the rich and powerful.

Up until now following the money trail has been a fairly straightforward process, but now let’s delve into the arcane world of conservative motivations.

Next: republicans true motivations

Jon Taylor

 

What are the Republicans motivations?

When it comes to understanding what really motivates Republicans  one of the first things you should know is that since the days of reconstruction they have been transforming their free market beliefs into a virtual religion

Wholeheartedly convinced that the world of finance and commerce should be entirely left to – the Masters of the Universe –  and that any government intervention would only make a mess of things.

An attitude summed up by Hoover’s Treasury Secretary, Andrew Mellon, who said at the height of the Great Depression: “Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate. Purge the rottenness out of the system.”

The only problem with this philosophy, is that when compared to what the Democrats were offering, it made the Republicans come across as stingy scrooges bent on making the lives of working people harder while making the rich even richer.

Leaving them with a fundamental problem, every time they railed against these New Deal programs, they lost elections. Because people clearly understood that economies are driven by demand, and people with good jobs have money in their pockets, and they will buy things with that money.

By the end of Eisenhower’s administration, the top tax rate for millionaires was 91 percent, and the New Deal programs were so firmly entrenched that in a personal letter, he wrote “… should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again…

Whether such knowledge kept later Republican Presidents like Nixon and Ford suffering under the effects of stagflation from trying to practicing true believers likes Goldwater’s brand of economic conservatism has never been clear.

Knowing Nixon, it was probably more out of fear of being the one to dooming his party to another forty years in the electoral wilderness.

Which brings us to Jude Wanniski, inventor of the term “supply side” economics – and who in 1974 suggested that the reason economies grew wasn’t because people had money and wanted to buy things.

But because things were for sale and their very presence was magically enticing people to part with their money. The more things that were produced, the faster the economy would grow.

About the same time, Arthur Laffer was taking that one sided  equation a bit further. Claiming that not only was supply-side a rational concept, but as taxes went down, government revenue would also go up.

Ed Crane, president of the Libertarian CATO Institute, noted in a memo that year: “When Jack Kemp, Newt Gingich, Connie Mack and the rest discovered Wanniski and Laffer, they thought they’d died and gone to heaven.”

Because Republicans had finally found themselves a problem free philosophy that would allow them to undermine the new deal with supply-side economics. One that gave them a free pass from ever having to debate the proper role of government spending.

Just simply cut taxes and grow the economy: government will shrink as a percentage of GDP, even if you don’t cut spending. Which why you rarely, if ever, heard Kemp or even Gingrich calling for spending cuts, much less the elimination of programs and departments.

Individually, both of these concepts have proven over the passing decades to be colossal idiocies – but together they offered the Republican Party a way out of the political wilderness.

And it’s a journey that starts with Ronald Regan, who insisted that cutting taxes on the rich and businesses would cause them to take their surplus money and build factories that would create things, and the more of this stuff that was being “supplied” the faster the economy would grow.

That these claims made about as much sense as say: the 5 year plans of the old Soviet Union, and they horrified even party stalwarts like George H W Bush – who rightfully called it “Voodoo Economics”,  was beside the point.

Bush knew that those policies would eventually throw the nation into such deep debt that it would ultimately cause another Great Depression. And when Reagan started cutting taxes in the 80’s, the budget deficit grew and the country fell into a deep recession – the worst since the Great Depression – while Republicans held their collective breath hoping for a miracle.

And their savior would be Alan Greenspan, who opened up the Fed’s money spigots; dropping interest rates, buying government bonds, an producing an healthy economic boost.

Greenspan also advised Reagan to dramatically increase taxes on people earning under $37,800 a year by increasing the Social Security (FICA/payroll) tax, and then borrowing those newfound hundreds of billions of dollars off-the-books transactions, making the growing supply side deficit look far better than it actually was.

Perhaps that’s what Reagan’s budget director, David Stockman really meant by “starving the beast” of government by running up such huge deficits it would ensure that Democrats would never, ever be able to talk about national health care or improving Social Security.

Meanwhile, Reagan’s and later Bush’s brand of voodoo economics succeeded in tripling and then doubling the national debt all the way up to $ 6 trillion.

And Poppy “read my lips” Bush’s inattention to those economic woes those policies unleashed leading to a Democrat, Bill Clinton being elected President in 1992.

And while Clinton had run on an FDR-like platform, a “new covenant” with the American people to strengthen the New Deal, strengthen labor, and institute a national health care system. Those promises quickly fell by the way side.

As he followed the Republicans lead and raised taxes, cut numerous programs, declaring an “end to welfare as we know it.” And in his second inaugural address, proclaimed an “end to the era of big government” – all while balancing the budget.

After that Democrats could no longer play Santa Claus simply by promising social programs, since Clinton had just triangulated them  into being the nations anti Santa Claus’s.

By the time the 1994 mid-terms rolled around, Republicans were able to re-frame the debate and flip several longstanding social and political scripts.

No longer did they have to worry about beating Democrats by supporting less spending, it was the Democrats who would have to promise more tax cuts if they wanted to stay in office.

As the public went all backlash, I mean batshit over this cultural shift, those contortions resulted in an explosion of Republican victories across the country, sweeping them back the House for the first time in decades.

And it is a formula which has allowed them maintain control of the nation’s purse strings for the better part of twenty years. Even with the Republican’s party line resistance, before Clinton left office, he  reduced the debt, and set us on a path towards fiscal stability.

Still it didn’t take George W. Bush long with his version of voodoo economics.  Ramming through huge tax cuts – particularly cuts to the maximum 15 percent income tax rate for people like himself who made their income from waiting for their dividend or capital gains checks to arrive in the mail.

Those actions along with two unfunded wars changed that, doubled the federal deficit  to over $9 trillion. Bush even out-spent Reagan, something that nobody ever thought would ever be possible again.

And for a while, it seemed to be going well, like it did in the early 1920s when three consecutive Republican presidents cut income taxes for the uber-rich.

And Bush’s tax cuts did what they have always done over the past 100 years – they ignited a bubble economy, enabling the very rich skim the cream off the top just before everything came to screeching halt, all in time for the 2008 Presidential elections.

And under the current Democratic Obama administration, and Republican Congress this debt laden trajectory has barely slowed, and is currently in the neighborhood of ~ $ 19 trillion.

Meanwhile, the nation’s recovery from the 2008-2009 Great Recession has been even slower than the recovery from the Great Depression.

And unlike the corrective actions taken in the aftermath of the Great Depression, which lead to two generations of economic stability, our legislators have made little  if any attempt to implement any lasting structural or regulatory changes to our nation’s financial system.

A mistake compounded by the Federal Reserve  keeping the true scale of the crisis and its costs hidden from public view for years, while enabling many of the companies responsible for causing the 2008 crash.

Starting with their practice of quantitative easing, or QE where they purchased massive amounts of treasury and mortgage backed securities in order to keep interest rates low and increase the money supply.

Fed QE program

Actions which lead one former fed official to write an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal claiming that QE does not work because it helps Wall Street banks but not the real economy.

Saying that originally QE had two goals, “..one of them was to make credit more accessible to more Americans by lowering the wholesale cost for banks to make loans. But the banks weren’t fully passing on the benefits to their customers — they were pocketing a lot of the extra profit.”

He also went on to say that because the Fed is pumping up the stock market by purchasing mortgage backed securities, those actions are  masking other problems within the economy.

And that this degree of “insulation” from the consequences of the  Great Recession  has effectively enabled Congress to avoid taking any steps that could help the economy.

Saying that “…after the Fed first noticed that saw that QE didn’t work as it had intended, it should have stopped what it was doing. Probably after QE1 would have been the right time.” That would have been the time to “… put pressure on Congress to pursue more fundamental change in the U.S. banking sector and to try to enhance the overall conditions for U.S. economic growth like taking steps to improve competitiveness, infrastructure, education, among other things.”

Then there are others who say that the Feds entire QE process along with their bailout of the banks was deeply flawed and disproportionately favored the banks interests.

Given what we already know about Greenspan’s efforts to hide Reagan’s budget deficits in the 80’s, and that he was the chair of the Fed when the Great Recession first broke out, then it’s quite likely that the Fed has been hiding the true magnitude and cost of the bailout from the public.

Particularly with claims that they diverted trillions in a effort to preserve a broken status quo which allowed the biggest banks to grow even bigger. Actions which have reset the stage for an even bigger speculative bubble.

One that will eventually explode leaving a trail of economic devastation in its wake. The failure of our government to deal effectively with the Great Recession is the fault of the divided power structure itself.

For over a hundred years, this cloistered relationship has benefited both sides, Politicians get to say don’t blame me for what those secret bankers did, pretending to be powerless when it comes monetary policy, and indeed most of them are dangerously ignorant.

While the central bankers in the Fed presumably know better, they freely accept their role as the mysterious scapegoat for any economic  disappointments, shrugging off the conspiracy theories.

The fact the Feds extraordinary  adventure with easy money did not do much to jump-start the recovery  …. or unleash the runaway inflation the right-wingers have been predicting, should tell you that there ‘s probably more to this than meets the eye.

John Maynard Keynes had it right 80 years ago. Government can drive and manage economic recovery by creating “demand” for work and production with deficit spending on borrowed money, to get the economy moving again.

But government spending has to be for real jobs, real roads and bridges, that will produce real customers for real goods. Republicans have always resisted this simple insight, placing their faith in the stimulation of tax cuts for the wealthy.

But what caused Democrats to forget it?

In the 80’s they tagged along behind Reaganomics, and over the last generation have shifted even further rightward. Starting in the Clinton era, their alliances have been with with the financial sector—banking deregulation and globalized production— and have eclipsed their former domestic priorities of labor and wages.

Strange as it may sound, the Federal Reserve by pumping so much easy money into the system managed to do what the Democratic Party forgot. But the Fed’s proper role is supposed to be money and monetary policy, not to maintain aggregate demand.

They will need to tread lightly in this new era of fractured fariy tales, I mean politics lest they run afoul of problems with both Party’s should they should stray so far into their domain.

While Congressional Republicans have no such constraints, convinced that they will be protected from public opinion and the wreckage beneath them.

When they  retook the House in 2011, they embarked on a quest of unprecedented obstruction, one which they were directly responsible for the two most unproductive Congressional legislative sessions  (112th and 113th ) in the history of this nation.

Tea Party Logic

Not to mention, shutting down the government in late 2013 because nobody could pass a simple funding resolution.  That little 15 day temper tantrum alone shaved 1/2 a percentage point off of an already anemic growth rate.

If one didn’t know better they might suspect that Congressional Republicans were doing everything humanly possible to qualify themselves for a lifetime Alfred E. Neuman award.

Now that they control both the House and the Senate, it appears that they are even more determined to double down on what brung them. Even though their actions of late may seem to the casual observer to be, irrational, cynical and even counterproductive.

And in many senses they are, but for them, the only thing that matters is that they reflect their deep seated obsession with free market religion, one that is not subject to any inquiry or apparently critical thinking.

An attitude which has always been, never back down, and never apologize for anything, leaving little room for discussion. It’s their way or the highway.

Among their biggest success stories; cutting organized labor from ~ 25 percent of the work force when Reagan first came into office to roughly 8 percent today, making trillions  for their benefactors, and millions for themselves.

And while Ike was right when he said, “… any party that attempt to abolish social security, would not be heard from again… ” he had never encountered anything likes today’s Republicans.

Who unlike their predecessors, have the ability  to cripple the entire New Deal, and who are smart enough to understand that any direct assault on these pillars  would ensure a massive public backlash, one they would be unable to control.

Leaving them wandering in the wilderness for another 40 years.  And in keeping with their penchant for riding atop slime trails, their latest “solution” is to manipulate the rules of the House in their favor.

Allowing them to lay the groundwork for systematically defunding Social Security, the Affordable Care Act, along with Medicare and Medicaid. That and cutting taxes for the wealthy have been their goals all along.

Now that we’ve seen some of the motivations driving the Republican’s actions in Congress and the Fed, it’s time to turn to legislative time bombs, and manufactured fiscal crisis’s.

Next: time bombs and manufactured crisis’s

Jon Taylor

Time Bombs and Manufactured Fiscal Crisis’s

One of its first actions of the Republican House of Representatives in the new 114th Congress was to change their rules to manufacture a Social Security crisis.  When GOP Representatives Tom Reed and Sam Johnson introduced a procedural rule change, buried all the way on page 30 of 32 in House Resolution 5.

A change which prohibits the House from transferring money between the Social Security Retirement Fund and the Social Security Disability Fund, a move which Congress has made 11 times in the past, regardless of which party was in power.

Now the Disability Fund is expected to run out of reserves next year, and cannot be helped with money from the Retirement Fund.  Without this “easy fix”— recipients of Social Security Disability will see a 19% cut in benefits next year.

Likewise, a little noticed provision that Senator Marco Rubio slipped into a giant spending bill last year has tangled up the Obama administration, sent tremors through health insurance markets and has rattled confidence in the durability of President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act.

Rubio’s efforts against the so-called risk corridor provision of the health law have hardly gotten any notice in the Republican presidential nomination race, but his plan to change the formulas of how much the government can spend to protect insurance companies against financial losses in certain markets clearly shows the effectiveness his quiet legislative sabotage.

Speaking of sabotage, recently, Rubio joined with a handful of fellow legislators in an attempt to block local municipalities from undercutting big telecom companies by providing cheap, fast internet service, something that we have already on the state level after several ALEC sponsored bills passed in Republican controlled states.

That letter was the latest salvo by the major telecom companies to outlaw municipal broadband programs which have taken off in cities such as Lafayette, Louisiana, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, because they pose a threat to their business model that calls for slow, expensive internet access without any competition

And it should be noted that Rubio has been busy raising campaign contributions from the telecom industry, and that his fundraising apparatus is also managed in part by Cesar Conda, a lobbyist who previously served as Rubio’s chief of staff, and that FCC registration documents show that Conda represents AT&T.

While this incestuous relationship is politics as usual, it’s also another thread in the telecom’s efforts to monetize every aspect of the internet, while openly violating our privacy, and ultimately our ability to freely use the internet to inform and express ourselves.

And sure enough, another one of the Republicans heinous deeds this year was a controversial cyber bill included in the final text of the must-pass “omnibus” spending deal.  Where according to the digital rights group Fight for the Future, it is likely to be passed “without meaningful debate or transparency on the final text.”

With Evan Greer, campaign director at Fight for the Future saying “Congress has failed the Internet once again.”

The bill grants tech companies immunity from lawsuits for sharing private user data with intelligence agencies. Its supporters claim it will help efforts to safeguard against cyber attacks, while opponents say it would expand government spying operations and reduce privacy and free speech protections for consumers.

The ACLU pointed out that information shared between tech companies and intelligence agencies like the FBI or the NSA could be used “for criminal prosecutions unrelated to cybersecurity, including the targeting of whistleblowers under the Espionage Act.

They also pointed to another troubling provision buried in the text—revocation of visa waivers granting traveling privileges to people who have visited or hold dual-citizenship in predominantly Muslim countries, such as Syria, Iraq, Iran, or Sudan.

Greer went on to add, “It’s clear now that this bill was never intended to prevent cyber attacks, it’s a disingenuous attempt to quietly expand the U.S. government’s surveillance programs, and will inevitably lead to law enforcement agencies using the data they collect from companies through this program to investigate, prosecute, and incarcerate more people, deepening injustices in our society while failing to improve security.”

Comments which happen to mirror the Congressional Republicans entire agenda; use covert means to sabotage anything they disagree with, and then fail to address or fix those same problems caused by their dead of the night maneuvers.

Just Reince and repeat, it’s their problem free philosophy.

Jon Taylor

A night at the board of supervisors meeting

Perhaps it was fate that last Monday’s Louisa County Board of Supervisors meeting was held on December, 7th. And like FDR’s comments about Pearl Harbor, it should be long remembered as a “night of infamy.”

Over the years, many people have noted that because the Board of Supervisors has their public comments period at the beginning of their meetings, well before any of the Counties business is even discussed, that they have effectively stripped those comments of any meaningful context.

Where regardless of what the topic happens to be or who the speaker is, they apparently carry about as much weight as would a fan yelling back at the TV in crowded sports bar, along with precluding any possibility of any member of the Board having to respond to them.

Despite these attempts to control the flow of public comments, along with admonishments to be “civil,” the public comments period ran for nearly an hour, transforming it into an exercise in political street theatre, one which thus far hasn’t merited a single word in the Central Virginian, Louisa County’s paper of record.

Where with the exception of a handful of comments for bringing high speed internet to Louisa County it was dominated by contrasting views about bio solids. One side of the aisle there were several members of the local Tea Party who were dead set against the use of bio solids, and on the other, a sizable contingent of local farmers who support the use of bio solids.

Having heard C.W. Williams, one of the speakers against bio solids give a presentation at a local Tea Party meeting a few days earlier; I found his earlier observations quite useful in identifying some of the dynamics behind this issue.

One which starts with a decade’s long campaign by the producers of agri-chemicals to promote the use of fertilizers on farms that they claim will make any farm more productive. Claims which have some short run validity, but in the long term, such sustained usage comes with many other problems.

And when it comes to the use of fertilizers, many farmers now find themselves in a state of serious chemical dependency. Nor is any secret that the cost of these fertilizers has gone up dramatically over the past few decades to where they represent a significant portion of many farmers operating expenses.

This is where companies like Synagro come into play, offering farmers relatively inexpensive bio solids as an “alternative” fertilizer that will help them reduce their operating costs. This is the primary economic driver behind the use of bio solids throughout the country.

And it is a reality which is so thoroughly integrated into farming community, that one local farmer; went so far as to claim that the stench of bio solids in the air was for him “the smell of money,” and judging from many other comments being made, it reflects the attitudes of many local farmers’.

Nor was it any surprise to see Jim Riddell the president of the Louisa Farm Bureau come out in support of bio solids, albeit in a circular fashion. Stating that farmers are in integral part of Louisa County’s economy, and they represent ~ $31 million worth of business in Louisa County.

And when it comes to keeping the local economy going, they are “big business,” going so far as to suggest that bio solids plays a very important part in maintaining Louisa’s economic prosperity.

When considered from this limited economic perspective those comments seem fairly innocuous and reasonable. And yet they do not address the reality of how just habituated and dependent farmers have become on using bio solids as a low cost fertilizer.

Comments that while not deliberately intended to be disingenuous or to deflect any public health concerns about the safe use of bio solids, are none the less are based on an unwavering support for chemical farming.

Comments which serve to support the vested interests of the agribusiness conglomerates, who profit immensely from the “captive” economic model they have spend decades developing, and which they spend millions if not billions on each year to maintain.

Another dynamic that was evident during this public comment session were several calls to keep an open mind, and to carefully examine all the “facts,” and not to jump to any premature conclusions. The fact that they were coming from individuals with clear ties to the bio solids industry indicates that they were more likely about the protection of privilege than keeping an open mind.

Comments which are a subtle form of derailment, intended to distract from the issue at hand. By drawing attention to the tone rather than content of opposing perspectives, they avoid talking about the substance of those views, while effectively undermining any attempts to communicate them.

NOTE: Most of the public comments on this video clip of this meeting are of very poor quality, and with isolated exceptions, only the audio portions are of any practical use.

Jon Taylor

 

Gun violence and mass shootings

After re-reading a letter I submitted to the CV nearly 2 years ago about the Sandy Hook shooting I was struck by how little things have changed. Along with how hypocritical our public official’s statements about the recent shootings in Colorado Springs and San Bernardino have been.

Starting with declarations that these are isolated “mental health” incidents, claims which fly in the face of the reality that mental health services throughout the country have been decimated over the past 30 years and have been slashed even further in recent years.

Among other egregious claims; that people praying about this countries gun violence are being “prayer shamed.” Seriously, pray all you want! But if that is the only response to the fact that there is more than one mass shooting per day in this country, then politicians hiding behind this deserve to be ridiculed and criticized.

Pious responses

What these proclamations have in common is that they are distractions away from any serious discussion about gun violence, and are excuses to do nothing. The common denominator in these mass shootings isn’t politics, religion or even mental health, its firearms.

Which brings us to the gun industries and the NRA’s role in perpetuating this cycle of violence, where ever since Sandy Hook, the rate of mass shootings have accelerated, and their call to flood our homes with guns has resulted in a marked decrease in public safety.

Where more people have been killed by guns in the past 50 years than in all our wars , while the gun lobby has been busy dismantling any regulation of guns, or studies of gun violence. This year alone, there have been 462 deaths and 1,314 injuries .

Nor is the relationship between these mass shootings and increased gun sales entirely coincidental.

According to FBI records of background checks which serve as a rough indicator of gun sales, ever since Sandy Hook, the 3 largest increases in gun sales have occurred. In Sandy Hooks immediate aftermath there were 953,613 background checks performed. And this years shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston SC, saw the largest sale of guns ever during the month of June.

And according to the New York Times, this past Black Friday saw a record 185,345 background checks. Sources cited by Business Insider say that the NRA has become “a virtual subsidiary of the gun industry,” and whose primary function appears to be using these shootings to sell more guns.

According to the Intercept; in a review of investor statements from gun manufacturers and related companies, they have attracted new gun buyers at high rates, presumably from fear of new gun legislation and from fear of further attacks.

With Tommy Millner, the chief executive of Cabela’s, a national retailer guns, boasting at an investor conference that his company made a “conscious decision” to stock additional weapons merchandise, hoping that Obama’s 2012 reelection would result in increased sales.

After Sandy Hook, he said “the business went vertical … I meant it just went crazy,” and that Cabela’s “didn’t blink as others did to stop selling AR-15 platform guns” and so his company “got a lot of new customers,” calling it the “tailwinds of profitability.”

Nor is he alone in that mindset, with Mark DeYoung, the chief executive of ATK, an ammunition manufacturer, who when asked at a trade conference if he would make pricing decisions based on the “tragedy,” responded that “the company will continue to respond to market pressures,” including increases in demand.

Each of these surges takes place not only in the wake of these attacks, but at the slightest provocation of anyone saying anything about gun control or reform. With the rabid National Rifle Association and their base of paid praying politicians going after anyone who dares to consider any alternative to arming every man woman and child.

With NRA doing their part to stoke angst about gun control into calls for more people to buy guns, this is only going to get worse.

NRA hostage

The question remains; do you want to live in a society where these senseless tragedies have become a daily occurrence, and what will you do about changing this grim reality?

Jon Taylor

Blast from the past … What Kind of Society Do We Want To Live In?

Editors note: this post has been revised from when it first appeared in the Central Virginian on 1-10-13, and has been shortened to fit their new word limit.

We’ve all heard many strange statements about the recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Some were breathtakingly inappropriate; the lack of God in our schools, gays in our schools, the need for guns in our schools, and female teachers not being “strong” enough to protect the children.

If none of these comments make you the slightest bit frustrated, disgusted, or even angry; then you should seriously consider taking another look around you.

Even before the NRA proposed posting armed police officers in our schools, or a US Senator called for posting the National Guard, or  internet wags clamored for hiring unemployed combat veterans.

Our Governor “Spongebob” McDonnell said we should “think” about allowing teachers to carry guns in the school.

The suggestion that if someone had a gun this tragedy might have been prevented — is dangerously misleading. Most people don’t know that there was an armed guard at Columbine, who could not prevent that tragedy.

Our teachers have enough responsibility without adding armed guard to their list of duties. Common sense dictates that except for emergency situations, we should reject the notion of guns in our schools.

When gubernatorial candidate, Ken Cuccinelli parroted the NRA party line of “… leaving options for defensive schools on the table is wise” he also failed to address the issue of gun violence. Compounding that mistake, he took his misdirection even further.

If someone can demonstrate a restriction that will help deal with this situation meaningfully… I would consider it. But I am totally unaware of any incidents anywhere that gun control would have prevented, and all of the evidence is to the contrary.”

When what we should be talking about is that by any standard the number of gun deaths in this country is unacceptable. Cuckoo Ken hardly alone in promoting these self-righteous distractions … “all evidence to the contrary.”

Death Complex 2

The CV recently reprinted a letter by Rich Lowery, of the National Review, talking about mental health in the context of these shootings. Beyond his platitudes, he wants us to forget that it was his fellow conservatives in Virginia’s General Assembly and the US Congress who voted to strip funding from mental health services.

Just how high does the death toll have to be to justify restoring mental health coverage to the state budgets?

Their comments were never about addressing the problem they are intended to distract us from any serious discussion about gun violence in our society while maintaining the existing status quo.

A better question is; what kind of society do we want to live in, one where these senseless tragedies continue, and where our schools and public places start to resemble prisons?

Either we change as a society, or continue to do what we’ve been doing for the past 50 + years ­ — nothing — allowing the carnage to continue.

Either way, we’ll know what kind of people we’ve become.

Jon Taylor