The people versus the elites

Note: reprinted with author’s permission and appearing here.

Polls show that the Congress continues the downward slide in approval among the American people, yet has the highest number of incumbents. Everyone agrees that voter frustration with Congress’ failure to tackle issues close to people’s pocket books has led to the polarization of the political parties and to the rise of less main stream candidates. We need to ask why there is a logjam in the legislative branch and why do elected representatives no longer feel the need to stay close to the voters.

There was a time when compromise was not a dirty word and men and women of the Senate and House were honored for working with their colleagues while upholding their visions of the country’s future. President Ronald Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neill were famous for working out deals. Nowadays, compromise is publicly scorned and once-dignified political debates have become vulgar brawls.

One of the trends which has brought about this stifling result is not increased partisanship, but increased institutionalization of partisanship. Since the mid-1990s when Dennis Hastert, who just went to jail, was Speaker of the House, he required that no bill could be brought to the floor for a vote unless a majority of House Republicans supported the bill. If Democrats wanted to vote for a bill later that was fine, but their input into what was in the bill was significantly marginalized. In 1995-1996, the Republican-controlled House and Senate shut down the government twice for a total of 26 days.

Most recently, Senator Ted Cruz is credited with shutting down the government for 16 days in October 2013. It has been many years since a budget was passed, most departments are operating on continuing resolutions and there is little thinking about rainy day emergencies, such as the appearance of the Zika virus.

Another recent trend is the Grover Norquist anti-tax pledge. The operational effect of the combination of the Hastert Rule and the Norquist pledge was a focus on theoretical orthodoxy, rather than caring for human beings. Handcuffed by these two trends Republican congressmen became more and more like robots, empty vessels doing the bidding of the wealthy political bosses.

While these trends were afoot in the daily operation of the Congress, other trends outside Congress were beginning to be felt. Considerable money and effort at the state level went to restricting the vote. New, specialized and hard to obtain IDs were required. Furthermore, we’ve seen more effort put into creating unfair election districts where the candidate selects his voters.

State Senator Bryce Reeves, who will now run for Attorney General, proved the point before his last election. The Republican-controlled Virginia legislature was reprimanded by the courts for its unfair congressional districts and new district maps have been required and drawn for November’s election. Representatives who select their voters are less concerned about constituents’ concerns and more beholden to their handlers. We don’t even have to discuss the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling. Democracy may be one man one vote, but the flood of dark money and hence, influence of the few, such as the Koch Brothers, is discouraging.

Perhaps the final log in the logjam is the relatively new focus on Constitutional and conservative orthodoxy  the idea that the Constitution belongs to only one political party and that there is a one and only true version of conservatism. Speaker Ryan raised this point in his meeting with candidate Donald Trump as he and other Republicans suggest Trump is not conservative enough. The idea the Constitution has turned from being the greatest guideline to democratic government to a written-in-stone mantra which all must worship in one particular way is frustrating.

One local priest of the written-in-stone Constitution is David Brat. He hasn’t voted for a veterans’ bill or a bill to build roads or even a budget. His version of the Constitution has little room for real people: Social Security should be cut, people should not have access to medical insurance and the working poor should be demonized.

So the Trump voter and the Sanders voter, to the extent their complaints are that the government isn’t working for them, have a point. The larger point, however, is what they want and are not getting is a focus on solutions to real world issues: jobs, public debt, transportation, public health, veterans’ benefits and national security.

Candidate Trump — in focusing on Mexican rapists, nuking ISIS and demeaning everyone but old white men — gives voice to populist frustrations among both Republicans and Democrats that the government is broken. He vows that he will just plow through this broken structure and “make America great” again. It is interesting to contemplate what Trump would do if the Senate refused to consider his Supreme Court nominee.

In the face of a shrinking middle class, candidate Sanders’ call that there can be a brighter future also gives voice to the same frustration that government that doesn’t seem to care for all. From his Senate seat, he has seen the Republicans fight President Obama every step of the way for the last seven years. He knows why we have an empty chair at the Supreme Court.

We aren’t going to free up the logjam in Congress with one election, but more balance and less demonization, more focus on issues and less on orthodoxy, might create enough room for people of character, vision, determination, kindness and consideration to come to the fore.

Mike McClary

Passing the buck — the Louisa way

To call the Louisa County Board of Supervisors recent 5-2 decision to repeal all of the county’s bio-solids ordinances an “accomplishment” is to celebrate the institutionalization of bad practices and ideas.

Over the past few years, the Board has taken to hiding their bad ideas in plain sight with a sleight of hand better known as “passing the buck.”

A process that starts with actions like browbeating the Central Virginal Regional Jail and the Industrial Development Authority into spending all their restricted and reserve funds before the county would give them a single dime.

And when it comes to passing that buck, it makes little difference whether it happens this year or next year. Because like the recent increase in personal property tax, it’s all part of a finely tuned mechanism that that these costs get transferred to the taxpayers, while the hidden “benefits” of these wealth transfers continue to flow upwards.

Like the Planning Commissions recent recommendation to eliminate all of the county’s A-2 housing development ordinances in their entirety, just as the Board did with their Bio-solids ordinances. Sweeping any inconvenient problems under the rug.

Nor was this sleight of hand possible without the acquiescence of a local media, in this case our local paper the Central Virginian, who have apparently become too timid to do anything but dutifully transcribe the comments and record the deeds of important people – usually well after the fact.

And in the case of the county’s bio-solids ordinances, blindly repeating unsubstantiated assertions that the Board was simply trying to follow the “Dillon Rule” along with declarations that the county has “no authority” for regulating bio-solids.

Claims which in retrospect, appear to be nothing more than a collection of carefully crafted red herrings designed to distract the public from the issue at hand. And as excuses go, these remarks by various members of the Board are little removed from classic propaganda techniques, little removed from Joseph Gobells playbook of  “tell the big lie, and tell it often.”

So despite a growing body of media coverage about how the Department of Environmental Quality has acted — and continues to act on behalf of the companies they are regulating, not a single board member (or the CV) bothered to ask the DEQ’s regional manager, Neal Zahradka any questions after making the grandiose claim that the DEQ “tests 80% of all application sites statewide.

And in their haste to sweep this issue permanently under the rug, the Board was evidently unaware of public documents showing that the DEQ tested just a handful of sites in 2014. Or that their failure to protect the people of Louisa from harm from the toxic substances in bio-solids started the moment they voted to eliminate all of the county’s bio-solids regulations and turned responsibility for them over to the DEQ.

So the next time you hear one of these Board members trying to justify palming off their responsibility for protecting people from harm from toxic chemicals over to an agency that has been “captured” by the very industries they are overseeing, ask them how their actions constitute responsible government?

Their collective failure to conduct even the most basic of due diligence is difficult to attribute anything other than willful opposition and ignorance. And giving quarter to such acquiescence — and conformity with this dysfunctional status quo is to minimize the magnitude of their malfeasance.

Their decision to eliminate all local regulation of bio-solids is neither good policy nor good government, it was a deliberate end run around their moral responsibilities to the people they swore to protect, the  legal equivalent of giving the fox permanent and unobstructed access to the hen house.

And they deserve to be reminded that shirking their duties will have consequences.  Meanwhile, the results of their problem free — sweep it under the rug — philosophy will continue to be as predictable as they are tragic.

Jon Taylor

Note: this is an expanded version of an unpublished letter submitted to the Central Virginian.

Elections have consequences for women

In 2014, Republicans won sweeping majorities in the midterm elections making substantial gains in the House, taking over the Senate and increasing their share of gubernatorial and state and local legislatures to the largest since 1928.  What did the Republicans do with this mandate?  Nothing.

The Republican Senate weakens the Constitution’s balance of powers by refusing to provide its advice and consent to the president’s nomination for the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

In late 2013, the Republican-controlled House, egged on by conservatives like Ted Cruz, shut down the government at great cost. They held meaningless hearings on Benghazi, admittedly designed to discredit Clinton’s campaign for president. The Congress has not passed a budget in years.  The House passed massive tax cuts for the rich, encouraged companies to go overseas to escape taxes, and now complains about the debt.

The Congress spent more money on defense than the next seven countries combined, but consistently defeats legislation to care for the veterans from the all-volunteer military service that has fought Republican wars for more than a decade.

The Republican-controlled Congress has now achieved the lowest ratings in the history of the nation, and these legislators think they deserve reelection this coming November.

Republicans will not be campaigning on their sterling record of governance; they will have to rouse their base on culture war issues.  This abysmal record exists not just at the federal level but at state levels all across the country.

Look what Republicans in Michigan have done to the children of Flint.  Our own General Assembly spends considerably more time trying to interfere with women’s lives than it does on anything that would actually help citizens of the commonwealth.

Nick Freitas, for example, demonstrated how to do it in a recent speech in the Virginia House of Delegates.  He attacked Planned Parenthood based on a faked video tape that landed its makers in jail, despite the fact that it provides essential non-abortion-related health care to millions of women. Planned Parenthood uses no federal funds for abortions.

When Republican candidates, legislators and pundits are maneuvering to intercede into women’s personal choices, they use dubious strategies and rough, vitriolic language to describe women — just listen or read the anti-choice language and on-line posts in the media that vilify the woman who wants to make her own health decisions.

On the national stage, Trump, of course, has always been known for outrageous comments about women.

Republicans put on their “Big Government” faces when it comes to controlling a woman’s personal choices.  Conservatives pass legislation forcing doctors to read a non-medical script to pregnant women specifically designed to intimidate them.

Seventeen Republican-controlled states mandate that women be given counseling before an abortion that includes information on at least one of the following: the purported link between abortion and breast cancer (five states), the ability of a fetus to feel pain (12 states) or long-term mental health consequences for the woman (seven states).  They also want the government to force pregnant women to listen to the heartbeat of a non-viable fetus.

In Virginia, the Republicans want to require doctors to perform a trans-vaginal ultrasound probe, a medically unnecessary and invasive procedure, at the woman’s expense.  In Texas, the Republican-controlled government mandates that a hospital keep a dead pregnant woman’s body functioning until the fetus is viable.  Perhaps even worse, some Republican-led states want to require that women who miscarry turn themselves into the police, making criminals of themselves.

Once the baby is born, the “Small Government” conservative kicks in, and he doesn’t care if these babies live or die.  Funds for schools are cut, as are children’s food programs and health safety nets vanish. If this baby is the product of rape, the social conservative will force the victim to give birth, and then give all sorts of privileges to the rapist father to interfere.

Hypocritical family values, to say the least.

Why would any self-respecting woman vote for Donald Trump or any of the social conservative down-ballot candidates like Dave Brat, or any of those in state legislatures that want Republican Big Government to control women’s private lives?

Likewise, why would any man who respects women vote for these irresponsible men who are waging a war on women?

When legislators can’t prove they’ve done anything to create jobs, invest in infrastructure, improve the economy, make health care more efficient and effective (especially for the poor), or create a viable energy policy or protect the earth from humankind, they take it out on women, the LGBT community, the poor, the elderly and minorities.

These are important considerations when contemplating for whom you will vote in November. Elections have consequences.

Mike McClary

Note: reprinted with authors permission, and originally appearing here