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Monday, April 28, 2008

When They Come for You, Who Will Be Left?

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
This haunting poem has been attributed to a German pastor, Martin Niemoller. It speaks about the folly of remaining silent in the face of evil and of a false sense of security.

Believe me, I know how ephemeral that sense of security is and how it can be ripped like a gossamer curtain to expose innocent people to violence, danger, and organized hatred. Here's a video that should profoundly disturb you, as it does me. H/t to Anti-BVBL and 9500 Liberty Project for this.




As I was listening to this video, all I could think of was the song from Cabaret, "Tomorrow Belongs to Me."

I know that Greg Letiecq and his apologists will claim that he is merely talking metaphorically here, but he has been named a nativist by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that tirelessly monitors hate groups.

Greg has fanned the flames of bigotry - and he has gone way beyond a legitimate concern for illegal immigration or secure borders - and intimidated the Prince Williams County Board of Sueprvisors. With willing allies, like Corey Stewart, who was all to eager to use the support of Help Save Manassas to ride the tide of anti-Hispanic sentiment into power in PWC.

Make no mistake, though, this is not confined to Prince Williams County. If you listen to the video, Greg is talking about mobilizing his army to to take its unAmerican sentiments into neighboring Fairfax County, a place that has more successfully dealt with the fallout of illegal immigration without demonizing the ethnicity of an entire community.

The truth is the irresponsible fanning of the flames of intolerance by Corey Stewart, Greg Letieq and others has had a negative impact on Prince William County. Here, Eric Byler, one of the creators of the 9500 Liberty Project, talks about the economic impact of this anti-immigrant policy.

If Prince William County is known, fairly or unfairly, as a place that is not tolerant of diverse populations, we will not only lose out on the economic benefit of those immigrants who provide the working-class engine, added tax base, and added jobs (a net benefit, Dr. Fuller argues, contrary to what FAIR or Greg Letiecq might tell you). We also lose out on more skilled, more educated immigrants who are looking for diversity when they decide where in this region to settle. And, we lose out on highly-skilled American workers who come here from other parts of the country.

The short term effect on the housing market is already obvious. But also, this stigma effects our long term prospects for attracting new businesses and investment. Our economy depends on "idea" people. We need the types of people who are drawn to the diversity associated with metro areas, and usually turned off by the kind of intolerance that is currently our reputation. If we are a county with less "idea" people, we have yet another disadvantage when companies decide where to locate themselves.

So, if you're fed up with the hatred, which is so counter productive to the real interest of Prince William County and the rest of Northern Virginia, what can you do to help? You can follow the link to the Prince William Citizens Action Alliance, which provides a letter that you can personalize and send to the members of the Prince William Board of Supervisors, expressing your opposition to Prince William County's Rule of Law Resolution and it's war on the Latino community.

Tomorrow, at 2 pm there is a hearing of the Board of Supervisors at the Court Building on Prince William County Parkway. Supervisor, Frank Principi has proposed that they rescind portions of Rule of Law Resolution, which mandates that PWC police must do background checks on some people stopped for non-arrestable offenses, such as traffic violations, if the police feel there is probable cause to suspect the person might be an illegal immigrant. Critics of the law, and even Police Chief Charlie Dean, fear that this could make the Prince William police force liable to a lawsuit for racial profiling.

So, send the letter to the Prince William Supervisors, attend the meeting if you are able to, and register your disapproval of racial profiling, intimidation and racism.

Don't turn your back on the Hispanic community of Northern Virginia because someday you might be asking who will speak out when the Greg Letiecqs come for you.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Liberal Soul of Virginia's 11th Congressional District

Who would have thought, even five short years ago, that two major congressional candidates would be fighting to claim the position as the most progressive candidate in Virginia's 11th CD? And if somebody had suggested that Gerry Connolly would be duking it out with Leslie Byrne for the "liberal soul of the district," as the Washington Post's Amy Gardner said in this article about that race, political pundits would have suggested that they needed to take a breathalyzer test. Yet here is what Gardner wrote today.
In a matter of months, Northern Virginia's 11th Congressional District has morphed from the home court of popular Republican Tom Davis to a left-leaning battleground in which two major Democratic candidates are spending most of their time trying to outdo each other's liberal credentials.
And this is even sweeter.
"It is clear that Fairfax County has turned blue and has had a great series of elections," said Del. James M. Scott (D-Fairfax), who has endorsed Connolly. "Democrats are gaining ground at all levels, and I think we have a real good shot at picking up this House seat. Clearly, both candidates are going after the folks who have been Democrats a long time and believe in a substantial amount of the Democratic values."

That dynamic has produced a series of attempts at left-leaning one-upmanship between Byrne and Connolly, who have traded comments questioning their opponent's progressive credentials and highlighting their own. Just this week, Byrne accused Connolly of misappropriating the logo of the National Organization for Women in a mailing. The group has endorsed Byrne. Also this week, Connolly cited two major union endorsements as evidence that Byrne's hold on the labor movement is not as strong as she states.
Yes, they're even contending for union support.
"She's got the steamfitters and the steelworkers," Connolly said. "That's great; they're rewarding her. But the dynamic unions that are growing and that have a different take on things have endorsed me."

"The bottom line is that both have good records on labor and are splitting those votes down the middle," said Daniel Duncan, president of the Northern Virginia Central Labor Council. "People have friends on both sides," said Duncan, whose organization is staying neutral in the June 10 primary. "Leslie has walked many a picket line with us and shown up at many an event. And Gerry, after working with him and lobbying him, did help get the living wage and the big box ordinance."
Both candidates have a claim on labor and liberalism.
Byrne, 61, has a long history of liberal activism on such issues as women's rights, labor, health care and the environment. In Congress, where she served for one term before Davis defeated her in 1994, she voted for the landmark Family and Medical Leave Act and pushed such issues as protection of federal wages and increased federal oversight of energy pipelines. She promoted a similar agenda during her seven years in the Virginia House and four in the state Senate.

As a result, Byrne has a list of endorsements from such large and influential groups as NOW, Emily's List, the Communication Workers of America and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "Leslie has been there and has sought us out over the years," said Marj Signer, president of the Virginia chapter of NOW. "We don't have to ask her where she stands on our issues. She has defined many of those issues."

Connolly, 58, does not concede that point. A popular politician in Fairfax who overwhelmingly won reelection as board chairman in November, Connolly has built a progressive record by promoting energy conservation, fair wage policies and a county rule sought by a grocery workers' union to restrict Wal-Mart and other "big box" stores in Fairfax.
To my mind, Leslie is still the most progressive. She has a history of fighting for women's rights, workers rights, and consumer protection laws. Gerry's done some good things but his ties to developers and the business community go deep. He's always positioned himself as the moderate centrist and he's now trying to reinvent himself to compete in a newly liberal distict.

Still, it's worth rejoicing that mainstream candidates are now rushing to join the liberal bandwagon. Could Virginia's 11th CD be the bellwether?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Economy According to John McCain

If John McCain were a product being advertised, you know he’d fail the truth in advertising test. He’s peddling the same old failed Republican economic orthodoxies wrapped up in brand new Arizona maverick garb. Here’s the picture painted in today’s Washington Post of his visit to one depressed town in coal mining country.

INEZ, Ky., April 23 -- Sen. John McCain stood before a small crowd in this tiny Appalachian town with the same mission he has had all week: convincing what he calls "forgotten" voters who are traditionally hostile to his party that he is a different kind of Republican.

"You just expect us to show a decent concern for your hard work and initiative, and do what we can to help make sure you have opportunities to prosper from your labor," he told a packed courthouse Wednesday, not far from the coal mines that provide most of the jobs here
The truth is it’s the same fake populism George Bush gave us in 2000 and 2004, when somehow he managed to convince America that Al Gore was stiff; John Kerry was French; they both were elitist; and he was the fun, regular guy you just had to crack open a Bud with. Except for the fact that W doesn’t drink beer, and he does protect billionaires rather than ordinary working people.

So does John McCain. All the while, though, he’s dragging out the rhetoric of a regular guy who feels the pain of factory workers in Youngstown, Ohio; African Americans in Selma, Alabama; coal miners in Inez, Kentucky; and the flooded out residents of the lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. And he probably does feel empathy for them.

The problem isn’t that he's not a nice guy. It’s that he’s wedded to an economic policy that has failed the middle class time and again for eight years.
McCain is not likely to have an easy time of it. Appealing to blacks and rural Democrats may be difficult as job losses and gas prices have made the economy the leading issue on voters' minds. McCain's economic plan is heavy on tax breaks for big business and admonishments about not relying on the federal government for help. He proposes a cut in corporate income taxes from 35 to 25 percent, help for companies who depreciate equipment and other incentives.

"The Democrats do more for our area," said Rhonda York, who works for a day-care provider and is married to a coal miner. "Right now, it's extremely hard, with four dollars for gas."

In his speech Wednesday, McCain offered none of the promises of government help that President Lyndon Johnson did when he declared war on poverty in Inez 44 years ago. Instead, McCain vowed to enact tax cuts that he said will spur job growth, incentives for companies to bring high-speed Internet here, and job training for displaced workers.
Here's the difficulty: You just can’t train your way out of this economic downturn. To start with, the GDP has grown briskly for most of the past seven years. It’s produced record profits for corporations, none of which have actually spurred job or wage growth despite the promises of Republicans and conservative economists.

In fact, we’ve just experienced a period of astounding productivity, which should have produced job growth and higher wages. At least, according to classical economics it’s supposed to do that. But the fundamentals of that classical model have changed drastically and the prosperity that was supposed to lift all boats just rose for the rich and left everybody else stranded on a sand dune.

Those high tech jobs that McCain and his free trade economic advisers, like Phil Gramm, keep promising us are more likely to benefit Bangalore, India than Bangor, Maine or Inez, Kentucky.

Here’s the grim picture. The only way Americans can train their way out of today’s economic downturn would be if the whole population could learn to be neurosurgeons, orthopedists, and dentists – skilled jobs that aren’t exportable.

Of course there are jobs requiring lesser skills that also must be done on site. But now we’re in the realm of burger flippers. And it’s a toss up as to how much time it will take before good old American ingenuity produces a robot that can do those tasks cheaper than a human being. Once reliable sources of semi-skilled labor, like running a cash register at a supermarket checkout line, are being lost to technology that lets customers scan their own items and bag their purchases themselves. We pump our own gas. And in Target you can even do your own price scan and not have to rely on a sales person, all of which saves Target money too. It's those technological advances, which eliminate human labor, that are fueling the productivity gains and the profits for companies, while drying up the labor market and depressing wages.

So, there isn’t a whole lot left to do for middle income people with decent educations and good technical skills, who just are never going to be rocket scientists. And throwing money at rich corporations just isn’t going to change that. Only a new economic policy will. And the people who live in places like Inez, Kentucky know this.
But many locals said they were skeptical of whether McCain's policies would help lower-middle-class Americans. Even sympathetic Inez residents questioned whether McCain's economic policies would benefit the region.

Callaham, a Democrat, said he backs McCain because he believes the senator would be a more vigorous supporter of the region's coal industry. But Callaham said he remains worried that the senator's policies tilt toward the richest Americans.

"I'm not the top 3 percent, and that's an issue I really have a problem with Bush, who has catered to the top 3 percent of the country," he said.

When it comes to McCain, Callaham said, "That's an issue he's going to have to skate around."

Robert Gordon, a senior fellow at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress, said the average family in Martin County would receive nothing from McCain's tax cut, which excludes families earning less than $25,000 a year. "It's admirable that John McCain is visiting 'forgotten places,' but his economic plan forgot about the people who live there," Gordon said.
Actually, it hasn't forgotten about them. It's just not a plan that is capable of truly addressing their needs. No Republican plan is.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

NOW Disavows Gerry Connolly Mailer

Wow! If you rest, you rust. And if you go away on a vacation for a few days, all hell breaks out and you're not even there for the fun.

Apparently, Gerry Connolly, not content to send out a misleading flyer stating that he was against the war in Iraq from its start, something largely disproven by now, has struck again. This time, his leaflet has a huge headline claiming that he has supported women's rights and fought for women's issues since his public support for the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. And he appropriated the NOW logo to boot.

The only problem with this is that the national NOW-PAC endorsed Leslie. They are, obviously, not happy with Gerry's use of their logo in his mailing. Their president, Marj Signer, sent me an email asking if I knew whether Gerry actually was a long time supporter of women's rights. Unfortuntely, this was on April 20, while I was still in Fort Lauderdale.

Not to worry. Intrepid bloggers Lowell and Ben were on it. Both sites have NOW of Virginia's statement about this.

The truth came out. It always does. You'd think Gerry's campaign would learn by now, and stick to more modest and provable claims. In fact, you would also think that Gerry might try running on his own record, the things he actually believes, and his real accomplishments instead of trying to appear more progressive than Leslie. Note to Gerry: You can't outrun Leslie as a progressive so you might as well run as who you really are and give the voters of Fairfax a real choice.

By the way, I got off my plane yesterday and made it to P.J. Skidoos for the Byrne Brigade fundraiser. Lowell and Eric have great pictures at RK.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Reminder: Byrne Brigade Kickoff Tomorrow at PJ Skidoos

Just wanted to remind everybody about the Kickoff of the Byrne Brigade tomorrow at PJ Skidoos. Be there to watch the Pennsylvania Primary results and to cheer on your favorite presidential candidate and support our favorite 11th CD candidate, Leslie Byrne. Here's the official announcement:

Please join Chap Petersen, Scott Surrovell, Ben Tribbett, Lowell Feld, Greg Galligan, Brian Murray & Jill Allen Murray, Brian Coy and a host of other young professional Democrats for the
Byrne Brigade Kick-Off and PA Primary Watch Party

with a cocktail reception in support of

The Honorable Leslie Byrne

Democratic Candidate for U.S. Congress, VA-11

Tuesday, April 22, 2008 from 7 PM - 10 PM at

PJ Skidoos
9908 Lee Highway
Fairfax, VA 22030

Byrne Brigade Host Committee: $250 (write or raise)

Supporter: $100
Minimum Contribution: $25

To RSVP please call Steve Hurvitz at 703-537-0470 or email shurvitz@lesliebyrne.org

*Please make checks payable to Byrne for Congress and mail to P.O. Box 2612, Falls Church, VA 22042 or contribute online at www.lesliebyrne.org

Contributions to Byrne for Congress are not tax-deductible for Federal income tax purposes, and are limited to $2,300 per individual ($4,600 per couple) per election. Federal multi-candidate PACs may contribute $5,000 per election. Contributions from corporations, national banks, federal contractors, and foreign nationals who are not admitted for permanent residence in the United States are prohibited. All contributions must be made from personal funds and may not be reimbursed or paid by any other person. Federal law requires us to use our best efforts to collect and report the name, mailing address, occupation, and name of employer for individuals whose contributions exceed $200 in an election cycle.
I know, I know, I'm not even here, so how am I posting this to remind you?

Ok, I'll let you in on my secret. Blogger now let's you schedule your posts so they can appear days after you've written them. I am actually still in Ft. Lauderdale - or am I? You never know.

But God willing and my airplane landing on time, I plan to be at PJ Skidoos for this.

Friday, April 18, 2008

STOP: Don't Read This Blog!

No, seriously. Don't come here and don't read my blog until next Wednesday or Thursday. Here's the reason. I'm going to be with my father for Passover.

Look, I know you're busy. So, why waste your time clicking and coming to AIAW only to learn that I haven't updated in four days? Save that time and go to some other deserving blog. Meanwhile, I'll be back Wednesday or Thursday, depending on how late I get in Tuesday night and what strikes my fancy on those days.

And, HAPPY PASSOVER! :)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

John McCain's Friends

I know I've already had this video up once. But in light of yesterday's Washington Post story, it's worth replaying. As you can read in my post earlier today, McCain's so-called economic plan does nothing for the middle class or for workers, but it provides a host of tax breaks for corporations. This video below kind of puts McCain's Economic Plan in context.



You can't deny, it's good to have friends.

McCain's Economic Assault on the Working Class

You know, after seven years of failed Republican economic policy, John McCain came up with a rehash of the dismal Bush plans that have enviscerated the middle class. Frankly, he ought to fire his campaign staff for unveiling this stuff to a public hungering for authentic change and real relief. It does, however, show just how intellectually and morally bankrupt Republicans, are when it comes to creating new strategies to truly help the middle class.

In fact, even McCain's most loyal base, the newsmedia, thought this plan was ridiculous. Here's what Michael Shear and Jonathan Weisman had to say in yesterday's Washington Post about it.

Sen. John McCain yesterday offered sweeping rhetoric about the economic plight of working-class Americans, promising immediate assistance even as he spelled out a tax and spending agenda whose benefits are aimed squarely at spurring corporate growth.

In a speech billed as the most comprehensive summary of McCain's economic vision to date, the candidate proposed to eliminate the alternative minimum tax, slash corporate income tax rates and offer a grab bag of other business breaks. His most direct proposal for relief to working-class voters was a call to suspend the federal gasoline tax for the summer driving season.
If this wasn't so pathetic, it would be laughable. Suspending a gas tax, while inflation is rising, wages are stagnating, and people can barely afford the high cost of basic food and gas, is absurd. It's not a plan based in reality but in rigid Republican orthodoxy.

Meanwhile, how does McCain propose to jump start the economy? More tax breaks to the very same billionaires who have been getting them all along. If that was effective, we would already have a sound economy from which the average person was benefiting.

The sad truth is during the boom years - and the last five or six years have been a time of strong economic growth and a sizzling economy - ordinary workers never saw any of the benefits of that growing economy. The problem is that the wage differential between the top one percent - the corporate CEOs and top executives - and the average working person has deepened. Here's what the Wall Street Journal, no populist journal, by an means, said back in 2006.
Since the end of 2000, gross domestic product per person in the U.S. has expanded 8.4%, adjusted for inflation, but the average weekly wage has edged down 0.3%.

That contrast goes a long way in explaining why many Americans tell pollsters they don't believe the Bush administration when it trumpets the economy's strength. What is behind the divergence? And what will change it?

Some factors aren't in dispute. Since the end of the recession of 2001, a lot of the growth in GDP per person -- that is, productivity -- has gone to profits, not wages. This reflects workers' lack of bargaining power in the face of high unemployment and companies' use of cost-cutting technology. Since 2000, labor's share of GDP, or the total value of goods and services produced in the nation, has fallen to 57% from 58% while profits' share has risen to almost 9% from 6%. (The remainder goes to interest, rent and other items.)
The article goes on to predict that wages for the average worker would go up.

The Bush administration's defenders, and many private economists, say wages are bound to catch up. "Everything we know about economics and historical experience is that when productivity goes up, real wages go up, too," says Phillip Swagel, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who worked in the Bush White House. It took a couple of years for wages to catch up with accelerating productivity in the late 1990s, he says. "This time, it's taking three, maybe four or five."
Yes, that's exactly what movement conservatives from the American Enterprise Institute have been promising for years. But in a cruel irony, wages never went up. The boom went bust and now it's the average wage earner who is being asked to shoulder the burden and tighten his belt while those who caused the housing bubble to burst, like Bears Stearn, are getting their bailout. In short, the boom left behind the vast majority of the middle class, which has never happened in history.

In past economic expansions, even when there was inequality, all classes saw some benefit no matter how modest. And in the recovery from the Great Depression in the 1930s, nobody benefited more than the average worker. For that you can thank FDR and his New Deal, something movement conservatives abhor and have worked feverishly to dismantle.

It took Bush and the movement conservatives to make history by presiding over one of the most dazzling expanions in years, which benefited only the top one percent and left everybody else behind during the gravy years. In fact, everybody else actually lost ground.

And what's McSame's solution for today's bust?
But much of what he detailed was a corporate special pleader's dream: a cut in the corporate income tax rate, from 35 percent to 25 percent, a proposal to allow businesses to write off the cost of new equipment and technology from their taxes, a ban on Internet and new cellphone taxes, and a permanent tax credit for research and development.

He promised to remove the "myriad corporate tax loopholes that are costly, unfair and inconsistent with a free-market economy," but he offered no specifics.

"I wish he'd be as aggressive with tax pork as he is with spending pork," said Leonard E. Burman, an Urban Institute tax policy analyst.

And McCain's proposed "middle-class tax cut" -- a full repeal of the alternative minimum tax -- stretched the definition of middle class. Of the 4 million taxpayers paying the AMT, 93 percent earn between $200,000 and $1 million, according to the Tax Policy Center, a joint project of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution.
Folks, we've seen this play before. We know how it ends. It ends with tax breaks for the wealthy who need it least, lip service and faux populism for the middle class, high unemployment, under-employment, no health care plan, no investment in infrastructure or education, and just as an extra bonus, a war in Iraq that goes on for another hundred years.

This man is no maverick. He's as Republican as they come and as bad for the country as they all are.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pictures of the Pope Today in Washington, DC

He's in his special "Pope Mobile" but you can make out the fuzzy image of a waving Pope. I had the privilege of seeing him go by after a White House ceremony



These were shot on a little cell phone.



April 16, 2008: In Memoriam for Virginia Tech

Today, April 16, is a day of remembrance at Virginia Tech. You can go here for a moving tribute to those who fell one year ago and those who remain and must carry the memories for the rest of their lives.

There are some who have asked haven't we had enough memorials? Isn't it time to let the families alone with their personal grief? They have even asked, with a certain bitterness, do we remember the victim of the hit and run driver, the soldier who has fallen in Iraq or Afghanistan, or those who have been victims of medical malpractice or so many other tragedies?

Some of those have been the private tragedies that the public is not aware of. But individual families and friends do in fact have rituals of remembrance that occur with some regularity. Catholics hold masses for their departed and pray for their dead long after the funeral has ended. Jewish people say Kaddish, a prayer for the dead, for an entire year after and then on certain occasions throughout the year to mark the passing of their beloved. They also light small candles, Yartzeit lights, that burn for 24 hours to mark the anniversary of a death. Relatives do this for the rest of their own lives.

Why hold a memorial a year later? Because we don't forget our dead. It's a public rather than private memorial because it was such a public event that forced itself onto our consciousness and shocked us so profoundly.

Along with the Hokie family, we all looked raw evil in the face that day and for many days afterwards. And there is something in human nature that makes it impossible for us to allow evil to triumph. So we hold memorials in order to say publicly that evil cannot, cannot trump goodness and love.

So with every other Virginian, I will join the moment of silence at noon. I will also say a personal prayer for those who died that tragic day one year ago. And I will honor their memories and affirm that evil will never trump human decency as long as there is memory and will.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Happy Tax Day - Enjoy The Bush Administration's Corruption!

I've railed for a long time about the Bush administration's crony capitalism and about movement conservatives' oft stated desire to "shrink the government so that it can fit in a bathtub and then drown it," as Grover Norquist is fond of saying.

Well here's the prime example of where the movement conservatives' anti-government ideology and their culture of Republican corruption leads. According to today's Washington Post , the IRS has hired private collectors to go after unpaid taxes. The problem is that rather than saving the government money - you remember, contractors and private industry were supposed to do everything better than inefficient government employees and actually save taxpayers' hard earned money - these private contractors will end up costing the government $37,000 more than in house government employees would have cost for doing the same job.
The Internal Revenue Service expects to lose more than $37 million by using private debt collectors to pursue tax scofflaws through a program that has outraged consumers and led to charges on Capitol Hill that the agency is wasting money for work that IRS agents could do more effectively.

Since 2006, the agency has used three companies to go after a $1 billion slice of the nation's unpaid taxes. Despite aggressive collection tactics, the companies have rounded up only $49 million, little more than half of what it has cost the IRS to implement the program. The debt collectors have pocketed commissions of up to 24 percent.

"This program is the hood ornament for incompetence," said Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), a leading critic who has introduced a bill to stop the program. The measure has 23 co-sponsors, all but one of them Democrats. "It makes no sense at all to be turning over these tax accounts to private tax collectors that end up costing the taxpayers money."
Actually, the good Democratic senator is quite wrong. It makes great sense hiring those inept professional debt collectors instead of federal employees. In fact, it makes dollars and cents to do so. That is, if you are connected to the right Republican lawmakers.
After years of lobbying by the private collection industry, the Republican-controlled Congress created the program in 2004. The goal was to use collection agencies to close the relatively easy cases the IRS said it did not have the staff to handle: instances in which the taxpayer is not disputing the debt and in which the amount owed is relatively modest. Supporters hoped that the program would eventually be expanded to take over more of the agency's debt-collection duties, and the IRS predicts that the program will break even by 2010.

Three firms were awarded contracts: Pioneer Credit Recovery, based in the western New York district represented by Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R), who supported the program and recently announced his retirement; the CBE Group of Waterloo, Iowa, the home state of Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R), who helped create the program; and Linebarger Goggan Blair and Sampson, a law firm based in Texas, home to President Bush.

Pioneer Credit employees have given congressional candidates and political action committees $117,450 since 1995, including $16,250 to Reynolds. CBE Group employees have given $9,372 during that period, including $2,500 to Grassley.

Linebarger Goggan, one of the nation's largest collection agencies, has extensive government ties. The firm, its employees and their spouses have given PACs and federal candidates in both parties $423,260 since 1995.

The Austin-based firm was dropped from the program last year for reasons that the IRS declined to make public. Its workload was doled out to the two other companies. Mike Vallandingham, a partner at the firm, said Linebarger Goggan met IRS expectations for collection results and "received high marks for regulatory and procedural accuracy, timeliness and professionalism."

The firm had been under scrutiny since 2002 because of some of its municipal contracts. A partner went to prison in 2002 for conspiring to bribe two San Antonio City Council members. Last year, the city of Mansfield, Tex., ended its contract with Linebarger Goggan after the firm made a $2,000 donation to the mayor a month after he was elected.
The article goes on to describe some of Linebarger Goggan's other missteps elsewhere. For example, this February in Chicago the firm was fired when city officials learned it had paid for a contract officer's vacation.

To make matters worse the firm has run afoul of citizens. the National Taxpayer Advocate has logged 1,500 complaints against Linebarger Goggan for bombarding taxpayers with phone calls, sending notification to the wrong addresses and subjecting taxpayers who don't even owe anything to harrassment.

The article doesn't even go into the background behind this Republican scheme to reward its friends and big donors. But for a long time, the Bush administration has been pushing so-called job competitions under what's known as the FAIR Act. What the FAIR Act does is require federal managers to list some jobs as inherently governmental or commercial, with commercial jobs up for competitive bid. Now there are some jobs that legitimately are commercial and competitive bidding for them is a good idea. Democrats as well as Republicans have supported the FAIR Act. The problem is the Bush administration has pushed it well beyond what it was intended to do because, true to their philosophy, no job is inherently governmental.

So, federal employees find themselves bidding against private contractors to maintain their jobs, often being forced to come up with layoffs of their fellow workers in order to bring in a competitive price. And in the process the administration is forcing them to compromise national security, taxpayer privacy, and cost effectiveness to serve both an ideology and the demands of well connected cronies.

Despite all that, the feds have been successful at keeping the work in house. They actually win 90 percent of these competitions. As everybody now knows, a great deal of the outsourcing of government work has gone to large Republican donors as no-bid contracts with little or no oversight. Everybody is familiar with the outsourcing of the war and reconstruction efforts in Iraq to companies like Bechtel, Haliburton and its subsidiaries, and SAIC. Look how well that's gone for us.

And in 2004, Congress, during the nadir of the Republican pay to play culture of corruption, managed to get one of the most inherently governmental tasks - tax collection - declared a commercial enterprise so they could reward their friends and donors.

Of course, the rich are still getting their tax breaks. That means it's you and me paying for these cronies to bully taxpayers, harrass innocent people, and lose the government $37,000 to boot.

Nice going Brownie. And Tommie DeLay and Jackie Abramoff.

BVBL Bumped From NLS Blogroll

Congratulations to Ben Tribett for taking this long overdue step. Ben has removed Black Velvet Bruce Lee from his blogroll. As Ben explained:

I link to most Virginia blogs on my blogroll. I do not censor or remove people for political disagreement. I will link to anyone of either party, even when I totally disagree with them. Usually if someone is not included it is because I either haven't seen their blog, or forgot to add them when I first saw it.

However, last year I had to begin removing sites that were participating in a coordinated campaign to smear people. I'm not going to link to blogs that present ideas as their own, but that are in fact coordinated talking points on email in order to destroy people's reputations. Those blogs still are not on my blogroll.
He also said:

I think I saw the dog post when it went up, but I skimmed by it, and did not read it carefully. Those comments are totally unacceptable. While Greg has demaugauged the immigration issue in Prince William County, I was not going to remove him from my blogroll for doing so. That's a political issue, and while I disagree with him on it, I will not remove people for political disagreements.

Yet the dog post crosses the line from a political statement, to comments that are not a joke, not funny, and are totally unacceptable to make. I'm removing BVBL from the NLS Blogroll until I see a change at BVBL in the way they are conducting themselves.
Frankly, it has always surprised me that Ben not only had Greg Letiecq on his blogroll but gave him pride of place as a platinum blog. I think it was because Greg L was undoubtedly influential and controversial. The problem, though, is that Greg opened a genie's bottle of bigotry and once you uncork that bottle, it's impossible to get the genie back in.

The hatred and racism has spiraled out of control in Prince Williams County and is endangering the business community, which has been losing money courting bankruptcy since last year's resolution. In addition, the money to enforce the draconian measures threatens to harm the fiscal well being of Manassas.

The antics of Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Corey Stewart, and his ally Greg Letiecq have also brought international embarrassment to Manassas. And their attempt to malign the reputations of Manassas Police Chief Charlie Deane and Republican supervisor Maureen Caddigan has stepped over any line of decency.

Belatedly, Corey Stewart, finally aware of how politically costly his unholy alliance with bigots might be, is desperately trying to back pedal and step away from his support for Greg Letiecq and BVBL as this video shows.





There is more you can do, Chairman Stewart. You can disavow bigotry, stop demagoging a whole group of people and truly step away from Black Velvet Bruce Lee. You can call that blog bigoted and say that while illegal immigration is a legitimate concern for the community, prejudice and hatred have no place in Manassass, Prince Williams County or any place else in America.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Water Fountain Dilemma and a Forgiveness Conundrum

Many years ago I had a Mexican-American friend who wrote a poem about his experience during a trip through the South. His poem recounted his experience as a young boy, in the mid-sixties, when much of the South still had “separate but equal” facilities. Except they really weren’t equal.

In his case, he was confronted with a dilemma at a drinking fountain on a hot, humid Southern summer day. There were two fountains, actually, one for “whites only” and one for “coloreds only.” He went to the one for “coloreds” and was promptly shooed away because he wasn’t black. Puzzled, he proceeded to the one for “whites only” only to be brushed away from that one too because he wasn’t white. Like most Mexicans, he was a Mestizo, or mixed Indian and white. He also was a bewildered little boy who only wanted a drink on a hot day and couldn’t get one because of adult bigotry.

Today, I came across this story in Star City Harbinger about the re-dedication of a Native American Episcopalian church in Amherst, Virginia that reminded me of my friend’s tale.
Yesterday, at a tiny Episcopal church of the Monacan Nation, I sat entranced by the warm tones of Jesse Runningbear’s rendition of Amazing Grace on his cherry wood native flute. Runningbear is a member of the Tuscarora Nation of coastal North Carolina. He has traveled this distance to celebrate, with his Monacan brethren of Amherst, Virginia, and an assortment of their admirers, the re-dedication of the Mission church that has held the fragile Monacan tribe together for one hundred years. The cornerstone of the tiny church was laid on April 14, 1908. St. Paul’s Episcopal Mission on Bear Mountain was complemented by a log cabin schoolhouse in 1916, which served as the only source of free education for the Monacan children.

Jean Branham, a full-blooded Monacan and cousin of the current Council Chief, recalled, “School buses would pass us by on the road . . . we weren’t allowed to go to white churches or schools, or even black churches or schools. We went to school at the Mission, but only until 7th grade. After that we had to go to Maryland or somewhere, anywhere but Amherst County.”
Like my Mexican-American friend, the Monacans were on the borderland between white and “colored” and fit no where in the local society. So they had to travel from their home to go to school and even to worship.

The re-dedication of their church is a small triumph for their culture.
According to Reverend Phyllis Hicks, the rector of St. Paul’s/Bear Mountain and the first Monacan to be ordained to the Episcopal priesthood in Virginia history, the clapboard church has “kept the tribe together” over the past one hundred years.

“This church,” Rev. Hicks argues, “has been the focal point of our community.”
“We have experienced a long history of discrimination but I don’t want to emphasize that today. Let’s just say, I’m an Indian girl who grew up in a white man’s world, and we’ve come a long way baby. This church has always been a place where my people have come to feel at peace
But it’s a peace that has come with a price. And a conundrum. The conundrum is that it is part of the Christian tradition to forgive past wrongs. But should they be forgotten? Is that even possible?
In the words of Bishop Heath Light, former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Virginia, who gave the sermon at the re-dedication service, this celebration is not about forgiving and forgetting but rather remembering and forgiving. The church, he noted, stands as a testimony to the reality that the healing process has begun but is far from complete. Arguing that white Virginians have contributed to the prejudice, discrimination and neglect of the Monacan people in the past as well as the present, Bishop stated, “We have been complicit in your suffering. We must now be cooperative in your healing.”
I suspect forgiveness is a lot like unconditional love, another Christian tenet. To love unconditionally doesn’t mean to blind oneself the faults of the beloved. It is the discipline of loving and accepting the person with all his or her faults. In the same way, you don’t forget when you forgive. You forgive in spite of the remembered hurt. You let it go but that doesn’t make you an amnesiac.

Further, true reconciliation takes more than one party. It’s more than just the aggrieved moving into a position of forgiveness. Real forgiveness also requires real justice and that commands something from those who committed the wrong too. The rest of the SCH post describes the history of discriminatory legislation that harmed the Monacan and other Virginia tribes and ongoing efforts to rectify it.
The Monacan Nation has been officially recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia, but an organization called VITAL, the Virginia Indian Tribal Alliance for Life, is leading the up-hill battle to secure federal recognition of the Monacans as well as the other indigenous tribes in Virginia, including the Chickahominy, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, and the Nansemond Indian Tribes. Dean Branham, a member of the Monacan Tribal Council and vice president of VITAL, is beginning to get frustrated. “We pay a lobbyist about $50,000 a year to work on our behalf. But I’ve got some questions for her.”

Branham is dissatisfied and growing increasingly impatient due to what he considers to be a lack of effort on the part of those who have publicly supported the Monacan effort for federal recognition. “Jim Webb has helped a little. We went to his press release in DC, got photographed and he said he would help our effort. But that was the last we heard from him on it.”

On May 5, 2009, HR 1294, the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2007, was passed out of the House and received in the Senate where it was read twice and referred to the Committee on Indian Affairs. The Act would make each Tribe and tribal member eligible for any and all services and benefits provided by the federal government to federally recognized Indian tribes. The Act would also prohibit newly recognized native tribes from participating in gambling operations on tribal lands.
It also points out those who have been helpful and those who have not helped at all.
The original bill was sponsored by Virginia Congressman Jim Moran (D) and co-sponsored by Moran’s fellow Virginians the late Jo Ann Davis (R) and Tom Davis (R). Scott (VA-D) and Boucher (VA-D) voted in favor of the resolution, and the bill passed 228-186. Not surprisingly, Eric Cantor (R), Thelma Drake (R), Randy Forbes (R), Bob Goodlatte (R), and Frank Wolf (R) did not vote for the bill citing the possibility that it might encourage the construction of casinos across the Commonwealth. Virgil Goode (R) didn’t even care enough to take a stand and abstained from voting on the measure. Even though the bill contained language prohibiting Virginia tribes from engaging in gambling and both VITAL and the individual tribal councils pledged not to use tribal lands for casinos, Goodlatte and Wolf claimed that gambling would still be possible because the way the Act was drafted would be unlikely to withstand constitutional scrutiny.
To read more about the bill, the rebuttal to Goodlatte and Wolf’s claims, go to the original post on Star City Harbinger. And support the rights and efforts of the Monacan and other Virginia tribes, including their annual fundraising effort, a Pow Wow on May 17. For more information, check the Star City Harbinger and call (434) 946-0389 OR (434) 946-0421 FOR MORE INFORMATION

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Gerry Connolly Needs a Weather Vane to See Which Way the Wind Blows

I was pretty puzzled and surprised when my husband brought in the mail yesterday and showed me Gerry Connolly’s first mailer. In it Connolly claimed that he was opposed to the Iraq war from the beginning. He also promises a vote for him would bring us nearer to bringing our troops home and ending that war.

“That’s news to me,” I commented. And it was. I really never knew Gerry Connolly’s position on the war simply because he never made it clear before. Lowell has a great post on RK exposing Connolly’s claim and contrasting it with Leslie Byrne’s well documented opposition to the war from its beginning, indeed even in the run up to the invasion (actually two posts here and here). Unlike Gerry, who mouthed some pabulum about both sides being entitled to their opinion about it, Leslie spoke out and left a paper trail with a letter to the editor published in the Washington Post in December 2003 in which she defended Howard Dean’s anti-war stance. Here’s a study in contrast. The first is Leslie’s LTE to the Washington Post in December 2003.
The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: Dec 20, 2003. pg. A.19

Letter to the editor:

Your Dec. 18 editorial chides Howard Dean for being "Beyond the Mainstream" because he uses the words democracy and stable self- government interchangeably when talking about Iraq. Your paper doesn't like Dean saying that the capture of Saddam Hussein has not made us safer, although none of us has seen the terrorist warning improve from Code Yellow to Code Green. You don't like Dean's questioning the current Bush policy of using unlimited overseas deployment of National Guard units. You don't think that North Korea must join the community of nations in order to reduce the nuclear threat the Bush administration is unable to address.

You continue to support the multibillion-dollar boondoggle called missile defense -- better known as "Star Wars" -- despite the undeniable facts that have come to light about its efficacy, and you believe Dean should go along and keep his mouth shut. You disagree (no big surprise here) with Dean's position that trade agreements must include labor and environmental standards. Last but not least, you don't agree with Dean and millions of other Americans that the United States must shrink its military adventurism and work with other nations to make this a safer world.

Now who is out of the mainstream?

Leslie Byrne
The second is Gerry’s statement in the March 2003 Democrats (h/t to RK for both these)
The 2003 election cycle, however, is overshadowed by the impending war in Iraq. Northern Virginia politics will not be unaffected by such a war. Men and women in our neighborhoods have been called up to active duty. Terrorist threats and planning for heightened terror alerts preoccupy our local media coverage. For the first time since World War II anti-aircraft batteries ring the Capitol in Washington and none of us knows whether an already fragile economy might not tip back into recession with a steeply declining stock market and sharp spikes in the price of oil. The war threatens to crowd out our ability to air and debate local and state issues such as tax restructuring, school funding and transportation that so desperately need to be aired and debated this Fall.

As Democrats, we know how important it is to allow a full discussion about the merits of war in the Persian Gulf region. We remember from the Vietnam era how critical it is to respect the right to dissent. We understand that while the nation needs to protect its homeland security, we cannot sacrifice our constitutional liberties in the process. Whatever our own views on the war, we share common Democratic values about our country and its role in the world. As our election season commences we will strive to remind our community of those values and carry them forward into the electoral battleground this Fall. Good luck to us all and Godspeed.
Admirable sentiments, but essentially he is saying nothing. It's a simple "mom and apple pie" plea for both sides to respect each other and for local government to concentrate on local issues. It takes no stand at all on the actual war.

Meanwhile, Not Larry Sabato’s Ben Tribbett challenges Connolly’s position, also in the flier, on investigating those corporations who had no bid contracts and profiteered in Iraq making huge profits. As Tribbett shows, Connolly is himself a vice president at SAIC, one of those very companies.

When you read Gerry’s comments about the war back in 2003, you realize he was an over cautious politician trying to have it both ways and offend nobody. Of course, now that the war is so hugely unpopular, it's not only safe to oppose it, but in a Democratic primary, it would be foolhardy not to.

But sticking ones finger out to see which way the wind is blowing is not what a leader does. Leslie Byrne, by contrast, weighed the personal cost, took the risk, as she always does, and did the right and principled thing. She didn't need a weather vane to know which way the wind was blowing.

A real leader never does.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

It's Simple Fairness That Hillary Stay in the Race

There is a meme being bandied about, mostly by Obama supporters, that Hillary Clinton can’t possibly win the nomination, so she should drop out now. They claim to have “done the math” and determined that it’s impossible for her to win. I guess they had the same bad math teachers I did.

I’ve done the math too. And with Obama having a lead of only 130 pledged delegates and a less than 1 percent difference in the popular vote, it would be difficult for Hillary to win. But not impossible. It would also be difficult, if not impossible, for Obama to reach the magic 2,040 delegates that he needs to win.

As Hillary Clinton supporters have argued, if the situation were reversed, Obama’s supporters would be howling with rage at any suggestion that he drop out. Actually, for people who support a candidate that claims to be a unifier, they howl with rage quite a bit anyway – but that’s another story.

Here in Virginia, as just reported on Raising Kaine, about 3 dozen local Democratic chairs have signed a letter, written by Fairfax County Democratic Committe Chair, Scott Surovell, and Arlington County Democratic Committee Chair, Peter Rousselot, urging Virginia’s super delegates to all commit to Obama to end this primary season now.

In answer to their letter, super delegate Susan Swecker sent out this response (printed in full because it is so well reasoned (h/t to Lowell for this):
Dear Peter and Scott,

I received your thoughtful letter by email on Saturday afternoon and came home this evening to write a response.

I was surprised that I was not given the courtesy to respond to you before it was posted sometime today on Raising Kaine.

Rest assured that I take my responsibility as an automatic delegate very seriously and it is something that I think about every day.

Once it became apparent that we were going to be in this nomination period for a much longer time than anticipated (sometime after the NH primary) I did some extensive research on the role of "superdelegates", how they came to be in existence and what is expected of them.

Senator Jim Webb is correct when he said on This Week with George Stephanopolus yesterday that if the national party "didn't want superdelegates to have independent judgment they wouldn't have created them". That is why they were created by the Hunt Commission (headed by former Governor Jim Hunt of NC) in 1982 and why they still exist today. As I see my role, it is to support the candidate who I believe, using my best judgment, will make the strongest commander in chief and get our economy at home back on track. In my opinion, that is Senator Hillary Clinton.

There is nothing - anywhere - that remotely indicates that the superdelegate should follow the will of the democratic voters of that state. However, if that is your premise, then please encourage Congressman Rick Boucher (whose 9th Congressional District went overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton) to switch his support from Obama to Clinton. And please encourage Senators Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Governors DuVal Patrick, Bill Richardson, Janet Napalitano..... the list goes on ..... to do the same.

With all due respect, I have done my national Democratic math as well. To date, more than 27 million Americans have cast a ballot for Senators Clinton and Obama.
Of that 27 million, less than 1% separate the two Democrats in the 2008 campaign for the White House. (if the roles were reversed and Senator Obama was behind by less than 1%, you would not expect the race to be over).

By my count, Senator Obama leads with 130 delegates, but 887 delegates still remain to be committed to any candidate.

What is wrong with making sure that states like Pennsylvania, West Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana and others to have a chance to say who they want for their nominee.

And making sure that Florida and Michigan are resolved fairly? Lord only knows we don't need to disenfranchise any more Florida voters!

I believe this race is good for our Party; at least for right now. States that have never participated before are getting a chance to have their say and we are getting to know who our voters are. This is a good roadmap for victory not only for this year - but to build the Party in the years to come. If you don't believe me, ask Governor Kaine how important he felt the 2004 Presidential Primary was to his gubernatorial victory in 2005.

I do hear your concerns about the race going into August. I do believe it will be and should be decided by then. But I feel just as strongly that the rest of the states need to vote and Florida and Michigan need to be resolved fairly - and then focus turns to the superdelegates. I hope that we as a group and individually will be able to bring this nomination process to a close and begin the process of uniting behind our nominee. While we may now differ on who that nominee should be, I will tell you that I will be the first Virginia Democrat to sign up for Obama for President if he is the nominee.

I will continue to listen to Virginians and continue to closely follow this historical competitive race.

Best,

Susan
In fairness to Scott Surovell and Peter Rousselot, they are echoing a sincere concern that the longer the primary drags on, the more the party will tear itself apart. At the same time, it’s also giving Republican opponent, John McCain, a free ride with ample time to define himself to the public without any challenge.

They have a point about that last argument. It concerns me too. But when I think about the argument that the protracted primaries are divisive and harmful to the Democratic Party and to our ultimate candidate, I have two words. John Kerry.

Back in 2004, I too wanted to wrap it all up quickly. I even grew annoyed at John Edwards, whom I liked a lot, because I thought that the longer he continued in the primaries, the more likely it was to weaken the eventual winner, John Kerry, for the general election.

With hindsight, I now wonder whether it was such a good idea to anoint our winner as quickly and painlessly as we did. Perhaps if Kerry had been tested more in the primaries, he would have been a better candidate in the general election – a stronger, more focused candidate. And if not, maybe we could have gotten rid of him and picked somebody better suited to the job.

I think the vetting process that the primary puts the candidates through and the testing that it requires is a good thing. It separates the wheat from the chaff and strengthens the winner for the general election. In addition, the competition has generated a white heat intense interest in the process. People have been turning out in record numbers to vote for both Hillary and Barack. And in closed primary states, independents, and even disillusioned Republicans, are registering as Democrats. This, folks, is party building. It is helping local Democrats to build a larger database and a stronger grassroots.

Why would we deny the same benefits to the upcoming states like North Carolina and Indiana? Who knows how many new Democrats they will gather from this process.

But there’s an even more important reason to continue the primary process until the end when the race is so close. Simple fairness.

Not just to the candidates. But to the citizens of those states whose primaries are at the tail end of the season and whose votes, time after time, haven’t made a difference. Whose votes, time after time, haven’t even been cast because the race is usually over before it gets to them.

Think how excited we all were in Virginia because, for the first time in a long time, our votes actually mattered. It was a heady feeling. And in a race this close, it would be wrong to deny that same excitement to those states who draw the short straw and are the last to vote.

To be sure, if Obama had a runaway lead that was truly impossible to beat, I’d agree that we should wrap it up. But that’s not really the case. This is a case where every vote will truly count. And every one of those citizens who wishes to vote should have the opportunity to do so, just as we did in Virginia.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Price of Civilization in Fairfax County

It comes to three cents. That's how much property taxes will rise this year. According to Amy Gardner, in today's Washington Post, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is proposing the modest tax hike to preserve its public schools and social programs.

It’s a bold move given that tax increases are never popular in Virginia – or anyplace else for that matter. Given the anti-tax rhetoric you frequently hear from Republicans, it took political courage to not simply reach for the budget ax. The problem, though, is that it’s always easier to talk about cuts in the abstract than to specify which programs to chop.

So at this past week’s Fairfax County budget hearings, termed by Ms. Gardner, a “marathon” that stretched over three nights and was attended by 300 residents, the Board of Supervisors made the politically courageous decision to raise the property tax in order to avoid cuts to its programs.
"You can't just ignore the community when it speaks," said Supervisor Sharon S. Bulova (D-Braddock). "There is reason to have some increase in the tax rate in order to fund our highest priorities and to make sure that we're protecting the quality of life that people value."

Bulova and others added that the size of increase and how it will be divided up must still be decided by board members over the next two weeks. But one likely scenario, she and others said, is to dedicate 2of the 3 cents, or about $45 million of the $68 million total, to the school system with the rest going to various county programs. The board is scheduled to adopt a final budget April 21.

Because of an average decline in property values of 3 percent this year, most tax bills would remain the same or decline slightly with a 3-cent rate increase, to 92 cents for each $100 of assessed value. Such an increase would produce a tax bill of $4,600 for a property worth $500,000.
The problem for Fairfax, like so many local counties, is that its major source of revenue comes from property taxes. Property values have taken a dive due to the housing and credit crises. And since property assessments are down, less revenue is coming in.

By raising the property tax by 3 cents, all the county would be doing is keeping its revenue stream at the same level as last year to avoid cutting important programs. At the same time, the taxes that residents pay will not go up in real dollars. In other words, their actual tax bills will be the same as last year or even slightly lower.

I was at one of the budget hearings and my husband attended two of them. I was struck by how many truly valuable services that Fairfax provides to its citizens. Besides an excellent school system with after-school services, the county funds top quality libraries, suicide prevention programs, homeless shelters, and mental health services. There are parks throughout the county. In short, in numerous ways, large and small, Fairfax provides a quality of life that its residents have come to expect and appreciate.

Indeed, over 300 residents showed their concern for preserving these services by attending these budget hearings, which began early and ended late and stretched over three nights.
"What was striking in the hearings was clear consensus from the school community, human services, business leaders and public safety," said Gerald E. Connolly (D), board chairman. "A3-cent tax increase still reduces in real dollars the average tax bill. It is a modest refinement of a low tax rate, especially when you look at what our neighbors are doing."
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., once said, ‘taxes are the price we pay for civilization.” One could add that the price should be neither too high nor taken for granted. But Fairfax County has shown good stewardship of its resources and has delivered high quality services that benefit its citizens. A 3 cent increase in property taxes – especially one that will not be felt in real dollar value – is not too high a price for maintaining a civilized lifestyle.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Why Is Doug Denneny Running to the Right of Gerry Connolly?

It could be because Leslie Byrne has staked out the truly progressive position and there's no place else to go.

I mean they all basically are anti-Iraq and pro-choice. No Democrat is going to be publicly anti-environment - at least until he's already in office - that's practically a "mom and apple pie" issue. Petroleum and oil companies run pro-environmental ads. True, those ads are lies, where they attempt to convince the public that theirs is "clean energy." But the point is nobody comes out directly against green policy so much as they try to subvert it.

But when it comes to the economy, Denneny appears to be taking his policy right out of George Stigler and Milton Friedman and other architects of the free market, supply side Chicago School of economics.

Here's what his campaign sent out as an "editorial memo."

Though his intent is laudable, Gerry Connolly's recent proposal for Fairfax County to buy foreclosed homes and sell them back to working families reveals his commitment to a dated and unsuccessful big government approach to economic issues.

As Democrats, we all agree that we need to ensure Fairfax has housing options for teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters and others who serve our community. The only question is how to best achieve this goal...

...When public servants in government craft policy with the intent to improve people's lives, their first rule should be 'do no harm.' By buying foreclosed properties and selling them to working families below market value, the County would be artificially lowering the property values of other homes in the area, effectively taking money out of the pockets of citizens and families that are near the foreclosed properties.

Since housing markets are currently in a period of decline, working families who buy houses from the County at below current market prices will quite possibly see an appreciation in the value of their home as the market stabilizes and begins to grow. As home values appreciate, home owners' county tax bills will increase. Working families who struggle to buy a home at below market prices today could be challenged to pay their Fairfax County tax bill tomorrow.

On the other hand, if home prices continue to depreciate, Connolly's plan will have placed working families in financial predicaments that they would not have been able to enter without the County government's intervention.

Connolly continues to embrace the hackneyed notion that heavy-handed government intervention is the solution to everything. This approach may sound appealing in an election year, but it in the long run Connolly's plan will limit the ability of the free market to create choices for working families. Certainly this approach is better than the 'you're on your own' ideology of the Republicans, but Democrats can do better.
His "doing better," unfortunately, comes right out the Republican playbook of the last eight years, and the twelve years of the Reagan-Bush administrations before that.

As a New Generation Democrat, Doug Denneny believes in using policy levers to respond to the needs of working families without skewing the private market. Doug believes the best way to help struggling families in Fairfax County is to offer substantial and targeted relief from property taxes.
Now, relief from property taxes during an economic downturn is not necessarily a bad thing. But the biggest problem with this is that the property tax is the main revenue source for county government. With less money coming in, how would Doug propose that Fairfax County fund necessary programs like police and fire protection, emergency services, schools, teachers' and other county workers' salaries, and a host of social services for the disabled. What about parks, after school programs? Those are all the things that make Fairfax among the best communities to live.

Indeed, it's those services that make Fairfax one of the best places to do business as well. That's because businesses want to go where they can get an educated, skilled workforce. And good education and amenities attract the workers that modern, high tech businesses need.

In addition, philosophically, a progressive populist, like me, sees nothing wrong with government helping out and giving the little guy an economic boost into the middle class.

Actually buying up foreclosed homes and selling them below market value to provide affordable housing to firefighters, policemen and policewomen, teachers, emergency technicians, and other county employees is one of Connolly's more creative ideas. Making sure that the people who respond to citizens' needs and teach their children are also members of their community is a way to ensure that those valuable employees are stakeholders in the well being of our community rather than outsiders who merely punch a time clock.

Denneny also declined to sign on to the Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq, which both Leslie Byrne and Tom Periello signed. The list of signers also includes Darcy Burner, Donna Edwards, and Jeff Merkley. Doug responded with his own plan, which I am not about to criticize. As a decorated combat veteran with experience in Iraq, he has important suggestions that must be heard and taken seriously.

The truth, though, is that the Responsible Plan is a good broad platform that Democrats can run on. By adding his expertise to shaping the plan and supporting it, rather than going his own way, while basically saying the same things, I think he weakens both his own position and that of the others. A bunch of people running around with individual plans is never as powerful a statement as a coherent group with a strong, broad platform that provides an easily understandable road map that everybody can support. I have no quarrel with the particulars of Denneny's plan but a great deal of skepticism about the effectiveness of his method of going his own way.

But it's really on his economic statement where Denneny baffles me.

In times of crisis, voters need proven, thoughtful leadership – not flawed, feel-good election year proposals. Gerry Connolly has responded to the housing crisis for working families in Fairfax with the fruitless policies of the past. The Republicans are silent on this issue. Doug Denneny, a New Generation Democrat, has a better approach that relies on competition and market forces to improve the lives of working families.
Actually, his solution is exactly what a Republican would propose. There's nothing either "new generation" or Democratic about it. And calling it a fruitless big government solution from the past is right out of the Republican playbook of criticisms. Frankly, that's the kind of rhetoric you can read every day at Bearing Drift and Too Conservative.

You're a good guy, Doug, but you can do better than this.