Blue Louisa: A blog Covering Central Virginia & national politics from a progressive perspective
David McCullough, in his excellent biography of John Adams, whose ideas were enshrined in the Constitution, discusses how the founding fathers constructed their vision of government. One of the seminal ideas to the balance of power of the three branches of government was the conviction that the country would be ruled by laws of reason. They rebelled against a government that was capriciously ruled by the monarchy and the oligarchs of the East India and Virginia Companies, and they sought something different.
Each subsequent generation accepted the ideal that America was a country of laws, without fear or favor, not a country subject to whims and fads of the moment. In recent months we have witnessed a stunning abdication of commitment by government to the ideal that America is a country of laws and that each man stands equally before the law. Donald Trump’s attempts to derail the Russian collusion investigation are an example of this. In May, Trump fired FBI Director Comey because Comey would not abrogate his duties and responsibilities under the Constitution for a pledge of personal loyalty to Trump.
Today, every effort is being made to criticize, deride, undermine and compromise Special Prosecutor Mueller’s investigation. The Republicans, in strident chorus, declare that Mueller should be fired. This is in marked contrast to the seven different hearings/investigations that consumed Congress over Benghazi, or the thousand days of Kenneth Starr’s investigation of Bill Clinton’s transgressions. The hypocrisy is appalling.
Trump criticizes his own judicial and intelligence departments and organizations that the taxpayers have paid good money for, over decades. Suddenly, in his ill-informed opinion, they are not satisfactory. After firing the leadership, his latest target is the whole of the FBI, demeaning its professionalism and patriotism. If America’s top law enforcement agency is deemed inadequate, to whom do we turn for justice, the irrational whims of Donald Trump?
Just wait. In the coming months, if unchecked, you will see a systematic dismantling of the laws that protect our democracy: Voting rights, the social safety net, healthcare, education – all will be tossed on the rubbish heap in the Republicans’ flagrant attempts to turn our country into a Russian-style oligarchy. Consider also that laws against emoluments, pederasty, sexual harassment, the dealing by civilians with foreign governments, will be ignored with abandon, and the picture gets even darker.
But, there are even more areas of concern, it is becoming clear that this Administration’s judicial appointees are woefully inadequate and are picked solely for their loyalty to Donald Trump’s ideas of justice. Appointees, such as Matthew Petersen, are showing up completely bereft of any judicial knowledge or experience. This incompetence taints all nominees and the ideal of commitment to the law.
Early on, Trump showed no respect for the judicial branch of the government. He criticized the ethnicity of a judge in a case in which his assets were involved. As a businessman, he sued the contractors he stiffed, using the courts as a billy club, not an instrument of justice. Joe Arpaio’s pardon was an outrage. The Republican handling of the Supreme Court vacancy leading to Gorsuch’s appointment was a complete travesty. The list goes on and on, but only highlights that this country is fast becoming a nation without laws and without order, which undercuts the very foundations upon which our country was built.
What to do? Give up hope, and just hunker down in our own private little worlds, and hope that by some miracle, things will get better? No, it will be far better to follow the example of the women of this country who rebelled against the very idea of everything that Trump stands for when they marched to Washington the day after his inauguration. Out of this came the “Indivisible” movement that has galvanized grass roots efforts to start changing politics at the local level, including the Culpeper Persisters right here in our own community.
The recent elections in Virginia that turned the House of Delegates upside down gives us hope that we can sweep the miscreants out of the House of Representatives in 2018 and return the nation to democracy in 2020, if not sooner. It will be hard work. Don’t sit this one out. Resist, insist, persist, enlist.
Editors Note: This has been reposted with the author's permission, and originally appeared in the December 30th print edition of the Culpeper Star Exponent, and is only available online on-line here, and here.
For those of you who weren’t able to attend this past Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, you missed one of the most entertaining meetings in years Where according to our local paper, the Central Virginian, in a “hotly contested 4-3” vote, the Board of Supervisors approved a contract to build six wireless towers and two co-locations which would extend high-speed internet service across the county.
The six towers and two co-locations approved by the board of supervisors, together with a seventh proposed tower at Twin Oaks Community, for broadband internet service in the shaded areas on the map.
Well that’s certainly one way to characterize it, although like many of their stories, they got the basic facts correct, yet somehow managed to overlook the nuances and background details which turned this meeting into an exercise in Kabuki theater. Starting with the public comments period, where constituents spoke for the Broadband project and against it.
Where they minimized the fact that there were twice as many people speaking for the Broadband project as were against it, and that several of those speaking against it appeared to be reading from the same script. Particularly Jim Ogg and Supervisor elect Duane Adams who did everything they could to inject ambiguity into the discussion.
Like Ogg’s misleading claims about the uncertainty of the future of Broadband in light of the FCC's recent ruling against Net Neutrality, along with unsubstantiated claims that wireless technology is not "robust" enough to meet customer’s bandwidth needs, to asking the board to take a "pause" before making their decision.
Although for outright chutzpah, Duane Adams claims that the Board approving the towers now, rather than until next year, when he would be sworn in amounted to making "political" decision” is a whopper that will be hard for anyone top. Perhaps expecting the Board and the public to forget that’s exactly what happened during their December 2015 meeting when the Board was discussing whether to fund the Broadband project.
Where they voted to “postpone” making that decision until January 2016, where presumably the addition of newly elected supervisor Tony Williams would alter the outcome of their vote. A decision which incidentally went 5-2 for approving $1.1 million for the Broadband towers, with Troy Wade and Williams voting against it.
During the public comments period, John Koren, who like Mr. Ogg spent his career working in telecommunications, pointed out that the “technical problems” being raised by Ogg were nothing more than red herrings, since the wireless technology which this Broadband project is based on is constantly changing, and claims which might have been accurate several years ago, no longer apply today.
According the Central Virginian the decision by the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative to provide broadband internet directly to its customers somehow threw the supervisors a curveball, and caused one supervisor who had previously supported the broadband authority’s efforts, Tommy Barlow (Mountain Road), to vote no.
A claim which if one was being extremely charitable should be called disingenuous, since the CV has printed several articles starting in February of this year outlining CVEC’s plans, with specific details of their plans appearing in their December 7th issue.
Information which Barlow and all of the Board members should have been well aware of before their December 18th vote, not to mention that this topic was addressed in detail by the Broadband Authority. Making Barlow’s claim that “I want to give us time to evaluate the new stuff that has come up,” nothing more than a craven refusal to make a decision.
And it's one of the defining characteristics of how the Louisa Board of Supervisors has been operating for years.
A topic which Melvin Burruss, a member of the Louisa County Broadband Authority indirectly brought up during the public comment period, saying that “to keep kicking it [making a decision] down the road is nonsense.” And given Barlow’s history of asking questions which are so out in left field at board meetings, it’s a strong indication that at a minimum he doesn’t bother to read the information packets that are given to him at every meeting, and at worse chooses to be willfully ignorant.
But the true masters of deflection and distraction at this meeting, were Supervisors Wade and Williams, who during the subsequent presentation by the Broadband Authority on the status of the project, went out of their way to raise “concerns,” and make numerous apples to oranges comparisons disguised as hard questions.
And despite presenting a comprehensive review of the project and the current state of Broadband in Louisa County, along with being prepared for a wide range of what most people would consider “reasonable” questions, it was striking how much difficultly the two Broadband authority members, Garth Wermter and Mary Johnson, along with the consultant from Wide Open Networks, Matt Bussing had with answering obvious "gotcha questions," from Williams and Wade, who from all appearances were determined to derail this vote.
A dynamic which remains a concern for the citizens of Louisa County as this project moves forward. Especially with Duane Adams joining the Board next month, and who will likely be joining Wade and Williams in looking for any excuse to "justify" why this project is a bad idea as the roll out of the towers proceeds.
What the Central Virginian has chosen not to pursue in their coverage of this issue is the easily verifiable fact that during the recently concluded election that Duane Adams was heavily backed by State Senator Bryce "AFP" Reeves. And that delaying and denying the implementation of Broadband in localities is one of the telecoms, along with American’s for Prosperity (AFP) and the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) priorities.
Nor would it be unreasonable to anticipate that any future "objections" we hear from these three Board members will closely mirror those groups talking points. And with Supervisor Barlow swinging like a weather vane in the wind, it's quite likely that we could see the Board of Supervisors united 4-3 against the Broadband project next year.
Should the Board vote to sustain this project, it would not be unreasonable to expect these three Supervisors to attempt to slow walk the project by delaying the permits for the towers & downstream poles, and funding for equipment which goes on the towers. And as the data comes back from the implementation of these Broadband services, lodge a barrage of objections to everything from number of customers served to questioning the quality of service.
Go black Alabama! Black women and men showed up and showed out! How sad is it that my attempts to organize black churches, fraternal organizations, veterans organizations, including the completely useless NAACP Chapter and every other black group in Louisa County years ago fell on “deaf ears” for African-Americans locked in a past where religious groups and churches were forbidden and afraid of getting involved in politics.
How interesting it is when politics, as we clearly see today, seriously impact the lives of African-Americans more than any other group of Americans. As the Alabama voting campaign “VOTE OR DIE” claims we will be dying with no healthcare, no right to vote, no education, no living wage jobs, no disability assistance and no money because we are subsidizing wealthy whites and giving them more money than ever. Money that they don’t even need.
Don’t be fooled into believing that immigrants or refugees are responsible for any cutbacks or lack of living wage jobs in this country – that is another falsehood used to divide us. It is simply not true.
Never mind that the FCC voted Thursday to overrule net neutrality, which will deny access to the internet for most low and middle income internet users and severely limit the services being delivered, while these companies make more money than ever from our “free airways.”
Have any of you ever contacted your congressional representatives (or do you even know who they are) to protest or contest their vote of any of these issues? Probably not, but you had better find out and start calling, writing and emailing before it is too late.
Isn’t it more than clear that it is far past the time for a change in Louisa churches to become active in improving the quality of life in this county for all of us, not just for African-Americans. African-American churches were prevented from organizing in the past for organizing in the past for this very reason – allowing African-Americans to exercise their constitutional rights to vote and to become powerful in their own communities, when they are the majority population in many states.
I would suggest that you go back to your churches and get started organizing and planning for record turnouts in the upcoming elections to ensure that your lives, and those of your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, are the best that they can be. Do believe that there is a plan to destroy Social Security, education and every social program that currently exists in order to pay for these massive tax giveaways to the rich.
Decide today whether you continue to sit back, complain and watch your certain demise or force change in your churches and organizations, like Alabama did, and present a solid front to reject these policies now and in all upcoming elections.
Editor's Note: This letter has been re-posted with the author's permission, and originally appeared in the December 21st edition of the Central Virginian, and is only available online to paying subscribers, or here.
I grew up in the West. Every family vacation, we would collect our gear and head off to the National Parks. We camped and explored the incredible beauty and majesty of Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Zion, and others. Along the way, we took in lessons on geology, geography, and read road side markers which told the history of the states we passed through. We were proud that all Americans could visit these sights.
Our National Park System is truly a national treasure. Its development was championed by great photographers like Ansel Adams and railroad posters that still show up on The Antiques Roadshow. A long line of presidents from Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama added to its splendor. The exquisite travelogue and historical essay, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” the Ken Burns series broadcast in 2009 reminded us of this heritage.
In early November, the Board of Supervisors voted on a Culpeper Tourism sponsored resolution opposing a recently announced increase in Shenandoah National Park entrance fees. The peak season fee increase for Shenandoah was 280%. An additional sixteen other National Park properties would also see a significant hike in their entrance fees.
A National Park Service bulletin said that our neighboring Shenandoah Park has $11.3 billion in unfunded maintenance costs. One wonders why the Congress has been unable to fund this American treasure, a treasure which years ago required displacing families that had been living and farming there. In addition to the fee increases, this Administration’s budget for the National Parks decreases funding the jewels in America’s crown by 12.9%. Are the fees supposed to pay for the budget cuts?
Inattention to the joys of the National Parks is unfortunate because the parks attract visitors who also spend money in the areas and facilities near the parks. Having Shenandoah in Culpeper’s backyard is a win-win. The new fees, however, mean Culpeper’s economy will shrink by the decrease in tourist traffic. At another level, the new fees mean that parks are reserved for the wealthy who can pay, certainly not the descendants of the families who were forced into the settlement areas.
The turn to fees for services is a growing trend in America. The taxpayer used to pay for public schools. Now individual families spend their money to buy the tools and equipment the schools used to provide. The annual backpack drives are symbolic of the decreased public funding of education. The rich of course, can go to their private academies.
The I-66 tolls are another illustration of the pay for service mentality. If you want an efficient road system, strap on a flex pass and drive. Some will probably have these toll fees paid for by their employers, for the rest of us not so much.
The discussion of the present Administration’s un-designation of the Bears Ears Monument is also part of a larger trend. The current Administration rules that this fabulous American natural treasure and archeological site doesn’t belong to the American people. It is to be sold off to the highest bidder, whether uranium, oil or gas interests.
Obviously, the highest bidder is rarely the common man. When you review the specific parts of the recently passed Senate and House versions of the Tax Bill, and you ask who gets the money, you can be certain it is not the middle class. We are now in a world of where resources, such as our National Parks are not for our families. They are for a select few, and I fear, their decline in use will be used as ammunition to do away with the National Park system altogether.
The decline of the middle class and the preservation of resources for the rich and powerful reminds me of the WWII Bill Mauldin cartoon showing two officers standing on a cliff looking at the beautiful Italian mountain scenery. The cartoon’s caption is “Beautiful view. Is there one for the enlisted men?” Probably not, as the inequalities in the American economy and society grow daily. Perhaps, however, as shown in Virginia and most recently in Alabama, the common man in the quiet of the polling booth will reassert his claim to the land, air, and sea – the jewels in America’s Crown.
David Reuther is a retired Foreign Service Officer with more than 40 years of experience in intelligence and State Department tours in Asia, the Middle East and the Pentagon. He lives in Culpeper.
Editors Note: This has been reposted with the author's permission, and originally appeared in the December 16th print edition of the Culpeper Star Exponent, and will not be available online until the following Monday. For now it is only available on-line here.
My mom used to say this when I was a kid. It’s an old-fashioned term and I never knew what it meant until much later. A term that survived from the Middle Ages, it describes buying one thing and getting another. You think you’re getting pork but what you’re really getting may be dog. Paying good money for something you thought was one thing but getting something entirely different. In other words, you get conned.
These adages stay around so long because they are true. This one has particular relevance today. Many people voted for Donald Trump because he made big promises—better deals, more jobs, lower taxes, better wages, great healthcare, fixing roads and airports, draining the swamp, kicking out the Wall Street billionaires and on and on. It sounded great – almost too good to be true. And it was.
What Trump has delivered instead is a pig in a poke. He has put in jeopardy what has really made America great in the first place—our first-rate economy, our role as a world leader, our national security, our educational system, our values.
He has delivered NO jobs that were not already in the works in 2016. Wages are NOT rising but inflation will increase prices. He has jeopardized markets for American farmers and others by attacking NAFTA. There are no new highway, rail or airline projects being planned. In fact, with the trillion dollar deficits that the new GOP tax bill will bring, there will never be any money for these projects.
He has tried, and may succeed, in dismantling the present healthcare system and replacing it with nothing but higher premiums and no healthcare at all for millions of Americans.
With a fox in the hen house approach, he has appointed millionaire Wall Street bankers to regulate the very organizations that brought us the 2008 financial crisis.
He has helped the stock market go sky-high with the promise of lower corporate taxes and no regulations. Has that helped the average American? YES for those who have stocks and IRAs. NO for those depending on a living wage or fixed income to survive, with rising prices and less help from the government.
The GOP tax bill puts more, more, more money in the pockets of the very wealthy and does very little for the middle and working classes. The bill gives a little tax relief but cuts programs for healthcare, meals on wheels, school lunches, education, veteran benefits and so many more programs that help regular Americans.
And the biggest Trump lie of all—we will “never touch Social Security.” Hah! GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan and GOP Senator Marco Rubio have already admitted that, with the need to reduce the trillions in deficits created by the GOP tax bill, Social Security and Medicare are on the chopping block for 2018!
How do you like that pig in a poke you voted for now?
Editor’s Note: this has been reposted with the author’s permission, and originally appeared in the December 14th edition of the Central Virginian, and is only available on line to paying subscribers, or here.
When it comes to resisting the Borg like activities of this administration and the Republican’s controlling Congress it helps to be informed about the issues and the political dynamics underlying them. Personally, I’ve always found it helpful to read from a variety of sources, and weigh out the facts for myself.
Unfortunately, that’s something few of us have either the time or the energy to do, so another alternative is to start with places that aggregate information you can use. Sources like the Louisa Democratic Committee’s web site which has been in operation for a little over 5 months now.
And like many things on the internet, it has taken it a while for it to go “viral,” with the first few months being limited to viewers searching for content like; "Contact Us," “About Us,” or downloading membership forms. But recently things have changed dramatically, as these statistics below indicate.
Unique viewers for Louisa Democratic Committee Web site (November - early December)
Early December page views
And as you can see, this past week has seen a dramatic uptick in people going to our website, going from the usual 200 -250 viewers a week to well over 700, with traffic to specific Blue Louisa blog posts representing the greatest percentage of that traffic.
And where 7 out the 8 most widely read pieces were posted during the months of November and early December. Unfortunately, what those statistics can’t tell us how effective those posts, particularly the calls to action on the Wealth Care bill being rammed through Congress and Net Neutrality were, issues which should be of vital concern to anyone reading this blog.
While it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the speed at which this administration and Congress has been moving these past few weeks, it should also be clear that what’s happening is nothing less than a wholesale restructuring of American society. And unlike the great reforms of the past; like the “New Deal” or Voting Rights Acts of 1960’s these won’t be a positive changes.
What most American have lost track of in the midst of all of this Sturm und Drang is that the Republican controlled Congress is now more than 60 days past when they should have approved the 2018 federal budget, and are about to run headlong into a December 8th deadline. Should they fail to approve a budget the government will shut down this Friday at midnight.
What will happen in the meantime is anyone’s guess, but if the last time the Republican controlled Congress held their breath like a child in the middle of a temper tantrum is any indication, their continued inability to govern will likely set back our fragile economy and cost the American people billions
Even if they follow their usual tactic of passing another continuing spending resolution, nothing changes. It only postpones the day they decide to hold the government hostage – using the threat of fiscal Armageddon to extort “concessions,” that they could have never hoped to achieve otherwise. For all practical purposes, this has been the Republicans MO since the early days of the previous administration, hostage taking with a mindset little removed from Tony Soprano’s “nice place you got here, shame if something were to happen to it.”
What we have been watching unfold is the culmination of their massive resistance approach to governance.
In the coming weeks, either we do everything possible to resist or we will we will face an irrevocable alteration in our way of life. From watching our costs of living go up dramatically, and should the FCC pass their changes to Net Neutrality next week, our very ability to organize against these draconian changes.
In addition to petitioning the FCC, and contacting your representatives in the House and Senate, I urge everyone to either participate in, or lend financial support to the many protests taking place on the 7th, and the 14th in front of Verizon stores around the country. I also urge you to write and call your Congressmen, and Senators urging them to stay this madness.
The tools and information you need to do this have been repeatedly posted on the Louisa Democratic Committee’s Facebook page and many other places as well. Either we make every effort to resist the coming changes or we will be consumed by them.
To many of us, Robin Hood was one of our childhood heroes, whether our parents read us the stories, or we watched swashbuckling Errol Flynn in the movies. We loved the Sherwood Forest bandit who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. The tale has marked overtones of Christian charity, as well as the triumph of good over evil.
We are on the cusp of a great overhauling of the American tax code, conceived by one party in secret, with no public hearings, no debate, and it is being rushed to a vote in a Republican-dominated Congress with a Republican in the White House desperate for some legislation to sign. This is the story of Robin Hood in reverse, where Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham are robbing the poor to pay the rich.
What do we know about the 500-plus pages of this “tax reform?” The other day, Senator Mark Warner informed us that the Republican-controlled “Senate Budget Committee just voted — without debate — to increase the national debt by $2.2 trillion, all to pay for tax cuts for large corporations and the wealthiest Americans.” The House bill cuts the top rate that large corporations pay from 35 percent to 20 percent, the biggest one-time drop in the big-business tax rate ever. Despite strident insistence by phony fiscal conservatives like Dave Brat, the vast majority of genuine economists have proved that so-called “trickle-down” economics is demonstrably false. Here is the ugly truth.
Huge tax breaks for the rich and the big corporations are permanent; small tax breaks for the middle and lower income groups are temporary and will disappear after 2023, causing our taxes to increase. Just for fun, I calculated the effect of these bills on my own taxes – they’ll go up by almost $2,300. Try it for yourselves. You may be surprised.
The wealthy get a lot of other benefits in the bill. The estate tax goes away entirely in 2024 for the richest 108 families subject to the current provisions. The mega-wealthy also would get to keep charitable deductions and they no longer would have to pay the alternative minimum tax (AMT), a safeguard against excessive tax dodging that's been in place since 1969. Overall, the non-partisan Tax Policy Center found that two-thirds of bill’s benefits go to the top 1 percent by 2027.
Hypocrisy abounds: the bill allows big corporations to deduct new inventory from its taxes, but eliminates the $250 tax break for teachers who purchase supplies for their students. Almost all itemized deductions for the rest of us regular people are going away, except for three. The final House bill keeps the deductions for charitable donations, property taxes up to $10,000 a year, but the mortgage interest deduction would be capped at $500,000 (down from $1 million now). This tax bill is being sold as as simplifying the tax code; reducing the loopholes; filing your taxes on a postcard. False. The wealthy and the multinational corporations, along with their attorneys and accountants will be making billions of dollars while scamming the government out of badly needed revenue.
In America, there is arguably no engine of advancement as powerful as a college degree. At the moment, low and middle-income Americans can deduct up to $2,500 a year in student loan interest, but this bill eliminates that deduction at a time of mammoth student debt. In addition, graduate students who get tuition waivers because they teach or do research would now have to pay income tax on the waivers, resulting in 300% increases in their taxes.
The Republicans have repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Not giving up, the Senate bill would eliminate certain financial pillars of the ACA in an indirect attempt at repeal. The impartial Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates it will take health insurance away from more than 13 million people and raise rates for millions of others in the lower and middle classes. The draft Republican legislation will also eliminate the tax deduction for medical expenses next year – so, no more help with your medical expenses. If you’re sick, you really are on your own. You could die. They don’t care.
I have touched on just a few illustrations of the horrors contained in this budget bill. Republicans are sinking to new depths of recklessness, irresponsibility and hypocrisy so that the current occupant of the White House can sign something – anything – into law before the end of the year. Meanwhile, Congress faces and even more critical and pressing problems. The Children’s Health Insurance Program expired in September leaving 9 million children in limbo. Nothing has been done for the Dreamers. Congress must come up with a budget deal by the end of this week to avoid a government shutdown. Trump doesn’t care.
We are being ripped off. Where is Robin Hood when we really need him?
Editors Note: This has been reposted with the author's permission, and originally appeared in the December 2nd print edition of the Culpeper Star Exponent, and will not be available on line until the following week. For now it is only available on-line here.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.