Republicans vs Democrats in a Nutshell – DC

DC is taxed – but does not have representation in Congress.  Its such an established problem their license plates read “taxation without representation”.

Democrats have in the past tried to fix this by working to get them representation, but have failed in their attempts.  Partially because of opposition from Republicans concerned that DC will tip the balance in favor of the Democrats.

So a Republican has proposed ending the taxation.  How perfectly conservative – drain the federal budget, avoid solving the root problem, further institutionalize the deprivation of voting rights for a group of people who trend Democrat, and snag some stellar PR at the same time.

Expect the Democrats to raise a few lion like mews and maybe put up a kabuki fight, then lose.  Or hell, they might actually fight it by pushing back against the specific proposal.  Imagine if they had the guts and strength to turn this into an issue of giving the residents of DC representation instead?


Tax Havens Are Un-American

When you realize that nearly a $100 billion, annually, in tax revenue is going unpaid by large corporations, you have to wonder where are their tea parties?  Where are the pundits questioning the patriotism of companies that are so clearly helping send our country into debt by skirting federal taxes?  Are any of the companies receiving bailout money using tax havens?  Ah, the answer to that question is YES.

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Why We Don’t Trust Our Political System

Unqualified dynasty relics can snag an office by doing political favors.

Corrupt politicians who maybe possibly might be impeached someday for trying to sell a senate seat, can easily find someone sad and greedy enough to nominate.  And the Senate can’t do a thing about it.

Even the most exciting and inspirational politician to come along in a generation slinks back into the status quo before he even takes his oath of office.

Criticizing politicians for blatant racism can damage your political career even as it boosts the prospects of the racist.

Our tax dollars are sent to rabidly anti-gay-rights theocrats convinced Halloween and Harry Potter lead to Satanism.

The government is willing to spend billions to send us deeper into debt to fund war and large corporations, supposedly to safeguard our future.  Politicians are equally eager to gut public schools and trash our future intellectual capital.

Patents stifle rather than protect and encourage innovation, to the point that insanity seems plausible.

A white militia murdered black people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  The details are only now coming out, and the liklihood of a criminal investigation seems unlikely.

A Bush aide scheduled to give evidence about election fraud in 2004, among aother Bush misdeeds, dies in a plane crash.  Media coverage and criminal follow-up is minimal.

A lot of people are optimistic about 2009.  I can’t share in that optimism, but I am fired up.  How can I not be?

ObamaBiden Tax Calculator

I think this is a wicked awesome idea.  A website with a tax calculator to let you see how you’d fare under the tax plans for each candidate.

Here’s a few fun figures:

If you are over 65, married (joint file), have a combined income of 20,000, 3+ dependents, are saving for retirement, have childcare expenses, and an outstanding mortgage of $250,000, the results are:

Obama: $3,327    McCain: $0

Ok, so maybe you are filing as the head of the household, make between 50 and 70 thousand a year, have two kids, college expenses, and a mortgage of $50,000:

Obama: $805     McCain: $270

How about you make 75,000-100,000 a year, are single, have no dependents, college expenses, or mortgage?

Obama: $250     McCain: $0

To be fair, it doesn’t calculate taxes for income above $200,000 a year.  For all the Republican faithful like to make noise about Democrats raising taxes, its pretty clear who will actually lower taxes where it counts.

700 Billion Gone

700 Billion or more gone if we don’t act.  The Democrats are ready to sit down with the Republicans and talk turkey.  Our turkey:

“We now have between House and Senate Democrats an agreement on what we think should be in the bill, and we have a meeting scheduled at 10 a.m. tomorrow to meet with the Republicans,” said Frank, chairman of the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee.

How will we pay for it?

Will we listen to fear?  Or will we listen to reason (St Louis Post Dispatch):

More than 180 economists, including David Levine and Michele Boldrin from Washington University, have signed a letter opposing the $700 billion financial bailout now before Congress. They see “three fatal pitfalls” in Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s proposal: Its fairness, its ambiguity, and its long-term effects on the economy.

We need to take the long term impact on the economy into account (emphasis mine):

The economists, who include three Nobel laureates, are especially worried about the long-term effects:

If the plan is enacted, its effects will be with us for a generation. For all their recent troubles, America’s dynamic and innovative private capital markets have brought the nation unparalleled prosperity.  Fundamentally weakening those markets in order to calm short-run disruptions is desperately short-sighted.

We’re on the verge of making a very expensive mistake.

Will the Inclusion of Foreign Banks Stop the Bailout?

The 700 billion dollar bailout is generating justified rage.  Will the inclusion of foreign banks in the US taxpayer funded bailout be enough to sink it?

Right now, the Republicans are taking the heat for the economy.  If the Democrats pass this bill, that is going to change quickly.

Johnathan Schwarz:

Write and call your representative and senators plus Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid this morning and tell them to tell the Bush administration NO on their proposed $700 billion handout to Wall Street. Congress obviously can propose a much better plan of its own, but the first thing to do is kill this monstrosity.

Congress main line
(202) 224-3121

Write your representative

Write your senators

Nancy Pelosi
(202) 225-0100
Write Pelosi (corrected)

Harry Reid
(202) 224-3542
Write Reid

Our government has been racking up the failures over the past 8 years.  This one is going to hurt.  We just can’t afford it, and any politicians not on the page of sound economic recovery are going to pay for it dearly: Its hard to put “700 billion dollar bailout”, “foreign banks”, and “you lost your job” together and spell “electable”.

Sean Tavis vs the Creationist

Via Majikthise, Sean Tavis is running a campaign for state representative in Kansas (inspired by xkcd and the 300) against a regressive fundamentalist.

He is running against this guy:

Arlen Siegfried (R), who is anti-choice, anti-gay, pro-creationism, anti-privacy, and pro-censorship.

His blog is here, and you can donate here (lower right).

Arlen Siegfried is a guy who ought to be defeated, Sean Tavis might be just the geek to do it.  (Dig the anti-regressive sales tax position)

Kaine Sets Sights on Abusive Driving Tax

About time!  Governor Kaine has called for an end to the Virginia Driving Fees (Virginia Pilot):

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine called for the repeal of new high penalties against abusive drivers and urged passage of reforms in education and mental health treatment during his State of the Commonwealth address to the General Assembly on Wednesday night.

A number of candidates who ran in the last cycle, including Chap Peterson, made the driving fees a campaign issue.  As the governor starts ratcheting up the already high public pressure to remove the fees, let’s watch the General Assembly and see who stands up against this hidden tax.

The Decisive Do Not Vote Ron Paul Guide

What is the decisive do not vote for Ron Paul voting guide? His voting record (David, Orcinus):

In the comments thread to my previous post on Ron Paul, the indispensable Trefayne compiled a series of posts on Paul’s track record as a congressman, particularly those bills he sponsored or co-sponsored.

Here’s Trefayne:

What’s more, consider Ron Paul’s record in Congress. Not that he’ll ever occupy the Oval Office, but what would he do after pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq? His past legislative proposals will provide some clues, and they are not friendly to progressive ideas. Here are some bills that Ron Paul has proposed, not merely voted on, but sponsored. And you can see that he tries repeatedly on certain issues, which suggests they are important to him.

So what are Ron Paul’s positions?

  • Anti Choice
  • Anti Gay
  • Anti Worker
  • Anti-Democracy
  • Anti-Environment
  • Pro Corporation
  • Pro Discrimination/Racism
  • Against the International Criminal Court
  • Anti-Government Education

Ron Paul provides liberals, progressive, and classical Republicans with their own reasons for utterly rejecting his candidacy. For some his opposition to a federal minimum wage, safety standards, and anti-union policies might be enough. For others, his continued attempts to weaken and eliminate public education. I think we can all agree Paul’s support of the electoral college is bullshit. The positions he takes are those of a man who opposes any sort of government regulation, be it anti-trust, pro-environment, or anti-discrimination. Ron Paul is a schizophrenic anarchist/totalitarian, who wants complete power to regulate abortion, sexuality and other religious matters, but wants to essentially eliminate federal government, taxes, environmental protection, public education, regulation of corporations, and participation in any international bodies.

Beyond all of this, Ron Paul is a marketing home run for the far right extremist crowd:

Because as I’ve been explaining in some detail (along with Sara), Paul has so far managed to pull off something of a neat trick: Appearing thoughtful and principled, even though his beliefs and principles are largely derived from the extremist far right — a fact that he’s wisely muted in the campaign.

Ron Paul is more than just an outlet for the radical right. He is a successful re-branding for the hate/conspiracy theory branch of the Republican party. And as for the common view that the extremists he attracts are not his fault (Orcinus, emphasis mine):

Paul himself doesn’t necessarily believe these things — but the theories themselves are so thoroughly rooted in racial and anti-Semitic animus, often playing the role of providing a thoughtful “academic” face to smooth-talking racists like David Duke, that it’s hard not to hear Ron Paul holding forth on them now and understand perfectly well where those ideas are coming from, even if it’s never acknowledged. Though having seen Paul work the militia circuit in the 1990s certainly gave me a good idea.

It’s quite clear who these theories are speaking to, as well. It’s odd that a normally sharp-eyed reporter like Edsall can’t see that. Evidently, he’s fallen for the “libertarian” cover schtick without looking further to see what that really entails.

It’s “not Ron Paul’s fault” he attracts extremists only if the positions he’s staked out, and the beliefs he advocates, aren’t his fault either.

Ron Paul is an extremist in mainstream clothing, a radical Republican hiding behind a independent/libertarian stage mask. His voting record and his rhetoric say otherwise. Are we listening?

(image source: this guy’s awesome forum sig)

Virginia Turning Blue!

While I was able to help out last year, this year I couldn’t make it out.  So it was all the more heartening and exciting to see this development:

(The full text of an email from dempac):

Thanks to you, January will begin the first term of Dick Saslaw as Senate Majority Leader in the Virginia General Assembly.  Due to the hard work and perseverance of all of our Democratic volunteers, Virginia turned a bluer shade of purple on Tuesday.  Democrats made a gain of 4 seats in the State House, and a gain of 4 seats, for a controlling majority, in the State Senate.  We also made significant gains in local races – in Central and Southwest Virginia, and espcially in Hampton Roads, the Red Tide is ebbing.  A decade of Republican dominance in the Commonwealth has come to an end, and we have you, the volunteer, to credit.

Virginia’s future looks Blue, according to Party Chair Dick Cranwell:

    “This election represents a huge victory for progress.  It was a tremendous day, both for Virginia and the Democratic Party.

    There is a message in this campaign for Richmond.  Voters are sick and tired of obstructionism and rigid ideology.  They want leaders who will work with Governor Kaine to cut through political gridlock and deliver results.  In race after race, the people have spoken for change in the way the Assembly is run. They will not tolerate those who put politics ahead of progress.  They are looking for commonsense solutions and results on the challenges we face.

    Once again, Democrats have shown we know how to win in Virginia.  We have continued a trend that started with Mark Warner and moved through Tim Kaine and Jim Webb.  With 2007 behind us, we look forward to building on our success in 2008.”

We hope that DEMPAC has helped you make an impact in this election.  We intend to continue to promote volunteerism and grow our community in 2008.  Our work is far from over, and we have to keep fighting to make sure that Virginia keeps Moving Forward.  DEMPAC will be back and stronger than ever in 2008 to empower the volunteers of Virginia to make a difference!
Great work, volunteers! We look forward to serving you in ’08!

I’m so excited for the future of Virginia.  In particular I’d like to single out Chap Peterson.  You might remember him for his stance against the VA Driving fees when members of both parties in office were scrambling to defend their hidden tax.

We face a number of battles through elections and in the powerful stretch between where law is made.  Virginians just took a step forward, and we are still in a fighting stance, ready for anything.  The future looks wide open and bright.  The future looks Blue.

Raise Taxes for the War

This is brilliant (AP):

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats on Tuesday proposed an income tax surcharge to finance the approximately $150 billion annual cost of operations in Iraq, saying it is unfair to pass the cost of the war onto future generations.

“The war will cost future generations billions of dollars in taxes that we’re shoving off on them and it is devouring money that could be used to expand their educational opportunities, expand their job training possibilities, attack our long-term energy problems and build stronger communities,” Obey said.

Hell yeah.  Only problem?

The plan’s sponsors acknowledged it’s unlikely to pass

Please don’t do that.  Talk about it likes its going to past, and drag the Republicans through the mud on this.  This is “fiscal responsibility”, pure and simple.  The Democrats get it, and everyone who would oppose this bill doesn’t, whatever their party.

VA Driving Fees VS the Courts

VA Driving Fee update!  The fees are being challenged in the courts.  Although the initial rounds went our way (inrich):

Judge Thomas O. Jones of Richmond General District Court became the second area judge to declare the state’s dangerous-driver fees law unconstitutional.

Jones called it a “no-brainer” that the law violates the U.S. Constitution because it imposes the fees, which are assessed upon conviction of certain traffic violations, on Virginia drivers but not those who are residents of other states.

The circuit court Judge for Henrico country has sided with misguided politicians who passed the law (WashPost):

 In a written opinion, Henrico County Circuit Court Judge L.A. Harris Jr. said he believes Virginia can exclude out-of-state motorists from the fees without unfairly targeting in-state motorists who have to pay them.

Here is the interesting part:

In today’s ruling overturning Yeats’ decision, Harris also noted how difficult it would be for Virginia to collect fees from an out-of-state motorists and cited past instances where states have set different charges for different groups of people.

I’d like to see these past instances.  VLW to the rescue with the pdf!

Essentially, Harris claims that a law that taxes residents of Philadelphia higher than non residents provides similar reasoning that can be extrapolated to the driver’s fees.  If we were just talking about a straight up tax, this would be a smart shot across the bow.  Instead it is a dud.  While the fees are in effect a tax, they are implemented as a punishment for a crime.  Hence the unequal protection gambit.

I’m not a lawyer, but I just don’t get the logic the State of Virginia and Judge Harris are applying here.  If a Maryland resident commits a crime in Virginia, they don’t get charged under Maryland law, do they?  For the fees to make the pretense of legitimacy, they’d have to be fines, and applied equally.  Even then, I’m certain there would be a strong case for violation of the 8th amendment under “not excessive fines imposed”.

But at the moment, there really is a fundamental problem with the inequality of the fees.  The fact that similar laws in “Michigan, Texas, New York and New Jersey” apply equally to residents and non residents may have no legal bearing on the case as Harris asserts.  But that is damn telling that every other state who has implemented these fees has imposed them equally.

We need to keep up the fight against these fees.  The pressure is starting to show (WashPost):

But the fees have since been vilified by an angry public (more than 170,000 people have signed an online petition to repeal them), denounced by lawmakers who once supported them and ruled unconstitutional by judges in two localities who said they violate equal protection rights guaranteed under the 14th Amendment. A Centreville man convicted of reckless driving filed a challenge to the fees in Arlington County General District Court on the same grounds.

Here is the largest petition online.  Sign it, contact your legislative representatives and local papers, and let’s keep up the momentum!

Let’s overturn the Virginia Driving Fees!

VA State Senate Candidate To Fight Driving Fees

Someone was bound to step up to the plate and fight back.  Chap Peterson, a Democrat running against Republican Jeannemarie Davis, is making the VA driving fees a campaign issue.

His campaign has posted an ad about this on youtube:

Chap is already a strong candidate on the issues.  This is just one more reason to support him.  The opposition is a bit nervous.  Let’s offer them a nice relaxing vacation package.

Take Action:

Here is his ActBlue page if you are able to donate.

There will also be a canvassing event tomorrow, July 21st.  You can find a list of future events here.

Fighting the VA Driving Fees

There is a growing chorus against the civil fees for traffic violations in Virginia. As noted before the bill’s author David Albo has an obvious conflict of interest:

What’s Delegate Albo’s day job? He’s a defense attorney whose firm specializes in traffic and DUI offenses.

So let me get this straight. With one hand, Delegate Albo is voting for higher traffic violation penalties and incentivizing defendants to fight charges, and with the other, Counselor Albo is bragging about the guy with the 0.33 BAC his firm got acquitted.

I love the smell of conflict of interest in the morning. Smells like… corruption and lack of accountability.

The attention being paid to Albo’s day job is not appreciated by the Delegate:

Critics say that Albo — a senior partner in the Springfield traffic law firm of Albo & Oblon — may see a significant bump in his business as motorists seek to protect their bank accounts from the hefty traffic fines.

“I take great offense to that,” Albo told the Alexandria Times, blaming the criticism on Democratic bloggers. “No moron in America is hiring Dave Albo for $1,200 to get them out of a $1,000 ticket.”

Damn those Democratic bloggers! Given that the total cost of a ticket can cost $3,550 and carry jail time, $1,200 might look pretty good. In reality, this is a great case for Democrats and Republicans to join together in opposing a tax implemented by a lawyer with a clear conflict of interest.

The bill itself may be unconstitutional:

On Wednesday, The Rutherford Institute, a non-profit organization headquartered in Charlottesville, sent a letter to the Virginia General Assembly which claimed the fees are unconstitutional under state law because they discriminate against Virginians and impose excessive fines.

The excessive fines part definitely applies (emphasis mine):

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

The pressure is building on the lawmakers who imposed this mess of a law to backtrack:

Virginia Republican leaders, faced with growing opposition to the “abusive driver” fees that went into effect July 1, said Thursday that they will consider scrapping some of them when the General Assembly convenes in January.

That’s a long time to go with this bill in full force, and even then, lawmakers are only considering “scrapping some” of the fees. I don’t see why we should let them off the hook. Obviously caught in a bad miscalculation, the excuses coming in are pathetic:

“As a part-time legislature, we will make mistakes, and we will have to correct them,” said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem), who wants to revisit which misdemeanors the fees cover.

Being a part time legislature shouldn’t influence the professionalism and integrity with which you approach the responsibility of representing your constituents. This mistake reveals a simple lack of respect for the voters who put them into office. A partial removal of these fines half a year after they have been in effect is quite literally too little too late.

In the next election cycle, this will be a bill to remember. In the meantime:

A coalition of anti-tax activists and advocates for the poor also has started an online petition drive calling for a special session. The group wants the General Assembly to eliminate all of the new fees, not just those for Class 3 or 4 misdemeanors. As of Thursday, more than 1,200 people had signed the petition. Another petition received more than 36,000 signatures.

The petition can be found here (via slug-lines).

(Note: After signing the petition at ipetitions, you will be asked for a donation. This is to support ipetitions, and is not related to the petition itself.)

UPDATE:  A much larger petition can be found here (Hat tip “however”).

Backlash Against the VA Driving Tax

The new civil fees(pdf) being imposed in Virginia have generated backlash.  Looking at the fees, the smallest fine listed is $250.  What many don’t realize is that is an annual fee.  The total cost would be $750.  Thats mandatory.  There is no room for a judge to reduce the cost of a ticket.

Another problem with this law is it creates an additional motivation to issue potentially discriminatory traffic tickets.  Forget to signal?  That’s now a cash cow for the state.  Have you checked your tires lately?

Starting today, driving on bald tires could cost you $900 under new Virginia driving laws created to pay for road improvements.

Police have been assigned the role of tax collectors for the state of Virginia, and residents are sounding off about it:

Mayor Susan P. Irving […] can’t abide that “civil remedial fees” that took effect Sunday apply only to Virginians, not the out-of-state motorists who throttle into her town.

On talk radio, blogs and in letters to the editor, Virginians like her are sounding off about a burden only they bear while nonresident bad drivers are exempt.

The NYTimes has more:

“They’re ridiculous,” said Aaron Quinn, a spokesman for the National Motorists Association, which claims about 6,000 members. The very legislation that created the penalties “says its purpose is to generate revenue,” Mr. Quinn said, adding: “It’s essentially a tax on drivers and has nothing to do with safety. There is no evidence that increasing fines increases safety.”

And the backlash is bipartisan against a bill written by a Republican, and signed into law by a Democrat.  Even the ultra-conservative washington times is on this:

But $1,050 for driving 20 mph over the speed limit is predatory, tax-and-spend government at its worst. For families in the middle or at the bottom of the economic ladder, this reaches 4 percent and 5 percent of annual take-home income. Government is supposed to serve the people, not fine and tax them toward the poor house for what amounts to ordinary behavior.

Some legislators like Terry Kilgore (R) are joining governor Kaine in taking another look at the bill:

Nonetheless, he admitted that since the public became aware of the fees, there’s been such an uproar that the General Assembly may have to revisit the law.

“We don’t want it to cast too wide a net,” he said.

The 1st District delegate said the law was the brainchild of Delegate Dave Albo, R-Fairfax, who based it on similar legislation in New Jersey and Texas.

The fees were adopted as part of the overall transportation funding package, he said, and during negotiations of the package nobody brought up the concerns that are now surfacing.

Kilgore said once the legislation was approved and signed, the Virginia Supreme Court compiled a list of offenses to which the law would apply and, “once I saw the list, I knew things need to be looked at again.”

But Kilgore fundamentally misrepresents the law and the surrounding discussion:

This list, he added, is also in part responsible for much of the misinformation being circulated.

In a letter he has drafted to constituents concerned about the fees, Kilgore said the basic premise of the transportation abuser fee is that Virginia’s most dangerous drivers should proportionately pay their share for safety improvements to roadways rather than placing the bulk of the burden on the general public. The possibility of being assessed these fees is meant to serve as a deterrent to unsafe driving since the fees are targeting habitual offenders and extremely reckless drivers.

How is the list of offenses helping spread misinformation?  You would think knowing the violations which trigger the mandatory fines would be informative.  Additionally, Kilgore is wrong to represent the fees as “a deterrent”.  If they are meant to be a state fundraiser, they are counting on violations.  This isn’t about safety.  Its about taxes.  As Todd Foster writes, this is about “Virginia legislators too spineless to raise the outdated gas tax to pay for highway maintenance”.

Nick wonders whether this is a fine or a fee, and answers:

Their chief complaints: The fees are outrageously high, and they apply only to Virginians – not to out-of-state drivers.

The “fines” are actually “fees” because they are administrative rather than judicial. They are not meant as less a punishment for wrongdoing but rather than as a revenue source for highways.

Nick’s assessment of the bill is right on:

I’ve long ago suspected that if government didn’t make as much money as they did off of traffic violations, that the 55 mph speed limit would have gone the way of the dodo long ago.  Almost nobody obeys it, and there is very little need to.  Cars are significantly safer today than 20 or 30 years ago, and not just in a crash.  Suspensions and steering improvements make 55 mph laughably slow.  No… this is selective taxation.  It’s like a reverse lottery ticket.  If you’re unlucky enough to get pulled over, then you get to pay for some highway.

But he’s made a really interesting catch with regard to the Bill’s Republican sponsor:

But who on Earth would come up with such an egregiously selective and arbitrary law?  The part of the story that few people seem to be catching onto is that the architect of this law is a Virginia state legislator who just happens to also own a law firm which specializes in… wait for it… defending people charged with traffic violations!

The self-described “chief architect” for this bill is Delegate David Albo. Albo boasts on his website that he’s worked for 20 months to bring this bill into law. What his website doesn’t mention is that when Albo isn’t legislating tough new laws aimed at Virginia‘s motorists, he’s representing those same motorists in court.

That’s right. Albo’s a lawyer. And not just any lawyer. The firm that bears his name specializes in traffic law, particularly in representing people charged with DWI and reckless driving. And yes, that’s the firm’s actual URL:

Isn’t that graft?  It appears as though the media is picking up on the potential problems(via Terminal Chaosity):

But the hefty penalties could be a bonanza for the politically connected law firms that chase down unpaid court fines.

The contracts are awarded by local commonwealth’s attorneys, who get campaign contributions from the lawyers they hire.

This bill is a mess, from start to finish.  But when you look at what went into passing this bill and the motivations of its sponsors, it really starts to stink.