Category Archives: Uncategorized

Hearing the words again

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Where GOP Values Show

The party that talks about family values has taken a financial sledge hammer to family support systems in the United States. It is apparent that they value only the families of the top 2%, and their consciences are not troubled by what happens to the families of working poor and struggling middle class people. Here is what their proposed budget will do:

  1. Destroy 700,000 jobs.
  2. Zero out federal funding for National Public Radio and public television.
  3. Cut $1.3 billion from community health centers—denying health care to over 3 million low-income people.
  4. Cut nearly a billion dollars in food and health care assistance to pregnant women, new moms, and children.
  5. Kick more than 200,000 children out of preschool by cutting funds for Head Start.
  6. Force states to fire 65,000 teachers and aides and increasing class sizes, thanks to education cuts.
  7. Cut some or all financial aid for 9.4 million low- and middle-income college students.
  8. Slash $1.6 billion from the National Institutes of Health, cutting jobs and impacting cancer research and possibly also Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research.
  9. End the federal family planning program, cutting all federal funding to Planned Parenthood to support cancer screenings and other women’s health care.
  10. Leave 10,000 low-income veterans homeless by cutting in half the number of veterans who get housing vouchers.

The primary reason for democratic government is to look after the interests of citizens. In my dictionary, the “dem” in democracy means “people.” This is why we say “Government by the people and for the people.” The GOP seeks to roll back advances in civil rights — including women’s rights — and wants to destroy needed social programs. They have an understanding of government that is alien to democracy. If they do not want to protect children, veterans, women, or working people, whose government are they?

The GOP courted Christian women’s votes by pretending that they would prevent abortion. The GOP knows — and everyone should know by now — that what actually prevents abortion is 1) good information about reproduction, 2) adequate available birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancy, and 3) economic security for women to enable them to feed, clothe, and educate children. Whose babies will they save by denying woman and infants health care, closing down WIC, cutting Head Start, laying off school teachers, and cutting financial aid?

If you are not in the top 2%, the GOP doesn’t love you or your children. They don’t care if you and your children — and your elderly parents as well — all go hungry. Don’t take my word for it. Read their budget.

Congressman Griffith’s message to voters

A duly elected representative in a democracy should vote for what he or she thinks is best. Voters have the opportunity to hear what the candidate believes, and if the candidate is straightforward, which is only fair, voters need to trust the representative they have elected.

Throughout the process, there should be open lines of communication for the voter to express concerns and for the representative to respond. When a response on an issue is disappointing to voters, the situation presents a moment of teaching and learning — the representative can explain the response, and the voters can learn something about their representative and about the issue. Opinions can change on either side, and the next election will reflect a better-informed and experienced candidate as well as a better-informed voter.

That is how it should work.

On February 2nd the Bristol Herald Courier printed a report by Debra McCown titled “Griffith learning ways of Congress.” That article states:

Griffith says he’s leaning toward a vote against raising the national debt ceiling, though as a practical matter he said, ‘I think ultimately [raising] it is where leadership needs to take us.”

Even so, he said he wants to be among the freshman Republicans who send a message by voting against it in principle.

We elect our leaders to tackle tough issues and do practical things that need to be done, and that is the principle that representative government should serve. Congressman Griffith stated that he believes we need to raise the debt ceiling. If he votes against the increase when he believes it is what we need to do, that is a most unprincipled vote. It is against his own stated understanding of “where leadership needs to take us.” The message he is sending to voters is false. As voters, we cannot do our jobs unless our elected leaders tell us the truth about what needs to be done and why. It is the duty of a leader to stand up and explain what needs to be done, to show us where we need to go.

Congressman Griffith should be educating voters, not echoing their fears. He receives a taxpayer-funded salary to take care of our interests in the Ninth and the interests of the nation in this difficult time. If he votes against doing what needs to be done, he is wasting our money.

Update from Senator Webb: The unfair burdens of business

In the United States, businesses labor under two unfair burdens — one addressed below by Senator Webb, and another which needs to be addressed as we progress with implementing the Affordable Care Act.

This note received from Senator Webb describes legislation that would eliminate the requirement that businesses report on a 1099 money paid to any vendor with whom a business has dealings of at least $600.00 in a year:

Yesterday, I voted to pass an amendment to eliminate a 1099 tax form reporting requirement that was enacted under the federal health care reform law last year. I was an original cosponsor of the amendment, which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced it “strongly supports.”

I have now voted four times to eliminate this unfair burden. Yesterday’s vote demonstrates that Congress is willing to resolve concerns about the health care reform law in a bipartisan way.

A 1099 form is used to report to the IRS income other than salaries, tips, and wages. The amendment, introduced by Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, repeals a provision that requires businesses to file a 1099 form with the Internal Revenue Service for each vendor with whom they have at least $600 in transactions. Small businesses have expressed concerns about the potential burden posed by the added reporting requirements.

Businesses already report salaries, tips, and wages, including bonuses paid to workers. This additional reporting requirement is redundant with the reporting requirement of the vendor, and it makes the purchaser responsible for verifying — by separate report — money pad to vendors. The paperwork burden is immense. The verification process is adequately covered by internal audit of businesses and the occasional tax audit. Senator Webb is correct in stating that this requirement, attached to the Affordable Care Act, is not something that should be required of businesses.

This legislation is important for itself and for the benefit it will bring, but two more important aspects merit attention. The first is that with this bill our legislature is doing what they are supposed to do — looking for better ways to do the things we need — and not just engaging in political posing for the “base.” In addition, this legislation demonstrates how problems with the ACA (Health Care Reform) should be addressed, by dealing with the small problems rather than outright repeal, which would disadvantage literally all U.S. citizens in every demographic.

The second burden that businesses bear should be addressed in the same way. That burden is the requirement to provide health care insurance for workers, which for many employers is the second largest budget item after payroll. Businesses must negotiate with health insurance companies for the cost, and determine how much cost they can pass on to their employees for what services. The burden is tremendous, and taken as a tax — which it is — is enough to negatively affect the market when our businesses are trying to compete internationally with similar businesses that are supported in their country with national health care. It is clear that it would be a benefit for businesses to be able to pay a much smaller contribution that could actually be called a tax in support of a public option for health insurance in which their employees could enroll. This part of the ACA was not passed with the original bill, but it is sorely needed by both small businesses and workers.

Congresswoman Nan Hayworth constituent needs ACA

This letter to Representative Nan Hayworth was posted yesterday to a comment stream on Facebook. The writer, Pauline Schneider of Katonah, NY, has generously given permission to include her letter here to share with our readers:

Dear Congresswoman Nan Hayworth,

I was disheartened to hear how the GOP stood together today, lockstep against my family and my son, as well as against millions of others.

…I’m sure I’m not the only parent across the country thanking her stars for this health care reform bill that allows our children to remain on our health care plans. Frankly, it’s a miracle and I always thought it was an outrage that our children could not remain on our plans after they turned 18. Of course insurance companies bank on our love and look forward to the
outrageous COBRA payments that we are willing to pay out of love for our children to keep them insured. Sadly, many families cannot afford those outrageous COBRA bills and their children are left uninsured.

Since you are a doctor, though not a physician, you are well aware of the cost of out of pocket medicine. I would hope that you would support this bill that will help so many of our children receive the care they deserve and need by keeping them on their parent’s plans.

My son is 23 and because of this wonderful bill he is now able to be on our plan and receive the surgery and physical therapy he needs to repair a damaged shoulder. My 21 year old daughter will soon also be a beneficiary of this remarkable and historic bill. And the cost of this benefit is only ours, and did not come through any taxes or govt fund, but through our already paid for insurance plan. A pretty good deal for the country, don’t you think?

I haven’t checked how you voted yet, but from your campaign rhetoric I can guess you stood against my children. If so, I recommend you change your stance and join the millions of mothers across this country who are celebrating this bill and the benefits it is already giving our children.

Do the right thing and join the good people who care about all our children.

Sincerely

Pauline Schneider
Katonah, NY

If you want to keep the Affordable Care Act and see it implemented, be sure to write a similar letter to your representative in Congress. It is not appropriate to be silent and pay for their health care with our taxes while they refuse to support and fund health care for us.

Morgan Griffith defends his vote to repeal HCR

Morgan Griffith’s brief defense statement is available on his Congressional web page — link to the right under “Quick Links”:

Your personal health care decisions should be made by you and your doctor, and no one else. Our health care system needs reform, but ObamaCare is not the answer. ObamaCare will ultimately destroy valuable jobs. We can do better than a government takeover.

This defense is no defense, for these reasons:

  • If we return to the old system, the insurance company will again stand between you and your doctor, tell you and your doctor what options are available for you, and tell you that you are not covered if you cost them too much. They will refuse to cover you for preexisting conditions, and neither you nor your doctor will have any voice in that decision. The AMA and the national nurses’ union have spoken out against the repeal that Morgan Griffith supports. Griffith’s vote, if the measure prevails, will put you and your doctor back under the thumb of your insurance company, which cares only for the bottom line — not for your health or for your doctor’s opinion or integrity.
  • If “ObamaCare is not the answer,” it is at least a better response than we have ever had in the past. It gets people to medical services and compels insurers to do something with your money other than pay bonuses to their executives. It insures young people through the college years on their parents’ insurance plans. It protects people with preexisting conditions. It removes lifetime caps. It does away with co-pay for preventive care. I agree HCR is not perfect, but it is a strong initial plan that will be improved as it goes along. Griffith’s repeal vote, if the measure prevails, will trash a strong plan with protections that people need in favor of a perfect plan that does not exist and likely never will.
  • HCR will not destroy jobs. (from Forbes)
  • HCR is not a government takeover. It does not even include a public option, and the private insurers are still as wealthy as ever. The difference is that under HCR when you buy insurance from them you actually have insurance — they can’t drop you when you get sick.

Call Representative Griffith, or use the link at the right to contact him and let him know that he is wrong about the repeal of HCR.

How do they get those polls to say that?

Here is how they get a majority of people polled to say that HCR should be repealed and that cutting spending, cutting taxes, paying down the national debt, and improving the nation’s security should be the top priority in the new congressional session when most Americans believe otherwise:

First they put a negative-looking photo of President Obama on Facebook with the question “Should Congress Repeal Obama’s Health Plan?” This is a link, and most people who respond to it will either 1)be insensitive to the negativity of the “bad Obama” pictures or 2) recognize the picture and know that it is negative. If they feel negatively about President Obama, they are more likely to click on the negative photo, which is a link to the survey. If they feel positively about President Obama and recognize the “bad Obama” picture for what it is, they will not click on the link. So before anybody responds, the survey results are determined by setting up a survey population that will be more likely to agree with the writer of the poll. It will include a large majority of people with little political awareness, people who respond to negative pictures of President Obama, and people who want health care reform repealed.

When you do click on the link, you see another negative photo of President Obama, and you are asked “Should Congress Repeal Obama’s Health Care Plan and Other Policies?” The text will tell you the poll is urgent, and that the polling agency is reputable, and that they are going to give the results to media. The last of the three statements is true. Throughout the poll HCR will be referred to as “Obama’s Health Care Plan,” just to keep the self-selected anti-Obama folks aligned with the appropriate responses.

Then you get the questions, which are listed below. If you think there is one question that is not biased, leave your thoughts in the comments. I think that the last two are not biased questions, since they are actually just demographic. However, the responses will be skewed because the population has been selected to skew them. The kicker is the fourth question, which lists only the right-wing choices. So all of these will poll higher than creating jobs, funding and implementing HCR, Wall Street Reform, etc. When the poll is reported to media, there will not be a paragraph about how these options were not available, and the response could not be submitted unless you picked one of the available options.

That is one of the many ways they do it. You can use the link below to take the poll, but you can’t do it without giving them the answer they want on Question 4. And the responses can be separated into two groups based on the last two questions, people who voted for President Obama and people who did not. That gives the polling agency yet another option for reporting the data from the other questions in a skewed manner.

Here is the poll and here are the questions:

  1. Do you support the full repeal of President Obama’s healthcare plan Congress passed in 2010? (Question calls it “Obama’s healthcare plan,” and offers one Yes option with a graded “No” response. The responses for the first option and the last option will be aggregated as “yes” responses in support of those legislators seeking repeal.
    1. Yes, repeal it completely
    2. No, don’t repeal it at all
    3. No, repeal just parts of it
  2. Should Congress restore $500 billion in Medicare benefits for seniors that the Obama plan cut? (Question says that money was cut, but responses say benefits. Actually benefits increased, and the money was cut by greater efficiency and tightening up to prevent fraud.)
    1. Yes, restore the Medicare benefits
    2. No, don’t restore the Medicare benefits
  3. Do you support President Obama’s desire to give 12 million illegal aliens amnesty and a path to citizenship? (Question calls this “President Obama’s desire,” and the “Yes” response calls it a plan. It has been referred to in this item twice as “Obama’s,” so given the population, most responses will predictably be “No.”
    1. Yes, I support Obama’s amnesty plan
    2. No, I oppose it
  4. What do you believe Congress’ top priority should be in 2011? (What happened to jobs, funding HCR, Wall Street reform, fixing Citizens United, getting working Americans back on their feet, doing something about education, etc.)
    1. Cutting spending
    2. Cutting taxes
    3. Paying down the national debt
    4. Improving the nation’s security
  5. Do you plan on voting to re-elect President Obama in 2012?
    1. Yes, re-elect
    2. No, for another candidate
    3. Not sure right now
  6. Who did you vote for in 2008?
    1. McCain – Palin
    2. Obama – Biden
    3. Other

Religion and the U.S. Constitution

It is common to hear the claim today that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, but in reality the Constitution was a document of civil law with little reference to religion. In those places that religion is mentioned, the obvious motive is to make sure that religion did not come to control government.

In the ratification process, an amendment was added to make sure that the government would not restrict freedom of religion.

The nature of the Constitution as a civil law with protections from religious influence and the nature of the amendment preventing government from restricting freedom of religion came to be known as “separation of church and state.”

It is not surprising that the framers of the Constitution made these provisions. Among the framers there were a couple of Roman Catholics, several Deists, a smattering of atheists, and representatives of half a dozen protestant denominations. They were all acutely aware of the control that the church exercised over governments in Europe, and they were just as aware of the religious persecution of minority religions, free-thinkers, and dissenters that was common in countries with established religions. Separation of church and state underpins religious freedom and the civil right to freedom of speech, neither of which can exist without the dividing line. This separation with safeguards from both sides is one of the most ingenious ideas embedded in the Constitution.

The discussion below is from a page devoted to the Constitution, The U.S. Constitution Online. The entire page is well worth visiting, and this section deals specifically with how the Constitution referenced religion:

Religion in the original Constitution

Religion makes only one direct and obvious appearance in the original Constitution that seems to point to a desire for some degree of religious freedom. That appearance is in Article 6, at the end of the third clause:

[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

This statement is simple and straight-forward, and applies to all offices in the entire United States, both state and federal. The clause simply means that no public position can be required to be held by any one of any religious denomination. It would be unconstitutional for there to be a requirement that the President by Lutheran, or even for the mayor of a small town to be Christian. Likewise, it would be unconstitutional for a law to forbid a Jew or Muslim from holding any office in any governmental jurisdiction in the United States. (This having been said, it should be noted that several state constitutions do have a religious test — specifically, they deny office to anyone unwilling to acknowledge God or a Supreme Being.)

In the debates of the Constitutional Convention, religion did not get a lot of sound bites. It should be noted that without exception, the Framers were Christian or, at the very least, deists (generally, deists believe in a single god who set the universe on its course and then stepped back to watch; some deists believe their deity is the same God of Judeo-Christian tradition, some do not). There were no Jews or Muslims, no Hindus or atheists, and only two Roman Catholics. There were members of more than a half-dozen sects of the Protestant side of Christianity, though. Disagreements about style and method of worship between them were nearly as vast and incongruous as any seen today between, say, Jews and Muslims, such that the Framers wanted to ensure that no one sect could ever seize control of a government and start a theocracy.

James Madison, when speaking of the method and manner of the election of the members of the Congress, noted that even “Religion itself may become a motive to persecution and oppression,” telegraphing his own desire for no religious test for government service. He had been a prime mover in the efforts of some Virginia lawmakers to ensure that no preference be given to any religion in that state, and that a proposed tax to aid religious efforts be defeated. Madison and one of the Pinkney cousins moved, in the waning days of the Convention, that the Congress be permitted the power to establish a university, with the express stipulation that “no preferences or distinctions should be allowed on account of Religion.” The motion was turned down on a six to four vote, but it was another illustration of his desire to extend no preference to any religious sect.

There is one other direct bow to religion in the original Constitution, and it is a bit obtuse. The Presidential Oath of Office is codified in the Constitution in this way:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Again, the reference might be obtuse, but it is the inclusion of language in the oath that allows an incoming President to swear or affirm the oath. This alternate text has been described both as a way of accommodating those religious persons for whom “swearing” was forbidden, and as a way for the unreligious to take the oath with the same force of personal responsibility that swearing would have for a religious person. Either way, the alternate text attempts to make the oath all-inclusive and religion-neutral.

Finally, the Constitution refers to the year that the Convention created the document as “the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven.” Some have argued that the use of the term “Lord” in this way is indicative of something, but it is indicative of nothing more than a standard way of referring to years in that time period.

Happy New Year 2011




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Originally uploaded by Thirdlayer

Happy New Year to all of our readers and contributors! Looking forward to a great year in 2011!

Virginia Organizing Responds to the Governor’s Budget Amendments

Friday, December 17, 2010
Julie Blust

Richmond, VA- Virginia Organizing (previously known as the Virginia Organizing Project) responded to Governor Bob McDonnell’s presentation of his amendments to the 2010-12 biennium budget. Virginia Organizing commended the Governor for several of his budget proposals while expressing concerns about continued cuts to vital services without plans to raise revenue.

“Governor McDonnell’s plan to provide economic incentives for job creation is important given the impact of the recession upon Virginia’s workers; however, the draconian budget cuts we have faced in recent years suggest that we need to do much more for the citizens of Virginia,” said Sarah Williams, Bristol resident and member of the Virginia Organizing Budget and Revenue Committee. “The correct approach is to address current and future budget shortfalls through modest progressive income tax reform that increases revenue, promotes economic activity, and results in the lowest possible tax rates for the greatest number of Virginians.”

“In this economy, we all recognize the importance of job creation. We appreciate Governor McDonnell’s proposals to provide economic incentives for job creation. The problem is that Virginia has been making extreme and reckless budget cuts for a number of years, budget reductions that have had a negative impact on schools, human services and infrastructure. What company wants to relocate to a state that has more crowded classrooms, crumbling roads and too few fire fighters and police officers? It seems that we are not sending a consistent message to potential companies. We cannot expect others to invest in Virginia when we do not invest in ourselves,” said Jeffrey Hunt, Richmond resident and member of Virginia Organizing Budget and Revenue Committee.

“Until the McDonnell administration and the General Assembly decide to be more serious about increasing state revenue, Virginia will continue to plug holes until the dam breaks again. It takes real leadership to put a long-term solution ahead of short-term fixes. Unfortunately, we have not moved a single step closer to solving our long-term budget problems and needs,” added Hunt.

“Just in time for another snowstorm, I commend the Governor for recognizing the devastating impact these severe budget cuts have had on transportation. We believe that the Governor’s proposals to fund transportation infrastructure needs through bonds are appropriate and necessary,” said Tim McCarthy, Virginia Beach resident and member of the Virginia Organizing Budget and Revenue Committee. “I just wish that Governor McDonnell would place as much emphasis and commitment toward other vital services like health care, especially Medicaid, instead of primarily being concerned about this program’s increased projected costs. New revenue is needed to invest in Virginia’s children and families now,” added McCarthy.

Over the last year, Virginia Organizing has been working on their Balance Virginia campaign, a public education campaign of Virginia Organizing on budget and revenue issues. Virginia Organizing has been holding local workshops on budget and revenue issues throughout the state.

“We are tired of dealing with drastic local cuts to the public structure. The real long-term solution to our budget crisis lies in a balanced approach that includes revenue and fixes our broken, old, tax system. A cuts-only approach is reckless, and it is particularly reckless in recessionary times,” said Becky Thomas, Charlottesville resident and member of the Virginia Organizing Budget and Revenue Committee.

Virginia Organizing has two goals for Virginia’s tax system. The first is that our state government balance past budget cuts with new revenue. The second goal is to modernize the state’s “old and rusty” tax structure so that everyone pays their fair share.

A 2009 Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy report on the tax structures of all 50 states found that low- and middle-income families in Virginia pay a higher share of their income in state and local taxes than do the richest families. The Virginia Organizing Budget and Revenue Committee is concerned that low- and middle-income Virginians are paying a higher percentage of their income in state and local taxes than the wealthiest Virginians. The committee is concerned that the state has a nearly flat state income tax and that Virginia’s tax structure is “regressive and simply unfair.”