The Commonwealth Iconoclast

A site dedicated to covering issues relevant to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and nation at large, plus other interesting things too, as I see fit...

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Legalized bribery?

According to an article appearing this morning in USA TODAY the "red tide" that swept the nation last November has resulted in multiple legislative and regulatory victories for major GOP donors (Gee, what a surprise!).

Though the Bush administration thus far has failed miserably in their attempt to deliver the "crown jewel", social security funds, to the heavy contributing financial services sector, other important legislative victories have been won for their faithful cash rich contributors.

I'm not going to analyze every legislative/policy victory won by major GOP donors mentioned in the above article, but some are very disturbing. It has to make one question if the public interest is being served, or a norrow special interest group. Also, I'm not suggesting that special interest don't have their "hooks" into democrats, but by far when large corporate interest need legislative favor they turn to the GOP, and President Bush.

I was under the false impression that the Campaign Finance Reform Bill sponsored by Senators McCain and Feingold was suppose to remedy this unabated system of "legalized bribery". Unfortunately, like a car thief trying to figure out a new vehicle security system, both political parties found porous loopholes in McCain-Feingold and were able to circumvent new campaign finance laws.

So where does that leave the 99 percent of us who don't have a net worth of 10 million dollars, or have a seat on a corporate board? Well, for now, I'd say your screwed. But other than sitting around and feeling depressed what can you do about it?

First, I would suggest becoming a paying member of an organization that advocates something you feel passionate about, and yes this will cost money (remember the other guys have loads of money to burn, so even a $25 dollar membership can make a difference) . For instance, I'm a contributing member ($50 dollars a year) to the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan organization dedicated to advocating for governmental fiscal responsibility, because this is something I personally feel passionate about.

Another important "reform" that might help to curb the unfair influence that special interest have on our legislators is to advocate for term limits. Regardless of party affiliation, when legislators become entrenched incumbents (and thus don't have to worry about being reelected, because it is virtually guaranteed) they tend to become more interested in partisan politics instead of representing the best interest of their constituents.

By imposing strict term limits, we can transform congress into a group of "citizen legislators" instead of a group of partisan career politicians who are likely to get addicted to free flowing special interest money. This reform would be very, very difficult, because a group of career politicians would have to authorize such a radical change, thus making it a virtual impossibility.

Until true reform is made, all we can do is expose and publicize instances in which financial contributions lead to legislative or regulatory favor that truly are not in the public interest.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Debating the debates

The race for the next governor of the Commonwealth has turned into a debate, over debates. The political advisors for republican candidate Jerry Kilgore appear to be carefully guarding their candidate from a "you forgot Poland" type moment. There appeared to be some speculation that Kilgore wouldn't even debate the democratic candidate Tim Kaine, due to polls showing an early lead by Kilgore.

I believe that even some of the most ardent Kilgore supporter would tell you that Kaine has everything to gain from a series of debates, because Kaine would likely win. Plus, a televised debate would give more voters exposure to Kilgore's bizarre lispy southwestern Virginia accent (This is not intended to denigrate a southwestern or southern accent, but Kilgore's accent is very unusual. Trust me, if Kaine had an obvious northern accent, it would be a major issue to some). But when you consider the abysmal turnout for the recent state primaries, Kilgore probably doesn't have too much to fear, because hardly anyone will likely be watching!

Though you know my personal opinion on ducking debates, Kilgore recently agreed to debate Kaine, but insisted that that the moderate independent/republican candidate, Russ Potts, be excluded. Though Mr. Potts collected enough signatures to be included on the November ballot, Mr. Kilgore feels that the senior state senator doesn't have what it takes to be governor of the Commonwealth. Obviously Jerry Kilgore feels qualified to make this decision on behalf of the 7.3 million residents living in the Commonwealth. Thanks for thinking about us Jerry!

There is no mystery why Kigore doesn't want Potts involved in the debates, and Kaine is more than happy to accommodate Potts, because Potts can create major problems for Kilgore's all but guaranteed victory in November. Kilgore is right, the maverick centrist republican Russ Potts isn't likely to win, but the native of Winchester can siphon off votes from the republican rich Shenandoah Valley, and potentially tip a close race in favor of Mr. Kaine. Thus becoming the Commonwealth's version of Ross Perot. As uncomfortable as Kilgore might be with the realization he has to debate Kaine, he is probably even more uncomfortable with the thought that Potts might be included in these debates.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Conservative Virginia GOP criticizes the Warner administration for being well, too conservative

I realize that Governor Mark Warner is popular and generally well liked in the Commonwealth - with only the GOP kool-aid-crowd disapproving of Warner's leadership. Of course the Virginia GOP has to maneuver and angle in order find things that they disapprove of, I understand how the game is played. But last week members of the grand old party really seemed to be stretching for a "controversy". Oh, how times have changed in the Commonwealth!

It appears that some GOP state delegates are concerned at the large budget surplus the Commonwealth is running these days. Therefore, they are upset at the conservative revenue projections that the Commonwealth's Secretary of Finance uses to forecast future revenues.

It's also important to note that increases in sales tax revenues are a significant contributor to this revenue spike. In Public Finance 101 (which many politicians probably never bother to take, especially "conservative" republican politicians), you learn that sales taxes are highly elastic revenues, and can fluctuate depending on the overall economic conditions at the time.

Essentially some members of the GOP are upset that Warner, and members of their own party, chose to increase taxes during the last legislative session. To them, the surplus of revenue indicates that taxes did not have to be raised. I'm not saying this is not a cogent argument, but when you consider the financial mismanagement, and out right deception of the former republican Gilmore administration, a revenue surplus is welcome news.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Diamonds and Pat Robertson...

Here's another one of the Commonwealths favorite (or controversial) sons, Mr. Pat Robertson. The religious media mogul who pontificates the virtues of the godly republican party, and the evils of all democrats. First, I never understood why he gets so much face time on TV (other than the fact he owns his own TV station), and second, he seems to be more interested in business/politics than he does leading wayward souls to the "pearly gates".

During the 2004 Presidential campaign, he used all of his media resources to campaign nonstop for Bush on his "religious" show; which makes perfect sense, when you consider Robertson was able to avoid combat during the Korean War using his Senator father (a democrat, how ironic) to assure he would never be any where close to a combat zone. So Bush and Robertson do have that in common.

Robertson has definitely made some absolutely appalling comments during his public life. Like the time he agreed with Jerry Falwell that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were the direct result of gays, the ACLU, and feminist. Youv'e got to love someone who makes idiotic statements to draw attention to themselves just after a major national tragedy! Or the time he claimed to use his divine connections to help Virginia Beach avoid being hit by Hurricane Gloria. Yes, I'm really not making this up!

I think one of the most appalling stories about Mr. Robertson is his African Development Corporation, which he founded in 1978. In theory, this is how Robertson's ADC is suppose to work: through this "Christian charity" (which through Bush's Faith Based initiatives is receiving tax payer funded support) ADC owns and operates diamond, gold, and other extraction industries throughout Africa (Obviously the work of God). In return, the profits that these industries make are spent to improve the lives of ordinary impoverished Africans through an organization called "Operation Blessing". I think the key word here is profits, remember profits come after expenses.

Now through his mining operations in Africa, Robertson has had to cut some deals with some pretty nasty characters. One being the former dictator of Liberia, Charles Taylor, who in June of 2003 was convicted by the U.N. of war crimes. Now of course Robertson could care less about the U.N. convicting Taylor of war crimes, but the crimes that Taylor helped to mastermind in West Africa have to be some of the most heinous ever reported. So naturally, Taylor made a great business partner for Mr. Robertson.

Also, Robertson had a very close business relationship with the former (now dead, burning in eternal hellfire) Dictator of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko. Mobutu is most notable for being an opulent dictator who plundered the enormous mineral wealth of the former Republic of Zaire, during his 40 or so years as Dictator, while the people of his country lived in abject poverty.

Now compared to Charles Taylor, Mobuto was Mother Teresa; whereas Taylor preferred the machete to hack up his rivals, Mobuto, always the humanitarian, preferred the single bullet to the back of the head. So naturally it makes perfect sense that a God loving evangelist from Virginia Beach would be a business associate of these two benevolent men.

In the summer of 2003, Robertson even did the unthinkable, and criticized President Bush for suggesting that Taylor, the genocidal maniac, should step aside as President of Liberia. Of course, this had nothing to do with Taylor's and Robertson's joint business venture, a gold mine, in the Republic of Liberia.

The story doesn't end here either. If it wasn't bad enough to have a devout "man of God" snuggling up to genocidal maniacs, Robertson came under scrutiny in 1997 when an investigation by the Virginia Pilot (that's a newspaper) resulted in a pilot working for the tax exempt Operation Blessing organization telling the paper that he flew approximately 40 flights for the organization, and that he remembered one instance in which a plane he flew had humanitarian supplies. (approximately 500 pounds of medicine - the plane had a capacity for 7,000 pounds). All other trips of course were supplies to support diamond/gold mining operations in the former Republic of Zaire.

I guess you could consider this fraud on the part of Operation Blessing, since the Commonwealth of Virginia was providing Operations Blessing (not the ADC) a "charity exemption". These exemptions enabled Operations Blessing to avoid paying retail sales tax, a break on motor vehicle tax, and an aircraft sales tax exemption. But Robertson would not face charges; it was suggested that due to Robertson's political alliances with the then in coming republican Governor Jim Gilmore, an investigation by Virginia's Attorney General was avoided (you think?). Now it probably didn't hurt that Robertson was a generous donor to both the Governor's and Attorney General's campaigns (to the tune of $50,000 and $35,000 respectively). But as you might have read from the article above, Robertson reimbursed Operation blessing for the non-humanitarian trips, but of course this was after he was busted by the Virginia Pilot. I'm sure it was all just a simple administrative mix-up!

OK, so now you might know a little more about Robertson and his various industries, and believe me there are more questionable ventures that Robertson has been involved with, all under the name of "God". For instance, Robertson, always the visionary, has even entered the world of the ever so popular diet industry, introducing his own line of diet shakes, cookbooks, and so forth. I guess Pat couldn't stand the thought of the "Atkins craze" sweeping the nation, and missing out on millions of potential revenue.

Bottom line, Robertson is a scum bag, who uses his religious media empire to add to his personal wealth (estimated to be between $200 million and $1 billion), and to advance his narrow right-wing agenda. And if all of this weren't bad enough, just think you and I both fund his activities (as well as others just like him) because of his tax exempt status, and through the tax payer support that he now receives via President Bush's faith based initiatives! So Praise the Lord!

26th District House of Delegates Race...

Here is a campaign of interest for a Delegate seat to those of us living in the 26th District in Virginia. Of course, for those living in the region, you know this is a solidly republican district. I mean if you have an "R" next to your name, your chances of winning are pretty damn good, period.

In this race both the republican and democratic candidates are employed in agriculture (aka farmers) - the republican candidate is Matt Lohr, who is not only makes a living from farming, but also as a motivational speaker (Ok, I find "motivational speakers" to be a bit creepy, but whatever) - the democratic candidate is Lowell Fulk - who previously ran for this same seat verses an entrenched incumbent, but lost in a tight race. So I guess the conventional wisdom is that since Fulk barely lost to a long serving incumbent, he should have the advantage running verses the young newcomer Lohr.

By all accounts both seem to be competent candidates. Fulk is a middle aged man, with strong ties to the region, Lohr on the other hand is young guy (maybe 33 years old or something) with strong ties to the region too. Both appear to have a strong passion and interest in agricultural issues, which is very important to this region as well.

Here's my beef: Lohr appears to be entirely content on trying to win the race solely on the fact that he has an "R" in front of his name. Thus, he as declined to "discuss" the issues with Fulk in a series of debates to be held throughout the region. Ok, Lohr's campaign manager suggested that Lohr doesn't feel comfortable with letting his opponent set the time, and dates of the debates, and that Lohr might have prior obligations to attend too.

Look, I can buy the argument that you don't want your opponent to set all the times and dates of every debate, but I think a more appropriate response would be to agree to the idea of multiple debates, and simply comment that the two campaigns were communicating in order to find mutually agreeable times. Time will tell if Lohr truly intends to debate Fulk, and my gut feeling is that Lohr feels that he can win the election with out the debates, he will not debate. This is fine for winning elections, just bad for the an informed electorate.