Dear Virginia Senate Republican Majority: Don’t mess it up again with another tax hike

August 20, 2014

With Ben Chafin’s election, it is now official. After seven months, the Republicans have a majority in the Virginia Senate once more. As one would expect, a number of my friends are crowing.

Unfortunately for me, recent political history is screaming in my ears. It makes my optimism about a fully Republican-controlled Virginia legislature extremely cautious.

For those unaware, the Republican Party first had a State Senate “majority” in 1998 (although the 21st vote was actually the Lieutenant Governor); they held it for ten years. This is the record of that decade…

  • Holding up budget amendments in an attempt to reverse the progress of the Gilmore car-tax cut (2001)
  • A referendum in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia for tax increases (2002 – thankfully rejected by the voters)
  • A proposed tax increase that was twice what Mark Warner wanted (2004)
  • A proposed gas tax increase (2006)
  • A proposed statewide tax increase in response to the HB3202 debacle (2007)
  • Enacting HB3202 anyway (2007)

Somehow, the party was shocked – shocked! - when voters showed them the door and returned the State Senate to the Democrats in November 2007 (on a night when those without a tax-stained record did quite well, thank you very much).

Four years later, after Governor Bob McDonnell won a landslide victory by promising not to raise taxes, the GOP managed another 20-20 split. Once again, the Lieutenant Governor give them control…and within a fifteen months, the Republican-controlled State Senate passed a McDonnell-proposed tax hike (known in this corner as Plan ’13 From Outer Space). The nominee to replace McDonnell – Ken Cuccinelli – tried to defend and oppose it at the same time.

Somehow, the party was shocked – shocked! - when voters showed the 2013 GOP ticket the door, which also put the State Senate back into the hands of the Democrats in January.

Now, Republicans have the 21st vote once more.

I sincerely hope that the party has learned its lesson…and not f*ck it up with yet another tax hike that reminds the voters why  they took power away from it, repeatedly.

Cross-posted to Virginia Virtucon


Meanwhile, Europe slips backwards

August 18, 2014

The European Union (along with its predecessors – the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Economic Community, and the European Community) was supposed to ensure the continent would never repeat the horrors of the 1930s and 1940s. Let’s see how its doing.

When it comes to avoid the economic sclerosis of the 1930s (Telegraph):

Remember what European Monetary Union was supposed to do? It was going to add zillions to Europe’s GDP, they said.

 

According to the Lisbon development plan, by 2010, the EU was going to be “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable”.

 

The truth is that Europe is failing badly. At a time when the rest of the world is growing, data out today shows France stagnating. Shockingly, Italy’s output is lower today than it was fourteen years ago. Even Germany is going into reverse.

Lest we forget, Germany was supposed to be the engine that kept Europe running – so much so that it has been given de facto control of European monetary policy for fifteen years (with the completely expected disaster resulting for the nations to its south).

Still, at least we have a sense of continental solidarity that was lacking in those dark times, right?

Well… (FT via Andrew Stuttaford):

A French populist-conservative politician and investor has agreed to build a historic theme park in the Russian-annexed territory of Crimea together with a patriotic Russian financier who has been linked to pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine.

 

The deal between Philippe de Villiers, leader of the eurosceptic Mouvement pour la France party, and Konstantin Malofeev, a key figure in Russian orthodox conservative circles who support expansionist ideologies, is certain to reignite controversy in Europe over supporting a regime the EU is trying to punish with sanctions.

 

The Crimean government said Mr de Villiers, Mr Malofeev and Sergei Aksyonov, the Moscow-appointed head of the Crimean government, had signed a memorandum of understanding under which Mr de Villiers’ company Puy du Fou International and Mr Malofeev would invest at least Rbs4bn ($110m) in the park.

 

Legal experts in Moscow said Mr de Villiers’ planned Crimean venture constituted an open defiance of EU sanctions.

Whoops. As Stuttaford himself put it…

Those with long memories may recall that the EU was meant to reinforce the political stability of Europe. That it is now, however inadvertently, helping Putin find some sort of opening in the West is just the latest reminder of how badly matters have gone awry.  

Indeed.

Still, by far the greatest problem pre-World War II Europe faced was the latent and rampant anti-Semitism that fueled the National Socialists in Germany (and elsewhere). Surely, that has not returned thanks to Europe’s new and enlightened path.

Yeah, about that path (Brendan O’Neill, Telegraph):

The kosher incident took place at the Sainsbury’s in Holborn in London. When a mob of anti-Israel protesters gathered outside the store, the manager took the extraordinary decision to take all kosher products off the shelves lest the protesters target them and smash them up. Kosher foods, of course, are Jewish not Israeli; they are part of the Jewish dietary requirement, not part of any kind of Israeli food corporatism. To shamefacedly hide away such foodstuffs in order to appease a gang of hot-headed Israel-haters is an attack on a religious people and their rights, not on the Israeli state. That in Britain in 2014 we have store managers taking kosher foods off public display should be of concern to anyone who hates prejudice and racism.

 

 

Such official or institutional acquiescence to anti-Semitism is now widespread in Western Europe. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard people say that the problem of anti-Semitism isn’t all that bad, because they would rather just not talk about it. Or they say anti-Semitism is an understandable if slightly wrong-headed response to Israeli aggression in Gaza, excusing this poisonous prejudice as a kind of misfired political anger. In a world in which we are supersensitive to racism, in which a politician telling a less-than-PC after-dinner joke can expect to be harangued in the press and vilified on Twitter, it is simply extraordinary that more people are not exercised by the spread of anti-Semitic sentiment in Europe, by the smashing-up of synagogues, the vandalism of Jewish stores, the attacks on Holocaust memorials. This is the only prejudice that the opinion-forming set would rather not address. And in failing to do so, they effectively collude with it, granting it a special moral authority above all other prejudices. Everyone now knows that this is the one prejudice that respectable society won’t really challenge you for holding, and in fact will allow you to hold through making life easier for you. Hate Jews? OK, we’ll just remove this kosher food for you so that you don’t have to look at such ghastly stuff. Translation: be an anti-Semite, we don’t mind.

Oh dear.

I do not mean to claim that the EU itself is the cause of all these things (although I’m fairly certain it has a lot to do with the first two); I am, however, quite certain that it has done nothing to stop them, despite all the predictions that it would slay all three.

Europe has allowed itself to slide backwards. It must reverse itself, and if necessary, leave the EU behind.

If, instead, it chooses the shackling institutions at the cost of their supposed objectives, it will merely continue its headlong fall back into darkness.  


Iraq: we were right to go in; we should never have left; and now we’ll have to go back

August 12, 2014

Nothing inspires schadenfruede and second-guessing like a nation gone to hell – and it appears that’s where Iraq is heading now. ISIS, previously known as al-Qaeda in Iraq, has swallowed up as much of Sunni-populated Iraq as it can, while the ever-shady Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is either on his way out or preparing a coup to stay in. This has led those who opposed the 2003 liberation of Iraq to insist that they were right all along, while proponents of the action (including me) prefer to focus on the current Administration’s refusal to ensure a continuing American military presence in the country back in 2011. Here’s why the latter are correct…and more to the point, why we need to go back in – all the way in.

Yes, you read that right: not just air strikes, or military aid to the current Iraqi government or the Kurds – both of which the Administration has done, and were an improvement –  but boots on the ground: a military deployment to to keep Iraq out of the hands of ISIS and Iran. To understand why, we have to review the events of the last dozen years.

The initial liberation and its benefits: In the wake of 9/11, America sought to defeat al Qaeda and its allies. Few thought this applied to Saddam Hussein’s regime, until Jeffrey Goldberg uncovered harrowing (and, as far as I know, still not refuted) evidence in the New Yorker, of all places, about Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist group in Iraqi Kurdistan put together by al Qaeda…and pre-liberation Iraqi intelligence. That the remnants of Saddam’s regime so quickly linked up with al Qaeda elements after the liberation (New York Post) is evidence after the fact of what we could have expected had Saddam’s regime been allowed to stay in power and build its ties to al Qaeda.

That said, there were ancillary benefits that have yet to be acknowledged by more than a very few. It was no coincidence that the Iranian resistance group with ties to Saddam’s regime brought forth accusations of Tehran’s nuclear ambitions – accusations that were truthful – in the run-up to Iraq’s liberation. In the aftermath, Tehran paused its ambition, and Libya’s regime reversed its own. Meanwhile, in Iraq, a future without Sunni terror or Iranian dominance could be seen….

…until America seemed to take its eye of the ball mid-decade. Much like today, all of Washington was talking about finding an “arrangement” with Tehran to take out al Qaeda in Iraq, a notion that frightened nearly all Iraqi Sunnis, Kurds, and more than a few Shia. Then President Bush announced the 2007 surge, which was less important per se than his insistence on clearing out Iranian forces with as much vigor as toward al Qaeda. It changed the equation for millions of Iraqis. They now knew that there was a force to prevent their worst nightmares (Iran for the Sunnis; al Qaeda for the Shia) – and that force was us. This is why…

We never should have left: The simple fact is that the Iraqis trusted us a little more than they trusted each other, which was enough to keep the peace that had been achieved after the surge. Yet Obama decided to pull everyone out (as Patrick Brennan notes, that was far from pre-ordained). Clearly, the president believed that he could not claim to have “ended” the war unless the American military was gone – which would have come as quite the surprise to Germany, Italy, Korea, and Japan – where American troops are still stationed decades after the firing stopped (we’ll leave Vietnam – where the regime that defeated us now wants us back in the South China Sea – to one side for the moment).

Yet we left, with al Qaeda/ISIS and Iran still next door (the former in Syria), and they promptly filled the vacuum we left behind. In short, we’re back to 2006 in Iraq.

Still, that also means the post-2011 events can be reversed, which is why we need to go back in, and I don’t mean just to protect the embassy or to use air strikes against al Qaeda. The Iraqi people need the third pole that the American military provided. To use (admittedly crass) political terminology, they need triangulation between Tehran and ISIS.

There is a reason I have called this conflict the Wahhabist-Ba’athist-Khomeinist War. The reason is because that’s who our enemies are.

This isn’t about just fighting ISIS – as Rand Paul recently noted, Bashar Assad is doing that, too, and he’s still a dangerous puppet for the mullahs in Tehran. It is about fighting both ISIS and Tehran’s stooges. We did it once; we can do it again.

In fact, we must do it again. Both al Qaeda and Tehran are threats to American interests and American security. That they are fighting each other should be a small consolation. They both must be defeated.

 


Memo to Chris Christie: We are watching the Shaneen Allen case…and you

August 11, 2014

As a native of New Jersey, I can say without reservation that its bizarre allergy to gun rights was one of the chief reasons I left. Radley Balko (Washington Post) has the details on the latest ridiculous example: Shaneen Allen, who brought her Pennsylvania-permitted gun into the Garden State, told authorities of it when pulled over for a traffic violation…and faces over 3 years in jail because New Jersey doesn’t give a damn what its fellow states think about gun permits.

As Balko notes, New Jersey – and its Governor, Chris Christie – have been down this road before with Brian Aitken, who was also prsecuted (that typo is a deliberate, a way to merge prosecuted and persecuted into one word) for this. The Governor commuted Aitken’s sentence. He has not acted at all on Allen, whose case has not yet come to trial.

For those interested, Aitken is white, and Allen is black…and Balko lays out a detailed and compelling case for why that makes a thoroughly unwarranted difference in these matters (WaPo again). Of course, gun control has been fueled by overt racism from the 1860s to the 1960s (and I’m doubting it really stopped there, what with Armed While Black still being a de facto crime as Balko details).

Meanwhile, Governor Christie is eyeing the presidential race…and should know that folks who care about gun rights are more than a little skeptical of him. He can go a long way toward alleviating those concerns – or reinforcing them to the point of keeping himself out of the White House – depending upon how he treats Shaneen Allen.

Cross-posted to Virginia Virtucon


Obama’s immigration order threats mean Ex-Im Bank is probably dead

August 8, 2014

There has been a lot of speculation about the president ordering a mass de facto legalization of millions of unauthorized immigrants “by summer’s end” (Charles Krauthammer, NRO), and the possibility that he might just be hoping for an impeachment reaction, judging by Dan Pfeiffer’s reaction (Reid Epstein, Wall Street Journal). His fellow Democrats appear giddy just at the prospect of being able to defend the president from an impeachment effort (Reuters).

Most of the discussion regarding impeachment has revolved around whether it’s politically wise for Republicans to push it – and it’s not – while far fewer have asked if anyone really wants Joe Biden in the White House (and I guarantee that has a lot to do with why voters are leery of impeachment in general).

That said, I can’t help but noting that what the immigration-cum-impeachment strategy for the midterm elections tells us: namely, that the previous strategy – namely shutting down the government to preserve the Export-Import Bank – is dead, and the Bank itself likely will be, too.

The Democrats were hoping the Ex-Im gambit would divide Republicans and convince Chamber-of-Commerce types to fund Democrats instead. Of course, the plan had serious flaws: the Bank itself disappears on September 30, so on October 1 the Democrats will be trying to use the shutdown to change government policy; many leftist are scratching their heads about their party’s about-face on the corporatist Bank; and the Chamber types themselves are hardly unanimous on the wisdom of the Bank itself, let alone making it a priority.

By contrast, going “double I” means the Democrats can wake their base out of its current stupor while making Republicans look racist, out of touch with the American people, or both. It’s too good a narrative to foul up with the Bank of Boeing.

So I’m fairly optimistic that an executive order on immigration means the Export-Import Bank is on its way out.

Cross-posted to Virginia Virtucon


Another TARP opponent survives

August 7, 2014

The victory of Pat Roberts (Republican U.S. Senator from Kansas) in his primary battle is reaffirming the conventional wisdom that “Establishment” Republicans are thwarting “Tea Party” challengers. As one may expect, I don’t automatically share that view. In fact, I think the Tea Party vs. Establishment meme misses the point.

Most would be surprised to see Roberts hit from the right, and one big reason is his vote against TARP (a.k.a. the bank bailout). This is the first chance for Kansas Republicans to weigh in post-TARP on whether Roberts should be the nominee. I find it telling that Roberts survived while TARP proponents like Eric Cantor did not.

Odds are the bailout vote was even more critical in Mississippi, where Thad Cochran (a No on TARP, despite my mistaken assumption) was able to limp into a runoff (and then a narrow if unorthodox victory) when a TARP backer likely would have gone down in flames.

Lest we forget, a large plurality of voters still blame Bush the Younger for the state of the economy…meaning TARP, contrary to popular belief in Washington, has not been forgotten.

Even Mr. Establishment Heavy himself – ex-Congressman and Defending Main Street PAC leader Steve LaTourette – was a No on TARP. That should tell us all something.

Cross-posted to Virginia Virtucon


CFPB launches do-over probe by anti-whistleblower firm

July 30, 2014

You can’t make this stuff up (Washington Examiner):

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau officials appear to be taking the unusual step of seeking to negate a critical employment report issued last spring and counter it with a new investigation.

The earlier review by an independent investigator hired by CFPB found bureau managers had created a “toxic workplace” environment for its employees.

However, CFPB officials have decided to re-examine the earlier probe by hiring Hollowell, Foster and Herring, an Atlanta law firm with longstanding Democratic ties.

The new law firm specializes in defending government agencies faced with whistleblower or employee complaints…

Regarding the latter, the CFPB had more than its share:

The atmosphere at the CFPB’s Consumer Response unit, derisively nicknamed “The Plantation” by its African-American workers, already has been highly charged.

A transcript of a March 31 “all hands” meeting, obtained by the Washington Examiner, shows CFPB Consumer Response manager Scott Pluta criticizing employees for giving anonymous testimony to congressional investigators.

In 2013, CFPB employees filed 115 official grievances through its union, the National Treasury Employees Union, according to an NTEU local chapter executive vice president. NTEU officials have said the number is high for an agency with only 1,300 employees.

So instead of addressing any of this, the agency has decided to take the whitewash route.

Normally, something like this would get Congress to rethink the agency’s funding levels. No such luck here; CFPB is funded by the Federal Reserve.

This is what happens when power comes without accountability.


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