Thursday, October 1, 2009

McDonnell's appeal spreads into the north.

As I've noted (several times) the endorsements just keep rolling in for the McDonnell campaign. In addition to the business endorsements on which I've already reported, he's also recently been endorsed by the Humane Society, the NRA, and the Fraternal Order of Police. Now, to that ever-growing list, he can add the Northern Virginia Technology Council.

This is more than just another business group. The NVTC is a forward-looking group of innovators representing about a thousand technology companies in the northern part of the Commonwealth. Democrats like to paint Republicans as backwards, Stone Age-technology luddites. This group, though, which represents over 200,000 emloyees in Northern Virginia, is considered to be "the voice of the Northern Virginia technology community".

From the official endorsement:

“While the NVTC TechPAC Board of Trustees has a great deal of respect for Creigh Deeds and his commitment to Virginia, the Trustees determined that Bob McDonnell is a strong leader with specific proposals to ensure Virginia remains a competitive and innovative global technology center,” said Dendy Young, TechPAC Chairman and Chairman and CEO of McLean Capital, LLC. “McDonnell has a consistent history of working closely with our technology industry and will build on his record of developing and supporting Virginia’s technology initiatives and on his long-term commitment to business development in the Commonwealth.”

While this is an important indicator of how those with their minds on staying competitive in a 21st-century world view their chances under the two major-party candidates, it also speaks to Bob McDonnell's demographic appeal. Northern Virginia is seen (by some) as merely a suburb of Washington, D.C.; and in some ways, it is. Many people who work in our nation's capital have their homes in the Commonwealth, and many of those people (this time around, at least) are Democrats. Though McDonnell lived part of his early life in the north, it's mostly seen as "Deeds" country. With this new endorsement, though, we can see that McDonnell is making gains in all parts of Virginia, and not just the south.

Yesterday, I mentioned two recent and fairly comprehensive polls which showed McDonnell holding a significant lead over Creigh Deeds. Was that poll reflective of this new shift in demographics, or can we expect an even bigger lead for McDonnell in the future because of it?

Less than five weeks to go.

(Read more about this latest endorsement here: http://www.bobmcdonnell.com/index.php/press_releases/details/mcdonnell_endorsed_by_northern_virginia_technology_council/ )

Sarkozy's Contempt for Obama

I don't have the greatest foreign policy chops, myself; but apparently, neither does the president.

When you're being lectured by France (by FRANCE!) on the need to be tough on terror, it should be a serious indicator that you've missed something.

Sarkozy's Contempt for Obama

Shared via AddThis

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Just under five weeks to go

New numbers in the race for Virginia's top elected positions. I normally don't pay attention to poll numbers, as they tend to give me a headache; but this was a statewide poll, asking Virginians who they would prefer for Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General, and for all three positions, the Republican candidate leads by double digits.

Is this because Virginia is a southern conservative state? I doubt it. After all, we've had two Democratic governors in a row, we have two Democratic Senators in the United States Senate, and just last year, the Commonwealth's electoral votes all went to the Democratic candidate for president. Surely we haven't changed THAT much in less than a year.

Or maybe we have. I've blogged before about the tactics that Barack Obama used in the 2008 presidential election and how they wouldn't be as effective for Creigh Deeds. An attempt to tag Bob McDonnell as another George W. Bush fizzled on arrival, as Virginians had already seen that the two are virtually nothing alike. McDonnell is articulate, charismatic, intelligent, and a serious fiscal hawk, as opposed to our former president.

A sharper contrast can be drawn between McDonnell and Deeds, as their campaigns have been studies in opposites. McDonnell's ads have consistently been issue-driven, with not only plans and projects, but details on how to fund and implement them. Deeds' campaign, on the other hand, has been increasingly negative, and has focused on social issues that don't even address the voters' stated top priority: the economy. I'm not saying Deeds hasn't presented plans, but I can't remember one campaign ad that even dealt with anything other than McDonnell's thesis paper.

I couldn't tell you for sure why Virginia voted for Mark Warner, Jim Webb, Tim Kaine, or Barack Obama, but I would say it had far more to do with wanting representatives and leaders who are focused on solving problems than with social issues. We are still conservative here, and we do still like conservative candidates; but when it comes time to fill out that ballot, Virginians vote for the candidate with solutions. Bob McDonnell, Jim Bolling, and Ken Cuccinelli have those solutions.

Yeah, we haven't changed that much.

News7 Survey USA poll shows frontrunners in November elections - WDBJ7 Roanoke News and Weather NRV Lynchburg Danville

Shared via AddThis

Bob McDonnell on the issues, the economy, and even *gasp* his infamous college paper.

Bob McDonnell, the Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia appeared on Fox News Sunday, answering questions from Chris Wallace on the hot-button issues of Virginia's gubernatorial race. Wallace, never one to pull punches (especially with Republicans), asked questions on a host of significant issues, and even a few (in my opinion), insignificant ones.

Battleground Virginia

ABC7, POLITICO, and YouTube will be sponsoring a gubernatorial debate between Democrat Creigh Deeds and Republican Bob McDonnell on Tuesday, October 6, at 7 PM. If you want to watch, you can tune in to ABC7-WJLA television, or http://www.politico.com/.

If you want to submit questions for the debate, either text or video, then you have until midnight on Thursday, October 1, to do so. You can go through www.politico.com/battlegroundvirginia, where you can either type in a question or copy/paste a YouTube video URL. I think it's a great opportunity to ask important questions of the candidates. I've already posted a question on nuclear energy, not because I don't know the answer, but because I feel it's a good time for the candidates to make their positions clear to the voters.

If there's something you want to ask Creigh Deeds, Bob McDonnell, or both, then ask it now.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Have you no shame?"

This is the stunned question asked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the United Nations earlier today. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been allowed to speak yesterday before the UN, and this prompted a serious rebuke from Netanyahu. I'd advise anyone, especially my own president, to consider his words before "negotiating" with another terrorist.


Sunstein: Force broadcasters to air 'diversity' ads

Sunstein: Force broadcasters to air 'diversity' ads

Shared via AddThis

You know, the government originally gave control of the airwaves to the people as a hedge against fascism. If the government tries to take back control, does that make the government fascist?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Letters to Washington: Too complex?

Dear Senator,

I learned tonight that the Senate Finance Committee voted against posting the text of Senator Baucus' health care reform bill 72 hours in advance of a vote on it. This was troubling to me, especially since I had hopes for a more moderate bill from the Finance Committee than some others. Now, it seems I won't even get a chance to read it before the Senate votes on its passage.

Some have suggested that the bill is too "complex" for ordinary Americans to read. Not only is that a bad reason to not post the bill, it's also an insulting one. The American people are not so stupid that we cannot read and understand legislation that our leaders are considering. It brings to mind the words of another legislator who literally laughed at the idea that Congressmen and Senators should read HR 3200 all the way through before voting on it because "it would take days to read and understand", and that you'd need the help of a lawyer, at least. Senator, why on earth would Congress write legislation that it can't even read?

The president, and most of Congress with him, has promised more transparency than the public has received in past years. Not only is this promise broken on an almost regular basis now, but it seems to happen every time with the most important issues of all, most recently health care reform. I urge you to speak with your colleagues in both houses of Congress and insist that they keep the American people "in the loop", especially on health care. We deserve to know what you're doing.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith

Thursday, September 17, 2009

And the winner is ... not Senator Baucus.

I had such high hopes for the Senate Finance Committee's chances for constructing a comprehensive health care reform plan that I could support. Forget one that the Senate or Congress itself or even Republicans could support; I can't support this plan.

At least he was working on it, and with more than just members of his own party. I don't place much stock in bipartisanism, actually. Bipartisanism is just another way of keeping Congress and the president humble; it's not always the answer. However, in the case of Senator Baucus, for a time he was open to ideas that most of his colleagues in the Senate and House leaderships simply were not. Still, the bill he finally came up with, while better than the other bills produced by Congress and the president, is not enough.

I know; I'm a hard man to please. I want health care reform that targets waste and fraud for elimination; that has significant tort reform included; that requires neither businesses to provide coverage nor private citizens to purchase it, but rather incentivizes both; that includes neither a government-run plan nor health care co-ops, but increases free market opportunities and solutions; and that, in the words of our president, "doesn't add a dime to the deficit". That's a pretty tall order, I realize.

It gets worse. Instead of requiring people to purchase coverage, I want the government to incentivize purchase by making every dollar spent on health insurance tax deductible. As I've written before, the president's comparison between mandated health insurance and mandated auto insurance is a bad one. The Congressional Budget Office said as much the first time President Bill Clinton proposed a universal mandate in 1994:

"A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action," the CBO said.

Interestingly, the closest thing the CBO could find to mandatory health insurance was the draft.

"Federal mandates that apply to individuals as members of society are extremely rare. One example is the requirement that draft-age men register with the Selective Service System. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is not aware of any others imposed by current federal law," the report said.

Instead of requiring businesses to provide coverage and imposing fines on any business that doesn't, I want the government to offer tax breaks to any business, small or large, that does. This would have the added benefit, of course, of stimulating the economy when it needs it the most. The government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars in the last half-year alone trying to reverse the economic downturn in this country. All it's been able to do, though, is slow the decline. Unemployment has continued to rise to almost ten percent in this country. That's almost twenty million Americans. Could that number have some correlation to the number of uninsured in this country? If the government lowers taxes for any business that offers health coverage for its employees, then not only will more companies offer insurance, but more companies will be able to afford more new hires, and more small businesses will arise. It's the equivalent of two birds with one stone.

Instead of a government plan or co-ops, make it easier for insurance companies to become competitive with each other. The president spoke before Congress of states where some insurance companies had essentially cornered the markets. I say, let's make health care purchasable across state lines. Not only would the best companies be able to expand their markets and force the worst companies to adjust their practices, but it would make health insurance an actual interstate commerce issue, which would make reform and oversight much easier to provide. It would also shift the twin tasks of reform and oversight from the state to the federal level, if I'm not mistaken, relieving states of some of the burdens. I'm not usually one for expanding government power or regulation, but sometimes it can actually be the answer.

Which brings us around to not telling insurance companies how to conduct business. Almost every American has or knows someone who has a "preexisting condition". Refusing to provide insurance in those cases makes very little sense; that is, unless you look at it from a business perspective. After all, it's much cheaper to to cover a healthy person than a sick one. I don't think those with preexisting conditions should be denied coverage; but if an insurance company is going to provide it, then the company should be allowed to set the rates. All lending and coverage is based on risk assessment, whether it's a bank loan or an automobile insurance policy; health insurance policies should work the same way.

The president's claim that he wants a bill that doesn't increase the deficit either now or later is a bold one; in the eyes of some, it's an impossible one. I'm just a lowly blogger. What do I know of the budget process, or what kind of spending or tax cuts or increases would be required to make this or any other reform plan deficit-neutral? Nothing, that's what I know. But there are those who do, and to them I say, "This is what I want to see in health care reform; and as my elected representative, I expect you to either work for these reforms or explain to me why your ideas are better." You should all call, visit, and/or write to your representatives, including the president, and say the same.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The president has a plan (at last)

A little over a month ago, I pointed out that President Obama hadn't actually presented a health care plan of his own, and if he wanted to counter all the "misinformation" being spread by Republicans, then he should give another of his famous (or infamous) television addresses. Well, it looks like someone in the White House reads my blog, because just two nights ago, the president presented his own plan on television before a rare joint session of Congress.

It wasn't a very spectacular speech, though some apparently tried to make it a spectacle. Most notably was Congressman Joe Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina. When the president said that none of his reforms would benefit people here illegally, Congressman Wilson shouted, "You lie!" Tempers were a bit high that evening, of course, and he had just returned from a month filled with townhall meetings with angry constituents saying pretty much the same thing; but that still doesn't give a congressman the right to interrupt a national address with a petty attack. He later apologized.

The president committed a certain amount of partisan warfare himself during the course of his speech, making veiled and some not-so-veiled attacks on the GOP. Without mentioning anyone directly, he took shots at former President George W. Bush, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, and other critics of some Democrats' reform proposals. He accused them of not wanting reform of any kind, and of using fear and misinformation to turn public opinion against him. Anyone who's visited http://healthcare.gop.gov/, though, can tell you that the Republicans have just as many ideas as Democrats do, and not all of them are that different from what any moderate would propose.

But let's get to some of those proposals, specifically. The president began by saying that, if you already have health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, or veterans' benefits, then nothing will require you to change what you have. He promised to work to make your current insurance work better for you. He said that insurance companies will not be allowed to deny coverage based on preexisting conditions; to place caps on your coverage in a given year, or in your lifetime; to drop or "water down" your coverage when you get sick; or to charge extra for routine checkups. And he promised to limit out of pocket expenses during hospital visits.

If you do not already have some form of insurance, the president has promised to help you find quality, affordable choices; that, if you lose your job or change jobs or strike out on your own, then you will have choices. He proposes a market exchange where insurance companies can compete for your business. And, if you or your small business still cannot afford the market prices, then he will offer tax breaks and tax credits to help you afford it. His proposal would take up to four years to implement, so that they can "get it right".

So far, so good, right? Perhaps. I don't much care for the idea of the government telling insurance companies, which are basically giant investment firms, how to do business; but as the president pointed out, it is sometimes the government's job to step in and regulate commerce. But what about the next proposal on the president's list? He'll work hard to make sure anyone who wants to purchase health care can afford to do so; but what about those who do not want to purchase it? The president, and certain members of Congress, want to make purchasing insurance a requirement.

He likens it to the requirement to buy automobile insurance. Personally, I've never cared for that analogy. Driving a car places lives in danger, which is why we are required to hold licenses and insurance to drive. Simply living, though, is a constitutionally-protected right; and just as we don't license people to live, we should not require people to purchase insurance. Some say that it places a financial burden on the rest of us to provide health care for the uninsured; I've made that argument myself, in fact, and it is true. However, that is no justification for the government violating our right to privacy by dictating how we should care for ourselves and our families. In some cases, it is the government's role to intervene when an injustice has taken place; but to make short-sightedness illegal?

The president then addressed some issues that have been major sources of contention in recent weeks. He has pledged that health care reform will not include any provisions for "death panels", committees that would take end-of-life decisions out of patients' and their families' hands. He has also pledged that tax dollars would not go to cover abortions, and that federal conscience clauses would remain in effect. Obviously, these are sensitive issues for conservatives, moderates, and liberals alike. At the least, it's important that we all be clear on the president's position.

And, as I wrote earlier, the president has pledged that no tax dollars would be spent on health care for illegal immigrants. Can we trust it? I've never been to an emergency room, personally, but I can't imagine that they spend a lot of time investigating the status of patients. Can the president actually guarantee that no federal money will benefit illegal immigrants? Some have suggested that the actual language of HR 3200, which is just one proposal before Congress, is not so concrete, and that we need firmer commitments.

According to the president, there are some states where one insurance company or another may be "cornering the market", as it were, leading to unfair practices and prices in these markets. To keep these businesses "accountable", he wants to start a not-for-profit, self-sustainable insurance option. This form of public option, he says, would not be supported by tax dollars, and that it would only be there to keep insurance companies honest. He addressed the progressives in his party, saying that the entire point of a public option is to keep insurance companies honest, and if that goal can be accomplished without a public option, then they should be open to it.

There has been plenty of speculation on both sides of the aisle about what that means for the future of the public option. Bill O'Reilly of Fox News took it to mean that President Obama is merely a step away from dropping the public option entirely, and that his statement was intended to give himself cover when he does. Other pundits insist that he still supports a public plan and may just be trying to lull conservatives. In my opinion, only time will tell on this particular issue. But you can be sure I'll keep on my congressman and senators to not support a government-run plan, whether it's taxpayer-supported or not.

President Obama then gets into some details about the cost of health care reform. He has pledged not to sign a bill "that adds one dime to our deficit, either now or in the future". *sighs* That pledge alone has the potential to kill health care reform. I mean, forget taxpayer-funded abortion or single-payer systems; if you want to kill health care reform, just tell the president it'll increase the deficit by more than nine cents and he'll veto it himself.

Okay, sarcasm aside, he does have some ideas for reducing the deficit. First of all, he wants a bill that will require more spending cuts if savings cannot keep up. He says that cutting fraud and waste in the current plan will produce hundreds of billions in savings, and that not a dollar of the Medicare trust fund will be used to pay for the plan. The savings would fill the gaps in coverage, especially as regards prescription drug costs, and that seniors will get the benefits they were promised. As drug companies gain new customers under this plan, more revenue will be generated to help pay for the overall plan. It's sort of a "trickle down plan", Obama-style.

Up to this point, the president had thrown only a few bones to the Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress. He did have a piece of meat for them, though. Tort reform, which deals with medical malpractice suits, has been touted by conservatives as a way to arrest the costs of health care. The more nuisance suits are brought, the higher the price of health care rises. Many feel that trial lawyers hold too much influence in the House of Representatives for any tort reform to be enacted; but with the president now supporting it, conservatives and moderates from each party can work on serious changes.

Overall, President Obama has estimated that his plan would cost around $900 billion. He expects that most of it can be paid with money that is already being spent (badly) and by slowing the growth of health care costs (which would reduce the deficit by itself). He claims that he will not stand by for the special interests, for misrepresentation, or for the status quo as a solution; and that anyone with a serious proposal is welcome.

I certainly hope he intends to follow through on that statement, at least. Many have suggested recently that Democrats, since they control the White House and both houses of Congress, should simply go ahead with their agenda, overruling and even overrunning the GOP if they cannot get their support. That would be a serious mistake, though. As I've said before, this is not a country that is content with one-party rule, no matter which party that may be. The president billed himself as a consensus-builder during last year's campaign. If his only interest is bringing the left together with the far left, then let them pass health care reform that will allow illegal aliens to get abortions from a government-run, single-payer system. Republicans will just come in and tear it all down in a few years when they regain power.

But if the president's goal is to pass lasting, quality health care reform, then he'd do well to keep his mind, his ears, and his options wide open during the next few weeks, months, and years.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Has Virginia really "rejected" Bob McDonnell? Really?

Creigh Deeds' campaign has produced a new ad that tries to link Bob McDonnell's business acumen and strategies with George W. Bush, claiming that McDonnell is adopting the former president's economic policies which played a part in the current recession. The ad states that Virginia has "rejected" both Bush and McDonnell.

There's only one problem with that assertion: it's completely false.

Virginia has not rejected Bob McDonnell any more than he has molded himself to Bush's philosophies. In the past two weeks, no fewer than four of Virginia's most prominent business and economic organizations have given their endorsement to the McDonnell-Bolling ticket. Most recently was the Virginia chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses. For those who don't know, this is the leading small business association in the Commonwealth, with almost 6,000 small businesses across Virginia as members. They are a non-profit and non-partisan organization, and their endorsement is basically a statement that this is the candidate who will keep Virginia as a national leader in securing and creating jobs in the small business arena; and, as Bob himself said, "small business owners are the engine that drives our economy."
Before the NFIB endorsement came the endorsement of the Virginia Credit Union League. This is an organization that represents almost two hundred not-for-profit credit unions in Virginia, as well as 3 million member-owners living in the Commonwealth. Before that, it was the Virginia Association of Realtors. Two of the largest contributing factors to the recession have been credit woes and the housing market; and now, Virginia's largest credit and realty associations have selected Bob McDonnell as the candidate who can best help us recover in those areas.

One of the most impressive endorsements, of course, has to be from AgPAC, the political action committee of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. Agriculture and forestry combined contribute around $79 billion to Virginia's economy and provide more than 10% of our jobs. This makes agriculture and forestry the number one industry in Virginia; and the Farm Bureau, with over 147,000 members statewide, has chosen Bob McDonnell to keep it that way.

This is all within the last two weeks, of course. The McDonnell campaign has been collecting endorsements for months now, including the endorsement of Sheila Crump Johnson, a Virginia resident and one of the founders of Black Entertainment Television, which I reported on last month. With two months to go before the election, it's clear to me that not only has Virginia not rejected Bob McDonnell, but rather that it has thoroughly embraced him for what he will be: a jobs governor.

I posted a month ago about Deed's "Obama problem", how he was campaigning just a little too much like our current president had last summer. Running against Bush won't work in Virginia; not because the former president was popular here or because we're more conservative than liberal, but because Virginians want more than partisan bickering. We want answers; we want solutions; and we want candidates who will spell out exactly how they intend to provide them. Bob McDonnell does exactly that, while Creigh Deeds seems content to settle into a "them against us" style of campaigning. If anything, that is what Virginians have rejected.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Are you now, or have you ever been, a critic of the current administration?

You know, I thought it was bad enough when the Department of Homeland Security, under the leadership of Secretary Janet Napolitano, issued a report declaring opposition to the president's agenda an indication of rightwing extremism. Simply opposing abortion, handgun restrictions, or the president's economic policies would be "harmful" to the country, the report stated.

But now, instead of ostensibly putting police and other law enforcement officials on the alert for potential domestic terrorists, the administration is enlisting every citizen from sea to shining sea to monitor casual conversations and emails for any hint of opposition to the president's health care reform.

First of all, I don't know why they bother to call it the president's plan. He has yet to put forth a comprehensive reform plan, and, as far as can be determined, has not even read any of Congress' plans in their entirety. Still, to be fair, he has yet to break any promises that he's made on health care reform, and he's more than entitled to defend his positions.

On the other hand, instead of calling on Congress to not send him any bills containing provisions that would run contrary to his pledges (which has resulted in several draft bills that do run contrary to those pledges), he's calling on the public at large to be his eyes and ears, to report on our neighbors, our family members, and even the stranger on the street. His administration claims they just want to counter any misinformation that may arise about health care reform; but couldn't such a goal be accomplished far better by issuing talking points that would (theoretically) refute the "misinformation"? Why not just do what the president does best, which is apparently to sell his plans to the American public? TV lights get a little hot after a while, I suppose.

There's even the question of whether or not it's even legal for the White House to issue this call. ConservativeforChange.com reports that, rather than merely being a potential violation of our First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom to protest, the White House may be in violation of federal law:

U.S. Code: Title 5,552a.

“maintain no record describing how any individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment unless expressly authorized by statute or by the individual about whom the record is maintained or unless pertinent to and within the scope of an authorized law enforcement activity.”

Now, will the administration be violating the law if they don't actually keep records of the citizens who speak against health care reform? I don't know; I'm not a lawyer. But I do know that this ... is ... wrong.

Richard Nixon was famous for, among other things, saying "When the president does it, it's not illegal". I sincerely doubt that President Obama wants to follow the example of the only president forced to resign over a scandal that involved monitoring private citizens. He'd do well to print a retraction on the White House website; he won't, but he should.

And we should all feel free to continue opposing his agenda.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Deeds' "Obama" problem

The Virginian Pilot today reports that President Barack Obama will begin to campaign in Virginia for the Democratic candidate for governor, Creigh Deeds. On August 6, in McLean, the president and Deeds will headline a public rally at the Hilton, and then a private fundraiser that evening for the candidate.

To many, this is a no-brainer. President Obama is very popular in the commonwealth, even in light of recent setbacks for his agenda and the occassional misstep on air. Campaigning here in a traditionally conservative though increasingly moderate state both gives Deeds a chance to rally the sometimes dormant left-leaning voters and gives the president the opportunity to garner support for his own initiatives. There doesn't seem to be a downside, either, since we currently are represented by two Democrats in the U.S. Senate and the Chairman of the DNC is our current governor. (You can expect all three to campaign for Deeds, as well.) As strong as the Democratic party is in Virginia, and as "damaged" as the Republican brand has become, it would seem like a walk-on election, as it was last fall.

However, we are still a center-right state, in a center-right country. As the article points out, Deeds still trails his GOP opponent, Bob McDonnell, in the race, though not by much at this point. The first gubernatorial debate was held last Saturday between Deeds and McDonnell, and many news outlets agree that McDonnell did a better job.

The Pilot gives a brief rundown of the debate format, then gets into one of the key issues discussed: Virginia's roads problem. McDonnell outlined both his plan and how to pay for it, while Deeds relied mainly on criticism of McDonnell's plan and a pledge to discuss the issue of how to pay for transportation overhaul and reform with the General Assembly once he had been sworn into office.

The Washington Post notes that McDonnell was "on the offensive" for much of the debate, which is a good way to be in an election. While both candidates were able to pin their opponent to some of their party's less attractive moments (and members), they mainly stuck to the issues; and it was on the issues that McDonnell held the advantage.

VirginiaTalks.com sponsored the debate, and they'll soon have the full debate available on their website.

The president ran on a message of hope and change last year, which, while inspiring, was also light on details and relied on the public's mistrust of Republicans. The country was weary, and more than a little angry, and we just wanted things to change. In my view, though, that anger was caused less by Republicans than it was by politicians who just generally didn't know what they were doing; Republicans simply made a good target. Remember, the country is still composed of forty percent conservatives, forty percent moderates, and twenty percent liberal. Obama didn't win the election by pandering to the left; he won by convincing the center that he would do the better job.

That's what Creigh Deeds and Bob McDonnell are trying to do; except right now, McDonnell is succeeding. It's not that Deeds doesn't have any ideas, or that his ideas are bad; I actually like some of his ideas. But McDonnell has been taking his ideas to the voters, presenting them to the people who will decide the election. Deeds hasn't done as good a job of that. People still have questions about Deeds' positions on issues, like tax increases and some of his party's signature issues. Even the Washington Post pointed out that McDonnell had to force Deeds to "take positions" on recent federal legislation that could be harmful to Virginia.

Deeds' problem is, we're finally starting to direct our anger. We no longer want a politician who tells us that he'll fix our problems; we want one who will tell us how he'll do it. Deeds can't win Virginia if he acts like Obama. Obama's already done that; and Virginians won't elect another politician who makes vague promises. We want straight answers and clear solutions, and we are going to elect a governor who provides them.

He doesn't need to stop campaigning with the president; but it would help if he stopped campaigning like the president.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Virginia is for start-ups | Articles/Archives | Inside Business - The Hampton Roads Business Journal

Virginia is for start-ups Articles/Archives Inside Business - The Hampton Roads Business Journal

Shared via AddThis


It's always heartening to see Virginia receive positive national press, but especially for U.S. News & World Report to write up our little commonwealth as one of the best places for small businesses and start-ups in the middle of a recession. Some of the reasons stated for this include our "highly educated workforce ... technological sophistication [and] low taxes."

We are less than a hundred days from electing a new governor. I hope that everyone who goes to the polls will keep in mind that these and other factors have made Virginia a great place to live, grow, raise families, and especially work. And I hope they will vote for the candidate they feel will do his best to keep it that way.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A key endorsement, for several reasons

I've been spending less time with my blog lately, focusing on some other projects I have; but when I heard about this endorsement, I decided to swing back to the blogosphere for a bit.

For those who don't know, Sheila Crump Johnson, a resident of Middleburg, is a founding member of Black Entertainment Television. She is a small business owner, a noted philanthropist, and a self-described "lifelong Democrat". And she has just endorsed Bob McDonnell, the Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia.

In her own words, she has been doing her homework since early in the primaries, and her priority was on finding a "jobs" candidate. The fact that she didn't endorse any of the Democrats, even after Creigh Deeds won the nomination, says enough about her faith in the Democrats' abilities to create jobs. She did more than keep her peace, though. In her endorsement, she states the need for an "educated workforce ... environments where small businesses can thrive ... [and] a governor who's not afraid to take an entrenched interest to make change happen." Whether or not she feels that Senator Deeds would be such a governor or create jobs, she clearly feels that Bob McDonnell would be better at it.

People who have read my earlier posts know that I don't think much of endorsements in general; but not only is Ms. Johnson a visionary businesswoman and a clear non-partisan, but she is also an important part of the Virginia community. Her opinion carries a certain amount of weight with it, and I would like to think that I would pay attention to it no matter who I personally supported. Please take the time to view her full statement here:


Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Interviews: Partygoers Speak

Why are you here?

The answer may seem obvious: to protest. But protest what? After all, a lot of people in the country just don't seem to "get" the Tea Parties. Well, the Partygoers are more than happy to enlighten the country.

The Hampton Roads Patriots, who I mentioned in the last post, were there to protest excessive government taxes and spending, under both administrations. They protest the government's tendency to ignore the will of the people, and its sometimes-tyrannical tactics in pushing agendas. We all know that politicians are looking out for themselves and will do what they feel they must to keep getting elected; but who says we have to put up with that? The HRP wants Washington to pay more attention to the people than they do to their own "interests".

WeAreChangeVirginia.org, who helped organize the event, believes that Tea Parties bring together freedom-oriented people, whatever party or organization they belong to. It's a chance for us to see that we all really want the same things: freedom, responsibility, and a government that works for the people. The things that unite us are, after all, greater than the things that divide us.

A few others were there to send a message to D.C. Some want to show Washington that they're not happy with how things are going there. They want more voices out there working for our good and our liberty. They were at the Tea Party to uphold and support the principles of our Founding Fathers, the principles that make our country great: small government, a free market system, and an emphasis on individual freedom over governmental interference.

What troubles you most about the government and America today?

People at the event were definitely troubled by the government; and by the sound of things, these troubled feelings had been growing for a lot longer than eight years. There were those who felt the Constitution had been violated by interference in States' rights, intrusions on people's privacies, and a creeping socialism agenda. Specifically, people are troubled by the government's recent actions concerning Bank of America, General Motors, and other handlings of the economic crisis. One Partygoer went so far as to say that civil liberties were being trounced, instances of which have been taking place for decades without ever being properly addressed by either major party.

What troubles them about America is that we all seem to be letting it happen. The government is only supposed to operate with the consent of the governed. If this is true, then why are we letting it happen? And if it isn't true, then what's standing in the way of our changing it? Apathy, was one Partygoer's response. People need to "do their own research, and be proactive" he said. One woman was troubled by the lack of knowledge and understanding among the youth and young adults in America. Personally, I feel they're both right.

One message.

I asked Partygoers what they would say if they had one message for the country, one for the president, one for Congress, and one message for Virginia.

For the country, the message was pretty clear: "Stand up for yourselves." As one person reminded me, any group is only as free as the people in that group. Some feel that we need to return to God, others to our Founding Fathers. We all need to wake up and pay attention to what's happening. This country was founded on certain principles, and we need to reeducate ourselves as to what those principles are and just how far we've removed ourselves from them.

People had plenty of messages for President Obama and Congress. They want a limited government, a renewed commitment to uphold the Constitution, and the needs of the people to be placed above all else. One woman wants the president to remember that the United States is the best country, not one of the best. A particularly insightful young man wants the president to know that he can't expect to fix the economy by loading it with even more debt, no matter how grand or "important" his initiatives are. Another Partygoer simply wants the president and Congress to step aside and let Ron Paul run everything. For everyone in attendance, it was obvious that the two-party system hasn't been working too well for us recently, and they want everyone to abandon the old "party lines" and work together.

As for Virginia itself, which will hold statewide elections this fall including for the governorship, the Partygoers do not want us to be fooled by campaign promises. We were one of the original colonies, and have always had a place at the head of the table. We want to stay that way, too. The Partygoers want Virginians to learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others, including California. We need to elect leaders who will lead us to prosperity and strength, whose ideas are based on what will help the commonwealth. We need to preserve Virginia, not only as a national leader, but also as a sovereign state. Several Partygoers spoke in favor of a 10th Amendment bill in Virginia's General Assembly to remind the federal government just who has the power to do what.

My turn.

I went to the Tea Party because I wanted to hear what people had to say about the direction the country is taking, and to let other people know why these protests are held. No one can deny that the country faces great challenges right now, as it always has, and everyone needs to be aware of them and involved. What troubles me most about the government is the steps it has taken to face these challenges. Whether those in power have good motives or bad ones, I believe their actions will make things worse. What troubles me about America is that we are letting them do it.

My message for the country is to remember our responsibilities. A scene in a movie, The American President, opened my eyes to this particular issue. One of the president's advisors questions the president's actions in the middle of the Oval Office. The Chief of Staff angrily declares that the president doesn't answer to him, to which the advisor replies, "Oh, yes he does ... I'm a citizen; this is my president. And in this country, it is not only permissible to question our leaders; it's our responsibility." The second half of that statement was what affected me. To have permission to question our leaders is one thing, but to be responsible for doing so is quite another. If we don't question our leaders, then we're just as responsible for their actions as they are.

As I've said many times before, when you forget about your country, your country forgets about you. The answer is to start caring what's happening, and educating yourself on what you can do to make a difference. My message for Congress and the president is the same message that I would have every American send: that we are still in charge. Of course, that message has very little meaning if we won't do what's necessary to remain in charge.

My message to Virginians is to remember the elections this fall. Forget about the rest of the country and its problems (for now). We have a great commonwealth right here that deserves our attention first. Saying that the elections are too far away to worry about now, that your vote won't matter, or that you just can't afford to get involved is exactly how the United States got into such a terrible mess in the first place. It starts with the voters, the everyday people who actually decide the elections. Get involved early; get involved now; and just maybe, by the time you get to use your vote, it will actually matter what you do. We have a chance to lead; a chance to make a difference; and a chance to fix this country. It starts right here and now with you.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Tea Party, Part II

The Tea Party last Saturday only lasted two hours, but you can certainly say a lot in that amount of time.

It was a lively crowd, too; folks wearing colonial costumes, tea bags hanging from hats and glasses, and even a fellow with a Guy Fawkes mask. There were plenty of Republicans, as you might imagine, with shirts and stickers for GOP candidates. But the image most prominently displayed, both on clothing and held in people's hands, was the American flag. These people, you see, were not just Republicans, and their protests were not just against Democrats. They were Americans, and they were there to protest against anyone and anything that they felt was harmful to America.

The event was organized by PeninsulaTeaParty.org. A few other organizations in attendance included WeAreChangeVirginia.org, a group dedicated to citizen journalism that advocates, among other things, smaller government and citizen activism; Hampton Roads Patriots, a group that protests excessive taxes and spending, expansion of government powers, and a deviation from the founding principles of the United States; advocates of various candidacies, including Chuck Smith for Congress, McDonnell for Governor, Bolling for Lieutenant Governor, and Cuccinelli for Attorney General; and a small host of others.

Most of the event was open microphone, giving the attendees the opportunity to state some of their own specific grievances against the government, under both the current and past administrations. The event began with a reading of the Declaration of Independence. What some more cynically minded people might consider a cheap stunt, others will recognize as one of the more appropriate ways to celebrate Independence Day. After all, there is not a principle or provision contained in the Declaration that does not still hold meaning for us today. I'd challenge anyone to reread the Declaration and see if they can find no statement that applies to our country's current state.

There was a wide range of issues raised there. People spoke in favor of the Fair Tax, offshore drilling, and even term limits for Congress. They spoke against government-run health care, and Cap and Trade legislation. A sign carried by one of the protesters said No More Taxation With Uninformed Representation, a reference to the recent House vote on climate change legislation before the House had time to even read through the entire bill. There was plenty of support for various pieces of legislation, such as H.R. 1207, the Federal Reserve Transparency Act. Chuck Smith, candidate for Congress in Virginia's Second District, showed up as well. He spoke of the need to grow the economy, and not the government. "We've stood up before," he said, "and we will continue to stand up."

One story told by a speaker, though, touched me as it has every time I've heard it. A man is walking along a beach and sees that countless starfish have been stranded on the sand, washed ashore and unable to reach the ocean again. The man sees another man picking up handfuls of starfish at a time and tossing them back into the water. The first man says, "Why bother? You'll never be able to save all these starfish. What difference does it make?" The second man says, "It makes a difference to the ones I toss back." You see, many people wonder just how much of an impact their actions will have on Washington, and on the future. "What's one vote", they'll ask, or "what kind of a difference can I make". In a country with over 260 million people, it's easy to feel like there's not much that we can do. But the old adage holds true: every little bit helps.

At the close of the Tea Party, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang God Bless America. It felt good reaffirm our purpose in gathering there: to show that our loyalty is to the country, and not to any one party.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The right way to celebrate independence: in protest

There was a fair-sized crowd at the 4th of July Tea Party event I attended this morning. For those who don't know, Tea Parties are peaceful political protests in the mold of the original Boston Tea Party. Folks from all over the United States gather to share their dissatisfaction and at times their anger at the actions of both major political parties. They have much to be angry about. Hardly anything has gone right over the last eight years, with the exception of the fact that we haven't been attacked on American soil once since 9/11. The size of government has increased, the national debt has gone up, we're still fighting in the Middle East, and rogue nations have only grown bolder. Americans certainly have much to protest.

In fact, many would say, and have said, that today we have more reason to protest than ever, despite all the "hope and change" we've been promised. Some of those "many" gathered today for another round of Tea Parties in over a thousand cities and towns across the country. Yours truly attended his first today, and this series of blogs is dedicated to the people who stood together today to tell our leaders "you still work for us". The next couple of blogs will address what some of the speakers at the event had to say, as well as including a few interviews with attendees. This first blog is about a few of the signs that I read while at the Tea Party and what they mean to me.

The only stimulus I need is liberty.

That was the first sign I read after I arrived. It had several meanings, I felt, and so much significance to it. On the surface, it would seem to just be a protest against the stimulus bill that Congress passed (and the one that some in Washington are talking about passing). It would also seem to be a slap against those who would try to remove, reduce, or replace our liberties. After all, every time a new law is passed, it places a new limit on the people. (Let's all hope our lawmakers keep that firmly in mind.)

But let's look deeper into that statement. Not only has the promise of liberty driven suffrage, the Civil Rights movement, and the Revolutionary War itself, but actual liberty has given us a country where business may grow without the interference of the government. While at the Tea Party, I saw several signs against socialism, but even more against taxes. In the stimulus bill that was passed last spring, a majority of Americans were given a tax cut, but only a temporary one. Now politicians are talking about raising taxes on just about everything that Americans use, from gasoline and electricity to soda pop. Will this pay for the massive new programs the government is proposing? Maybe, maybe not; but it certainly won't stimulate the economy.

To do that, we need less government involvement, not more. We need the government to stop taking over American companies. We need the government to stop dictating how those businesses can and cannot be run. We need to pay attention to states like Texas, who have seen businesses thrive in an income tax-free environment; also to states like California, where the cost of doing business is so high that the whole state is on the verge of total economic collapse. There's definitely a lesson to be learned in the contrast.

I'm in debt and I'm still in middle school.

I saw a small group of teenagers holding this sign early in the protest. It gave me hope that they were already taking an interest, not only in government, but in their futures as well. It also brought to mind the fact that this country is already bankrupt, and it still can't stop spending money by the billions. A few months ago, the president presented a budget proposal to Congress. Independent analysts confirmed that, under the president's plan, the deficit would at the very least double from what it is now. All the debt that we had at the end of President Bush's term, all the leftover debt that we hadn't paid from President Clinton's days, it would all double under President Obama's plan. Since presenting it, of course, there have been some modifications to the plan; and of course, we haven't even addressed the cost of his health care initiatives. What are those costs, you ask, and how has his proposal been modified? I'm not going to tell you. It's time for you to find out on your own.

Which brings me to the next protest sign:

If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.

What is the government doing right now? Do you know? When do you first hear about the laws that Congress passes? While they're still being debated in the chambers; when the votes are taken and the president signs them into law; or do you wait until it directly affects you, which every law eventually does? Of course, at that point, it's far too late. All you can do then is start working to change the law. Trust me, it's far easier to work to stop a law than it is to change it once it's been passed.

There is plenty in Washington to be outraged about. When a president says he doesn't want to take over a company, but does anyway, that's a cause for outrage. When Congress says it wants everyone to have health care, but they'll fine any and everyone who chooses not to have it, that's a cause for outrage. When one person's tax dollars go to pay other people's mortgages, government reports are suppressed because they could damage an agenda, laws are written that would dramatically increase the tax burden on Americans and American business without even being read by those voting on them, or politicians use knowledge of the laws they are about to write in order to make obscene profits, the people have cause to be furious with the government.

What do you know about what's happening in Washington? When was the last time you read a bill that was under consideration? When was the last time you asked and got an answer about what those proposed laws would mean to you and your children? How much money is Congress spending? How much money will it bring in, and how will it do that?

People look to the government for solutions; but how many solutions do you really want it to provide? As a missionary for my church, when I was asked why God allows suffering, I would respond: "When you're learning how to walk, you fall a lot. You may even get hurt and cry. But if you never fall, then how will you learn to get back up afterwards?" We cannot let the government solve our problems. As Thomas Jefferson warned us, his words repeated on yet another protester's sign, "A government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have." Strong words; and he would know.

I'm grateful to live in a country where speech is free, so I can stand up and say what troubles me about the government. I'm grateful to have a system in place that provides options for opposing that government without having to start a war. We've already had one war for independence in America, a war that called for countless sacrifices. I feel that we best show our gratitude for those sacrifices by exercising those freedoms so dearly priced and purchased. I exercised mine today.

How will you exercise yours?

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Dodd-Kennedy Health Care Plan

Dear Senator,

I've read about your colleagues' new health care proposal, and once again, I have to voice my strong opposition to their plan.

First and foremost, the fine requiring people to buy health coverage is unconscionable. How can the government force anyone to buy anything? It has been compared to fines on uninsured motorists, but frankly the analogy doesn't hold true. Motorists place other people's property and lives in danger when they get behind the wheel, so forced insurance is a reasonable measure. But just as we don't issue licenses to live, we cannot fine people for their lifestyles. This is not a fine; it is a tax on the uninsured disguised as a fine, made even more plain by the fact that the "fine" would be collected through the income tax system.

Second, the public option. I repeat: a public option is unacceptable to me. While I do not begrudge government subsidies to those struggling families and individuals who cannot afford private plans, I will not support any plan that calls for a public option. Doing so may drive down costs, but in the long run it will raise taxes on everyone. Not one plan presented by any lawmaker or the administration itself that includes a government-run plan can pay for itself without raising taxes and/or the aforementioned fines. Lack of a public option, on the other hand will keep government costs down dramatically; and as more people buy private plans, the health care and health insurance industries will boom, creating much more revenue than any plan with a public option ever could.

Private insurance companies don't need to compete with the government, Senator. They have themselves for competition. If the government wants to reform the industry or add more oversight, then I'll be glad to listen to any proposals you and your fellow legislators may have. This proposal, however, is the definition of "unacceptable."

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith

Saturday, June 27, 2009

H.R. 2454 (aka Cap and Trade): the next step

The House of Representatives passed a 1300+ page bill yesterday by one of the narrowest margins in legislative history. A handful of votes was all that it took to overcome strong objections, from both Republicans and Democrats, to a bill that increases both taxes and regulations on energy production, one of the country's and the world's most precious commodities.

Advocates of the controversial bill insist that passage of it was necessary to prevent long-term damage to the environment, and to redirect the nation's efforts in domestic energy production towards a more "green" philosophy. Without its passage, proponents argue, the country would lose its chance to become a leader once again; this time in new technologies and environmental protection.

Opponents of the bill argue that estimates don't show much of a change in the environment, even if every provision of the hastily presented and voted-upon bill is implemented. They point out that the president's statement that the increased burden to the taxpayer will be an average of around forty cents a day is only one estimate, and that the increase could amount to thousands of dollars more in gas and electricity bills. They also say that for every job the bill creates over the next ten years, two will be lost, which is particularly troubling in the middle of a Depression.

Even if the increase is, as the president says, the equivalent of a postage stamp a day, there is still the cost to businesses to consider. Not only will every business in America have to pay higher electricity bills, but under the provisions in a three-hundred page last minute amendment, almost every building in America will undergo some sort of rennovation to comply with the new standards. This includes private homes, which would affect prices of houses, both old and new, which could seriously depress the already struggling housing market; apartment buildings, which would necessarily raise their rates in response to the demands of the bill; and all businesses, which would be forced to raise prices on consumer products to meet not only the cost of increased standards, but also the cost of moving goods all across the country when trucking companies find their burden increased at the pump.

A few posts ago, I reminded everyone that the government's main source of income is the American people. When businesses fail or flounder, the government has two options: lower taxes on businesses so they can keep their doors open (not likely, considering they're currently in the process of raising taxes on businesses), or raise taxes on Americans. That would not be much of a stretch, considering that Congress and the president are already considering raising taxes on everything from entitlement benefits (which is rather counterintuitive by itself) to soda pop.

When does it end? When you tell Congress to stop. Write to your Senators, call them on the phone, visit them in person if you have to, but make it very clear to them that H.R. 2454, also known as the ACES Act, the Cap and Trade Bill, and the National Energy Tax, is not acceptable. Tell them to vote no; and tell them that if they don't, then they won't have voting privileges for much longer.


Dear Senator,

The ACES Act which passed the House of Representatives yesterday is one of the most troubling pieces of legislation I have yet seen considered by Congress. It combines yet another increase in government bureaucracy and oversight of the private sector with higher taxes and regulations on businesses. And whatever the estimates of the cost to the American taxpayer, whenever the size of government increases or the cost of business rises, the taxpayer shares the burden. I'm sure you understand this principle.

Senator, the government has already enacted massive spending and regulatory practices this year, including the CARD Act, the new tax on cigarettes, and a stimulus bill that was rushed to a vote before any member of Congress had time to even read the final language, let alone explore the implications. The result of that passage by itself has been mixed at best, and at worst, completely ineffective, with members of the Administration and Congress already talking about another stimulus bill.

We, and by we I mean the American people, cannot keep seeing our burden increase. With all the new regulation, increases in executive and legislative authority, higher taxes and penalties for both the public and businesses, plus all the legislation we KNOW about that Congress will consider this year, "the price of a postage stamp a day" may just be the straw that breaks the backs of businesses AND taxpayers; especially for passage of a bill that, by almost all accounts, will not even effect a significant improvement on the environment.

I do not want this bill modified, Senator; I want it defeated outright. It passed the House by a mere two votes, which in this particular political climate is a statement all by itself about what a disaster it would be for America. I await your decision.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Grover Norquist on fiscal responsibility and conservative leadership

Grover Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform. In this interview with Newsmax's Ron Kessler, he talks about leadership, both inside and outside of Washington.

It's a good interview. He discusses the history of politics in Washington, the roles that the various "players" in the capital are taking, and the true impact of stimulus spending on the country, both theoretical and actual spending. He draws contrasts between states like Texas and Florida, that have no income tax, and states with very high income taxes, like California and New York, pointing to the results of the different tax burdens on each states' economies.

He even touches on the potential trap of "bi-partisan compromise". As Mr. Norquist points out, it's better to not have your fingerprints on 100% bad legislation than to have a hand in passing 80% or even 60% bad legislation. The first step is to say no to bad ideas; the second is to present good ideas.

Once you have good ideas, of course, you need to sell them. In politics, it's called campaigning. You won't convince people by simply repeating over and over and over that you're right and other people are wrong. Mr. Norquist reminds us that the customer is always right. That doesn't mean that leaders have to do whatever their followers want them to do; but if you're going to change minds, then you need to do more to persuade people than simply telling them they're wrong.

Finally, he discusses the Republican Party's chances of taking back power in Washington. As an independent, I don't really care who has power; as long as they don't have enough of it to become "too big to fail". If the Democrats are in charge, then so be it; but I'd be more comfortable with a strong opposition party keeping them from running amok with their newfound authority. Right now, that opposition is the Republicans.

I encourage everyone to watch the full interview here.

Just another example of media bias

Dear Newsweek,

Last month, Senator Tom Daschle and Governor Mitt Romney offered opposing viewpoints on public versus private health coverage. It was a reasonable, balanced effort to present both sides of the argument, and I was personally encouraged by your magazine's effort to avoid bias. However, with Congress under more pressure than ever to produce significant health care reform, and with the president's own recent push for the public option, I was greatly disappointed that you chose to abandon your non-partisan stance.

Jonathan Alter's article, subtitled "Obama must make insurers compete (emphasis mine)", was a naked partisan effort to promote an agenda. In the second paragraph, he refers to insurance company stakeholders as "annoying creatures" that the president should "[slap] around". From the beginning, he strikes a hostile tone, and spices it up throughout the article with dashes of dismissiveness and even ridicule of some of the alternatives to a public plan. From what he writes, there can be no reasonable or practical alternative to a public plan.

No opposition to his point of view is offered. There is no rebuttal from any free market advocate or conservative lawmaker included. The dual articles by Daschle and Romney gave the sense of a reasoned debate, with facts and arguments presented for the reader to judge. In Alter's article, there is no argument; only a conclusion.

This is exactly the sort of biased reporting that will keep me from renewing when the time comes.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith

"Pickles in her corn flakes"

Probably not one of my most straightforward blog titles. I assure you, though, it'll make sense by the time you're done reading.

For those who don't know, H.R. 2454 will be voted on in the House of Representatives tomorrow. This is the so-called Cap and Trade Bill. It's official name is the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. Sounds nice and innocuous, doesn't it? Like it's designed to clean the environment, boost energy production, and secure America in a new era of energy independence. That's certainly how it's being sold, of course.

In reality, though, there is no Utopia. If you wonder why Congress never passes good bills, it's really not because politicians are evil. Politicians, in fact, are very self-serving. If there was a good bill out there, then every politician would vote for it just so they could tell their constituents, "Hey, I voted for it, so keep re-electing me". The truth is, there is always a cloud accompanying the silver lining. In the case of Cap and Trade, the cloud is a massive new burden placed squarely on the backs of every American, and not just "the rich".

When I was a child, I saw a commercial that's always kind of stuck with me. It was trying to illustrate that usually, when the price of one itemin a supermarket is lowered, other prices are raised. The commercial showed a woman who opened her cereal, her coffee, and even her bananas to find pickles in them; the point being that, while her supermarket was having a special and had lowered the price of pickles, she still paid the difference in raised prices on the other items she bought.

The same principle applies to the Cap and Trade bill, which basically amounts to a new tax on energy, one that will eventually be paid by every American. This is not a partisan perception, by the way. Even some Democratic congressmen have spoken out against the bill, characterizing it as a tax that will cause energy prices to "skyrocket". President Obama and Speaker Pelosi passed a tax cut for the middle class earlier this year; but to pay for all the new initiatives they have been pushing for years now, they are raising and seeking to raise taxes on everything that the middle class, and indeed every American, uses each day.

Do you use anything powered by electricity? Do you drink soda, or smoke cigarettes? Does your car run on gasoline, even in part? Do you have health insurance? Do you want health insurance? Everything the government does, it needs to fund. And the government has only one source of income: you. If you said yes to any of the questions I just asked, then you'll find "pickles" in your expenses with every bill the government passes and signs into law.

It's time to recheck the price tag. And it's time to write to your Congressman.

Dear Congressman,

It may be too late to change your vote on H.R. 2454, but I want to encourage you in the strongest possible terms to vote no.

Congressman, Virginia has an opportunity this year to lead the country in any number of areas. Energy is one of those areas. You represent a district characterized by job growth and creation of new businesses. H.R. 2454, the so-called "Cap and Trade" bill, will not only raise the cost of doing business, which will depress the new energies market in the commonwealth, but it will also strangle new businesses that will not be able to meet their energy payments initially. This bill will seriously hamper new industries here in Hampton Roads.

It will also, as I'm sure you've heard, raise energy costs for families prohibitively at a time when most are still struggling to stay in their homes. Apartment complexes will raise their rates to meet the new tax, which will shift the burden onto the lower middle class who will scrape along to make rent each month.

Congressman, members of your own party have voiced their concerns about this bill. I'm sure you have your own, as well. I have written to you before, urging you to do the right thing, and I will continue to do so. When the time comes to vote on this bill, say no. We're all depending on you to represent our best interests.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith

Sunday, June 21, 2009

CPR

Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee and one of President Obama's choices for Commerce Secretary, has outlined a new proposal for universal health care; one that doesn't rely on government-run care to insure every American, and that has a good chance of not bankrupting the federal government in the process. His proposal is dubbed CPR, meaning Coverage, Prevention, and Reform.

The first area, Coverage, involves requiring every American to purchase coverage. For those who cannot afford it, the government will provide assistance in obtaining it. For Prevention, the plan creates incentives for people and businesses to live healthier lifestyles now so they won't need greater, higher-cost health care later in life. These incentives include first-dollar coverage for early health screenings and immunizations, as well as rewards for participating in employer-sponsored programs such as fitness club options which some employers offer.

Finally, the bill addresses Reform. As the senator points out, health care consitutes about 17% of the U.S. economy. That doesn't sound like much, until you consider how much money the total economy is worth. When you're talking about health care plans being considered that would cost in the trillions (with a "t"), you can't help but ask yourself if the government isn't spending far too much already. Under Senator Gregg's plan, there are several ways to improve the quality, rather than the quantity, of health care which would make it far easier for everyone to pay for coverage. There are several methods listed in the article, and I encourage everyone to read and ponder them.

I've seen some of the health care proposals out there. Frankly, not a lot of them inspire much confidence in me. Of the few that do, Senator Gregg's is right near the top. I hope everyone gives it its due consideration, and support.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Column A, column B, column C ...

Health care reform is all over the place in Congress. There are dozens of bills and literally hundreds of amendments being considered. All sorts of committees in both the House and the Senate have some sort of jurisdiction over reform, and for good reason. We're not just talking about health care for 300 million Americans, after all. We're talking about possibly trillions (with a 't') of dollars being spent over the next ten years.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090618/ap_on_go_co/us_health_overhaul

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_health_overhaul

Overhauling the nation's health care system could mean just about anything at this point. It could mean the government taking complete control, either by taking over the insurance companies or by simply legislating how and when and to whom they provide coverage. It could mean insurance for every American being paid straight out of the federal budget, which will lead to higher taxes for everyone. It could mean a public plan that may or may not cover every uninsured American, or it could mean health care cooperatives as a compromise between public and private plans.

With every possible option being explored, and with the question of how to pay for it always lurking in the shadows, there is no way that any of us can sit idle while the whole matter is settled by a few hundred politicians. If you don't pay taxes, and don't expect to pay any over the next decade, then you can probably afford to not pay attention or get involved at all. If you and everyone you care about are already covered on health insurance, then you can let everyone in Washington do whatever they're going to do. If not, though, then you can't afford to not get involved.

I've written to my representatives. I assure you, it won't be the last thing I do. The question is, what will you do?

Dear Senator,

I'm grateful for all the work you have done to achieve reasonable health care reform for the country. I also appreciate your willingness to work with all sides and hear all opinions. If I could change one thing about politics in Washington, it would be to end the "them versus us" mentality. No one side has all the answers.

Senator, as far as the measures being debated in various committees, both in the House and the Senate, there are still some provisions that are troubling to me, personally. Among these provisions is one that would require businesses to provide health care to their employees. Health care, though, even for big businesses, is a major expense, as I'm sure you're aware. Mandatory full coverage for every employee would create a serious financial strain for any number of businesses, and at a time when businesses and even states are finding it extremely difficult to cut costs and stay afloat.

There's also the provision which would make it illegal for insurance companies to refuse to cover people based on preexisting conditions. While I've never been happy with that refusal, I'm fundamentally opposed to government telling businesses how to run their businesses. This is exactly how sub-prime mortgages came to be. Lenders wouldn't give loans to people with bad credit, but they did so under duress from government officials. Insurance companies won't cover preexisting illnesses because doing so drives up premiums for everyone, and can threaten the ability of the company to continue providing coverage.

And, of course, the public plan. I cannot say enough in opposition to a government health care option, whether it is in competition or conjunction with private insurance. I've read that the Senate Finance Committee is considering a bill with no government competition at all. This is heartening news for me, and I would hope that such a bill would have your support.

I thank you for your consideration, Senator, and I look forward to hearing your decision.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

As if the czars weren't enough ...

Dear Senator,

I am, at this moment, watching the president proposing a radical expansion of government authority. I'm sure you're watching as well, and I hope with all my heart that you will oppose the measures he is pushing.

In fewer than six months, the president has created literally dozens of new positions of questionable constitutionality, namely the autonomous "czars", and has exerted governmental control over hundreds of private businesses under the justification that, if they receive taxpayer money, then the government should control how that money is expended. Whether he has the authority or indeed the right to do so is another debate entirely.

But on top of those encroachments into the private sector, he is now proposing an entirely new agency to bring unprecedented executive power to bear on the country's banking industry. This is an appalling display of government expansion, and coming as it does in train with the other measures he's taken, it is a seriously troubling signal of what is to come.

In the middle of an economic crisis, the government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars multiple times, a large portion of which, I daresay, has been a waste of taxpayer dollars. We're currently trying to overhaul the country's healthcare system, an effort that would likely bankrupt the federal government if it was not already so. And the president, fresh from bringing two major auto firms directly under the control of the executive branch, wants to create a whole new agency to exert even more influence on the free market.

Senator, I know you cannot be happy with what the president is doing. Even if the proposed measures would help, there must be better, less expensive, more efficient way to ensure that we never face a crisis like this one again; one that doesn't involve yet another increase in the size and influence of the government. If you disagree with what he's doing, then please use whatever influence you have to oppose it.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What are you going to do?

The United States is in a terrible mess. We're just as involved in the Middle East as we've ever been. We have over two hundred potential terrorists in Guantanamo Bay that we need to deal with, except no one in America seems to want to deal with them. We have a national debt that has doubled in the last half-year alone, and the federal government seems like it can't stop spending money. Our health care system has been broken for years, with practically no movement from either of the major parties in Washington. Unemployment has done nothing but rise in this country in recent months. We're facing the first very real threat of nuclear attack since the end of the Cold War.

Did you make it to the end of that paragraph? Good. It means that you actually care what's happening in America. The question now is, what are you going to do?

So you hate politics. You hate politicans. You hate the political system, and the way it seems to do nothing but stand in everyone's way. What are you going to do about it, though? These aren't just political issues. They find their ways right into our homes, in some cases. And when it comes to forcing politicians to do their real jobs (i.e., protect our interests and not their own), we don't have that many options.

When it comes to actually fixing things in this country, there's what I call a "spectrum of action". In the case of politics, it ranges from doing nothing to running for office. I pick those two actions as the opposite ends of the spectrum because they seem to be the only options most people are willing to pick. There is, however, quite a bit that you can do to make a difference besides becoming a politician. The effectiveness of each of these methods is debatable, so I'm just going to put them in order of effort required.

First is voting. It's a fairly simple task, and yet so many people just don't do it. We may indeed have had a record turnout last November, but it still was just barely over half of the potential voters in the United States. Why wouldn't someone vote? Because they don't think it will make a difference? If everyone who didn't vote last November had gotten together and voted for a third candidate, any third candidate, then neither Barack Obama nor John McCain would be president right now. That is how many people don't vote.

After voting comes following up with the winner of the election. Whether it's the President of the United States, Governor of Virginia, or the head of the local neighborhood watch, every elected representative has one responsibility: to serve the public interest. Every day, with every issue, you need to let them know exactly what you want them to do, and remind them that if they don't do it, then you'll take from them the one thing they want from you: your vote. It may not sound like a serious threat to make, but not telling them what you expect certainly won't get them off their collective rears. Write letters, send faxes, call them on the phone, but don't let them forget who's in charge. Remember, if you forget about your country, then your country will forget about you.

To back up your threat, you need to pick someone who could replace them in the next election. Don't wait for the Republicans or the Democrats or even for some third-party to pick a replacement, because the odds are you won't be happy with the next field of candidates, either. Last year, by the time the GOP primaries reached my state of Virginia, I didn't have the chance to pick the candidate I wanted, because he had been forced out by the primaries and caucuses that had already been held. By the time I had the chance to vote in a primary, I basically had no choice. And when the general election came, the only thing left to do was vote between the lesser of evils, as they say.

So don't wait until the elections reach you. Long before they do, someone (or "someones") else will have decided what your choices are. If you're tired of not getting the candidate you want, then you need to get in there early and make sure that you get a candidate who actually excites you about the process. We've seen the idealized movies and TV shows where the lone political operative with a brain finds the one politician with a heart and they overcome all odds to win an election and "make a difference". Do we say to ourselves "That only happens on TV", or do we take the position of a certain underdog presidential candidate who ran on a campaign of "hope and change" and actually won? Whether you like him or not, he proved that one person can make a difference.

Once you've found that candidate, he or she will of course need your support. And so the next step is contributing to their campaign. Money keeps candidates in the race. Beyond that, though, campaigns need staffers, volunteers, callers, pollsters, people who make taco runs, and of course local representatives. There are any number of ways to volunteer for campaigns, especially in the age of the internet. I myself, at the risk of losing my impartiality, have become a "Blogger for McDonnell". I'm not a shill, mind you, and I'm not here to blindly support Bob McDonnell no matter what he does; but I do feel he is the best choice for governor of Virginia, and I have no problem using my blog to say so. I plan to do the same for other candidates in the future. Wherever you are, whoever your choices and potential choices are, I'm sure you can find some way to help.

So far, I've written about ways that you can help other people make a difference. What about you, though? Do you want to do something? Even if you don't want to become a candidate, you can still be a leader. It starts with letting people know how you feel. Speech is still free in this country. If you have an opinion, then share it. Politics has become a taboo subject over time, but in recent years, it has become something even worse: boring. The most important things often are, though; chores, homework, flossing, looking both ways before pulling out into the intersection, and so on, and so forth. That doesn't mean we can stop doing them, though. It's the same with politics. Our "leaders" have our futures in their hands; our health, our education, our privacy, our jobs, our safety, and in some cases, as in the military, even our lives or the lives of people we love. This is no time to stay silent.

You can become contributors at local papers, or other media outlets. Print, video, and even radio are all still very much capable of shaping public opinion. If you think those kind of organizations would be too stifling, though, then there are always independent methods of getting your opinion heard. YouTube, Twitter, podcasts, and of course blogs (*winks*) are great ways to gather followings. From there, you can engage more Americans in the business of fixing our country. As long as those peope are willing to give of themselves as well, that is.

Yes, it's a lot of work, and no, you may not have a lot of time and/or experience; but you don't need either of those things. This is our government. We elect these people. I remember a rather pithy response to a call for term limits in Congress: "We already have term limits; they're called elections". If you think that your representatives in Congress, the White House, your own state capital, and your home town are doing their jobs, and if you really trust them to solve your problems, then keep electing them. If you don't, though, then you'd better do something now, or you'll be stuck with them forever. You can't wait for someone else to do it for you. When our leaders stop doing their jobs, we replace them. That's the principle. Now let's put it into practice.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Congratulations, Mr. Deeds

Creigh Deeds has won the Democratic nomination for Governor of Virginia.

I'm happy, actually. Though I'm endorsing Bob McDonnell, I realize there is a chance he could lose this election. If that were to happen, then we could have had Brian Moran or Terry McAuliffe as Governor. I'm glad that, if we can't have McDonnell, we'll at least have a Democrat whose mind is open on the energy debate, who has an excellent record of public school advocacy, and who has dedicated his adult life to serving the Commonwealth.

Congratulations, Mr. Deeds.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Operation Chaos

For those of you who don't remember or who weren't paying attention at the time (like I wasn't), Operation Chaos was a plan conceived and initiated by Rush Limbaugh during the Democratic presidential primaries last year. At the time, then Senator Barack Obama had a double-digit lead over then Senator Hillary Clinton in the polls and was the hands-down favorite for winning the nomination. Rush Limbaugh decided, for reasons of his own, to encourage Republicans to vote for Sen. Clinton in the primaries in order to keep the contest alive. It worked, too. Rather than having the Democratic nomination sewn up early like John McCain did with the GOP nod, Obama had to fight for months to become the nominee.

I'm an independent. I want to be perfectly clear on that. I'm not a third-party member, and I'm not even a registered independent. As far as primaries go, I believe that Republicans alone should be allowed to choose who will represent them, just as Democrats should be allowed to choose their own nominees. Whether Mr. Limbaugh had good intentions or bad, I think he should have just let Democrats go their own way, just as I believe independents should have let Republicans pick their own nominee during the primaries.

However, I'm also a realist (most of the time). Unless and until the system changes, people will use that system to their advantage. That means the rest of us need to work it to our advantage, as well. The GOP ticket here in Virginia is set. Bob McDonnell is the nominee for Governor, Bill Bolling for Lieutenant Governor, and Ken Cuccinelli for Attorney General. I'd be happy with that ticket achieving victory, but since I can't just sit back and assume that any or all of the three will win, I've decided to make sure the Democratic ticket is one I could stand to see elected.

As such, I'm endorsing R. Creigh Deeds as the Democratic candidate for Governor, Jody Wagner as Lt. Governor, and Stephen Shannon for Attorney General. Creigh Deeds may not be as good a "jobs" governor as Bob McDonnell hopefully will be, but he does have a plan to provide transition assistance for workers who get laid off. He has an excellent record for supporting public education, which I admire. His opposition to certain measures for domestic energy production is not as stringent as Brian Moran's. And he has a better record of service to the Commonwealth than Terry McAuliffe.

Jody Wagner, similarly, has a better-established record of public service than her opponent in the primaries, Mike Signer. She has held positions in the administrations of two governors in the Commonwealth, including service as Secretary of Finance. Stephen Shannon is unopposed for the Attorney General spot on the ticket.

I'm going to vote in the primary tomorrow; not because I want to cause "chaos", but because I care about who leads here in Virginia. In the general election, I'll be voting for McDonnell-Bolling-Cuccinelli; but in case they don't win, I hope the alternative is Deeds-Wagner-Shannon.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Kennedy Health Care Plan

Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, the Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has come up with a new health care proposal. Well, it's not really a proposal. In the words of the committee's spokesman, it's a "draft of a draft". Which means it's not too late for you all to write to your senators and get it struck down.

Here's a copy of the letter I wrote:

Dear Senator,

As you no doubt know, Senator Ted Kennedy has drafted a bill that would, among other things, require employers to offer health care to their employees or pay a penalty. Senator, as a former businessman, I'm sure you know that health care is one of the greatest costs to any business. With the economy in its current state, can anyone honestly expect businesses, especially small businesses, to continue operating smoothly under what amounts to a whole new operating tax?

The bill would also increase the amount the government spends on entitlements, rather than reducing it. The new "affordable access" plan that he proposes would basically expand government health care to anyone who doesn't qualify for Medicare, Medicaid, or any other program not already in place. Even if Congress can find the money to pay for it, this would mean another expansion of government-run health care.

Senator, Congress cannot keep adding programs and spending to the budget. And it cannot keep dictating to private businesses. It must work with the private market to produce and present sustainable solutions to the public. Instead of mandating that businesses provide coverage, give them tax breaks to incentivize employer-coverage. Instead of requiring insurers to provide coverage for all comers, which would be the health care equivalent of subprime mortgage loans, provide incentives for insurers to offer competitive prices to their customers. Instead of forcing private insurers to compete with a government system, give the government less to do, shift the burden to private insurers, and lessen the eventual tax burden on the American public. All this talk of taxes on sugar and health care benefits is a debate that we shouldn't even be having.

I know that you take this issue seriously, Senator. I hope to help in any way I can.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Getting something done

This is going to be one of those "boring" posts that have a lot to do with Congress and the president and legislation and spending and all that. But trust me, it's important.

Republicans in Congress are an endangered species. They know they need to shake the label of the "Party of No" if they're going to survive. (Personally, I've never felt that saying "no" was necessarily a bad thing, but that could hardly matter less.) Anyway, aside from efforts to connect more personally with voters during the spring, they're also doing their jobs. Thank goodness, too, because the only way they're going to save their party is by saving or helping to save the country. In addition to the alternatives they offered to the stimulus bill, the omnibus spending bill, and the budget, House Republican leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor have sent a proposal to President Obama for a series of government programs where spending could be reduced, streamlined, or eliminated altogether.

Last April, in response to the massive amounts of money appropriated in various pieces of legislation, Rep. Cantor requested that the president direct his Cabinet secretaries to find $100 million in savings to help relieve the burden to taxpayers. The president did so, but asked that House Republicans also look for savings. Today, the GOP has presented a list of recommendations that could save a combined $375 billion (yes, with a "b"). The full list can be read here.

The list is twenty pages long, and has over forty specific proposals. I've read it, and I encourage all of you to, as well; but for those who prefer not to spend their evenings combing through proposed legislation (i.e. "normal people"), I've included some of my personal favorites.

Common Sense Spending Limits

While Congress and the President both agree that so-called "discretionary" government spending is always assumed to rise from one year to the next, it seems like they should have put a cap on those spending increases a long time ago. Republicans would prefer to freeze all spending increases, but the proposal is to limit the increases so that they don't grow faster than inflation does. In theory, this could save $317 billion over five years all by itself.

But they're not through yet.

Require New Programs To Be Paid For

Something that has always bothered me about Congress (for as long as I've ever thought about it, anyway) is that, since they control the budget and taxes, they can basically add as many programs to the budget they want and raise taxes as high as they need to in order to pay for it. You'd think that the threat of getting voted out of office would impose a certain amount of restraint, but I think we all know that it doesn't. Democrats and Republicans alike just keep adding programs and raising the price tag.

What about a new way to enforce a little discipline? This part of the proposal requires that, for every new program Congress wants to add, it has to reduce or eliminate funding for another one. This not only keeps spending at a consistent level, it demonstrates priorities. Which programs are most important to the government? How far does it really want to extend its reach? And how will they defend these actions to the voters? The exact wording of the proposal is "The merit of every new proposal ought to be judged based on whether it is more important than something the government is already doing." Good advice.

Opportunity To Review Legislation

This, it should be obvious, is where Congress is required to enforce a mandatory review period, in this case 72 hours, before passing any legislation. I don't have to tell anyone how important it is that members of Congress actually read legislation before they pass it. I'm sure most people remember the huge AIG bonus scandal when Congress passed a $787 billion dollar stimulus bill, the final version of which not one senator or representative actually read all the way through. From the time the final 1,100-page bill was drafted to the time it was passed was less than a day. Whether you're talking about hundreds of billions of dollars or free snail mail privileges, the government should be required to pay attention to their jobs.

Most of the rest of the proposal deals with specific government programs; reforming certain practices to be more cost-effective; enforcing eligibility requirements for certain entitlements; and so forth. Some of the cuts and reductions won't be very popular, on either side of the political aisle, but we're in a serious bind. The country is going bankrupt. Everyone, everywhere is trying to deal with this problem. If you think the proposals the Republicans are making will help, then write to as many people in Washington as you can telling them to support their plan. If you think the proposals will hurt, then say that instead. But this is the budget; the government's lifeline; one of those things that touches every single one of us eventually, so whatever you do, do not ignore it.