Saturday, September 17, 2005

LA Times: Louisiana Officials Indicted Before Katrina Hit

The Los Angeles Times, which may be many things but definitely does not count among them membership in the "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy," had this report today on the state agencies in Louisiana responsible for disaster recovery. The first few paragraphs follow:

WASHINGTON — Senior officials in Louisiana's emergency planning agency already were awaiting trial over allegations stemming from a federal investigation into waste, mismanagement and missing funds when Hurricane Katrina struck.

And federal auditors are still trying to track as much as $60 million in unaccounted for funds that were funneled to the state from the Federal Emergency Management Agency dating back to 1998.

In March, FEMA demanded that Louisiana repay $30.4 million to the federal government.

The problems are particularly worrisome, federal officials said, because they involve the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, the agency that will administer much of the billions in federal aid anticipated for victims of Katrina.

Happy Birthday, Constitution!

218 years ago on this day, 55 delegates from 12 of the 13 original states met for the final time in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. They emerged from the Constitutional Convention with a document of just four pages that established the world's longest-running republic existing today. Today, we celebrate the 218th birthday of the Constitution of the United States (PDF version, includes unratified amendments).

Prior to the adoption of the Constitution, the United States was a loose-knit confederation of 13 independent and sovereign states. Our Constitution established a federal government of defined and limited powers, although three generations of "living Constitution" jurisprudence would surely leave the Founding Fathers wondering about the absence of the numerous amendments inappropriately imposed via the courts. In 1926, Congress proposed an amendment, which went unratified, to allow congress to regulate or prohibit child labor. The courts would eventually widen the scope of Congress's interstate commerce regulatory powers to render ratification of this amendment unnecessary.

The Constitution is written document that means what it says until it is amended--a process outlined in Article V that has been invoked only 27 times. Yet, we mustered the 2/3 vote of each house of Congress and the approval of the Legislatures of 3/4 of the states to abolish slavery, abolish racial discrimination in voting, grant women suffrage, abolish poll taxes, and reduce the minimum voting age to 18. As we prepare to appoint 2 new Justices of the Supreme Court, we must ask which vision of the Constitution we want--an originalist view that interprets the Constitution and each of its amendments according to the original intent thereof or whether we want unelected judges to impose from the bench their personal policy preferences under the very dubious guise of "a living, breathing Constitution that follows the evolving standards of society." If you have not already done so, I definitely recommend buying Mark Levin's best-seller Men in Black.

I encourage you to take an hour or two out of your weekend to read the fundamental governing document of our Republic and perhaps some of the Federalist Papers. This "more perfect Union" of ours has weathered over two centuries and numerous trials and troubles. As Benjamin Franklin said, they gave us a republic, if we could keep it.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Legislature Will Need to Revise State Holiday Bill Before 2013

During the recent special legislative session, one of the bills enacted was House Bill 406, which eliminated Lincoln's Birthday as a state holiday, renamed Washington's Birthday as President's Day, and made the fourth Friday of November an official state holiday, codifying a traditional practice.

Sometime between now and 2013, the Legislature will need to revise that last holiday to be the Friday after the fourth Thursday of November rather than the fourth Friday of November. 2013 is the next year in which November 1 is a Friday and in which the fourth Friday of the month is not the day after Thanksgiving.

From the Archives: Charleston Daily Mail Reports on Labor Day 2004 Willie Nelson Bush-Bashing Concert

Jesse Jackson and Jean-Francois KerryLet me take you back to the September 7, 2004, Charleston Daily Mail. That day, the paper led with the following headline: "Music lovers, political types mix smoothly Boulevard event with big-name musicians drew divided crowd." The "political types" included such liberal Democratic activists as UMW President Cecil Roberts and Jesse Jackson.

While both South Charleston Mayor Richie Robb and Charleston Mayor Danny Jones attended, it was Robb who overtly participated in the political portion of the event, which was an all-out Bush-bash fest. Unlike Robb, who was a GOP presidential elector who threatened to be a faithless elector, Jones supported Bush's reelection.

Here's an excerpt from the article:

United Mine Workers International President Cecil RobertsUnited Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts gave the largest serving of red meat to the more politically minded in attendance.

Roberts accused President Bush and the members of his administration of accusing Sen. John Kerry of being unpatriotic and then accused them of being unpatriotic themselves for not serving in Vietnam. Roberts said the president and his staff were "not just hawks, they're chicken hawks."

"We're going to take the gloves off right here and now," Roberts said, promising to lead the fight to defeat Bush and pursue constitutional amendments to stop workers from crossing picket lines, guarantee a living wage and forbid trade with countries that don't follow American labor laws.

South Charleston's Republican mayor, Richie Robb, participated in the political portion of the event but said he still hasn't made up his mind about the presidential election.

Robb said today that while he was "not particularly enamored" with John Kerry, he held some deep reservations about President Bush's leadership. Robb cited misgivings about the Iraq War and tax cuts as undermining his support of Bush.

"I went up on stage because I think those organizations and individuals advocate a strong middle class agenda," Robb said. "That's my priority and the thing we need most in this country right now."

[Jesse] Jackson was the last speaker before Nelson took the stage...

Time for GOP State Committee to Banish Richie Robb

Mayor Robb speaking at a Teamsters conference.  Click here to see who else joined him.Click here for more pictures of who was at this event last year with Mayor Robb.

For about the last year, the state Republican Party has been filled with rumblings about the disloyalty of state committee member Richie Robb, mayor of South Charleston. Last year, Robb made national headlines by threatening to be a "faithless elector" and not vote for President Bush in the Electoral College (although he eventually did vote for Bush).

Robb's most egregious act was to speak at a Labor Day event headlined by Willie Nelson. If the faithless elector threat was not enough, this act was surely sufficient to trigger provisions in Article XVII of the state committee's bylaws, which provides:

The West Virginia Republican State Executive Committee is an organization established and dedicated to the furtherance of the Republican Party. The members of the West Virginia Republican State Executive Committee serve to make this goal a reality. Therefore, any member of the West Virginia Republican State Executive Committee who by any public action donates, contributes, endorses, or in any manner provides open and public assistance to a Democratic candidate in a contested campaign for public office to the detriment of the Republican candidate, shall forfeit any and all rights and privileges of a member of the West Virginia Republican State Executive Committee. Such member's name shall be removed from the active membership roster. Such member shall forfeit all rights to vote and participate in the decision-making process of the Committee, and such member shall be prohibited from attending any meeting of the Committee as whole or as a Sub-committee. The term of this banishment shall be ten years.

For a while, it seemed this controversy had died. However, Robb rekindled the fire by spearheading an effort to pass a resolution by the South Charleston City Council calling for a complete withdrawal from Iraq. The resolution, which was amended to remove a deadline of the end of this year, passed on a 5-4 vote, which included Mayor Robb.

Since I could not say the rest of my comments on this subject any better, I will just repeat what Gary Abernathy had to say:

Mayor Richie Robb is a nice guy. He's also a very intelligent man. And he must be a darn good mayor, because he's been elected and reelected in South Charleston for about 30 years.

Mayor Robb is also a member of the Republican State Executive Committee. When you're a member of the Executive Committee, you are, in essence, declaring yourself a "super Republican," i.e., you wouldn't support a Democrat or work against a Republican -- particularly the President of the United States -- if your life depended on it.

Your might recall that in 2004 Mayor Robb accepted nomination as an Elector for President Bush. Now the Mayor always claimed he never asked to be an Elector, and he is right. But he also could have declined it, and he did not. Throughout the campaign, he unnecessarily caused a lot of headache for the Bush campaign and Republicans in general by threatening not to cast his Electoral vote for President Bush if Bush won the election. In the end, he did cast his vote for Bush, but only after it became clear there were plenty of Electoral votes to spare.

Previously, at one of our state Executive Committee meetings, Mayor Robb introduced a resolution condemning President Bush for the war in Iraq. It died for a lack of a second. But he's at it again, introducing a resolution this week in the South Charleston City Council demanding a withdrawal from Iraq.

It's long past time for the Republican State Executive Committee to remove Richie Robb as a member. The bylaws provide for such action, and it's time to move on that. He is a citizen who can throw stones all he wants, but the Executive Committee doesn't have to let him do so as a member of that body.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

UPDATE: Fanning Vote for Expanding Food Tax Relief an "Accident," Didn't Really Want to Permit Consideration of a Full Repeal of the Food Tax

State Senator John Pat Fanning, D-McDowellState Senator John Pat Fanning, D-McDowell, who was one of 2 Democrats in the Legislature to vote against a point of order blocking consideration of Republican amendments to House Bill 401 in the recently-concluded special legislative session, now says he accidentally pressed the wrong button and intended to vote with his party's leadership, reports Gary Abernathy.

Here's the big question: If you're from the poorest county in the state, where food tax relief would have been especially helpful, and opposed a position favored by 84% of West Virginians to eliminate the food tax, and accidentally voted for full food tax relief instead of against it, why would you admit it?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Gary Abernathy says the Ruling Party Just Dug Its Own Grave

And I agree. Of the 68 House Democrats and 21 Senate Democrats, only two--Delegate Tom Louisos, D-Fayette, and Senator John Pat Fanning, D-McDowell--bucked the party leadership and voted to permit the consideration of amendments to the food tax bill, including a full exemption of groceries from the sales tax. Unless the Ruling Party comes around next year and completely and immediately repeals the food tax, January 2007 will bring with it President of the Senate Vic Sprouse and Speaker of the House of Delegates Charles Trump.

Click here to view Gary's column.

Ruling Party Stonewalls on Food Tax, Passes 1% Food Tax Reduction Without Vote on GOP Amendments

Today, both houses of the Legislature passed and sent to Governor Manchin House Bill 401, reducing the sales tax on groceries from 6% to 5% on January 1, 2006. Ordinarily, this would be a cause to celebrate--the first cut in personal taxes in West Virginians in decades. However, the Democratic leadership repeatedly stonewalled attempts by Republicans to propose amendments to the bill, citing a restriction in the Governor's call of the special session that the Governor's lawyer and at least four justices of the state Supreme Court have said would not prevent consideration of such amendments.

Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, tried to propose the first of the amendments, which would have immediately and completely exempted groceries from the state sales tax. Others, like Delegate Cindy Frich, R-Monongalia, proposed a full phase-out of the tax over a short period of time. On a 66-33 vote, the House of Delegates ruled these amendments were out of order. Delegate Tom Louisos, D-Fayette, was the only Democrat to vote with the Republicans on this question. Delegate Joe C. Ferrell, D-Logan, was absent. Over in the Senate, the same question failed on an 18-14 vote, with Senator John Pat Fanning, D-McDowell, being the lone Democrat to support the Republican bid to completely eliminate the food tax.

Before succumbing to a Democratic spin doctor who says completely repealing the food tax will be fiscally irresponsible, consider the following. During this special session, the Legislature also passed pay raises for all state employees whose annual cost is more than three times the size of the food tax cut. since the last major state tax increase in 1989, our state's budget has grown far faster than either (i) the combination of inflation and changes in population or (ii) growth in personal income.

The state's Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports show that total state tax revenues have climbed from $1.4 billion in FY 1989 to $3.0 billion in FY 2004--an increase of 114%. More impressively, during that same period, sales tax revenues grew from $372 million to $963 million (an increase of 159%) and personal income tax revenues grew from $467 million to over $1 billion (an increase of 114%). From 1989 to 2004, West Virginians' total personal income grew from $23.3 billion to $44.6 billion--an increase of 91%. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index increased by 52% over the same period. The state's population did not have a stastically significant difference between 1989 (1,807,000 estimated) and 2004 (1,810,000 estimated). Thanks to the Ruling Party's voracious appetite for our money, the state's total tax revenues have increased from 1989 to 2004 by over 2 times the combined rate of inflation and population growth and 25 percent faster than personal income.

The tax burden faced by West Virginians has grown faster than inflation and even faster than personal incomes. If overall state tax revenues had only grown at the same rate as personal income, FY 2004 state tax revenues would have been $2.67 billion rather than $3.0 billion. This would have resulted in a savings to the taxpayers of $333 million--enough to completely eliminate the food tax, the business franchise tax, and reduce the sales tax on remaining taxable items from 6% to 5%--excluding any growth in revenues resulting from likely economic growth precipitated by such tax cuts. Had state tax revenues only grown at the rate of inflation and population growth--as required in Colorado under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights unless voter approval is given for additional spending--FY 2004 state tax revenues would have been just over $2.1 billion--for a savings to the taxpayers of almost $800 million, enough to reduce taxes even further and pay down the state's unfunded pension liabilities at a substantially greater rate than has been done so far.

Does the Ruling Party think the people of West Virginia believe a 1/6 reduction in the food tax will really make a difference in their lives? Does the Ruling Party really think a 1/6 reduction in the food tax will positively influence any business considering locating in a border area when deciding between the West Virginia side or the other state? Does the Ruling Party expect us to somehow be grateful to them and return them to power in 14 months and maybe, for the first time since 1998, give them additional seats in either house? They sure seem to think so.

While the Ruling Party had the cover of the 1% limit to avert a direct vote on repealing the food tax this time, they will have no such cover in January. Republican legislators--and maybe enough of their Democratic colleagues--will return with bills to finish the job during next year's regular session. Next year, we need to go all the way--and not just another 1%. When we finally ax the food tax, we'll target another tax for reduction or elimination. West Virginia's tax burden is excessive and is an impediment to the private sector.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Are the Men in White Coats Getting Ready to Take the Governor Away?

Gary Abernathy sure thinks so. Unless you've been living in a cave for the past week, you probably know the State Capitol is in the midst of a great tempest over whether the Legislature, currently in special session, will have the opportunity to amend the Governor's proposal to reduce the sales tax on groceries from 6% to 5% to provide more relief--maybe even a complete end to the food tax.

As you will see in some of my earlier posts, Governor Manchin has breached the constitutional separation of powers between the executive & legislative branches of government by attempting to proscribe the Legislature from considering any amendment to the food tax bill to reduce the tax further or completely eliminate it. Mind you, this would all be dependent on the will of a majority of the members of both houses. Instead of permitting a general debate on whether to cut the food tax and by how much, the Governor is wanting--with the full cooperation of the Ruling Party's leadership in both houses--to limit the Legislature to an up-or-down vote on reducing the food tax from 6% to 5% with no provision for additional reductions without a future act of the Legislature.

Attempting to take the lead on this very popular proposal, Governor Manchin decided a couple of months ago to support a gradual elimination of the food tax, which generates about $150 million per year for the state. This was such a good idea, he probably thought, why not drag this out in several installments culminating with a full repeal in 2008 just before he stands for reelection?

This would have been a good plan, except the Republicans in the Legislature--seeing the barn door flying open--decided to try to go for a full repeal right away. Apparently having more than enough Democratic votes, the Governor tried lobbying for limiting this year's installment to 1% in the interest of "fiscal responsibility." Having not received a favorable response from his side of the aisle--the remaining populist defenders of the "little guy" are just as adamant as are we on the right--he decided to stretch his authority under Article VII, §7 of the state constitution to convene a special legislative session and severely limit the scope of this proposal so he could try to preserve the apparent battle plan mentioned above.

The Governor has threatened to veto this bill if it exceeds his original proposal. Let him. Only 84% of West Virginians want to ax the food tax. Besides, under Article VII, §14 of the state constitution, vetoes of most bills can be overridden by a simple majority (except in the case of appropriations bills, see Article VI, §51). If we've got the votes to pass a full repeal of the food tax, we will certainly have the votes to stay in session long enough to prevent a post-adjournment veto of this very popular bill that would force the process to begin anew and likely be thwarted by the Democratic leadership that would not only oppose full repeal but would rather not cut the tax at all.

Friday, we learned in the Charleston Gazette that WVU Law Professor Bob Bastress--both of whose politics tilt more than slightly to the left of center--found a 1932 case from the state Supreme Court that would invalidate the Governor's 1% limit. The same day, the Governor appeared on Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval and was not his usual calm, cool, collected self. As Gary said, we had to wonder whether the interview might be interrupted by the men in white coats carrying the Governor away. Later that day, Senate Minority Leader Vic Sprouse filed suit against this restriction and won a preliminary injunction pending the outcome of today's hearing--which is likely to go in our favor and permit real democracy from within the Legislature.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

9-11-01, We Must Never Forget

It was a sunny September morning. In one sense, it seems like it was a lifetime ago; in another, it's hard to believe four years have already passed. September 11, 2001, saw the arrival on U.S. soil the long-brewing war between civilized free societies and a radical Islamofascism seeking to return the world to the Dark Ages.

There are certain events in our lives that are burned so deeply into our memories that we will never forget where we were or what we were doing. I was on my way to class that day, comparative politics and political theory. I had stayed up late the night before to finish a short paper for the comparative politics class. I had only enough time for a quick shower before I left my apartment, so no breakfast or quick check of the morning news.

I got in the car, started my usual 15 minute drive to campus, and turned on the radio. It was 9:49 AM. Instead of the usual music, I heard the very somber voice of Peter Jennings broadcasting. Instantly, before hearing what exactly was happening, I knew something very, very terrible had happened. Within those 15 minutes, I would learn that jets had crashed into the Pentagon, both towers of the World Trade Center and somewhere in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, not far from Morgantown. Instantly, I knew: America was under attack and the world in which we live will change forever.

Normally, the only eerie thoughts accompanying my morning commutes to class were those I had as I walked by the ruins of the house at 723 College Avenue--directly across the street from my dorm room the prior year--that was torched a few weeks before along with one of its occupants and the Fire Marshal's Arson Hotline posters posted along the street. However, that day a chill pulsated from head to toe and stood straight every hair on my body--a chill that returns every time I think of what happened that day.

At 11:30 my second and final class of the day, political theory began. Dr. Whisker walked into the room and broke the news that the Twin Towers had both collapsed. The class had a discussion about moments that define a generation. Then we left early. Getting ahead of the curve, I stopped and topped off my gas tank on the way home, fearing what thankfully did not follow.

The images of that day were burned into our minds forever, though they have largely disappeared from the mainstream media as if they've been placed under seal. We're reminded daily of the 1,800 or so brave American soldiers who have given the ultimate sacrifice in the Iraqi theater of the War on Terror that we officially entered that day. The Pentagon, the World Trade Center, and that field in Somerset County--where over 3,000 civilians became the first casualties on U.S. soil--have all disappeared from our televisions and most newspapers.

On September 11, 2001, we finally saw that we were at war--a war that began long ago but which we saw only as a series of crimes rather than a war. For a time, we were sure the politics would be cast aside for the national interest. From many on the other side of aisle, we heard: Thank God George W. Bush is our President. We were determined to engage the enemy on their soil and defeat them so the likes of what happened on that sunny September morning four years ago would never again visit American soil. The terrorists can be effective only when they have a safe haven and plentiful support. The war we now fight ensures those evildoers who wish to wage their war on our way of life spend their time on the run rather than in comfort planning their next attacks from within a country like Taliban Afghanistan. While our attackers on that day were al Qaeda terrorists who received their safe haven from the Taliban, our war against these forces of evil must extend to every international terrorist group who wishes us ill and those who give them aid & comfort.

We will always remember and must never forget what we saw and what we felt. The lack of a subsequent terrorist attack on U.S. soil has not been by accident. We must remain vigilant and must keep taking the war to those who seek to wage war on us. As Winston Churchill said in England's darkest hours of World War II, "Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."