Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Former Gov McDonnell not guilty of violation of Virginia law? Really?

Indicted Former Gov McDonnell (R-VA)
and spouse
Many of the news shows and even former governor McDonnell  have declared or implied that taking "legal gifts and loans" from a donor are not a crime according to Virginia law and that the indictment was purely based on federal law.  Really?

This statement was really puzzling.  Are Virginia laws so loose that they would allow a governor to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars and gifts from a donor when it allegedly was taken in exchange for using his office and position of power to promote a product?  Is the statement just incorrect?  I needed to understand which it was.

Now understand that Virginia has some outdated and unusual laws.  For example, it is illegal for couples to engage in sex with the lights on and only the missionary position are legal (we don't think the McDonnell's are guilty of this); but it seems that government officers should be held to higher standards when it comes to bribery.

A simple query of Virginia laws seems to indicate that the former governor's actions have violated Virginia laws as well.  Below, is the section of Virginia law on "Prohibited conduct".  I have highlighted the areas where the governor has run amuck.

§ 2.2-3103. Prohibited conduct.
No officer or employee of a state or local governmental or advisory agency shall:
1. Solicit or accept money or other thing of value for services performed within the scope of his official duties, except the compensation, expenses or other remuneration paid by the agency of which he is an officer or employee. This prohibition shall not apply to the acceptance of special benefits that may be authorized by law;
2. Offer or accept any money or other thing of value for or in consideration of obtaining employment, appointment, or promotion of any person with any governmental or advisory agency;
3. Offer or accept any money or other thing of value for or in consideration of the use of his public position to obtain a contract for any person or business with any governmental or advisory agency;
4. Use for his own economic benefit or that of another party confidential information that he has acquired by reason of his public position and which is not available to the public;
5. Accept any money, loan, gift, favor, service, or business or professional opportunity that reasonably tends to influence him in the performance of his official duties. This subdivision shall not apply to any political contribution actually used for political campaign or constituent service purposes and reported as required by Chapter 9.3 (§ 24.2-945 et seq.) of Title 24.2;
6. Accept any business or professional opportunity when he knows that there is a reasonable likelihood that the opportunity is being afforded him to influence him in the performance of his official duties;
7. Accept any honoraria for any appearance, speech, or article in which the officer or employee provides expertise or opinions related to the performance of his official duties. The term "honoraria" shall not include any payment for or reimbursement to such person for his actual travel, lodging, or subsistence expenses incurred in connection with such appearance, speech, or article or in the alternative a payment of money or anything of value not in excess of the per diem deduction allowable under § 162 of the Internal Revenue Code, as amended from time to time. The prohibition in this subdivision shall apply only to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Governor's Secretaries, and heads of departments of state government;
8. Accept a gift from a person who has interests that may be substantially affected by the performance of the officer's or employee's official duties under circumstances where the timing and nature of the gift would cause a reasonable person to question the officer's or employee's impartiality in the matter affecting the donor. Violations of this subdivision shall not be subject to criminal law penalties; or
9. Accept gifts from sources on a basis so frequent as to raise an appearance of the use of his public office for private gain. Violations of this subdivision shall not be subject to criminal law penalties.

McDonnell's lawyers have said that under the case presented by the federal government against him, any governmental official would be guilty if they did anything to promote a business, so even President Obama would be guilty in his promotion of Dream Works, for example.  This comparison  distorts the real facts in the case and mistakenly removes the illegal aspect of the crimes of the former governor.

How much money did Obama get from Dream Works?  The difference between the President's actions and McDonnell's actions is that there is no personal benefit gained by the President in exchange for his kind words about Dream Works.  In such cases "quid pro quo" is the rule.  "Quid pro quo" means there is intensional exchange of goods or services in return for some personal gain.  A "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" situation.

McDonnell was promoting a private company's tobacco based "medical" product known as "Anatabloc" by using the influence of his office in exchange for money, favors and gifts that only benefitted him and his family.

Only after news of these infractions became public did McDonnell pay back all money.  He maintains his innocence and only admits to bad judgement.  Since he paid it back, he now calls the money a loan.

McDonnell and his wife may face decades in jail and up to $250,000 in fines if found guilty.

Even if McDonnell's lawyers somehow manage to get him off, I think America expects more of our political leaders.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

GOP austerity program for the unemployed

In 1995 I lost my managerial level job after loyally working for the same company for twenty-one years.  At the time, the unemployment rate was about 5.6%.  It took me eleven months to find a new job that paid about twenty percent less.  I was lucky because I did not need unemployment assistance to survive during that time.  My former employer maintained our then current pay rate during our termination for a time derived from the number of years we were employed.  Many of us were long time employees and like myself found work before our termination salaries ran out.

Today, the unemployment rate is closer to 8% and unemployed people looking for new jobs have a number of new  obstacles in their way.  Most current-day companies would never continue to pay a person after they are terminated.  Many manufacturing and technical jobs have been moved to China or India and other American jobs are being given daily to lower paid foreigners working in America.  Federal Republicans are calling for more American jobs to be given to foreigners as they legislate for large increases in the number of H1-B visas offered annually.  The job market is diminished since 1995, competition for jobs is greater and now unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, who have been out of work for twenty-seven or more weeks is ended.

President Obama has called for Congress to extend long term unemployed benefits as a priority when they return from holiday break and Senator Reid has indicated he will put it on the Senate docket as a priority, but federal Republicans appear to be characteristically nonchalant about unemployment.

Contrary to the number one Republican concern spoken about by John Boehner of "jobs, jobs, jobs", federal Republicans are  insisting that extending unemployment benefits be either tied to big Democrat social program cuts or, as Eric Cantor has indicated, just won't be an issue of concern when the GOP House returns in January.

With Cantor's voting record against extending unemployment benefits in the past, it seems likely that the House will not even bring the Senate bill up for a vote.

It was laughable to hear the absurd explanation by the Republican's most promising future nominee for President, Rand Paul, that he was against extending unemployment benefits because "it does a disservice to these workers."  Paul believes that receiving unemployment insurance benefits makes a person less likely to look for a job and therefore perpetuates the time he or she is unemployed.  How likely is this to be true?

The unemployment insurance program does not provide unemployed workers with a full paycheck. The weekly amount varies by the state's insurance program rules but one estimate is about 25 percent of the weekly take-home pay.  How can a family who has a life-style that is adjusted to a home budget based on full wages be comfortable to continue to exist on 25% of that amount?  They can't.  Paul's explanation is a ruse.

With about 1.4 million unemployed about to lose financial assistance, Rand Paul explains that he would rather find a way to create jobs first, which is why the idiom "putting the cart before the horse" was invented.  Republican logic simply defies logic.

Analysts have estimated that it would cost about twenty-six billion dollars to extend unemployment insurance benefits.  Ironically, it cost about that same amount when Republicans forced the shut-down of the government last year.  If nothing else, that should make you angry.

If you are Republican and middle class or have ever lost a job due to no fault of your own, these Republican actions once again show that they are not worried about you and are not empathetic to you. They can't imagine what it is like to be living from paycheck to paycheck and what a negative impact a lay-off can have on your life.  They do not care that your children cannot eat well.  They do not even think about the family problems that develop during this stressful time.

Some GOP politicians can't think things through to their logical conclusion and can only learn from the hardships of bad personal experience.  I suggest we give them a chance to learn by personal experience and vote Democrat in all future elections.