Distorting President Obama

Earlier today, a political activist shared the following video of President Obama’s speech in Brussels:

This segment certainly sounds troubling, doesn’t it?  However, rather than presenting the gist of what Barack Obama says, the creator of this video intentionally distorts the president’s words through editing to make him sound like a tyrannical despot, adding fuel to fear.

Now, some people hold to the view that lying or misleading the public in order to achieve a political goal is an acceptable tactic.  It seems increasingly common, an unsavory action used on both the left and the right.

It is true that President Obama has employed a variety of policies that step over the bounds imposed by the constitution, that erode our liberties, and expand the power in Washington.  For these things he should be rightly criticized.  However, crafting videos like the one offered above is not acceptable.  After all, although it may achieve some small short term goal, when truth becomes a casualty, over time all suffer; the political divide grows wider.

In case you are wondering in what context President Obama offered the earlier lines, you can find his full speech below.  Not surprisingly, he speaks against many of the ideas the above video makes you think he supports.

If something sounds to terrible or too fantastic to be true, chances are it isn’t.

The Snowden Interview

Recently, Brian Williams of NBC traveled to Moscow to speak with Edward Snowden, the man who disclosed a multitude of classified documents and tactics of the NSA in 2013.  As a result of these revelations, some people view Snowden as a traitor, a man who put in country in danger and ought to be tried as a criminal.  Others consider him to be a patriot, revealing the unconstitutional overreach of an out of control federal government.

Whether you view Edward Snowden in a positive or negative light, I think you’ll find this interview of interest.  I know that I did.

NBC owns the rights to this video.

Senator Black on Syria

Yesterday, the official Facebook page for the Syrian President posted a letter received from a Virginia legislator.  This letter dealt with the subject of President al-Assad and the ongoing Syrian Civil War.  Interestingly, it turned out to be from Senator Dick Black of Loundon County.

Here’s the picture they posted:

10368798_733802899996878_5790165130987512064_o As the post on Facebook summarized, “Virginia Senator sent a message to President Al-Assad thanked the Syrian army for heroism, praising his prowess and skill, calling the terrorists “war criminals are linked to Al-Qaeda”, mercenaries are entering Syria to kill the people, adding that few Americans realize they are supporting the same the events of September 11, and that they are themselves massacred civilians and using suicide bombings in Syria to kill women and children.

“The Senator thanked Assad for his ‘respectful with all communities’ while ‘rebel’ wire ‘thieves and criminals and saboteurs’, wishing the Syrian army victories continued in the face of terrorists, blaming its sovereignty thanks personally to Syrian soldiers who protect civilians.”

Personally, I’m somewhat surprised that a state legislator would offer his or her opinions on this subject given that it isn’t a topic over which the Virginia government has any control.  Nevertheless, it does offer a perspective that is markedly different from quite a few members of Congress.

So what do you think?  Do you agree or disagree with Senator Black’s thoughts?

Notes on a Local Republican Election Loss

The Roanoke City Council

VC Note: This piece has been written by Terry Franklin, a Roanoke County Republican.

Image from the Roanoke Free Press

The following is written not from the standpoint of a political campaign guru of any sort but from the viewpoint of an observer of local and district Republican campaigns. This is how to lose an election.

The Roanoke City Council elections held on May 5, 2014 should have had the potential to get the first Republican on this City Council since Ralph Smith left the Mayor’s office in 2004. The stage was set with three open City Council seats and seven Democrats/Independents vying for them. Add in our three Republican candidates (Roger Malouf, Jim Garrett, and Hank Benson) to complete a field of ten candidates, and the potential for splitting the Democrat vote to gain at least one seat should be apparent. So what went wrong? Roanoke City is a known bastion for the Democrats in Southwest Virginia so it was an uphill fight from the start. But, is the Republican ‘brand’ so tainted in Roanoke City that a Republican can’t get elected? Fairly recent history suggests otherwise given that Republican Sheriff Octavia Johnson was voted out only this past November.

The Campaign Staff – Assuming that you have good candidates, acquiring a good campaign staff with a record of winning seems like a no-brainer, or at minimum, a staff that doesn’t have a proven record of losing elections. The Roanoke City Council campaign staff included Republican City Unit Chair John Brill acting as campaign manager, Roanoke Tea Party activists Greg Aldridge and Chip Tarbutton as consultants, and Tiffany Riffe, also a consultant. There were ZERO general election wins between all of them to include the election campaigns of E.W. Jackson (twice), Tripp Godsey, and Troy Bird.

Campaign Funding – There are several aspects of the ‘Republican’ campaign funding and expenditures in this Roanoke City election worth taking a look at. Campaign funding is a crucial element to winning elections and getting funding is a major function of a campaign staff. While it does take some money to win a local election, it doesn’t mean that you have to have an overwhelming campaign treasury to win. Value for the money spent is the mantra, or votes per dollar spent.

The contributions for the three Republican Candidates in this City election through the end of March 2014 was about $7,000 each, or $21,000 combined. Two years ago, Republican candidate Mark Lucas for Mayor, who only lost by 348 votes, gathered almost $56,000 through the same reporting period ending March 2012. It is notable that this Republican ‘ticket’ could only raise 37% of the Republican monies raised in 2012, or broken down further that each Republican candidate could only raise approximately 12.5% compared to that previous campaign by Mark Lucas. It could be argued that the Mayoral race is higher profile and would garner more in contributions, but given the stakes of Republicans again being shutout of this election you would think the contributions would have been more than they were with these three candidates. Have all of the Republicans left Roanoke City in the last two years or was there an issue with the campaign that would explain the funding problem? Also interesting is that the Roanoke City Republican Committee (RCRC) contributed a total of $7,700 to the campaigns. Although most of this money has not shown up on the campaign finance reports yet, it can easily be said that the RCRC is a major funder of this election loss. What is troubling is how the to-date reported monies were spent. One third (approx. $7,000) was spent on ‘consulting’ fees. $7,000 is not an alarming figure on its own, but as a percentage of total campaign funds it brings back the question of value for the money.

The campaign finance reports can be viewed by typing in the name of the candidates here: http://cfreports.sbe.virginia.gov/

The Campaign Plan – What the campaign plan actually was and how it was implemented is speculative to some degree by this observer, but I question the wisdom of the three candidates running as a ‘ticket’. Keep in mind that the goal was to get at least one elected, yet there was nothing discernable to identify one Republican candidate from the next. There were no individual talking points to make any of them particularly identifiable or electable. The vote tallies are indicative of a ‘one lose-all lose’ scenario with each Republicans being in the 10% range of total votes received.

Politicos always preach door knocking, phone calls, yard signs and direct mail as the foremost effective tools to winning an election. Those are acknowledged fundamentals to any effective political campaign and that brings a note of humor to this Roanoke City Council loss by Republicans. The one and only campaign mailer arrived in the mail the day AFTER the election. Is that value for the money? Maybe it was considering the content.

Yards signs were scarce to non-existent in much of Roanoke. The ones that were visible were barely, or not, readable with all three candidates names on them. If the paucity of yard signs was indicative of not identifying Republican voters, then that was clearly the case in the typically Republican South Roanoke precincts.

The Campaign Message – The campaign staff determined early to go with negative campaign ads in this local election. Negative ads are always distasteful though said to be effective. The effectiveness of negative campaigning might be true in a broader State or National political arena, but in a local election do you want to ‘throw someone out with the trash’ that you personally know, maybe do business with or interact with in some way? The mentality that would encourage negative campaigning would generally not be a neighbor, nor does it lend any credence to the reasons your candidate(s) SHOULD be elected.

Why compare Roanoke City to Detroit, Michigan with no explained basis for the ads placed? Is that comparison justified or just a figment of a campaign staffers’ imagination?

In Conclusion – Getting candidates elected is first a sales pitch and then a numbers game. The sales pitch was flawed from the start, but the numbers game is the tell-all in an election. Losing precincts that Republicans usually dominate or hold close shows that this election couldn’t have been won.

In the January 2014 special election, Republican Octavia Johnson received 30% of the votes district-wide, but got 46% in South Roanoke 1 and 55% in South Roanoke 2. The City Council candidates got 30% of the City-wide vote, but only 20% in South Roanoke 1 and 24% in South Roanoke 2.

The numbers don’t lie.

The Freedom Act Farce?

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed something called the “Freedom Act”.  According to Justin Amash (MI-3), one of the co-sponsors of this bill, the original purpose of this piece of legislation was to curtail the abuses to privacy by the federal government.  As he puts it, “At its best, the Freedom Act would have reined in the government’s unconstitutional domestic spying programs, ended the indiscriminate collection of Americans’ private records, and made the secret FISA court function more like a real court—with real arguments and real adversaries.”

However, between the time the legislation was written and the time that it made it to be voted upon, the power and intent of the bill changed dramatically.  Amash goes on to add, “This morning’s bill maintains and codifies a large-scale, unconstitutional domestic spying program. It claims to end ‘bulk collection’ of Americans’ data only in a very technical sense: The bill prohibits the government from, for example, ordering a telephone company to turn over all its call records every day.

“But the bill was so weakened in behind-the-scenes negotiations over the last week that the government still can order—without probable cause—a telephone company to turn over all call records for ‘area code 616’ or for ‘phone calls made east of the Mississippi.’ The bill green-lights the government’s massive data collection activities that sweep up Americans’ records in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

Even though the bill passed 303-121, with both Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi voting for it, as the bill was so markedly changed, most of the bill’s 152 original co-sponsors voted no including: Republicans Justin Amash, Scott Garrett, Timothy Huelskamp, and Mark Sanford, and Democrats Earl Blumenauer, Mike Honda, James McGovern, and Peter Welch.

In addition, troubling provisions of the Patriot Act which were set to end in 2015 have now been extended to 2017.

Much like the Patriot Act, the Freedom Act has an appealing title, but seems to do little to promote and protect freedom.  Of Virginia’s eleven members of the House of Representatives, only one, Morgan Griffith, voted no on this bill.

As Justin Amash concludes on his Facebook post, “It’s shameful that the president of the United States, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the leaders of the country’s surveillance agencies refuse to accept consensus reforms that will keep our country safe while upholding the Constitution. And it mocks our system of government that they worked to gut key provisions of the Freedom Act behind closed doors.

“The American people demand that the Constitution be respected, that our rights and liberties be secured, and that the government stay out of our private lives. Fortunately, there is a growing group of representatives on both sides of the aisle who get it. In the 10 months since I proposed the Amash Amendment to end mass surveillance, we’ve made big gains.

“We will succeed.”

Let’s hope he is right.

Everything to Everyone

Senator Hanger
Senator Hanger

Last night, Virginia State Senator Emmett Hanger was the featured speaker at the Harrisonburg Tea Party.  He spoke on the subject of Medicaid expansion.  Specifically, he argued that Virginia ought to expand the Medicaid program in order to take advantage of the federal dollars available that Virginians already pay.

During the question and answer period that followed, Senator Hanger received considerable criticism from the audience.  One person stood up and asked him where in the Constitution is it listed that the federal government has the authority to be involved in health care.  Senator Hanger stated that one could not find such a power, but we as a society have evolved in such a way as to expect the government to do such things.

Unfortunately, the attitude displayed by Senator Hanger seems to be fairly commonplace among considerable segments of both society and the Republican Party these days.  We ought to make the government efficient as possible (which I can certainly appreciate), and ought to take advantage of every program, but we shouldn’t ask why the government is involved in these facets of life and certainly shouldn’t try to constrain the government by constitutional limitations.  Now, to be fair, Senator Hanger did not say these words, but it did seem to be an unspoken theme.

So, do you need healthcare?  Don’t worry!  The state or feds have you covered.  A role that was previously handled by individuals (or for those who could not afford it, churches and charities) for a majority of our nation’s history has been taken over by the government.  Little by little, day by day, the government is becoming everything to everyone.

One glaring problem (besides the whole constitutional issue, of course) is that government run programs are rarely efficient.  Now that’s not to say that there isn’t a role for government, for I believe that there certainly is, but to have the city, state, or feds in the sphere of private business is a recipe for disaster.  One glaring example in Harrisonburg local politics is the city run golf course.  Whether you are a citizen of Harrisonburg or not, two questions you should ask are: Should the city run a golf course when there are privately run courses available?  And am I happy that the city net spends around half a million dollars of the taxpayers’ money each year to maintain this course?

Despite what Senator Hanger suggested last night, just because I don’t want to see people dying in street doesn’t mean that I believe that the government ought to assume control of healthcare.

Given that I reference the song in the title of this post, let me leave you with Everclear’s “Everything to Everyone”.  I think you’ll find many of the lyrics apply to the ever increasing power of government.

The Harrisonburg Budget

Letter to the editor submitted to the Daily News Record on May 14th and published on May 21st.

On Tuesday, a multitude of citizens spoke, listened, and watched as the Harrisonburg City Council debated the budget for 2014-2015.  At the end of the evening, I’m sure that many of us, like the older folks who spoke against the proposal, were disappointed with the result.   Unfortunately, the council decided to raise a multitude of taxes, including: the real estate tax, the personal property tax, the motor vehicle tax, and the water and sewer rates.

At a time when so many Harrisonburg residents struggle with fiscal uncertainty and an increasing number live on a fixed income, it is worrisome that the city decided to place such an increased burden on the people.  Yes, budgeting is a difficult process as many groups and agencies vie for dollars alongside critical responsibilities.  Nevertheless, like many of you, I wish that the council had instituted a few more cuts to keep taxes lower.

Looking Back On the Tea Party

img_1330This morning, fellow Shenandoah Valley blogger Lynn Mitchell asked the question, “Why did the tea party (and libertarians) decide to take over the Republican Party instead of the Democratic Party whose policies they were supposedly against?” Well, as a person who has been involved in tea party politics for a number of years, I wanted to offer my take on the situation.

First off, let me begin by saying that no group is a monolithic unit.  Yes, it is easy to lump people together, to assume that their history, motivations, and goals are unified, but that simply would not be the case.  Anyway, like a number of folks, I joined the tea party while also a member of the Republican Party.  At that time, I had been growing increasingly dissatisfied with the direction of the GOP.  I recall saying at the time that the tea party would never have come into being if the GOP held firm to its supposed principles.

Although Republican politicians seemed to employ inspiring rhetoric when it came to limiting the power of the government, their actual track record was pretty poor.  It is tempting to say that the tea party had its start with the election of Barack Obama, but the truth is that for many of us its roots are earlier, the presidency of George W. Bush.

Let’s look back at George W. Bush, shall we?  What do we find?  An exploding national debt, increased federal government control in areas where it had no defined constitutional authority such as education and healthcare, and a troubling and expensive foreign policy based upon misinformation and a neoconservative philosophy.  Only in recent years have Republican officials finally begun to admit what many people in the tea party have known for years, that a lot of things went wrong in the eight years of the George W. Bush presidency.

So why did the tea party try to push the Republican Party harder instead of the Democratic?  Well, the GOP was seen as having closer ideological ties, especially given that many of us were disaffected Republicans.  Economically, there was supposedly a closer link between the tea party and what the Republican claimed to stand for.  Has that always been the case?  No.  Perhaps the last, best example of what might be considered a “tea party Democrat” (at least in my mind) is the Bourbon Democrats.  As Wikipedia states:

Bourbon Democrats were promoters of a form of laissez-fairecapitalism which included opposition to the protectionism that the Republicans were then advocating as well as fiscal discipline. They represented business interests, generally supporting the goals of banking and railroads but opposed to subsidies for them and were unwilling to protect them from competition. They opposed imperialism and U.S. overseas expansion, fought for the gold standard, and opposed bimetallism and promoted hard and sound money. Strong supporters of reform movements such as the Civil Service Reform and opponents of the corrupt city bosses, Bourbons led the fight against the Tweed Ring. The anti-corruption theme earned the votes of many Republican Mugwumps in 1884.”

Unfortunately, the Democratic Party has not held to these principles in about a century.  Given how much time has passed and the great partisan divide which presently exists, a lot of folks see the Democratic Party as irredeemable.

In order to make a greater impact in politics, some candidates tried running under the unofficial tea party label.  Here in Virginia, one could argue that Jamie Radtke was the first statewide tea party candidate.  In 2012, she challenged former Republican governor and senator George Allen for the Republican nod for U.S. Senate.  In the June primary, she won 23.05% of the vote to Allen’s 65.45%.  However, given Allen’s massive advantage in name ID and fundraising, it wasn’t a particularly shocking a result.

However, after that election, the tea party had changed.  Rather than standing strictly on principle, it had somehow begun to morph into a wing of the GOP.  Originally, the local group disdained both President Barack Obama and Senator John McCain.  In the November election that followed, however, we were told that we must rally behind the Republican candidates to defeat Obama and his allies.

In the 2013 contest, the Republican Party of Virginia switched their nomination process from a primary to a convention, presumably to aid gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli.  However, that change had a very profound down-ticket result.  E.W. Jackson, who finished last in the 2012 GOP senate primary, began to gain momentum.  In this part of the state, he saw in upsurge in popularity with the tea party, although I would argue he was far more concerned with social issues than the traditional fiscal matters that drove the tea party.  As a result, the regional tea party priorities began to shift again, adopting many of the same principles of groups such as the Valley Family Forum.  Again, prior to this Virginia Republican convention, local tea party goers were informed by the head of the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party that the group would support whichever candidates won the GOP nod.

So, to return to Lynn Mitchell’s question, I would say that the reason that the tea party is trying to take over the Republican Party is that it has now become one of a multitude of factions within the GOP.  It no longer stands outside of party politics as originally envisioned.  As such, that fight for control exploded over the weekend in Virginia’s 7th congressional district where Eric Cantor’s ally, Linwood Cobb, was booted for the tea party choice.  A major goal of the tea party these days seems to be to purge the Republican Party of what are seen as big government leaders and politicians.

There is very much an ongoing civil war for the heart of the Virginia Republican Party between those who are primarily motivated to win and those who are motivated by principle (although what that principle happens to be can be a variety of things).  Saturday’s battle is only a continuation of this conflict.

The Staunton City Council

IMG_2634Across the state, a multitude of localities held elections for mayor, city council, town council, school board today.  Although Harrisonburg holds their municipal elections in November, citizens in the nearby counties of Page, Shenandoah, and Albemarle, as well as the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro, went to the polls.

Therefore, I traveled to Staunton for two purposes, to collect ballot petition signatures and to observe this election firsthand.  It should be noted that unlike Harrisonburg, all of the candidates ran as independents, none had party labels.

During my several hour adventure, I had the opportunity to speak with a variety of voters, including Bruce Elder, who sought the Democratic nod against Bob Goodlatte before falling ill during the winter.  I also met half of the eight candidates for Staunton City Council.  After a short stint at Ward 1, I spent most of the day at Ward 4, the second most heavily trafficked precinct in the city.

Although I have no idea of the campaigns these individuals ran prior to Election Day, it should be noted that the level of activity at the polls today did not necessarily equate with success.  I spoke with John Hartless (who finished 5th), Sean Harvey (who finished 4th), Terry Holmes (who placed 2nd and thus won a seat on council), and Virginia Kivlighan (who finished 7th).  I did not see any of the other candidates nor any of their supporters.

Some of the volunteers outside the polling place where I stood encouraged voters to select the three Hs (Hartless, Harvey, and Holmes).  Although Holmes posted his best showing at Ward 4 percentage-wise, both Hartless and Harvey found lower numbers at that ward than they did citywide.

While enjoying lunch at Wright’s Dairy Rite with Will Hammer, the newly minted nominee for the 6th district House of Representatives, I ran into one of the Staunton council candidates who introduced me as a future member of Harrisonburg City Council to another fellow.  Although appreciative of these words, I suppose we’ll discover if this prediction comes true.

After the polls closed, I spoke again to Mr. Hammer, who also picked up signatures in Staunton.  Today, he collected over 20% of the signatures needed to make the November ballot (assuming all are valid, of course).

Yes, one election season has drawn to a close for some localities, but the next is getting underway.  Politics is pretty close to being a year-round sport in the Commonwealth.

Whether victorious today or not, I want to offer congratulations to all of the candidates for Staunton City Council.  I have heard each ran positive, issue-driven campaigns; in an age where personal attacks and mudslinging are commonplace, it is refreshing to find a dose of civility now and then.