Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Okay, Let’s Talk About Schools (Part I)

The rather emotional responses to my post “Shrinking Richmond” (click on “Comments”) tells me that we are dealing with an issue that is very sensitive in Richmond. The subject of Richmond Public Schools involves issues of taxes, race, and economic class that are difficult to discuss without possibly offending someone. Perhaps the fear of offending is the reason that we only deal with this issue at its perimeters. I think we need to get to the heart of the matter.

I am a great supporter of public schools. They are the basis of our American democracy. I was poor as a child and, without the quality public-school education I received in New York, I would not have achieved anything. All three of my children also benefited from a quality public-school education here in Virginia.

In the nearly three years I have lived in Richmond, I have noticed a very strange demographic pattern. About half the people in my neighborhood are empty-nesters like my wife and me. Most of the rest of my neighbors are young couples, either without children or with pre-school-age children. When children in my neighborhood reach school age, their parents do one of three things: 1- they move out of Richmond to Chesterfield, Henrico or Hanover counties; 2- they send their children to private school; or 3- they home-school their children. I think that the only children who attend public school are those whose parents cannot afford any of the other options.

Two days each week, I tutor at Westover Hills School. In the classes I work in, all the children are African-American. In fact, almost all of the children in the school are African-American. I have looked at the statistics on the Richmond City Public Schools website, and I find that in most of Richmond's public schools African-Americans constitute 80% or more of the student body. My experience, and those statistics, indicates to me that although more than thirty years have passed since the end of "massive resistance," Richmond still has segregated schools. This segregation is not the result of the law but of the perception by those parents who can afford other options that their children cannot receive a quality education in Richmond public schools.

What I find particularly troubling with regard to Richmond's segregated schools is that no one seems to talk about them. I hear a lot of talk about building new school buildings or how many children are passing SOLs. But nobody talks about whether children can get a quality education in segregated schools. Nobody talks about how to overcome the perception by middle class parents that keeps them from sending their children to Richmond public schools.

So where does this perception that Richmond has low quality schools come from? We could start with His Excellency Mayor Doug. In his ongoing vendetta against the School Board and the Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Wilder is continuously issuing vision newsletters indicating that Richmond Public Schools are inferior to those in the surrounding counties. In his newsletter for July 9, for example, Mr. Wilder says:

With a dismal, worst-in-Virginia graduation rate – only 47% of our children make it all the way through high school – there is plenty to be concerned about.
* * *
Today, if our students are ill-educated and ill-prepared to enter the world beyond secondary school, we cannot blame it on a lack of money. Richmond Public Schools spends almost 60 percent more per student annually than any of the surrounding jurisdictions, while lagging far behind in critical measures of student achievement.
* * *
Richmond's dropout rate in 2005 was four times that of Hanover and almost twice that of Chesterfield and Henrico. In fact, of school systems with 10,000 or more students, Richmond had the highest dropout rate statewide

How can anyone in the City have any confidence in RPS with a cheerleader like Mayor Doug? Mr. Wilder’s statements are equivalent to the CEO of Coca Cola advising customers to drink Pepsi because it tastes better. Is it any wonder that families leave the city looking for better schools?

In addition to our cheerleader-in-chief, advertising by the counties and real estate listings support the idea that the counties have better schools. The listing for sale of a house in the counties will almost always include “near to high-quality Chesterfield (Henrico, Hanover) schools.” Have you ever seen a listing for a house in the city that mentions that there is a nearby school?

Anonymous, one of those who commented on my earlier post (not to be confused with anonymous and anonymous, who also commented), takes issue with the idea that Richmond Public Schools are inferior. He attended public school in Richmond from kindergarten through high school. He says,
I know so many graduates who are becoming teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, scientists, and many are in school getting graduate degrees from great schools.
Anonymous himself is planning to go to law school.

So, who is correct? Is it Anonymous, who has been through RPS and knows that many of his fellow graduates are very successful? Or is it Mr. Wilder, who asserts that Richmond’s students are ill-educated and ill-prepared to deal with the world.

When asked about the mayor’s vision newsletter, School Board Chair George Braxton acknowledged that less than half of students who enter the 9th grade graduate from high school four years later.
Some earn a GED, some are held back a year sometime during their high school career, some are incarcerated, and some drop out (reasons range from working to pregnancy). We can work on much of this, but a great amount of it comes from the social problems faced when a large percentage of your costumers are at-risk.

Mr. Braxton also provided the following statistics concerning the 2007 graduating class:

Class of 2007 Statistics (As of June 30, 2007)
Continuing Education Plans
Four Year College - 48.7%
Two Year College - 24.5%
Military - 1.3%
Work Force - 19.6%
Apprenticeship - 1.8%
Voc./Technical Training - 3.8%
TOTAL 99.7%

Students in the Class of 2007 have been accepted into 127 colleges & universities. The states represented in the acceptances are Alabama, New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania, California, Georgia, Indiana, Tennessee, Texas, Ohio, Washington, D.C. and of course, Virginia. To date over 860 acceptances have been recorded.
Because Richmond has so many students who are at-risk, it is very difficult to compare our schools to those in the counties. We spend more because these students have greater needs than do middle class students. Many of our students do not succeed because of the problems they face at home and in their neighborhoods.

On the other hand, Anonymous’ experiences are consistent with the statistics about graduating students. More than 70% of this year’s graduating class plans to attend four year or two year colleges. Despite Mr. Wilder’s assertion that our students are ill-educated, they are being accepted at colleges throughout the country.

I intend to continue this discussion of Richmond Public Schools until I am satisfied we have fully addressed all the issues. I hope you join me by clicking on the word “comments” below. (If you don’t want to reveal your identity, please use an alias. We already have too many people named Anonymous.)

Should Taxpayers Pay Tech Victims?

I think the shootings at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, were horrific. That so many families should lose their children, spouses, siblings or parents all at once is beyond terrible. I can only imagine how I would feel if a disaster like that affected my family. I empathize with all those whose lives will always be partly empty because of the loss of their loved ones.

Yet, I am troubled by the lead article in the Times-Dispatch of July 30, 2007, indicating that Virginia legislators are advocating that the Commonwealth compensate survivors and families of victims for their losses at Tech. These legislators are not advocating that they themselves pay the compensation but that the taxpayers of the Commonwealth pay it. I ask, “Why?”

Life is dangerous. Bad things happen to people. And, when bad things happen, the victims or their survivors want to be compensated. But, should Virginia, or any other state, compensate every victim of a loss?

Over the centuries, the Anglo-American legal system has developed an entire body of tort law to deal with personal loss. Under that system, it is the person who causes the loss, not the state, that is required to compensate the victim for the loss. And, that person is only required to pay compensation when the actions causing the loss were negligent or otherwise wrongful. The devastation of April 16 was caused by Seung-Hui Cho, not by the taxpayers of Virginia.

The shootings at Virginia Tech were not unique in our history. Similar mass-killings have taken place in other schools or buildings in the past. They will continue to occur in the future so long as we hold dear the right of Americans to purchase 9mm semiautomatic handguns and other killing machines. These occasional deaths are the price we pay for the right to bear arms.

Governor Kaine appointed a panel to investigate the events of April 16. That panel has not yet issued its findings. If the findings, when issued, indicate that the negligent or wrongful actions of some officer or employee of the Commonwealth were a contributing cause of the shootings, it would be proper to consider reaching monetary settlements with victims and survivors to obviate the need for expensive and protracted lawsuits. However, to appropriate public funds for compensation, without any showing that the Commonwealth or its officers or employees caused the shootings, would put the taxpayers of Virginia in the position of insurers. Should we take money from other badly needed programs, or increase taxes, to pay for this proposed compensation? I'm not sure.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Michael Vick: Why Should I Care?

It's so easy being a maven when you deal with the Times-Dispatch. As I predicted yesterday, the TD devoted all five columns on the front page today to the Vick story. And, I was wrong. Vick went to court today, not yesterday. So, we may very well see the main story tomorrow being about Mr. Vick.

I am trying to understand. Mr. Vick is an athlete. He comes from Virginia and played college football in Virginia. He now works in Atlanta. I cannot figure out the TD. Why is this such big news? There were at least a dozen events that happened yesterday that are far more relevant to our lives than Mr. Vicks troubles. Why didn't they make front page news?

Should I be sorry for Michael Vick? Should I have been in front of the court house protesting against dog fighting?

I have a confession to make. I don't care what happens to Michael Vick. I just want this to be over so I can find out what is actually happening in the world.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Hey, I Pay for this Rag

Somebody at our beloved Times-Dispatch has lost touch with reality. I don't know if it's the publisher or one of the vice presidents or the editor, but nobody seems to understand what the word "news" means.

Every day it's there on the front page of the main section. Another story about Michael Vick. And I know it will probably be a five-column headline tomorrow, because Mr. Vick is going to court this afternoon.

I realize that Richmond is not Metropolis and that the TD is not the Daily Planet. I also know we don't have journalists like Perry White, Lois Lane and Clark Kent. But even a cute little city like Richmond deserves a quality daily newspaper. Unfortunately, the TD doesn't seem to be it.

Every morning I read the TD. It takes me about ten minutes. Then I have to read my wife's Washington Post so I can find out what's actually going on in the world, the US of A, and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Common Greater Richmonders. We have to stop putting up with this publication that has the audacity to call itself "Virginia's Newsleader."

A Hard Rain is Gonna Fall

Things are getting ominous. Style Weekly has bumped His Excellency out of the number one spot as the most powerful person in Richmond.

I can't see King Doug taking this lying down. He's got to do something to get back to number one.

Any ideas on what he'll do?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Shrinking Richmond: Goodbye to Don and Clara

We met the Thompsons when we moved to Richmond three years ago. They are a great couple. They have two kids; Eric aged 5 and Danielle aged 3. In our neighborhood, where the population is split between empty-nesters and young couples with pre-school age children, the Thompsons are one of the few younger families that I and my maven-ess have been able to be friends with. Usually, it’s hard for younger and older families to find much in common. But it’s been different with Don and Clara.

Well, the bad news appeared last month with a “for sale” sign in front of the Thompsons’ house. I waited until Clara brought the kids home from daycare, and then ran to knock on their door.

“Clara, are you guys, moving?”

“Yes.” Clara didn’t look me in the eye. It was clear she wasn’t happy about this.

“But why and where are you going?”

“We found a place out in Chesterfield County, west of where Hull Street Road crosses 288. We’re moving ‘cause Eric is starting school in the fall.”

“Okay, Eric is starting school in the fall. What does that have to do with your moving? There’s a public school three blocks from here. Besides, I thought you loved this neighborhood.”

“We do love this neighborhood. And we love you and our other neighbors, but we want Eric to go to a good school. Everybody knows the schools in Chesterfield are better than the city schools.”

As we spoke, Don drove up and got out of his car.

“What do you mean, everybody knows? How does everybody know the schools are better in Chesterfield?

Don joined the conversation. “We don’t think that Eric would fit in in the city school; he would be different from everybody else.”

“Is this a racial thing?” I asked.

“No! We are not racists! It’s just that so many kids in that school are poor. They don’t have the academic skills that Eric has. He will be pulled down by them.”

“Have you ever been in the school? I volunteer there. Believe me; those children are getting a good education. They have great teachers. Eric would do fine there.”

“We’re not willing to risk Eric’s future on an experiment. We know the schools are better in Chesterfield. If he goes to city schools he might have trouble getting into a good college.”

“He’s not even six years old,” I said. Then I added. “You realize you’ll be giving up a ten-minute commute to work. And you’ll have to pay tolls on the Powhite.”

“Hey!” He said.
“These are our children. If I have to have a longer commute or pay tolls so that Eric can go to a quality school, I’ll do it. Besides, maybe I can find a better job in the county.”

It was clear I was not going to win this argument. Don and Clara were going to move.

You know, some day academics are going to be studying the Henrico-Chesterfield metro area. One will ask the other about the large vacant space in the middle of the area. “Didn’t the City of Richmond used to be here?” “Yes,” the other will reply, “but it was abandoned years ago.” “But why?” the first one will ask. The second will reply—

“It was the schools, dummy!”

Why do we pay more in Richmond?

In Michael Paul William’s column in the July 23 TD he discusses whether it is better to live in Mechanicsville or Glen Allen (notice that the City of Richmond was not even discussed.) Williams refers to the article in Money magazine that lists Mechanicsville 54th best and Glen Allen 66th best among places with between 7500 and 50,000 residents. Williams indicates that the magazine lists the median home price for Mechanicsville at $267,969 while its average real estate taxes were $1624. For Glen Allen the figures were $235,885 and $2055.

It’s been years since I learned arithmetic, but it seemed to me that these figures must be wrong. The homes in Mechanicsville were costlier, but the real estate tax in Glen Allen was higher. I was sure that either Mr. Williams or the magazine must have made an error. Then it hit me. These places are in different counties and therefore they have different real estate tax rates.

So, I went to my friendly Internet to see what the tax rates were for Richmond and its nearby bedrooms. Now, some of the websites have 2006-07 rates and some have 2007-08 rates, so these figures may not exactly match. However, here’s what I found out—
City of Richmond: $1.23 per $100 of assessed value
Chesterfield County: $1.02 per $100 of assessed value (going to .97 at the end of this year)
Hanover County: $0.81 per $100 of assessed value
Henrico County: $0.87 per $100 of assessed value

So what does all this mean? If my house is assessed at $250,000 (which I wish it was), I would pay the following amount of annual real estate taxes in the various jurisdictions:
City of Richmond: $3,075
Chesterfield County: $2,550
Hanover County: $2,025
Henrico County: $2,175
Well, I live in the City of Richmond. So, I am paying between $500 and $1,000 more in real estate taxes than if my house were in the surrounding counties. (These figures do not include various miscellaneous fees that I also pay to the City of Richmond.)

So, why do I pay so much more for local government than do some of my friends? Obviously, I must pay more because I get more. I must get better schools, better maintenance of streets and other infrastructure, more police and fire protection, better libraries, etc. and etc. It’s like the old Yuban commercial (if you’re under 40, you probably never heard of it), “You get what you pay for!”

I'm a newcomer to Richmond (been here less than 37 years) so I'm not sure, but I suspect that more or better services is not the reason I pay more.

In a July 10 TD OpEd, 1st District Councilperson Bruce Tyler gave his reason for why I pay more:
“Richmond is fortunate to be the capital of Virginia. With this blessing comes the hidden burden of providing essentially free police, fire, and infrastructure to state government. Richmond taxes are higher than taxes in surrounding localities because they don't share this burden; therefore, we are less competitive.”

Tyler presents an interesting issue. Commonwealth-owned buildings in the city do not generate any tax revenue. Shouldn't the Commonwealth compensate the city for this lost revenue by means of an annual payment in lieu of taxes? I know that the Federal Government pays the District of Columbia a substantial annual payment to compensate for the revenue the District loses because the Feds pay no taxes. But, does any state government compensate its capital city for lost tax revenue?

In my opinion, making up for the revenue lost because the Commonwealth does not pay taxes can only account for a small part of the extra taxes we Richmonders (Richmondites?) pay each year.

As you all know, our beloved mayor, Doug Wilder, gives another reason for our high real estate taxes. In his Vision newsletter for January 22, 2007, His Lordship said,
“I do not believe that our citizens desire for their real estate assessments to continue to rise in order to support the exorbitant spending by our public school system, which maintains too many half-empty school buildings at a cost of millions each year.”

Well, Mr. Your Honor, I cannot believe that I pay higher taxes in the city simply because RPS has some half-empty buildings. Only about one quarter of the City’s operating budget goes for schools. (
http://www.ci.richmond.va.us/departments/budget/pdf/PieChartTotalExp.pdf) Is it just possible that there is some waste in the rest of the City government--the part that you are responsible for?

So, here is my question to Mayor Wilder. Here is my question to the nine members of the City Council. Why do we pay more for municipal services than do our neighbors in Hanover, Henrico and Chesterfield counties?

Monday, July 23, 2007

A reply to River City Rapids

Since you don't allow any comments on your blog (http://rivercityrapids.blogspot.com/), I will have to write my comment on your July 23 post here.

It seems to me like the whole post was written by his Excellency the Mayor. I'm getting the impression that you think King Doug can do no wrong and that the City Council and the School Board are a bunch of thugs. It's amazing that Mr. Wilder has to fight with everybody in the city because he is always "right."

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Choosing the Next Prez: Part I

Now that I am officially out of the race, at least for now, I must begin the process of choosing who I will support for president in 2008. Of course I take this responsibility seriously because I know how much the president can effect how I feel for the years 2009 and after. I did not feel good for months after the Supreme Court elected “W” in 2000. And I wasn’t too happy after a second Liberal from Massachusetts blew the election in 2004. So this choosing a president thing is nothing I do lightly.

In fact, before even looking at the remaining candidates, I thought I would determine the qualities I want in my next president. What is most important? Do I care about a candidate’s views on the nation building in Iraq? Definitely not! How can you choose among 15 or 20 candidates who all want to bring the troops home. Besides, I am sure that our wily Mr. Bush will have an October surprise which will neutralize the war issue.

What about a candidate’s views on health care? Hell, everybody is in favor of health care. What about taxes? They’re all against taxes, at least until after the election. What about the environment? Come on, nobody would admit that they favor a degraded environment. And global warming? I don’t think many of the remaining candidates favor more heat.

I think that issues are pretty irrelevant in this upcoming election. For one thing, the issues that candidates raise now will not necessarily be the issues that one of them will have to deal with after January 20, 2009. Did George W. run on a platform of fighting the war on terror? The fact is that the crises that the next prez will have to deal with, we haven’t even thought about.

So, what about the candidates’ qualifications? What traits do they have that will make me confident that they can be the leader of the world’s only remaining superpower? (By the way, if we are the only superpower, how come we get no respect?) Do we want someone who has demonstrated great leadership? Do we want someone with experience in administering multibillion dollar projects? Do we want someone who actually does their current job rather than running around the country campaigning? Do we want a president who will not lie to us?

That seems like a good one: A president that tells the truth. At one time we prided ourselves on truthful presidents. George Washington couldn’t tell a lie, and Abraham Lincoln was known as “Honest Abe.” But among the more recent presidents lying is something we expect. Bill Clinton lied to us; he even lied under oath. And, I’m not sure I believe a quarter of what comes out of W’s mouth.

So, what do you think? Do you want a president that tells the truth?

Not me! In the words of Jack Nicholson, I can’t handle the truth!

A truthful president would have to tell me that in the Mayan calendar everything ends after 2011 except for a few scattered Mayas. (Don’t even try; I already found out that there is no way to convert to Maya.)

Even if the Mayans were wrong, a truthful president would have to tell me that somewhere in the solar system there is a 100 mile long asteroid that has its cross hairs locked on earth and will get here in 2023. Two billion people will die the first day. And the following nuclear winter will kill everybody else except for a few scattered Mayas.

Even if the asteroid misses, a truthful president would have to tell me that some day a volcano in the Canary Islands will tumble into the ocean and a super tsunami, more that 5,000 feet high, will inundate the eastern coast of America from Greenland to Tierra Del Fuego, crossing the Appalachians and creating an inland sea in the Mississippi valley, killing everybody except a few scattered Mayas.

I can’t handle the truth.

But I could use a national leader who will not deliberately lie to me. What if a candidate had the chutzpah to tell us, “Hey, I represent the ultra-wealthy? If I am elected, everything I do will be designed to benefit them. If you happen to get some benefit from trickle down, that's good for you. But I do not intend to represent your interests.” I wouldn’t vote for him (not willing to rely on trickle down), but at least he’d earn my respect.

But, seriously, shouldn’t we expect our president to be honest with us on the critical issues facing our country? How about a president who told us we have to cure our addiction to fossil fuels because in a few decades there won’t be any left? Shouldn’t he or she tell us that we are spending ourselves into insolvency; that continuing deficit spending of any amount will require our grandchildren to deal with crippling taxes (or a government that defaults on its obligations?). Why shouldn’t the president tell us that minimizing climate change will require us to make significant changes in our lifestyles? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a president who told us that winning the battle against international terrorism will require the American people to make some sacrifices? (Can we believe that this is really a war for national survival when only soldiers and their families are asked to pay the price?)

So, who among the uncountable Democrats, significant number of Republicans, possible independents and unannounced candidates do you trust is telling us the truth now and will continue to do so if elected? Let me know. It will affect my decision-making.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Shrinking Cities

In yesterday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, A. Barton Hinkle wrote an OpEd suggesting that Richmond may want to follow the example of Youngstown, Ohio. Youngstown, according to Hinkle is accepting the fact that it has a shrinking population. Rather than fighting this trend, the city has decided to downsize its operations and reduce the tax burden of its remaining residents. I replied to Hinkle on his blog (http://barticles.mytimesdispatch.com/). For those who do not read Hinkle’s blog, here is my comment:

I know nothing about Youngstown. I don't know whether it is a shrinking city in the midst of a healthy metropolitan area as it Richmond. I still have the January 26, 2007, TD article "Ready to brag, Richmond?" It dealt with a study by the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce that showed that Metro Richmond compared favorably with the Nashville, TN; Jacksonville, FL; Raleigh, NC; Birmingham, AL; and Charlotte, NC, metropolitan areas.

We don't have a problem in Metro Richmond; we have a problem in the city. The City of Richmond is losing its middle class and its population is dropping. At the same time the populations of Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico counties are increasing.

So why are people leaving Richmond for the suburbs? I think the main reason is schools. There is a widespread perception that the Richmond Public Schools do not do as good a job educating children as do the school systems in the suburbs. In my neighborhood, Westover Hills, we have a perfectly good neighborhood school. However, nobody in my neighborhood sends their children to Westover Hills School. When children reach school age, my neighbors do one of three things: 1-they send their kids to private schools; 2-they home school their kids; or 3-they move to the suburbs. The result is a demographic bubble; there are hardly any families living in the neighborhood with school age children.

If we are going to stem Richmond's hemorrhaging population, we must first drastically improve our public schools. For Richmond to be a great city, it must have great public schools.

Second, we must stress the things that only a central city can do. The Sixth Street Marketplace was a disaster because we were trying to compete with the suburban shopping malls. There was no way we were going to lure suburbanites to shop in the city when they had big malls much closer to where they live. We've got to stress growth in the city that will keep our residents spending their money in the city and luring suburbanites into the city.

Of course, Richmond cannot solve its problems outside of a regional context. Today’s TD shows part of the problem; the fairfaxization of Chesterfield County. The citizens of Virginia spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build route 288, a road that began nowhere, went nowhere, and traveled through a mostly empty county. This road has single-handedly made many parts of Chesterfield County available for development. It has produced the long strip mall on Hull Street Road that continues westward for a considerable distance. Chesterfield County is adding thousands of homes, which will produce thousands of extra cars on our roads and tons of extra carbon in our atmosphere. We need to institute regional planning which discourages, rather than encourages, continued suburban sprawl. We need to stop subsidizing development that is economically and environmentally damaging.

Perhaps, as you suggest downsizing of the City of Richmond may be inevitable. However, I hope we don't decide to bury the patient while it is still breathing and has a decent chance for recovery.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Michael Vick, Michael Vick, Michael Vick

A few weeks ago it was two days of front page headlines in the TD that local and federal police officials were investigating the home of Michael Vick. There was a suspicion of dog-fighting. This week it was two days of front page headlines in the TD that Michael Vick and friends had been indicted on charges relating to dog-fighting.

There must be something more important going on in the world for the TD to report on than the antics of an athlete. We have problems in this city with our schools, with crime, with transportation, with the hemorrhage of the middle class population. But, all the TD can report about is Michael Vick.

Get real, guys and gals. He is only an athlete.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Why the Fair Tax Proposal will Never Pass

While I was in Chicago I noticed something really interesting. Hotels that cater to business travelers charge a lot. Breakfasts in the hotel restaurant range from $12 to $21. To use the hotel’s swimming pool and fitness facility the charge is $12 per day. To access the Internet they charge $10 per day. Contrast this with hotels that rely on tourists rather than business travelers. The meals at the restaurants are cheaper; the Internet access and fitness facilities are free.

When I stood outside the fitness facility at the Chicago hotel, I was wondering, “Who would pay $12 per day to use this.” Then it dawned on me. The Federal Government is subsidizing this fitness facility and the expensive meals and the charge for Internet access. Business travelers either get all their travel expenses reimbursed by their employer or, if self-employed, they can deduct their expenses from their federal income taxes. The employer, in turn, also treats these meals and fitness facility and Internet charges as business expenses. The result—the Federal Government is paying part of the increased charges that the business hotel is making.

If the Fair Tax proposal were to pass, there would be no Federal income tax. Therefore, the expensive meals, fitness facility fees and Internet charges would not be deductible business expenses. Now business travelers would have to pay for these expenses from their own pockets. Further, under the Fair Tax proposal, all these expenses would be subject to the Federal sales tax. Suddenly, business travelers would think twice before incurring these expenses. They might start shopping around for hotels where the meals are reasonably priced and where the fitness facilities and Internet access are free.

You can bet that the Sheratons and Hiltons and Hyatts and other hotel chains that cater to business travelers are not going to give up these money makers without a fight. They will realize that the Fair Tax proposal will not be good for their business and they will lobby against the Fair Tax.

There are many other sectors of the economy in these United States that also rely on the federal tax subsidy for part of their income. They will also oppose the Fair Tax. Just think of the housing industry. Without the tax exemption for home owners, people will not be able to afford such expensive houses. Used houses will have a strong competitive advantage over new houses because they would not be subject to the federal sales tax. Land developers and builders will therefore oppose the plan.

And, of course, the elimination of the federal income tax deduction will be disastrous for charitable institutions. I could be generous and assume that people contribute to charities for religious or other reasons and that the tax deduction is not an incentive. However, let’s face it. If people were so altruistic, why did we need the deduction in the first place?

I must concluded that even if the Fair Tax proposal was fair, which I’m not convinced it is, it would adversely affect so many interests in this country that it will never become law.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Why Helmet Laws are Necessary

I'm in Chicago, the windy city on Lake Michigan. My hotel is right near the waterfront so I thought I'd take a walk to the Navy Pier, an in town tourist attraction. (For those of you who live in River City, I think that the Navy Pier is bigger than the whole City of Richmond).

Well, I'm walking along the street enjoying the breeze (it's a good fifteen degrees cooler than central Virginia). Then I go off onto a bike trail that enters a park. As I'm walking I hear this loud squawking and then something is attacking my head. I try to shoo it off but it is very persistent. With all the squawking and pecking at my head I felt like Tippi Hedron in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds." Finally, with enough of my yelling and swinging my arms and walking away from under the tree from whence the red winged blackbirds were attacking, I was able to escape the onslaught.

My head is hurting. I have been victimized. I'm not blaming the City of Chicago for this lack of hospitality shown by its avian population. But...

if I had been wearing a helmet, I would feel a whole lot better now.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Pulling the Ring Off of My Hat

For all of you supporters of the Maven, I have some very bad news. After months of exploring and consulting with many experts and engaging in an extensive fund-raising effort, I must conclude that it makes no sense to continue my campaign for the presidency in 2008. Therefore, I must announce that I will not be a candidate either for the Republican or the Democratic nomination. And, just to eliminate any further speculation, I will not even run for whatever party Michael Bloomberg may put together. I am ending my candidacy.


Do I think that I am not as good as the other 20 or 25 candidates? Hell, no! I can certainly be a better president than most of them.


Do I think I can’t win? Hell, in a fair campaign I could beat all of them. If the American people carefully compared my qualifications with the other guys and gals, I have no doubt I would win.

So, why?

The answer is simple—money. In the months that I have been trying, I have only been able to raise $375, and $300 of that is a pledge from my friend Donald contingent on my winning the Iowa caucuses.

Let’s face it friends, politics in America has changed. The day when a retired civil servant living only on his pension could afford to run for president is long gone. No longer is heard the cry, “Let the best (wo)man win!” Now you have to have two or three hundred million bucks just to run for the nomination. Qualifications don’t count. Experience don’t count. Good looks don’t count. Even grammar don’t count. All that counts is money.

Is this maven bitter? Hell no! Let them have their gold-plated, diamond studded presidency. I will be content to just continue spreading my expertise throughout the planet.

Now, I have to figure out which of the remaining unqualified candidates to support. I eagerly await your advice. If there is any of the dirty two dozen that you think would make a good president, let me know. Tell me why you support that lesser candidate. I’ll consider your views, reject them and then announce my pick for the next Prez.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Get Rid of Doug, Donald Urges

My old friend Donald called me this morning wanting to know why we don’t just get rid of Mayor Doug, instead of always complaining. You have to understand that Donald is a bit of a radical; in his day, he marched against the Grenada War and held up a sign in Lafayette Park denouncing the marriage of David Eisenhower and Julie Nixon. So I was not particularly surprised by his attitude.

“We will get rid of him,” I told him, “in November 2008.”

“No need to wait, you can get rid of him now!”

My first impulse was to hang up. I don’t think anybody would understand me discussing Doug’s assassination on the telephone. I mean the guy often drives me nuts, but killing him seems a bit extreme.

“I’m willing to wait for the election,” I replied. “Besides, he has this big security detail.”

Donald laughed for a good twenty seconds. “No, doofus brain, I’m not talking about killing the sucker. I’m talking about removing him from office.”

“Donald, I don’t know what you are talking about.”

Donald then explained it to me. Apparently, under section 24.2-233
of the Virginia Code, pursuant to a petition, a circuit court can remove an official from office
“For neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties when that neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties has a material adverse effect upon the conduct of the office”
Further, with respect to the Mayor of Richmond, section 3.04.1 of the City Charter provides that the mayor can be removed under the procedures contained in the Code of Virginia, provided that a petition is
“signed by a number of registered voters in each council district equal to at least 10 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last general election for mayor in each respective council district.”

“So,” said Donald, “all you need is a petition signed by ten percent of the voters and you can get rid of old Doug.”

“How many signatures do we need?” I asked.

“It says you need, for each council district, ten percent of the total vote for mayor in the last election. Go look it up.”

So I did. This is what I found.

To petition for Mayor Doug’s removal we would need a petition with this many signatures per district:

District 1....... 936
District 2....... 754
District 3....... 675
District 4.......
District 5....... 672
District 6....... 354
District 7....... 407
District 8....... 581
District 9....... 461

(And we’d need to add another hundred or more per district because the Times-Dispatch article I looked at didn’t have complete election returns.)

“Donald, there is no way we can get that many signatures.”

“Of course you can. Just get some friends and start ringing doorbells.”

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Wilder Victim of Widespread Plot

Those of you who have not been reading the Times-Dispatch for the last few days probably don’t know how bad things have been going for Mayor Doug. Everybody in city government who is not subject to the mayor’s control is suddenly turning and biting the hand that doesn’t feed them.

First it was the Superintendent of Richmond Public Schools, Deborah Jewell-Sherman. According to the mayor, Dr. Jewell-Sherman “double-crossed” him. His mayorship, as reported in the July 3 Times-Dispatch, wrote to Jewell-Sherman saying, “I am appalled at your duplicity.” It appears that Jewell-Sherman had the audacity to seek an alternative to Doug’s edict that Richmond Public Schools vacate its offices at City Hall and move to commercial office space on West Broad Street. Rather than doing as Mr. Wilder instructed, Dr. Jewell-Sherman actually helped the School Board in its plans to enter into a private-public partnership to develop one of its own properties to be its new headquarters. The worst part of this insubordination is that the Superintendent doesn’t work for the mayor and therefore he can’t fire her. If there is one thing that Mr. Wilder cannot tolerate it is an independent public official.

Only one day later, the plot was joined by city auditor Umesh V. Dalal. According to the July 4 story in the Times-Dispatch, Mayor Doug sent a “blistering” letter to Mr. Dalal after Dalal had written to his mayorship demanding cooperation, not obstruction, in his audit of Doug’s administration. Mayor Doug chided Dalal for his “effrontery” in demanding complete access to the records of Doug’s number one ally, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Harry Black. The mayor was particularly upset because Dalal’s earlier audit of Richmond Public Schools did not uncover the cesspool of corruption that Doug knows is hiding somewhere in the five or six floors of City Hall occupied by Richmond Public School administration. When asked about his behavior, Mr. Dalal replied, “Neither the mayor nor the council tells me what to do. He (His mayorship) is the one insisting that I be independent of the council. That means I have to be independent, period."

Dr. Jewell-Sherman and Mr. Dalal join the spreading insurgency against Mayor Doug that also includes City Council President William Pentele and School Board Chairman George Braxton. All of these city officials asserting their independence are making it more and more difficult for Mayor Doug to establish the total control over everything that happens in Richmond that he has been seeking since he took office more than two years ago. However, since his term runs until January 2009, we can still hope that Mayor Doug will earn his statue on Monument Avenue.