Friday, February 29, 2008

Let’s Make This the Last Black History Month

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963

It’s been nearly forty-five years since Dr. King spoke these inspiring words. During this time tremendous progress has been made in extending to all Americans the ideals expressed in our Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, however, we are no closer to fulfilling Dr. King’s dream. The United States is still a country in which people are judged and characterized by the color of their skin. Let’s face it dear reader, our country is one of the most race conscious on the planet.

This brings me to a discussion of Black History Month. February is our annual reminder that we are not one people but two. It reinforces the concept that African Americans are different from the rest of our population. We have no Irish American, Italian American, German American, Jewish American, Polish American, Mexican American or any other hyphenated American history month. It is only African Americans that are singled out for a separate history. Our schools teach only one hyphenated American history and it cannot help but instill in our children the idea that African Americans are different. If we are ever going to achieve Dr. King’s vision of a color blind America we have to stop observing Black History Month.

What was then called Negro History Week was created by Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926 as an attempt to publicize the accomplishments of African Americans, who were generally ignored by most historians or written of in a derogatory manner. In explaining why it was necessary to research and disseminate African American history, Dr. Carter stated:

According to our education and practice, if you kill one of the group, the world goes on just as well or better; for the Negro is nothing has never been anything, and never will be anything but a menace to civilization.

We call this race prejudice, and it may be thus properly named; but it’s not something inherent in human nature. It is merely the logical result of tradition, the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind. The doctrine has been thoroughly drilled into the whites and the Negroes have learned well the lesson themselves; for many of them look upon the other races as superior and accept the status of recognized inferiority.

The fact is, however, that one race has not accomplished any more good than any other race, for God could not be just and at the same time make one race the inferior of the other. But if you leave it to the one to set forth his own virtues while disparaging those of others, it will not require many generations before all credit for human achievements will be ascribed to one particular stock. Such is the history taught the youth today.

On the other hand, just as thorough education in the belief in the inequality of races has brought the world to the cat-and-dog stage of religious and racial strife, so may thorough instruction in the equality of races bring about a reign of brotherhood through an appreciation of the virtues of all races, creed and colors.

Dr. Woodson then described Negro History Week as he envisioned it:

This is the meaning of Negro History Week. It is not so much a Negro History Week as it is a History Week. We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice. There should be no indulgence in undue eulogy of the Negro. The case of the Negro is well taken care of when it is shown how he has influenced the development of civilization.

Dr. Woodson’s Negro History Week has evolved into Black History Month. In my opinion it has accomplished all that Dr. Woodson had hoped for. The accomplishments of African Americans in the development of our society have been written into history text books. Most of our colleges and universities have significant African American studies programs. Our libraries and bookstores have hundreds of books on African American history. Dr. Woodson himself hoped for a time when Negro History Week would be unnecessary; a time when all Americans recognized the contributions of African Americans as a legitimate and integral part of the history of the United States. I think that time has come.

If Black History Month were benign, I could not object to its continued observance. However, it is not benign. It perpetuates and strengthens the separation between African Americans and the other members of our society. It teaches our children that African Americans are different from other Americans. It teaches that African Americans have a history separate from the rest of our citizens. Since its objectives have been accomplished, there is no further reason to continue an observance that sets apart one group in our society.

Each day, you and I live history. History of general interest is reported daily as “news” by the print, broadcast, cable and internet media. Some of this daily history is of short term importance; we read or hear about it and forget it rather quickly. Other items in our daily history are of great importance and we remember them for a long time.

Once a year, we review the accumulation of daily histories and decide what stories were particularly important. We reinforce these big events in our collective memories and further relegate the other stuff to oblivion. Over longer periods of time we look back at the yearly histories and we edit them down to the occurrences that have had a long term impact. These become the stuff of which history books are written.

It generally takes the lapse of a significant amount of time before we know which daily or yearly history events are really significant. I learned this in a government course I took more than forty years ago. The teacher brought in a copy of the N.Y. Times, which had several significant stories on its front page. (This would make a better story if I could remember what those front page stories were, but I can’t). He asked what the most important story in the newspaper was. After various students expressed their opinions, which all related to page one stories, the teacher turned to page four of the paper where it was reported, in a brief three paragraph story, that China had detonated its first nuclear bomb. He impressed on us (quite effectively because I remember it to this day) that what we think might be a minor event when it happens can turn out to be the most important.

I give my views of the process of writing and studying history because we need to judge whether the accomplishments of some of the persons we teach about during Black History month are really significant or are significant only because they were achieved by African Americans. During this month I have seen posters of famous African Americans displayed in two of Richmond’s public schools. Many of the people on these posters have made great contributions to our society regardless of their skin color. Others are there only because they were the first African American to do something that others in our society had already done. Some of them have accomplished something that would not be recognized as historic if it had been done by someone other than an African American. I think that these charts indicate that we have gradually changed the emphasis of Black History Month. We are now teaching African American history, rather than African Americans as part of American History as Dr. Woodson intended.

This approach to teaching about African Americans eliminates the culling and winnowing process that is a key part of writing and studying history. In trying to teach the accomplishments of so many African Americans, Black History Month has equated the major occurrences of our past with the historical footnotes. It gives a distorted view of history. To prove my point, let’s look at a Black History Month coloring book that I downloaded from the internet. (

Martin Luther King, Jr. Obviously, Dr. King is a major historical figure and his accomplishments must be stressed in a general study of the history of the United States.

Thurgood Marshall Justice Marshall is a major historical figure. However, the description of him as “the first African American to serve on the United States Supreme Court” ignores his significance in American history. He needs to be remembered as a great lawyer who was instrumental in using litigation to desegregate various segments of our society. He also needs to be remembered as a great jurist for the wonderful decisions he wrote while on the Supreme Court.

Jesse Owens In a history of sports Jesse Owens should be recognized for the gold medals he won at the Munich Olympics. However, as a figure of general history he is more in the category of footnote.

Langston Hughes Langston Hughes was a great poet. In an American literature course or in a study of cultural history Langston Hughes is a major figure. However, in a study of general history Langston Hughes is a footnote.

Bill Cosby Bill Cosby makes me laugh. He also wears a Temple University sweatshirt like I do. But unless we are studying the history of television, or the history of American comedy, he is not a major historical figure.

Jackie Robinson In a study of the civil rights movement Jackie Robinson is a major figure because he overcame great obstacles to play major league baseball. Of course, the other half of the story—Branch Rickey—needs also to be remembered because he insisted on integrating baseball despite the strong objection of his fellow team owners and his own players. Remembering Jackie Robinson in the category of an “African American first” really lessons his significance if we are studying sports history. Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s, I watched Jackie Robinson play. He was a perfect baseball player. He did things on a baseball diamond that were nothing less than remarkable. I never thought of him as a Negro (or “colored” as my uncles would have called him); he was simply a great player.

Louis Armstrong In a study of jazz or American music or entertainment, Louis Armstrong is a star. He was one of the five greatest trumpet players of the twentieth century, he set the standard for jazz singing, and in my opinion was the greatest entertainer of the twentieth century. But in a general study of American history, he is a footnote.

Wilma Rudolph If we are studying the history of track and field or the history of the Olympic Games, Wilma Rudolph should be remembered as a wonderful athlete. However, as an “African American first,” she is a historical footnote.

Ralph Bunche In studying the history of the relationship between the State of Israel and the Arab world, Ralph Bunche must be remembered for his significant role in ending hostilities in the 1948 war. Likewise, in a study of the history of the United Nations, or a history of the Nobel Peace Prize he is a significant figure. But, I can’t see him as a major contributor to the general history of the United States.

Benjamin Banneker In a study of the history of American science, Banneker made significant accomplishments. However, as a figure in the overall history of the United States, he is a footnote.

Patricia Roberts Harris As the first African American woman to serve as United States ambassador to a foreign country, Ms. Harris is a footnote.

Shirley Chisholm (Member of Congress), Guion Bluford (astronaut), Marion Anderson (opera singer), Phyllis Wheatley (poet) All four of these people were African American firsts. Other than in a specific study of their respective areas of expertise they are historical footnotes.

I am not trying to discredit the accomplishments of these and other honorees of Black History Month. But, we do need to look at people and events in their historical perspective. We also must look at historical figures without regard to their ethnicity, religion or sex. If a person or his/her contribution to our history would be treated as a footnote if it were done by a man, we must not turn the person or the accomplishment into a major historical event merely because it was done by a woman. Likewise, if the person or accomplishment would be a footnote when done by a Caucasian, we must not view it as historically significant because it was done by an African American. We must remember Neill Armstrong as the first human to step onto the surface of the moon; we should not remember him as the first American Caucasian male to do so. We should remember Louis Brandeis as a great Supreme Court justice, not as the first Jew appointed to the Supreme Court. Would we remember the name of the inventor of the shoe lasting machine (Jan Metzeliger) or the ironing board (Sarah Boone) if they were Caucasian instead of African American?

America in 2008 is vastly different from what it was in 1926 when Dr. Carter Woodson created Negro History Week. Nobody in this country, other than a white supremacist or other “hater”, denies the significant contributions that African Americans have made to the birth and growth of the United States. We have amended our history textbooks to include the accomplishments of African Americans as well as other Americans. We can now teach a history to our children that does not foster the race prejudice that Dr. Woodson thought was an integral part of written history a hundred years ago. Negro History Week and its successor Black History Month have accomplished their objectives. However, because Black History Month adds to race consciousness in our country, and because it distorts history by assigning equal importance to all events, it is time to end it.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Who’s on the Side of the Kids?

I started this entry last Wednesday morning and then, for reasons that would be boring to you, set it aside. It is still very relevant so…

Since I wasn’t able to attend the public hearing on the school budget Tuesday, I will have to publish my comment.

I must confess that I haven’t read the complete budget. I am sure that there are plenty of people out there who will address specific lines in the budget to grind their own axes. For me the key fact is that the School Board is proposing for fiscal year 2009 a budget in which the funding provided by the City of Richmond is the same as in fiscal years 2007 and 2008. I think this is unconscionable.

A little background might make this easier to understand. Although Virginia law empowers school boards to supervise the schools, the General Assembly in its wisdom has chosen not to give school boards the authority to raise revenues. Therefore, Virginia school boards must rely on the Commonwealth, their local jurisdiction and other sources for the funds needed to operate the schools. The draft budget prepared by School Superintendent Deborah Jewell-Sherman shows school board revenue coming from various sources. The pie chart on page 16 of her budget indicates that for fiscal year 2009 Richmond Public Schools will receive about 49% of its funding from an appropriation by the city, about 39% from Commonwealth education funding, about 10.5% from Richmond’s share of state sales tax, and fractional amounts from the Federal Government and other sources.

Both Mayor Wilder and the City Council have directed the School Board to submit a budget based on the assumption that city appropriations to Richmond Public Schools will stay level between fiscal years 2007 and 2009. So, although the costs of running the schools go up because of inflation and although city revenues go up because of increased real estate assessments, the city’s political powers have directed the School Board to ask for no more money than it received this year and the year before to run the schools.

Section 22.1-28 of the Code of Virginia provides that

The supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board selected as provided in this chapter or as otherwise provided by law.

Part of the responsibility of supervising the schools is to prepare an annual budget that covers the needs of the children in the school system. When a school board prepares a budget that does not meet the school system’s needs, it is abdicating its statutory obligation.

There is no provision in the code saying that a school board’s supervision of public schools should be subject to the dictates of either a jurisdiction’s legislative or executive authorities. Thus if a city council or mayor dictates the level of funding for the schools in advance of the school board deliberating on its budget, the council or mayor is usurping the authority of the school board to supervise the schools.

From David Ress’s story in the TD last Tuesday, it appears that Richmond’s School Board is not fulfilling its statutory mandate. (The electronic version of this article is incomplete, so I won’t bother giving you the site.) The board is proposing a budget based on a city contribution the same as last year, rather than on the true needs of our city’s children. According to Ress, School Board Chair George Braxton stated,

We’ve matched the resources we were told by the city administration that we’d have. It’s a tough budget year.

However, later in the article, Ress reports that Mr. Braxton indicated that the School Board was not legally bound by the limit on city spending imposed by the mayor and council. Mr. Braxton was also reported as saying that he would like to increase significantly the number of special education teachers employed by RPS.

What I cannot understand is why, if it doesn’t consider itself legally bound by the limit on city payments to RPS, the board chose to abide by those limits in its proposed budget. I am sure that in addition to Mr. Braxton’s special education teachers, there are other needs of the children being unmet by the proposed budget.

Even though, in Mr. Braxton’s words, it is a “tough budget year,” it is not the job of the School Board to balance the city’s budget. Rather, it is its job to assure that the needs of the students in city schools are being met. That requires it to prepare a budget that fully funds those needs.

So, if the School Board is not responsible for balancing the city’s budget, who is? Under our charter, that responsibility lies with the nine members of the City Council working in cooperation with the mayor. (For Doug Wilder I will explain that “cooperation” means working together with others.) The council will take the budget prepared by the School Board and the budget submitted by the mayor, which combines the budgets of the various city departments and agencies, and will make decisions about how to allocate the city’s revenues. Although those decisions will be difficult, making difficult decisions is what the members of the City Council were elected to do.

Not only is submitting a child-friendly budget the statutory responsibility of the School Board, it also makes political sense. This year is an election year. No member of the City Council wants to run for reelection having voted to cut needed funding from Richmond Public Schools. Perhaps that is the reason that the council wants the School Board to make the cuts for it. Certainly, the mayor recognizes the importance of school funding in this election year. If you remember, back at the beginning of February, Mr. Wilder crashed a School Board meeting to talk about money for the schools. As reported in the Times-Dispatch:

Wilder told the board he thinks Superintendent Deborah Jewell-Sherman's budget proposal for next year, which has a $3.1 million shortfall, is a ploy designed to "cast me as that mean old nasty mayor" who once again has to cut school spending.

( The mayor apparently understands that whoever cuts funds from the budget of Richmond Public Schools this year will not be very popular with the voters.

So, as a citizen who cares about the future of the students in the City of Richmond, I urge the School Board to go “back to the drawing board” and prepare a budget that meets the children’s’ needs. If the School Board is not going to be “on the side of” our kids, who will?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Doug’s Replacement

For those of you weren’t reading yesterday, I must inform you that I have fired Doug Wilder as our city’s mayor. Of course, in our republican form of government, my decision to terminate Doug has to be confirmed by the voters of Richmond in an election in November. And, although Doug has not declared himself a candidate for reelection, this maven is sure that he won’t take my personnel action lying down. So, we citizens of Richmond must act to ensure that he actually vacates City Hall next January.

First, and most important, we must agree on Doug’s replacement. I am convinced that unless a single candidate emerges that we citizens can agree on, Doug’s contract will end up being extended. Already, blogger (and Doug’s former “Sancho Panza”) Paul Goldman has declared his candidacy. I am sure that other citizens will soon offer themselves as the “change” candidate to replace Doug. Unfortunately, a field of candidates as big as Doug faced in 2004 will guarantee his reelection. Those who truly care about the future of this city must be willing to suppress their own ambition and step aside for the one candidate that can actually be elected. But who is that candidate?

I am going to break a Richmond taboo and talk about race. Since I have been in Richmond, I have been repeatedly told that there is no racial “issue” in Richmond. Lots of people have told me that what I perceive as a racial divide in the city is really a split on economic lines. Being forever in the category of Richmond newcomer because I spent more than thirty five years of my life in Fairfax County, I am willing to defer to the views of those who are Richmond natives. However, I still must talk about race because Doug Wilder is a politician of race.

In his 1985 campaign to become the Commonwealth’s Lieutenant Governor, Mr. Wilder frequently used race to deflect criticism leveled against him. No matter what issue his opponent raised against him, Mr. Wilder’s standard response was that he was being singled out for criticism only because he was black. By the end of the campaign he had convinced many voters that if they voted for his opponent they would be perceived as racists.

In speaking before the Richmond Crusade for Voters in December, Mr. Wilder demonstrated that he is still able and willing to use race as an issue to unify and inspire his core supporters. At that meeting, Doug criticized the City Council, a majority of whose members are white, of “turning back the clock” by only having one black man with a vote on a council committee. (

This city does not need a political campaign in which race becomes a divisive issue. Yet, I fear that if the candidate against him this fall is white, Doug Wilder will make race a major issue. We have too many critical issues facing Richmond to allow ourselves to get bogged down in such a campaign. Therefore, I reluctantly conclude that the candidate to oppose Doug in the fall should be an African American. I say “reluctantly” because we as a community must relegate race to merely a historic issue. We must become a city in which Dr. King’s dream of a color-blind society becomes reality. I would love to see a campaign for mayor in which a candidate’s skin color is not even mentioned. But, I don’t think this is that year.

So, what do we need in the way of a successor to Doug? Most important, we need a uniter. Most of the damage that Doug Wilder has done in this city is a result of his “divide and conquer” style of politics. So Doug’s replacement must be someone with an ability to bring people together. S/he must be a person who sees fixing Richmond as requiring the cooperation of all the citizens of our fair city. S/he must have the word “compromise” in his/her vocabulary.

We need a person who has proven that s/he is a leader either in the public or private sector. A person’s success in managing a public or private entity would be evidence of such ability. The next mayor must be able to choose the right people to manage the city’s various agencies and must be able to step aside and let that person do his/her job. Doug’s replacement must be able to conduct the city orchestra but should not try to be a virtuoso on every instrument.

The next mayor must have a vision of where this city should be going. S/he must be able to distinguish between what our community needs and what would be nice if we had unlimited resources. Doug’s successor must understand that our number one need is a great school system and that resources applied to Richmond Public Schools are not expenditures but investments in our future. S/he needs to know that the perceived “inadequacy” of Richmond Public Schools is the number one cause of the city’s continuous hemorrhaging of its middle class to the suburbs.

We need a mayor that is not only honest, but can instill a sense of accountability in all city employees. Public servants must be taught that their job is essential to the public good. They need to realize that the money they spend (including their salaries) belongs to the taxpayers and they must be committed to using it properly.

Our mayor must be committed to the rule of law. S/he must not be a person who ignores the law when s/he finds it inconvenient or standing in the way of something s/he wants to do. Publicly displaying the attitude that s/he is above the law is likely to produce contempt for the law among our citizens.

So now, you’re probably asking, “Maven, who is the person that satisfies all your criteria?”

Well, dear reader, here is where I need a little help. I have only been in Richmond for a short time. I only know what I read in the TD and I just don’t know the names of all the players in our fair city. I am asking that you and other readers come forward with the names of people you think would make a good mayor. I urge you to think both within and outside the box. I have come up with a few names. I don’t know if any of them are available or even would want to be mayor of Richmond. But the time is drawing short and we must choose Doug’s successor before it is too late.

My short and long list (in no particular order):

Former Commonwealth’s Attorney David Hicks
Sheriff C.T. Woody
Police Chief Rodney Monroe
City Council Vice President Delores McQuinn
City Council Member Ellen Robertson
School Board Chair George Braxton
PTA President Tichi Pinckney-Epps
Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Preparing Doug’s Pink Slip

In 2004, when we the citizens of this fair city hired Doug Wilder to be our mayor we made a mistake. Of course we read his resume thoroughly, we interviewed him many times, and we checked his references. We honestly believed that he was the person to steer our city in the right direction. After more than three years on the job, however, it has become clear that Doug Wilder simply is not the mayor we thought he would be.

When we hired Doug, we thought we were filling the mayoral vacancy with a man who would lead our fair city by working in cooperation with the other parts of our government. Unfortunately, the past three years have demonstrated that Doug just can’t get along with others. Doug’s insistence that things in the city must be done his way has involved him in endless disputes with the City Council and its members, the School Board and its members, the Superintendent of Schools, the City Assessor and the City Auditor. Some of these disputes were merely inconveniences; others have resulted in this city being the subject of national ridicule and scorn.

Doug has had the same difficulty getting along with people and organizations outside the city government. He has antagonized leaders in surrounding jurisdictions by his attitude. He has forced his will on the Richmond Performing Arts Foundation. His insistence that things be done his way led to the Atlanta Braves moving their AAA baseball team out of Richmond.

Partly because of his attitude, Doug has not provided the city with the leadership we thought he would. By engaging in extended turf battles with the City Council and School Board, some of which have resulted in law suits, he has caused the leadership in the city to be pulling in different directions. Instead of seeking agreement with members of the City Council and School Board, and with officials who are not in his chain of command at City Hall, he has insisted that they must submit to his will. Naturally they have resented his patronizing attitude and have resisted doing as he demanded. The result has often been stalemate rather than progress for the city.

Aside from his lack of leadership and uncooperative attitude, Doug has failed to carry out his pledge to eliminate corruption and mismanagement in city government. Audits by the City Auditor reveal that large amounts of public money are still being wasted and stolen. Further last week’s report in the Richmond Times-Dispatch shows that Richmond spends more per resident on administrative overhead each year then do all but a few other jurisdictions in Virginia. Not surprisingly, our residents bear the tenth highest burden in taxes and fees in the entire Commonwealth, considerably higher than that paid by residents in all the surrounding jurisdictions. (See my post “Why do we pay more in Richmond?”-- )

When confronted with this information, City CFO Harry Black, who speaks for Doug on matters of money stated, “A lot of this stuff we inherited.” This would be an adequate defense if this were 2005 or 2006. However, after more than three years on the job, it is no longer acceptable to blame things on your predecessors.

Doug himself hints that it may take more than the time remaining in his current contract to finish his financial cleanup. As he stated at his Tuesday press conference,

“I want to tighten up on people and on processes. That takes time. A lot of it has to do with directors. A lot of it has to do with people in charge.”

The mayor didn’t explain why he has not done any of this tightening in the three years since he started his job. He also did not explain why he has been unable to find the right “people in charge” to fix the city’s finances between 2005 and 2008. He seemed to hint, however, that he may need to have his contract extended to get the job done.

Although Doug is lacking in the areas of leadership and ability to work with others, and he has failed to clean up city finances as he promised, we must recognize his accomplishments. The crime rate has gone down since Doug started the job. Doug’s role in reducing the crime rate was to choose an exemplary police chief (Rodney Monroe), give him public support, make sure the police department was adequately funded, and then step aside and let Chief Monroe do his job. It is unfortunate that Doug did not learn from this experience and apply this approach in other city operations.

For the reasons explained above, the City of Richmond cannot afford to retain Doug Wilder as its mayor. Four more years of Doug’s lack of leadership and inability to work with others could be disastrous for the city and its residents. There are far too many critical issues facing the city in the upcoming year. Based on his performance until now, it is clear Doug is not up to handling them. We need to replace Doug with a person who can get the job done.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Thanks for Explaining, Harry

After reading the story in this morning’s Times-Dispatch about the high cost of running the City of Richmond, I was going to award CFO Harry Black a chutzpah award. In his article, TD reporter David Ress indicated that

[t]here's more City Hall administrative overhead spending per resident in Richmond than anywhere else in the state outside high-salary Northern Virginia and a couple of tiny localities.

In response, Harry Black stated “A lot of this stuff we inherited.” Since the Wilder Administration has been in office for more than three years I thought it took a lot of chutzpah for Harry to blame the mess at City Hall on prior administrations. One would think that three years would be sufficient time for Doug Wilder and Harry Black to eliminate all that waste in city government that existed when they took office.

But, dear reader, after I thought about Harry’s comment for a while, I realized that he really does not deserve the award. You see, he was not trying to redirect blame. What Harry Black clarified with his statement is that when candidate Doug Wilder promised that if elected mayor he would clean up the “cesspool” in city government, he didn’t necessarily mean he would do it in his first term.

TD, Wrong Again

Okay, I know you’re going to ask me. Maven, why are you always picking on the Richmond Times-Dispatch? If you don’t like it, just cancel your subscription.

That is a fair question. The answer is, “I don’t know.”

But seriously, I criticize the TD because I want to see it become a great newspaper. A great community like Metro Richmond needs a paper worthy of its citizens. When the editors of the TD fail in being world class, this maven needs to let them know.

So what am I in a huff about now? It is yesterday’s editorial “Obama and Che.” This editorial reveals the editors’ lack of understanding and sensitivity with regard to a symbol that is terrifying to many African Americans. It also shows that even though Senator Obama has not yet captured the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination it is not too early for the TD to start branding him with the L word.

The editorial reads,

Barack Obama, whom National Journal ranks the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate, doesn't hold with American-flag lapel pins. He says they're a substitute for real patriotism.
On the other hand, he apparently doesn't mind the fact that workers in an Obama campaign office in Houston hung a big Cuban flag with Che Guevara's mug emblazoned on it. Obama's team says merely that the flag is "inappropriate."
It's a lot more than that. Guevara wasn't some romantic mystic reading poetry in an ashram. He was a terrorist who directed hundreds of show trials and executions. He overthrew one bloody dictatorship only to impose another.
A poster glorifying Che is the moral equivalent of a noose. Why can't Obama -- who likes to be thought of as a noble exception to political orthodoxy -- come out and say so?

I have only been a journalist since I started this blog a year and a half ago. Yet, it is obvious to me that the reference to the National Journal ranking Barack Obama as the most L member of the Senate has absolutely nothing to do with the subject of the editorial. The only reason I can see for it being there is to arouse negative feelings about Obama in those within the TD’s circulation area who consider liberals as a threat to truth, justice and the American way.

But it is the last paragraph of the editorial that mystifies me. How can any reasonable person suggest that a poster of Che Guevara is the “moral equivalent” of a noose? I was around in the 60s, so I know that Che wasn’t the Robin Hood figure he was portrayed as. He was a pretty nasty dude. Che had a large roll in turning the Cuban revolution into a reign of terror.* So, any person, especially one not even born in the 60s, who displays a poster glorifying Che as a hero probably doesn’t know “the rest of the story.” A noose as a symbol, however, is an entirely different matter.

Over the years, thousands of African Americans were murdered by being hanged. To generations of African Americans, especially men, it was not unreasonable to fear that their lives might end hanging from a tree with a noose around their necks. The threat of the noose was used to keep African Americans in line. Lately, when it has become fashionable for racists, or even those just playing pranks, to suspend nooses either in public places or in places close to a particular African American, the fear of the noose has been brought back. Displaying a noose is not only telling African Americans “we don’t like you,” it is also threatening that “we know how to deal with you.”

Clearly, a poster of Che is not the “moral equivalent” of a noose. A poster of Che hanging in one of Senator Obama’s campaign offices is clearly “inappropriate.” However, it is not even in the same ballpark as a noose.

*Calling him a “terrorist” is of course in the eye of the beholder. I am sure that George III considered Washington and the Continental Army as a band of terrorists (assuming he had ever heard of the word “terrorist.")

Friday, February 15, 2008

Smoking and Restaurants Redux

Well, it appears that the defenders of our freedoms have derailed legislation to ban smoking in restaurants and bars again this year. This is the fourth year in a row in which the few and the brave, who uphold your and my right to sicken and possibly kill the people at the next table, have triumphed. Obviously to these lovers of liberty—the Republican members of a House of Delegates subcommittee—the right of bar and restaurant owners to choose for themselves whether to allow smoking, and the right of smokers to continue to pollute the indoor air other diners breathe, is far more important than the health of nonsmokers being gassed by second hand smoke.

Some weeks back, I proposed a win-win solution to the smoking dilemma by suggesting a law that would require bar and restaurant owners to choose whether to be all smoking or all non-smoking. I thought that with such a solution the market would decide whether the proprietor chose to allow or disallow smoking. No business would be forced to ban smoking. Alas, possibly because of my limited circulation, no one picked up on my advice. Don’t think, however, that failure will discourage this maven.

I am a smoker who quit. In my youth I puffed and puffed because I thought it was cool. I remember when I started smoking. I was probably only about thirteen. My friends and I had a smoking party. Each of us bought one pack of cigarettes (actually the oldest of us purchased all of them with our money) and dumped the contents in a big bowl. Then we sat around playing pinochle and chain smoking cigarettes of random brands until the bowl was empty. (I bet the four of us cut down our collective life spans by at least twenty years that night.) In my twenties I switched from cigarettes to a pipe and finally, when I had children, I quit smoking completely. All those years of smoking, however, have affected me.When I am exposed to cigarette smoke I get a nasty headache and start feeling nauseous.

The maveness and I reside south of the James and the restaurants we frequent are mostly down here. Early after moving to Richmond, we decided to try out O’Toole’s, an Irish bar and restaurant on Forest Hill Avenue. O’Toole’s, like most restaurants in the city back then had separate smoking and non-smoking sections. Unfortunately, the two sections were separated only by space and smoke filled most of the restaurant. Long before our meal was served I was feeling sick from the smoke. I really don’t remember how the food was. My wife and I never went back . . . until last night.

Well, the owners of O’toole’s have become enlightened and made their establishment smoke free throughout. So, yesterday, Mr. and Mrs. Maven decided to try it again. It was a delightful dining experience; not only was the food good but I didn’t leave feeling sick. And, by the way, the ban on smoking didn’t seem to affect business; the place was crowded.

Another restaurant we like to visit is Liberty Valance, also on Forest Hill Avenue. When either the maveness or I start having that craving for red meat we go to Liberty Valance for steaks or barbecued beef ribs. Unfortunately, the owners of Liberty Valance have not seen the light. They still have separate smoking and non-smoking sections. Recently when we went to Liberty Valance the smell of smoke reached our table and I could notice the headache starting. We mentioned this to the server and suggested that the restaurant become smoke free. She said the owner was afraid of losing customers. Unfortunately, my love for Liberty Valance was diminished by our last visit and I’m not sure I’ll go back as long as they allow smoking.

Which leads me to my new suggestion. Why don’t all the non-smokers in Metro Richmond publicly declare a boycott of restaurants or bars that allow smoking? As indicated in the articles both in the TD and the Washington Post this morning, restaurant proprietors say they can’t ban smoking without a law requiring it because they fear losing customers. Well, why don’t we the non-smokers make it quite clear to them that merely setting up non-smoking sections is not enough. Let’s tell them that so long as they continue to permit smoking they will lose customers—us. Let them know that they just have to choose between the smokers and non-smokers. Let’s make it clear that we will no longer expose ourselves to discomfort and possible sickness just to eat or drink at their establishment. This may result in a bit of inconvenience for us. But unless we make it clear that allowing smoking will cost them more customers then will banning it, proprietors will continue to think they can have it both ways.

Mazel Tov, Jon

I was ecstatic yesterday when I read in the Times-Dispatch that fellow blogger Jon Baliles was hired by the city as a public relations manager for our beloved mayor. It made me hope that even the maven may some day be recognized for what he does for River City. According to the TD article, Jon will be paid about $69,000 a year for “help with event planning, writing and other communication duties in City Hall . . .”

In his blog entry announcing his hiring, Jon indicated that he would not be writing anything in his blog about city issues while he is on the public payroll. He added,

And who knows, when my contract is up in a few months, I might even return to this spot and fire it back up like a pack of Hell's Angel's.

Jon’s reference to Hell’s Angels clearly indicates that he and I are of a different generation. But his indication that his contract will be up “in a few months” left me thinking. Why would the mayor want to hire Jon, at an annual salary of about $69,000 a year, for only a few months? What could possibly be going on in the next few months that would require the mayor to temporarily put Jon on the city payroll?

This maven is an inquiring mind, and I want to know. So I took a look at my trusty calendar to see what is so important about the next few months? Can it be Mother’s Day or Memorial Day or Father’s Day or Independence Day or Labor Day or Columbus Day or . . . Hey, this is interesting: November 4, 2008 is Election Day. Now my mighty mind started chugging. We, the citizens of Richmond, elected Uncle Doug to be our mayor in 2004. He took office in January 2005. Since the mayor serves for a four year term, Uncle Doug will be leaving office in January 2009, unless . . . unless he is reelected on November 4, 2008.

Can this be it? Did our mayor hire Jon Baliles to help with his reelection campaign? Can he possibly be using tax payer money to pay someone whose sole responsibility will be to help him win a second term?

“No!” I say. Uncle Doug, who ran for mayor to clean up the cesspool of corruption at City Hall, could not possibly be using public funds to help insure his own reelection. That would be sort of . . . corruption. We taxpayers gladly pay out thousands of dollars to the city each year. We do so because we know that the government of River City is there to make our lives better. And, we do so with confidence that Uncle Doug is ever vigilant to make sure that our money will be properly spent. Uncle Doug knows that, even though his continuance in office is vital, spending public funds on his reelection would be wrong. So, I for one cannot believe that Jon Baliles’ job at City Hall will have anything to do with the mayor’s reelection.

So, Jon, have a good few months working in government. I will caution you as I have cautioned other public servants. The money you spend, including your own salary, is money you hold in trust for the citizens of Richmond. Don’t abuse their trust.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ti-ime Is On Her Side

If you’re coaching basketball and your team is looking winded and the other side has just run off ten or twelve unanswered points and clearly has all the momentum, it is time to make the “T” sign and call time-out. For Hillary Clinton, the time-out was built into the primary schedule and it came none too soon. With his string of wins, Barack Obama clearly had Clinton on the ropes, and if there were a bunch of primaries next week, his momentum may have overwhelmed her. But, because of the genius of various states in moving their primaries as far forward as possible, for the rest of this month the only delegates up for grab will be from Wisconsin, Hawaii, Guam and the Virgin Islands. (When, exactly, did we give Guam and the Virgin Islands any votes for president?)

So, now that she has been saved by the bell, what exactly can Senator Clinton do to take back the momentum? Of course she will pour all her energy and borrowed money into the big March prizes, Texas and Ohio. Hillary’s success this year has been mainly in the big states and she has reason to hope that that trend will continue. In Texas she expects to score high with Latinos, who until this past weekend were not particularly captivated by Barack Obama. In Ohio, she’s hoping that her Clinton name will bring back memories of the ‘90s and she’ll get the kind of support that Bill Clinton received in the Buckeye State.

But, I’m not sure that Hillary is only relying on recapturing the heart of the voters. Her strategy must include continued strong-arm tactics to gain the support of the “Super Delegates.” No, dear reader, these are not superheroes. Super delegates are elected officials and party bigwigs to whom the Democratic Party gives free passes to and votes at their quadrennial convention. Super delegates were introduced into the Democratic Party nominating process after the party’s defeat in the 1980 election. The theory was that super delegates were necessary to protect the party from the voters choosing a candidate who political pros thought was unelectable. It is clear that in the past the super delegates have saved the party from the folly of the electorate. In 1984, for example, the super delegates threw their support to Walter Mondale to avoid the party nominating the unelectable Gary Hart. So, even if Hillary doesn’t win big in Texas and Ohio, the fellow aspiring to be the country’s first “First Man” can continue to twist arms to get the supers to reject the will of the people.

That the party that was once called “The Democracy” should have such an undemocratic feature as super delegates seems rather strange to me. Do the voters really want elected and unelected party bigwigs dictating who the party’s nominee is? I fear that should Senator Obama win a significant number of the remaining primaries but be denied the nomination by the party’s super delegates the voters may rebel in November. Even though I’m not sure that the voters have done a better job in picking party nominees than did the old smoke-filled room method, I think it is too late to go back to a system in which party insiders choose the nominee regardless of the will of the voters.

Having said this, I think it is interesting to look at the numbers. As of today, Senator Obama has won 1112 delegates in primaries and caucuses compared to 978 won by Senator Clinton, giving him a lead of 134. However, among those super delegates who have expressed their preference, Clinton leads Obama 233 to 147, cutting Obama’s total lead to only 48. These numbers seem small, but in a nomination contest this close every delegate is important. So, both the Clinton and Obama campaigns will be working hard to convince the 337 super delegates that have not yet chosen to side with their candidate.

And then there is the question of Florida and Michigan. As you know the Democratic National Committee has “punished” these two states for violating party rules in moving up their primary dates by denying both states any delegates at the convention. I will not discuss the wisdom or fairness of disenfranchising Democratic voters in those states. The fact is that the DNC made this decision and it affected the decisions of the candidates to contest those state’s primaries. Obama campaigned in neither state and even had his name removed from the ballot in Michigan. The Democratic voters in those states who bothered voting gave Senator Clinton significant victories in what were meaningless elections. Or were they?

The DNC has been showing signs of backing down. Maybe it is worried about the image of nobody standing up at the convention when Florida and Michigan are called on a roll call. So, it has offered Democrats in those states the chance to regain their delegates by holding caucuses to choose them. As far as I know, neither state party has shown any interest in the DNC solution.

So, what happens now? Senator Clinton, who won both “meaningless” primaries, is urging that the Florida and Michigan delegates, most pledged to her, be seated. Senator Obama and his supporters object that this is unfair because he did not contest those states because of the DNC decision. Undoubtedly, unless some other solution is found, this dispute will have to be decided at the convention. The delegates that Senator Clinton “won” in the Michigan and Florida primaries will show up and demand to be seated. Whether or not those delegates are seated may ultimately be decided by a vote of the already seated delegates.

And, what about the courts? Undoubtedly, some voters in either or both Michigan and Florida are going to march up to their local United States District Court and ask that the judge order that delegates from their state be seated at the Democratic National Convention. (A United States District Court in Florida has already dismissed a suit by Florida Senator Bill Nelson to force the Democratic National Committee to seat delegates to be elected in Florida’s primary. Nelson v. Dean, No. 4:07cv427-RH/WCS (N.D. Fla. Dec. 14, 2007)). The precedents may favor the right of the party to control the method of selecting its nominees but a lawsuit would sure be messy.

I see no fair way of settling this dispute. If the decision of the DNC is upheld, the Democratic voters of Florida and Michigan are deprived of representation at the convention. If, on the other hand, the decision is reversed, Senator Clinton will derive an unfair advantage because the delegates in Florida and Michigan were not won in contested elections.

So, dear reader, there is certainly reason for Senator Clinton to be optimistic. She can fight the election battle for delegates in Texas and Ohio without being overwhelmed by Senator Obama’s momentum. She can win over a significant majority of the 337 uncommitted super delegates. And, she can find some way to get those Florida and Michigan delegates seated. For political junkies like this maven, this year is turning out to be a real blast.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

To Serve and Protect Gotham

In October, when the maveness and I attended James Taylor’s concert benefiting Genworth Children’s Advantage Classic, I noticed that Uncle Doug, our beloved mayor, was talking intimately with Metro Richmond’s finest citizens. From my vantage point, about a dozen rows above the floor at the Siegel Center, I kept an eye on Mr. Wilder for about ten minutes until the houselights were dimmed and James Taylor walked on stage. From then on this maven was totally blown away by Taylor’s performance. I did notice, however, that after only two or three songs, Doug Wilder got up from his seat and left the arena. At the time I wondered why our mayor would leave such a delightful concert. I speculated that perhaps Doug’s chauffeur had another engagement, or that it was a long drive back to Mr. Wilder’s James River ranch, or, even more likely, that Uncle Doug, being part of the ever growing senior population, was growing tired after a tough day. (You who are still under sixty wouldn’t understand.)

Well, dear reader, after reading a letter in the Times-Dispatch this morning (February 13), I find that I must extend my apologies to Uncle Doug. I now know that he left the arena to carry on the city’s business. The letter, which the TD entitled “Reader Has Total Faith In Mayor,” indicated that the

“No. 1 thing that Richmonders were screaming for was the reduction of crime. He has delivered on that.”

All this time, this doubting maven has been thinking that the reduction in crime in the city was attributable to the marvelous job being done by Police Chief Rodney Monroe and his fine officers. I was clearly wrong. Now I know it was . . .


It’s a cold December night in Gotham Richmond. Suddenly all of downtown is lit up by glaring lights. They say it’s the Grand Illumination, but it is really the Doug Signal that is lighting up downtown. Nearby, two thugs have just finished robbing a branch of Bank of America. As they emerge and run toward their getaway car, two caped figures drop on ropes from the Dougcopter hovering over the city. It is the dynamic duo of Bat Doug and his faithful sidekick Robin Black. With a POW and a SWAT Bat Doug and Robin B put the thugs down. Two more criminals are gone from Richmond. Bat Doug triumphs again over the forces of evil!

But, Maven, you ask. What about Rodney Monroe? Why is it that the press and the media give him all the credit for reducing crime in River City?

Dear reader, you must know that all super heroes must protect their identities. The Rodney Monroe that you see in the papers or on TV is really just a manikin. It is Bat Doug that is cleaning up the city. “Rodney” is just a cover for our caped crusader.

The writer of our letter goes on:

“The amazing thing to me is that nobody gives the mayor credit for the fraud he has uncovered. His uncovering of the gasoline fraud was worth $400,000—and that’s just what we know about.”

Again this maven and the press and the media were wrong. We thought all this fraud was revealed by City Auditor Umesh V. Dalal and his minions of bean counters. But it was really our super hero. . .


In broad daylight, two city workers are driving a personal car to D.C. to take in the Nationals game. (No minor leaguers these two!) They stop on Brook Road to fuel up the car before getting on I-95. The driver uses his Richmond City gasoline card to pay for the purchase. Suddenly from out of nowhere a red and blue flash streaks across the sky. Sticky webbing shoots down and ensnares the two frauders. Spider Doug swings down on his own web and snatches up the villains. The nine members of the City Council look on in disbelief. For years they have been trying to track down the gasoline fraud, without success. Only the truly heroic Spider Doug was up to the task and was able to stop this fraud.

But maven, you ask. What about Mr. Dalal and his band of auditing brothers? Didn’t he write the audit report that revealed the gasoline fraud?

Faithful reader, again you have been tricked by our hero’s perfect charade. Umesh Dalal and all those auditors are, you guessed it, manikins. It is Spider Doug and only Spider Doug who has laid these miscreants low.

So, citizens of Greatest Richmond, you can sleep tonight feeling safe. Have no fear. . . Doug is here.

Oh Bama

I know all of you are waiting with baited breath for the maven’s endorsement in the Democratic Party race for the presidential nomination. Well, you better restart the old inhale-exhale routine, ‘cause I ain’t gonna change my previous endorsement of Bill Richardson. Now that the Governor is out of the race, I will endorse nobody. (My endorsement seems to be the kiss of death, so I’m not sure either of the remaining candidates really wants it.) However, I will continue my on-line debate with myself over who will make the best president.

I spend some of my spare time tutoring in Richmond Public Schools as part of the Micah Initiative. Somehow, I got into a political discussion Monday with some fifth graders, all of whom were African Americans. They each urged me to vote for Senator Barack Obama so that we could have our first black president. I tried to explain to them, without much success, that I would vote for the best qualified person, and that I didn’t care whether that person was black or white, male or female. Paraphrasing Martin Luther King, Jr., I urged them to judge people by their character not by the color of their skin. As I said in my piece about Hillary Clinton Monday, I will not vote for or against her because she is a woman. Likewise, I will not vote for or against Senator Obama because of the color of his skin.

So, let’s not beat around the bush (no pun intended). Let’s get straight to the experience issue because that is the one that concerns me. As I indicated Monday, I don’t buy this argument by Senator Clinton that she has “thirty five years” experience and that therefore she will “hit the ground running” on January 20 of next year. However, I am a bit concerned that up until the Democratic convention in 2004 I had never even heard of Barack Obama. His government experience before then was in the Illinois Senate. In 2005, only about three years ago, he began his term in the United States Senate. So, how much government experience is necessary before a person is qualified to be president?

When the media and some of Barack’s opponents raised the experience issue earlier in the campaign, I immediately thought of Abraham Lincoln. Under the standards being applied to Senator Obama, Lincoln was not qualified to be president. Before running for president in 1860, Lincoln had held only two government positions—four terms in the Illinois legislature and a single term in the United States House of Representatives. And, I am sure that most of the country had never heard of him before the 1860 Republican Convention. Each of Lincoln’s opponents in the election—Stephen Douglas, John Breckenridge and John Bell—had more experience in the Federal Government than did Lincoln. Yet Abraham Lincoln is consistently judged as one of our best presidents.*

(I wrote the stuff above before I knew the results of the primary elections in the Commonwealth, Maryland and the District of Columbia).

Those of you with a phenomenal memory are aware that last summer I opined that being a member of a legislature, whether state or federal, does not provide a person with the type of experience that prepare him/her for being president. ( I stated then that being a legislator does not develop the executive and managerial skills that a president needs.

It is apparent to me, however, that, unless Mike Huckabee pulls off a miracle of biblical proportions, our next president will be a person with only legislative—not executive or managerial—experience. This year, for only the third time since the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution, we will be electing an incumbent United States Senator to be our President.

I have been thinking long and hard on this issue of experience. Perhaps the truth is that there is no amount or type of previous experience that will adequately prepare someone to be President of the United States. When the inauguration parties are over next January and the next president sits down alone in the Oval Office, I imagine that s/he will be swept by a feeling of inadequacy. This job is so big and so difficult that even I would feel inadequate, and I am a trained maven. I don’t think that anyone watching presidents from the Capitol across town or even close up as a spouse or White House staffer can ever know what it is like to be president (except, of course, for those of us who watched “The West Wing” for years.) I think that even a vice president isn’t necessarily better qualified to be president for having served in the number two position. It is hard to say, for example, that either Harry Truman or Lyndon Johnson was a better president because he served as vice president before fate elevated him to the White House. (I think that the voters know that too. Since 1960, only one of four vice presidents who sought to succeed to the presidency won the election).

So, does Hillary Clinton’s seven years in the Senate make her more qualified to be president than Barack Obama’s three years in the Senate? This maven is not ready to say so. I think that either of them will have to spend a great deal of time learning should s/he be elected. Nobody is going to “hit the ground running.” Hopefully, history will be kind to whoever is elected our next president and the mistakes s/he makes during those first few months in office will be minor ones.

But wait, maven. You didn’t say who you voted for on Tuesday.

Dear reader, in this country we have a secret ballot. Who I, or any other person, vote for is nobody else’s business. That’s why there is a curtain you can close when you walk into the voting booth (or at least there used to be). But, I will say that I did not vote for Bill Richardson.

* This judgment is one of hindsight. We know that the North won the Civil War and we give Lincoln credit for preserving the Union. However, Lincoln was not so popular during his presidency. In fact, the public’s opinion of Lincoln’s performance during the first year and a half of his presidency was so low that had he run for reelection in May or June of 1863, rather than in November 1864, there is a strong chance that he would have been defeated.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Something About Hillary

Tomorrow is the presidential primary here in the Old Dominion, and it’s put up or shut up time for this maven. You may remember that when Bill Richardson dropped out of the race several weeks ago I promised to vote for him anyway as the most qualified candidate. At the time, I expected that by the second week in February the nomination would already be wrapped up and I could cast my vote for Richardson as a protest. Well, to the delight of the Times-Dispatch editors, the way Virginia votes tomorrow could really affect the outcome of the nomination fight (at least for the Democrats) and so I have to decide who to vote for.

The maveness has been a devoted follower of Hillary Clinton’s run for the White House for more than a year. She has told me that before she dies (which I pray will be many years in the future) she wants to see a woman elected as President of the United States. I can understand how she and many other women feel. In our country’s two hundred thirty years there have been many women who could have provided great leadership but were denied the opportunity to run for president. And, clearly, many of the men we have elected to be numero uno have been pretty mediocre. So, I do agree with my wife that it’s about time for a woman to be president.

However, just as I wouldn’t vote against a candidate because she is a woman, I will not vote for one on those grounds either. I will evaluate a candidate’s experience and policies and leadership ability and will vote for that candidate regardless of his/her sex.

Senator Clinton’s campaign has focused on her experience. I must have heard her brag about her “thirty five years” of experience at least twenty times. So what exactly was Hillary doing during those thirty five years? Thirty five years ago was 1973. In 1973, Hillary Clinton graduated from Yale Law School. According to her bio on the Washington Post’s website (, Hillary’s first job was as a staffer for the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives where she worked for one year. After that she served for one year on the faculty of the University of Arkansas Law School. She then was employed by the Rose law firm in Little Rock where she worked from 1976 through 1992. Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton’s husband was elected Governor of Arkansas and so from 1979 to 1981 and then from 1983 through 1993 she was the First Lady of Arkansas. When her husband became President of the United States in 1993, Hillary Clinton became First Lady of the United States. Most recently, with the expiration of Bill Clinton’s second term as president, Mrs. Clinton was elected United States Senator from New York. She has served in the Senate from 2001 until the present.

Every moment of people’s lives will affect them in whatever job they perform, including being President of the United States. So all of Hillary’s personal and professional life will mold what kind of president she may be. However, Senator Clinton claims that there is something special about the last thirty five years that make her particularly qualified to be president.

We can discount her first two jobs out of law school, as a congressional staffer and as a law school “faculty member,” as having no real relevance to being president. I’m also not sure how her years with the Rose law firm make her any more qualified to be president than thousands of other attorneys practicing law for influential law firms throughout the country. So, the thirty five years of experience upon which Senator Clinton bases her claim to the White House must really be the twelve years she was the governor’s wife in Arkansas and the eight years she was the president’s wife in Washington, D.C. (and, of course, the seven years that she has served as the Junior Senator from New York).

There have been some very influential first ladies in our country’s history. It is said, for example, that after Woodrow Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke in 1919, Edith Wilson was acting as president for the remainder of his term. This may be the truth, or it may be more legend than fact. Eleanor Roosevelt, as first lady, was so active in government matters that she became a political actor in Washington almost independent of her husband. Some would say that Mrs. Roosevelt served at least as significant a role in motivating the country to get through the Depression and World War II then did President Roosevelt.

There have been other first ladies who came to Washington with a passion to accomplish some public good during their tenure, in addition to their purely ceremonial role as hostess of the White House. Rossalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush have all accomplished much as First Lady.

But Senator Clinton argues that her tenures as First Lady first of Arkansas and then of the United States provided her with the type of experience that would enable her to “hit the ground running” on January 20, 2009. I find it hard to buy her assertion.

It is true, that Bill Clinton assigned more responsibility to his wife than did other presidents. For example, he appointed her chair of the President’s Council on Health Care Reform. In that roll she became only the third first lady to testify before a committee of the Congress. However, as I remember it, the recommendations that came out of that council were so controversial that the president decided not to push for its passage. Mrs. Clinton continued engaged in various political issues and lobbied successfully for the passage of several significant programs during her tenure as first lady. But, I still have not heard how any of her experiences as first lady are relevant to being president.

It is true that Hillary and Bill Clinton lived together in the White House residence. This provided them the opportunity to discuss public policy issues and the president often asked for his wife’s advice. However, this factor is not unique to the Clintons. All of the presidents and first ladies shared the White House residence and many of the presidents discussed public policy with their wives.

Regardless of how much responsibility her husband may have given her, we need to remember that being first lady is not close to being the president. First ladies are not responsible for leading the Executive Branch of government. First ladies do not serve as Commander in Chief of United States military forces. First ladies do not make foreign or domestic policy decisions. They do not make appointments to the Cabinet or the federal courts. They do not negotiate treaties with foreign governments. They do not have the awesome (or awe full) responsibility of controlling our nation’s nuclear arsenal. In short, for first ladies, the buck does NOT stop here.

So, in this maven’s mind, the only experience that Senator Clinton has that would relate to her being President of the United State is the seven years she has served in the United States Senate. No matter whether I count with a calculator or on my fingers, this does not amount to “thirty five” years experience.

But, dear reader, although her claim to all that experience bothers me, it is not the major problem I have with Senator Clinton. Look, I have no doubt as to her leadership abilities. I have seen her performance in the campaign during this past year and I am convinced that she has the ability to be president. I approve of most of her policy positions. In fact, I find it very hard to explain objectively what it is about Hillary that leaves me feeling uneasy. This is particularly bothersome to a maven, who should be making decisions based on objective criteria, not based on feelings.

Perhaps my feeling is that the Hillary Clinton we have been seeing since this campaign began is not the real Hillary Clinton. It seems that Hillary Clinton the presidential candidate is a carefully rehearsed character. There is just something about Hillary that doesn’t seem genuine. It is clear that she is extremely intelligent. She seems to come up with the right answers to most of the questions that the media and her opponents have thrown at her. But I have the feeling that the views she expresses are not necessarily her own; they seem more the consensus opinion by all her advisors of what she should be saying.

On top of that, I have the feeling that there is something about Hillary that is being hidden from us. It’s like the ads for the product are all well thought out and well presented but there is something that they’re not telling us. Maybe this feeling I have is leftover from the bitter taste I had during the last years of Bill Clinton’s presidency. Although I do believe that much of the aura of scandal that floated around the Clintons during their tenure in the White House was manufactured by those who couldn’t abide Bill Clinton being president, I am still upset by President Clinton’s behavior with respect to Monica. Not only did he lack the ability to keep his pants zipped up in the Oval Office, but when he was caught he lied about it, both in a sworn deposition and in a televised statement to the American people.

Perhaps it is unfair of me to have my feelings about Bill Clinton prejudice my feelings toward Hillary. I would really like to be able to judge her candidacy purely on the facts. But I just can’t seem to do that. There is just something about Hillary . . .

Friday, February 08, 2008

Hillary’s Loan

The news that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign cupboard was bare and that Senator Clinton had to loan five million dollars to her campaign left me with a couple of questions.

1- According to Senator Clinton’s December 31, 2007, disclosure statement filed with the Federal Election Commission her campaign had raised about one hundred five million dollars. Of that amount, the campaign had spent about seventy eight million dollars, leaving an end-of-year balance of about thirty eight million dollars. Less than six weeks later, her campaign had spent so much money that the senator had to loan it five million dollars of her own funds. So, if Senator Clinton did such a bad job controlling her campaign spending, why should we expect her to be any better in controlling government spending should she become president?

2- How exactly does a person who has spent the last sixteen years as a public servant (as First Lady and United States Senator) manage to accumulate so much money that she has five million dollars laying around to loan to her campaign? It seems like a lot of pocket change to me.

Doug, the Hypocrite

“I’m asking for accountability. I’m asking for you to show me, as a taxpayer, how you can save some money before you ask for more.”
L. Douglas Wilder at School Board meeting February 4, 2008

For more than three years River City’s beloved chief executive has been lambasting the School Board and Superintendent Deborah Jewell-Sherman for failing to eliminate wasteful spending in Richmond Public Schools. He has withheld funding and he has insisted on no-growth budgets (which with rising costs really amounts to cuts.) He constantly waves around last year’s audit of RPS insisting that the Board and Superintendent are wasting twenty million dollars every year.

Well, it appears to me that the mayor doth protest too much. All of his noise about how badly the schools are administered is just a smokescreen to hide his own failure to fix the mess at City Hall. Citizens of Richmond might remember that His Excellency ran for mayor promising to clean up the “cesspool” of waste and corruption in our government. Yet, based on audit reports of his own Administration, it seems that Mr. Wilder talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk with regard to wasteful and illegal government spending. Millions of dollars are wasted at City Hall and all the mayor can do is put on his charming smile and ask for accountability by RPS.

Having spent most of my professional career examining the spending of public funds, I have learned that government accountability must begin at the top. If the head of an agency does not show, both in words and actions, that s/he insists on the lawful and efficient use of taxpayer money, it’s just not gonna happen. I have seen far too many public officials forget that the money they administer belongs to the taxpayers and that they cannot use it any way they want.

Considering how Mr. Wilder has acted, it is no wonder that people in his administration treat public money as their own. He has set the example by ignoring the law to accomplish his objectives--

Last year, because the audit of Richmond Public Schools by the city auditor didn’t show as much fraud, waste and abuse as the mayor wanted, he entered into an illegal “emergency” contract to audit RPS. Clearly, auditing RPS did not qualify as an “emergency” under the city’s procurement laws. Further, the contract was made using funds that the City Council had appropriated for a different purpose.

Mr. Wilder also directed that funds that were appropriated for Richmond Public Schools be withheld until the School Board bowed down to his demands for a second school audit. The mayor had no authority to withhold funds from RPS and his action usurped the School Board’s statutory responsibility to “manage and control the funds made available to the school board for public schools.” Code of Virginia, section 22.2-89. (The court decision on this issue did not establish that the mayor had such authority. The court ruled only that the School Board had failed to demonstrate that the mayor’s action caused them irreparable injury.)

The mayor also ordered the after-business removal of RPS’s administrative offices from City Hall, costing the city tons of money. Mr. Wilder ignored the fact that the funds that he used to effectuate the move were appropriated for another purpose. Mr. Wilder also ignored the basic rights of Richmond citizens by directing that they not be admitted to City Hall to attend a School Board meeting held the night of the move. It took the intervention of the courts to prevent the completion of the eviction.

Besides his unlawful actions, the mayor has used his bully pulpit to deceive the citizenry into believing that they pay higher taxes because of RPS’s wasteful spending. In speeches and in his vision newsletter last year Mr. Wilder tried to stir up the public’s wrath against the School Board by claiming that increased real estate assessments were the direct result of wasteful spending in the schools. Aside from the fact that real estate assessments are based on the housing market and have nothing to do with the level of city spending, the mayor ignored the fact that he has frozen school spending. Information I got from the city’s website shows that although total city spending is going up, spending for our schools is constant.

Fiscal Year.....City Spending.........School Spending
2007...............$617.6 million........$161.3 million
2008..............$639.2 million........$160 million
2009..............$654.1 million.........$161.6 million

So, if we in the City of Richmond are paying more taxes than we did when Mr. Wilder took office, it sure isn’t school spending that is the problem.

Mr. Wilder, as a citizen and taxpayer, "I am asking for accountability" by you and your administration. I am demanding that you "show me how you can save some money" before you ask me for more and more. Mr. Mayor, since you obviously are unable to curb wasteful and unlawful spending in your own administration, I suggest you stop throwing stones at the School Board and Dr. Jewell-Sherman.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Robbing Peter and Paul to Pay Us

I generally don’t respond to comments made on my posts. If they are not obscene or just an ad for something I will publish them. I then figure that you, oh trusted reader, can compare my post with the comment and make up your own mind. But there was a comment to my post yesterday that I can’t allow to go unchallenged. (I hope I’m not opening a can of worms by ignoring my policy).

Yesterday, I attacked George W. Bush for submitting a budget to the Congress that provides for an increase of over four hundred billion dollars in our national debt. If you are a regular reader you know that our continuous practice of levying taxes on our descendents by spending more money than we have is something I cannot abide. We have been on a disastrous spending binge since 1981 (with the exception of the last two years of the Bill Clinton years) and nobody seems to care. Our national debt has gone from less than one trillion dollars when Ronald Reagan took office to over nine trillion dollars after only six years of W’s White House.

So what exactly did our commenter say that has the maven so upset? Read on:

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with deficits--in fact, running some defect [sic] makes sense because our children will be much richer than we are.

Now if someone wants to tell me that we need a certain amount of debt because United States Treasury securities are a needed avenue of investment in the world, I will agree. If someone tells me that at times there are emergencies that require the government to spend more money than it has, I will agree. If someone tells me that, since the Federal Government does not have separate capital and operating budgets, a certain amount of borrowing to invest in buildings and infrastructure is proper, I will agree. However, when someone says it is okay to push the cost of our gluttonous consumption to future generations because they “will be much richer than we are,” I must blow the whistle and yell “foul.”

In many of my posts on the national debt I have been quoting Thomas Jefferson. So it is likely that I used this one before. In an 1816 letter to John Taylor, Jefferson said,

I sincerely believe... that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity under the name of funding is but swindling futurity on a large scale.

I think old TJ said it better than even this maven could. By running up monstrous debt to avoid paying for what we consume, we are stealing from our children and grandchildren. It is that simple. But our commenter justifies this theft on the grounds that our children and grandchildren will be rich.

As Charlie Brown would say, “Arrgghhhh!” To even suggest that it makes sense to steal from our children because they will be richer than us is down right immoral. It’s like Willie Sutton saying it was okay for him to rob banks because they could afford it.* This is like Robin Hood but with a twist. We are stealing from the “rich” and keeping it. Besides being immoral, it might not even be true. Continuing to increase our debt will have disastrous effects on our economy in the years ahead and our descendants might just find themselves wishing they had as much as their grandparents did.

If we’re going to continue to steal from future generations lets not justify it as being good for them. Let’s at least have the decency to confess that we have a terrible consumption addiction and that we just don’t feel like paying for it ourselves. Let’s admit that we refuse to live within our means and that it would just be too inconvenient and costly to increase taxes to pay for what we use.

* Willie Sutton was a notorious bank robber and prison escaper of the years of my youth. When asked by a reporter why he robbed banks, Willie replied, “That’s where the money is.”

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Republicans Sure Ain’t Conservative With Federal Checkbook

George W. Bush revealed his final budget on Monday and it sure proves that Mr. Bush is a real fiscal conservative. W’s budget, if adopted by the Congress would add over four hundred billion dollars to the Federal Government’s debt. However, in his uncanny ability to talk doubletalk, Mr. W wants us to believe that this is a conservative budget. He also expects us to believe his incredible prediction that the federal budget will actually have a surplus by 2012.

All the pundits tell us that Mr. Bush’s legacy will be the war in Iraq. This maven, however, thinks the war will be second on Bush's disaster list. W's number one disaster will be that by the time he leaves office he will have added more than three and a half TRILLION dollars to our national debt. Dear reader, as of close of business yesterday, our beloved government owes about nine trillion, two hundred billion dollars to its creditors around the world. And Mr. Bush proposes to add another half trillion by the time he leaves office.

George W. Bush is obviously NOT a fiscal conservative. And for those of you who think his policies are a break with previous presidents of his party, you better think again. Let’s look at a few facts. First a few caveats. This information I took from the Treasury Department is on a fiscal year basis. Therefore, the debt each year is as of September 30, which is obviously not the date that a president takes office. Further, looking at debt figures over a period of more than twenty-five years we really should make adjustments for inflation. If you, loyal reader, wish to do those inflations adjustments go right ahead. I‘m too lazy. Oh, I rounded to the nearest million.

Ronald Reagan..........Debt in 1981......$997,855,000,000

George H. W. Bush...Debt in 1989.. $2,857,430,000,000

Bill Clinton................Debt in 1993... $4,411,448,000,000

George W. Bush.......Debt in 2001... $5,807,463,000,000

Debt as of 9/30/07........................... $9,007,653,000,000

Looking at this chart, keep in mind that the starting debt figure for a new president is the ending figure for his predecessor. Therefore, the presidents added approximately this amount to our national debt:

Reagan.... $1,859 billion in eight years
Bush I..... $1,554 billion in four years
Clinton.... $1,396 billion in eight years
Bush II.... $3,200 billion in six years

So, how did the conservative Republican Party produce so many presidents who can’t balance the federal checkbook? Remember what George Herbert Walker Bush called “Voodoo Economics” when he ran against Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination in 1980? Reagan’s economic theory, which has been followed by the two Republican presidents after him, is that if you reduce the federal tax rate the economy will expand so much that there will actually be an increase in revenue to the government. The more than six and a half trillion dollars that the three Republicans presidents have added to our national debt since 1981 clearly demonstrates that Papa Bush was right in calling this Voodoo Economics. Unfortunately, our grandchildren will still be paying off this Republican fiasco in thirty or forty years.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Oops! I Blew It

Yesterday, I reported that House Bill 14, that would bar undocumented aliens from Virginia's public colleges and universities, had passed the House of Delegates. I learned from the TD this morning that what I thought was a final vote on Friday was merely a preliminary vote. I am sorry for the mistake.

President Bush, Mayor Wilder, Hillary Clinton, and other politicians. The above is an example of an apology. It accepts responsibility without making excuses or trying to place the blame on others.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Be Gone You Wascally Cwitters!

Dear Cardinals, Finches, Wrens, Woodpeckers and other residents of my backyard,

I regret to inform you that hundreds, perhaps thousands of red winged blackbirds and their fellow travelers—starlings and grackles—have invaded our land. They have been pillaging everything, including the food I have put out for you. I hope there is some provision of avian law that will allow you to oust them because they simply ignore me. I regret any inconvenience.


Is Repression Coming to Virginia?

When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger that resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself . . . I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 19:33-34

I was distressed to see that the anti-Hispanic legislative package being pushed by the “help-save” groups* in the General Assembly is moving forward. House Bill 14, sponsored by Republican Christopher Peace, which provides that:

“an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible for admission to any public institution of higher education in Virginia,”

easily passed the House of Delegates today.

HB 14 is just one of myriad bills introduced in the General Assembly (mainly in the House of Delegates) designed to make Virginia very inhospitable both to undocumented aliens and to non-English speakers. Aside from barring undocumented aliens from Virginia colleges and universities, the “help-save” sponsored legislation would 1- require a photo ID in order to vote; 2-create a state fine for occupying a residence with more people than allowed by local ordinance; 3- provide that someone caught driving without a license would be arrested and fingerprinted and would have his/her vehicle confiscated; 4- deny bail to undocumented aliens in certain cases; 5- make it an “unfair labor practice” to hire undocumented aliens; 6- ban state contractors from hiring these aliens; 7- grant immunity to Commonwealth law enforcement officers attempting to enforce federal immigration laws; 8- require the governor to enter into an agreement with the Federal Government allowing Virginia to enforce immigration laws; 9- require that non-English-speaking defendants pay for the cost of a translator if they are convicted; 10- require Virginia correctional institutions to obtain, maintain and share data on the immigration status of all inmates; 11- prohibit localities in the Commonwealth from providing any public benefits to persons who are not citizens or otherwise legally in the United States; 12- prohibit state or local agencies from providing information in any language other than English (with some exceptions); 13- require that both written and driving tests for drivers be conducted exclusively in English; 14- provide that employees may be fired with restricted eligibility for unemployment compensation if they speak a language other than English in violation of employer policy.

If you ask me friends, this rather unfriendly treatment of some of our residents is kind of strange for a state that may adopt as its new state song a ditty with the following words:

We hold this truth self-evident: All men are equal!
This gift you gave, Mother of Presidents, it lights our way!
It's our heritage, our charge to keep, for we are proud to be:
In Virginia! Our Virginia! The cradle of our liberty!

Now, before I go any further, let me respond to the comments that will inevitably be posted when I publish this peace—What part of “illegal” don’t you understand? Well, dear reader, after three years in law school and more than thirty years practicing law I do understand the word “illegal.” However, the sloganeers don’t understand that the mere fact that a person’s behavior is illegal does not mean we can subject them to whatever indignities we choose. Hey, every day I see scores of “illegals”—persons who are driving their motor vehicles at excessive speed on our highways. I also see many people pedaling their bikes across the nearby Boulevard Bridge despite a sign saying “bicycle riding on this bridge is prohibited by law.” Does anybody suggest that these illegals be denied education, jobs, public benefits, places to live, and many other basic human amenities? Why is it that your obsession with making law violators unwelcome in Virginia applies only to those who violate section 1325 of title 8 of the United States Code? Let’s face it, the restrictions and deprivations that the proposed legislation would place on undocumented aliens are far in excess of what we do for convicted felons when they are released from jail. This proposed legislation constitutes the equivalent of the Nuremburg laws for undocumented aliens and residents who speak languages other than English.

Although the Constitution is silent on the question of immigration it does grant to the United States Congress exclusive jurisdiction over naturalization of citizens. Article I, section 8, clause 4 of the Constitution states that the Congress shall have the power to “establish a uniform rule of naturalization . . .” In 1817, the Supreme Court in Chirac v. Lessee of Chirac ruled that “the power of naturalization is exclusively in congress,” regardless of any state laws to the contrary. Since it makes as little sense to have a country with fifty state laws on immigration as it does to have fifty state laws on naturalization, the Congress has exercised the power to legislate in this area. Congressional laws on immigration are contained in Chapter 12 of Title 8 of the United States Code.

To enforce the immigration laws the Congress has provided that

Any alien who
(1) enters or attempts to enter the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers, or
(2) eludes examination or inspection by immigration officers, or
(3) attempts to enter or obtains entry to the United States by a willfully false or misleading representation or the willful concealment of a material fact, shall, for the first commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both, and, for a subsequent commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18, or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both.

8 U.S.C. 1325(a). This section also provides for civil penalties for these aliens in addition to the criminal fines. The Congress has also provided statutory penalties for those who help undocumented aliens enter the country and those who employ undocumented aliens. The law further provides for systems for determining whether aliens are lawfully in the country. Finally, in addition to the criminal and civil penalty provisions, the law provides:

Any alien who is present in the United States in violation of this chapter or any other law of the United States, or whose nonimmigrant visa (or other documentation authorizing admission into the United States as a nonimmigrant) has been revoked under section 1201(i) of this title, is deportable.

8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(1)(b).

The Congress cannot enforce the immigration laws. Only the president under his constitutional duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,” can enforce these laws. If there is a serious immigration problem in this country there are two possible reasons; either the laws are inadequate or the president (through the agencies of his administration) has not adequately enforced them. The solutions to the problem are either to amend the immigration laws to make them tougher or to insist that the president do his job. Both of these solutions are within the purview of the Federal Government, not the government of the Commonwealth.

As an attorney, I am committed to the rule of law. I strongly believe that, if the legislature, whether federal, state or municipal, enacts a law. it is the duty of the executive in that jurisdiction to enforce that law. When even minor laws go unenforced the citizens develop contempt for the law. This just leads to more lawlessness.

Assuming for a second that their motivation is genuine, not political or racist, the “help-save” groups have despaired of the federal government solving the immigration problem. They have decided that the General Assembly can solve the immigration problem in Virginia by making living in Virginia so tough for undocumented aliens that they will leave and go elsewhere. The “help-save” people don’t care whether the aliens leave the country or move to North Carolina or West Virginia. What is crucial is that they not live “in my neighborhood.”

Regardless of their motivation, we must reject the “help-save” approach. First they are advocating that the General Assembly usurp the power of the Federal Government by adding penalties to the violation of federal law beyond those specified by the Congress. Second the range of the “help-save” proposals is so wide as to trample on the rights of United States citizens and lawful aliens. Third, the “help-save” proposals would remove from undocumented aliens such basic human rights as a place to live, the right to work, and education. Using the “help-save” approach to solving the undocumented alien problem is sort of like using a howitzer to eliminate the pesky squirrel in your backyard. Sure the varmint is gonna be dead but there’s also gonna be a whole lot of collateral damage.

You need to know that several of my friends have told me that my position on this immigration issue is too liberal. I have been told that having so many undocumented aliens in the Commonwealth creates serious problems. I have been told that “they” take services from our state and local government without paying taxes. STOP! Do not undocumented aliens buy bread at the local store and pay sales tax? Do not undocumented aliens abide in homes, either purchased or rented, and thus pay real estate taxes either directly or as a part of their rent. Do not the employers of undocumented aliens withhold federal and state income taxes from their pay? (If the answer to this one is no, it’s a lot more than the immigration laws that these employers are violating.)

Loyal reader, you must know that this maven does not consider “liberal” to be a curse word. To me, liberalism is the way set out for us by the Bible. The Bible I read commands, “Justice, justice you shall pursue . . .” Deuteronomy 16:20. The God I worship tells me to be on the side of the widow and the orphan (Exodus 22:21) because they were the ones in biblical society who had no rights or protectors. Likewise, I must be on the side of those in our society today who are oppressed and have no protectors. When I see injustice in our society, I am compelled to speak about it. If that is being too liberal, than I stand convicted.

Let me make this clear one more time. I am not in favor of people entering our country in violation of our laws. People who attempt to enter our country unlawfully need to be stopped and punished under the current provisions of federal law. The Federal Government must take action to deal with those already in our country illegally. But, I simply cannot accept the vindictive, repressive measures proposed by the “help-save” people to rid our Commonwealth of those who they consider unwelcome in their communities.

* See my entry “Something is Rotten in The Old Dominion” on December 23, 2007