Saturday, December 22, 2012

Why Do We Give The NRA Such Power?

The largest headline on the print Richmond Times-Dispatch this morning, covering more than half of the entire width of the front page, reads “NRA calls for armed guards in schools.” The number two story in the Washington Post this morning (top of the left column) reads “NRA, Put armed police in schools.” Last night on the NBC evening news the lead story involved footage of a press conference held by NRA executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre rejecting any additional gun laws and advocating the placement of armed (that is with guns) guards in all of the nation’s schools. The press conference by the National Rifle Association took place one week after the slaughter of 26 people, including 20 young children, at a Connecticut elementary school.

If I were a visitor from another planet and read these newspapers and watched television last night, I would naturally assume that the NRA was our national legislature and that Wayne LaPierre was a high-ranking elected official—perhaps the president. Why else would we pay so much attention to the views of an organization or of one man? The alien maven would be shocked to learn that the NRA was a lobbying group for gun manufacturers and that Wayne LaPierre had been elected by only a few people.

The National Rifle Association has been powerful in our national politics for a long time. As I made clear nearly five years ago (OnGuns—An Ode in Prose) over the years the NRA has morphed from an organization of sportsmen and gun collectors to a lobby for the gun industry. It has taken a “no-compromise” position with respect to gun legislation and has convinced hundreds of members of the Congress and state legislatures that any support for even the most modest control on the purchase of firearms will result in their being defeated for reelection. It has also convinced its members that the Federal Government is devoted to taking away all their guns.

But, dear reader, is it not possible that all of us have given the NRA all this power? Even the proponents of controls on the purchase of firearms have spent most of the last week attacking the NRA in paper and electronic print. They have even gone so far as to hold the NRA culpable for the murders in Connecticut last week. Apparently, it is much easier to create and attack a bogey man than to deal directly with the complex issues raised by gun control.

What if, loyal reader, we treated the NRA differently? What if, for example, we chose to ignore it? Can you imagine what would have happened yesterday if the NRA held its press conference and Wayne LaPierre came to the podium and the room was empty? Think of it—no reporters, no cameras, no protesters. What if, regardless what it said, the media chose to not report anything about the NRA? What if I had watched the evening news last night and saw stories that gave no attention to Mr. LaPierre’s statement? What if the newspapers this morning ran no stories about the NRA’s proposal to put more guns into our schools? (Oh, I know what you are saying, what about the First Amendment? Reader, the First Amendment guarantees the NRA and Mr. LaPierre the right to say anything they want; it does not require us to listen to them.) Is it not possible that if we treated the NRA this way it would shrink from the tiger it wants us to believe it is to a snarling but powerless kitten?


Saturday, June 30, 2012

Armed Insurrection?

But when a long train of abuses … evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Declaration of Independence

After Thursday’s decision by the United States Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of the Health Care Reform Act, there has been some talk from our brothers on the right that armed insurrection is the only way to deal with this development. Some of our friends on the left have responded with levity suggesting that those violently opposed to health care reform are in need of mental health services or that if they don’t like it they should move to some other country. This maven, however, cannot treat these things lightly. For one thing, advocating armed insurrection against the United States might be considered treasonous. On the other hand, perhaps the Federal Government is tending toward tyranny and we should not ignore it. After all, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

To sort all this out, I thought it would be useful to compare American grievances in 1776, when we actually did engage in armed insurrection (at least as the British saw it), with the grievances of today. I include only some of the British offenses set forth in the Declaration of Independence.

            British offenses of 1776                                  Federal Government offenses of today

Forced us to quarter troops in our homes
Forced us to buy health insurance
Cut off our trade with other parts of the world
Forced us to buy health insurance
Imposed taxes on us without our consent
Forced us to buy health insurance
Deprived us of trial by jury
Forced us to buy health insurance
Took away our charters, abolished our laws and altered our form of government
Forced us to buy health insurance
Suspended our own legislatures
Forced us to buy health insurance
Plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns and destroyed the lives of our people
Forced us to buy health insurance
Introduced armies of foreign mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny
Forced us to buy health insurance

Trusted reader, although it is close, I am sure you will agree that the complaints of our forebears in 1776 were slightly more serious than of those who are willing to overthrow the government in order to eliminate health care reform. So what is this totally out of proportion reaction to a court decision upholding a statute enacted by the Congress?

This maven lays the blame at the door of the Republican leadership in the Congress and their tea-drinking allies. These gentlepeople are so intent on recapturing control of the Federal Government that they will do or say anything to make President Obama appear to be an illegitimate president. Thus the accusations that Obama is not a native born American. On top of that they must show that even Obama’s legislation is illegitimate. So, after Health Care Reform passed, the Republican leadership refused to acknowledge that it was actually a Public Act, passed by the Congress and signed by the President. Immediately, they declared it not only to be terrible legislation, but invalid. They declared it to be the single-most dangerous expansion of federal power in history. They declared it to be a CLEAR violation of the constitution. They declared it to by tyranny and thus its removal as essential to the country’s survival. They declared it to be the end of life as we know it. In short, they declared their battle to destroy Health Care Reform to be Armageddon.  

Unfortunately, our Republican and Tea-Party cousins believe their own rhetoric. And worse than that, there are some pretty volatile, armed people out there who have come to believe it too. When you repeat that message over and over again, is it any wonder that people start suggesting that only armed insurrection against the Federal Government will save us?

It seems to this maven that those who opened this Pandora’s box and let the crazies out need to be the ones to recage them and lock the door. I call on John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul and Mitt Romney to make it clear that although they consider the Health Care Reform Act to be bad policy they do not consider it to be grounds for rebellion against the Government. Let them each announce that even suggesting armed insurrection as a solution for disagreeing with government action is not patriotic but rather is un-American. John, Eric, Mitch, Rand, Mitt it is time to call their dogs off and to declare that we are a country that resolves political dispute at the ballot box, not at the point of a gun.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Gospel of Virginia Republicans

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself—UNLESS

1- God has created her a woman, in which case—

·         You shall treat her with contempt

·         You shall deprive her of control of her body

·         You shall subject her to invasive medical tests

2- Your neighbors are poor, in which case—

·         You shall treat them with contempt

·         You shall discourage them from voting by imposing unreasonable identification requirements

·         You shall deprive them of affordable health care

·         You shall deprive their children of quality public education by cutting state funding for public schools and by diverting state funding to private schools

·         You shall deprive them of safe and affordable housing

·         You shall deprive them of affordable public transportation to places of employment

3- God has created your neighbors homosexuals, in which case—

·         You shall treat them with contempt

·         You shall preclude them from committed, long-term love relationships

·         You shall prevent them from adopting children

·         You shall exclude them from positions of public trust

4- Your neighbors are Spanish speakers, in which case—

·         You shall treat them with contempt

·         You shall assume that they are in the country illegally

·         You shall constantly require them to prove that they are citizens or properly-documented immigrants

On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Slick and Well-Spun, But the Same Old Cantor

To this maven the greatest scourge of television is the advertising. That is why I much prefer to watch just about any show “On Demand” rather than when it is initially broadcast. Then I can “fast-forward” through all of the ads. (Actually, I’ve become quite adept at switching back to “play” just when the show resumes.) Unfortunately, some of the networks have become aware of the maven’s viewing habits and have now disabled the “fast-forward” function for “on-demand” viewing. So, alas, I am stuck watching the ads.

Just the other night, while catching up on an episode of “Awake,” which I can’t yet decide whether I like (although I am fascinated with the idea of leading simultaneous alternative lives), I was suddenly stuck in an ad. Since we are temporarily between elections, I assumed it was a commercial rather than a political ad. Since it started with statements from Richmond-area businessman, I was sure that the ad was selling the product or service for which they are known. But it quickly became apparent that they were really selling small business. All of these entrepreneurs were telling me that small businesses are the backbone of the American economy and that small businesses create most of the jobs in our country. Then they were telling me that because of high federal taxes and unreasonable federal regulations small businesses were not making enough money—money that they intended to use to create more jobs. And, suddenly, it was a political ad. Only Congressman Eric Cantor understands the importance of small business and he is introducing legislation to cut taxes and regulations on small business and we should all support Congressman Eric Cantor by reelecting him in the fall.

What a great ad! By the end of it I was ready to go marching down Broad Street with a sign extolling the wonders of small business. I was ready to take down the “Kane” sign in my front yard and put one up for Eric Cantor. I was going to go farther than that—I was going to renounce my life-long commitment to the Democratic Party and declare myself a Republican. Wow! It was like the high I get when I increase the dosage of anti-depressant I am taking. It was much better than champagne.

What an epiphany! All my life I had thought that people went into business to make money. And I also thought that they used that money to buy a nice house or two, two or three luxury cars, and several yachts or they went on long and glorious vacations and wore designer clothes and the like. Boy was I wrong! Now I knew the truth. People, especially small businessmen, go into business not to make money but to create jobs so that other people can buy all those things. Businessmen are not greedy! Rather, they are altruists. And, if it were not for that despicable federal government that has the audacity to tax and regulate them they would create even more and more jobs. And to think, I needed somebody like Eric Cantor to tell me the truth.

Well, dear reader, even the greatest high starts to wear off in time. So, very quickly the Cantor-induced euphoria started to fade and I started to feel the onset of the inevitable hang-over. I started getting this feeling of déjà vu. Hadn’t I heard this message before? Is this any different from that stuff that conservative Republicans started feeding us in 1980 and that then-presidential candidate George Herbert Walker Bush called “Voodoo” economics? Isn’t this just trickle-down economics in a new package? As the conservative message goes, if we cut taxes for the wealthy they will put more money into circulation, which will expand the economy and eventually some of that wealth will make it down to the less-affluent, like you and me. Isn’t this the same stuff that little “W” Bush and his loyal supporter Eric Cantor imposed on us for eight years, a time in which the rich got richer but in which everybody else was lucky just to break even?

And, of course, nowhere in the ad does Mr. Cantor explain how he plans to pay for these additional tax cuts. Mr. Cantor and his Republican friends in the Congress claim to be interested in reducing our national debt. Yet they are constantly advocating reducing taxes on the wealthy and on businesses. Don’t they realize that reducing tax rates inevitably results in decreased revenues to the government which necessarily increases the national debt? Wasn’t Mr. Cantor watching during the years when his party controlled both the presidency and the Congress and tried their “tax-cutting fixes everything” philosophy and nearly doubled our national debt? Wasn’t he watching, or was he too busy trying to become the leader of his party to pay any attention to governing?

Also dear reader, let us not forget the second part of Mr. Cantor’s wonderful ad: we must eliminate federal regulations to allow small businessmen to engage in their favorite pastime—creating new jobs. Again I must ask whether Mr. Cantor was paying attention during those years that his party was in control of Washington. His president and his party’s leadership in Congress convinced us that federal regulation of business was costly and unnecessary. His president and his party in the Congress drastically reduced federal regulations. That reduction in regulation resulted in businessmen engaging in risky practices that produced the financial crisis of 2007-08. That crisis produced the most severe economic recession since the 1930s. Is this the type of policy that Mr. Cantor urges us to return to?

On balance, I have to conclude that Mr. Cantor has issued a great political ad. It is slickly made and places a great spin on Mr. Cantor’s ill-advised policies. The wealthy out-of-state contributors to Mr. Cantor’s campaign fund clearly are getting their money’s worth. And, it’s nice to see Mr. Cantor actually spend his campaign funds on getting reelected for a change, rather than spending them to purchase his party leadership position. I would only recommend that an additional disclaimer be attached to the ad: Caution, this ad may contribute to unwarranted euphoria and may cause delusional behavior.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Mayor Jones and the School Board (Part 2)

Just over four years ago I posted an item that angered many
of Richmond politicians. I refer you to “Throwing Down the Gauntlet”
In that blog entry I challenged the then-mayor, Doug Wilder, and the Richmond City Council (including my own representative Kathy Graziano) to provide adequate funding for Richmond Public Schools (RPS). Back in 2008, the maven still had a fire in my belly, so I used some pretty fiery language. For example:

And let’s face it. The mayor is not the only public official in Richmond who says “screw ‘em” to our children. Our beloved City Council has re-imposed its funding freeze on RPS for at least another year. Fellow citizens, face the realities, a funding freeze is really a funding cut because costs are constantly going up. So, although other city spending goes up (all those increased assessments produced a big influx of revenue) our children continue to suffer. One of our councilpersons even has the audacity to call it “tough love.” Are our children acting so badly that we have to “tough love” them with budget cuts?

I then posted some statistics that I am sure that Richmond politicians found unsettling. I listed the percentage of the annual outlays that various jurisdictions were devoting to public education. This is what I reported:

City of Richmond 26.1%
Chesterfield County 38%
Henrico County 54%
City of Norfolk 40.3%
City of Virginia Beach 48%

I then made it clear that not only was Richmond spending a smaller percentage of its operating budget on its schools then other jurisdictions but also that the money for schools was a shrinking part of our budget. This is what I reported:

Fiscal year 2007 26.1%
Fiscal year 2008 25.03%
Fiscal year 2009 24.71%

Trusted reader, just in case you think things may have changed since 2008 when I wrote that piece, take a look at the current figures. For fiscal year 2012, the City of Richmond is now providing only 21.2% of its annual budget to Richmond Public Schools.

Let me repeat this to make it clear. In fiscal year 2007 the City of Richmond dedicated 26.15% of its annual budget to RPS (which was significantly less than other jurisdictions). In fiscal year 2012 the City of Richmond is dedicating only 21.2% of its annual budget to RPS. And from what I read in our great metropolitan daily, Mayor Jones has submitted his budget request to City Council for 2013 without requesting any additional funds for RPS.

So, loyal reader, the next time the mayor or your city council member tells you that they support the children of Richmond and want to provide them with a world-class education, you tell them to put the city’s checkbook where their mouths are.

As I mentioned yesterday, two weeks ago our mayor appointed a task force to find ways to reduce spending in RPS. This followed the school board’s action in submitting a budget that needed an additional $24 million to permit the level of expenditure that the board was recommending. According to the article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the mayor made it clear “[t]hat the city doesn’t have an additional $24 million. I can assure you we’re not going to raise taxes for an additional $24 million.”

It is unfortunate that Mayor Jones portrayed adequate funding for RPS public schools as an issue that can only be solved by raising $24 million in additional taxes. Mayor Jones knows that the RPS share of the city pie did not shrink from 26 to 21 percent over the last five years because taxes were being cut. He knows that this shrinkage arose over the years because he and his predecessor as mayor and the members of the city council made the conscious decision year after year that other programs in the city had a higher priority than the education of our children. Providing adequate funding for RPS does not require tax increases. Rather it requires the city council to make some difficult decisions and to move funding from other programs back to RPS. Richmond ought to spend at least a quarter of its annual budget on our schools.

Reader, the city’s Biennial Fiscal Plan for 2012-2013 has the title “Moving Towards a Tier One City.” I am not sure exactly what a tier one city is, but I assume it means something like a great city. As I said yesterday, the City of Richmond will never be a great city until it has great schools. I add today that the City of Richmond will never be a great city if it continues to spend only 21% of its budget on its public schools.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mayor Jones and the School Board

Loyal reader, some pretty exciting things have been going on in River City during the past month. First, our elected school board reported a budget for Richmond Public Schools (RPS) for the school year 2012-13 that requires $24 million more in revenues than the City of Richmond has provided in previous years. Second, our mayor, Dwight Jones, lambasted the school board for its action and appointed a “school accountability and efficiency task force” to look for ways to reduce spending in RPS and to improve classroom performance. Third, our school board has been holding public meetings in different parts of the city to explain its budget action and to get public support. Fourth, the mayor’s task force has itself been holding meetings. Fifth, the mayor submitted to the City Council a city budget that does not include any additional funding for Richmond Public Schools. Sixth (and I assume not finally), members of Richmond’s City Council have become involved in the dispute, suggesting ways to make RPS more efficient.

Until now, this maven has sat on the side line watching our politicians perform. Now, I must end my silence and add some sanity to the public dispute.

A little background: In the Commonwealth of Virginia the supervision of public schools in each jurisdiction is vested in a school board that is independent of the governing body in that jurisdiction. Virginia Code, section 22.1-28. However, school boards in Virginia have no authority to raise revenues. Instead they rely on funding from several sources. In Richmond, for example, RPS receives funding primarily from the Commonwealth of Virginia, from the Federal Government and from the City of Richmond. In preparing annual budgets Virginia school boards are bound by section 22.1-92 of the Virginia Code, which requires them, working with their superintendents, to submit to the governing body in the jurisdiction an “estimate of the amount of money deemed to be needed during the next fiscal year for the support of the public schools of the school division. The estimate shall set up the amount of money deemed to be needed for each major classification prescribed by the Board of Education and such other headings or items as may be necessary.”

1. I wholeheartedly support this year’s budget action by our school board. For four years I have been criticizing the school board for abdicating its responsibility under state law to report a budget based on the needs of RPS rather than on the level of funding that has been provided by the City of Richmond in previous years. Who’s on the Side of the Kids, Who’s on the Side of the Kids (Not Again), Will School Board Finally Follow the Law? Two years ago, I even lauded a school board in another part of the state that was actually following the law. A School Board That Does Its Job,.

Now that the Richmond school board has finally chosen to submit a budget that appears to be based on RPS needs, I laud them. They have put the debate over the proper funding of Richmond Public Schools in the City Council, where it belongs.

2. I am not sure what authority resides in the mayor’s school accountability and efficiency task force. Certainly, the mayor has appointed it. However, he can only assign to the task force authority which he has as mayor. He cannot create a committee or task force that has more authority than he has. As I said above, in Virginia, governance of local school districts is vested in the school board. Local governing bodies (boards of supervisors in the counties, the mayor and city council in the City of Richmond) get involved in the running of the schools only once each year—in deciding the amount of local funds that will be appropriated to the school district. So, I assume that the task force has authority to make recommendations to the mayor in how to deal with the school budget for 2012-13. However, since the mayor has already submitted his entire budget to the City Council, without asking any additional funds for RPS over last year’s level, it doesn’t appear that the mayor needs any recommendations from the task force (at least for the budget year 2012-13). Of course, in deliberating on the city budget in the coming weeks, the city council is certainly free to consider recommendations from the mayor’s task force.

3. Despite the separation in rolls specified in state law, this maven is not advocating that the mayor and city council have no responsibility for the operation of Richmond Public Schools. On the contrary. I think that in the past some members of the city council have sidestepped issues relating to RPS by saying it is the responsibility of the school board not of the council. The condition of RPS is far too important to the city for any elected official to ever say, “It’s not my responsibility.” I’m sure I have said it before, but if I haven’t I will say it loudly and clearly now: The City of Richmond will never be a great city until it has great public schools. It really doesn’t matter what else the city government does. So long as our schools are not world-class, Richmond will only be a C+ or B- city.

As a first step, I suggest that the city council and the school board schedule a minimum of four joint meetings each year, with the mayor and school superintendent in attendance. The agenda of each of these meetings should be to develop strategies and implementing plans to improve Richmond’s public schools—high school by high school, middle school by middle school, elementary school by elementary school—so that every child that is born in the City of Richmond may receive a first class public school education, regardless of their ethnicity or economic status and regardless of the neighborhood in which they live.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Republican General Assembly Attacking Our Freedom

Yes, Virginia, elections have consequences. And so, while many progressive voters who in 2008 elected Barack Obama to the presidency and Mark Warner to the United States Senate chose to stay home on election day in 2011 (for the third consecutive year), our Republican brothers and sisters captured control of the Virginia Senate. Now, the residents of the Commonwealth will be saddled with the consequences of the right wing agenda of the Republican Party—perhaps for a long time. This maven fears that scores of repressive Republican bills, which in previous years were blocked in the Democratic-controlled Senate, will become law this year. I can, and probably will at some time, talk about many of these bills. But right now, I just want to talk about one of them.

HB 462, as it passed the House of Delegates, is entitled “A BILL to amend and reenact § 18.2-76 of the Code of Virginia, relating to ultrasound requirement as part of informed consent for abortion.” The operative language of the bill states that

“at least 24 hours before the performance of an abortion a qualified medical professional trained in sonography and working under the direct supervision of a physician licensed in the Commonwealth shall perform fetal ultrasound imaging and auscultation of fetal heart tone services on the patient undergoing the abortion for the purpose of determining gestational age.”

The bill does provide for exceptions in the case of a medical emergency, and states that if a pregnant woman lives 100 or more miles from the abortion facility the ultrasound may be performed not less than two hours before the abortion.

Before I go any further, let me make it clear that this maven is opposed to abortion. I understand that abortion ends a potential human life and I would much prefer that a pregnant woman not choose to end her pregnancy. However, I feel very strongly that whether a woman is to terminate or continue her pregnancy is not my decision. Further, I feel equally strongly that whether that woman is to continue or terminate her pregnancy is not a decision to be made by the Commonwealth of Virginia or any other government. Rather, it is a decision that a woman must make herself, with the advice of family, friends and her medical professional.

Obviously this maven has never been pregnant. However, I have been the recipient of ultrasound examination, most recently just before my former gall bladder was separated from my body. Although ultrasound is not the worst medical procedure I have ever undergone, it is also not the most pleasant. First they make sure you are scantily clothed. Then they put you in a room that is invariably uncomfortably cold. Then they expose part of your body and inundate you with a foul-smelling glop. Then they apply the ultrasound wand and move it around your body, often pressing hard enough to cause pain. They make you roll from left to right to make sure they get the best possible “picture.” By the time the test is over, you feel cold, sore and soiled.

And, our Republican brothers and sisters in the General Assembly, who constantly preach that they want to get the government out of our lives, are about to force this invasive medical test on every woman in the Commonwealth who has decided to terminate her pregnancy. It is bad enough that a woman has made perhaps the most difficult decision in her life and will probably always carry the emotional scars that go with it. On top of that, our “anti-government” Republican delegates and senators now want to force on her an intrusive and degrading medical procedure. Cannot a woman in Republican-controlled Virginia be free from state-mandated medical tests?

Trusted reader, the next time a Virginia Republican claims that his or her party favors freedom from state intrusion into our lives, remind him or her of HB 462 and ask what further invasions of our liberty they are planning.