Category Archives: Individual rights

Hate Crime Hysteria

Source: Virginia State Police “Crime in Virginia” reports.

“Hate is turning deadly with frightening frequency in America,” wrote Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring in an anguished Washington Post op-ed last month. In building his case, he cited the 11 Jews slain recently in Pittsburgh; the killing of two African-Americans in Louisville, and Dylann Roof’s murderous rampage at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. No litany of hate crimes would be complete without mentioning the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville last year that resulted in the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer.

“It is well past time for us to acknowledge the real, growing and deadly threat posed by hate and white supremacist violence,” Herring wrote. “In Virginia and around the country, we have seen far too many alarming reminders that we cannot dismiss this growing wave of hate as a harmless fringe element. … The threat is real, and the consequences can be deadly.” Continue reading

Altria rumored to be in talks to buy Canadian cannabis company Cronos Group

High in Henrico.  Henrico County based Altria, makers of Marlboro cigarettes among other products, is rumored to be interested in buying Canadian cannabis company Cronos Group.  Altria is refusing comment while Cronos said it “confirmed that it is engaged in discussions concerning a potential investment by Altria Group … in Cronos Group.”  Cronos went on to say that no agreement had been reached and there is no assurance that the discussions will lead to a deal.

Is that really a maple leaf on the flag?  Canada legalized possession of marijuana nationally effective October 17, 2018.  Under the national law provinces have some latitude regarding specific cannabis regulation.   In Quebec and Alberta, the legal age is 18; it’s 19 in the remainder of the country for example.  However, unlike the United States, there is no dichotomy between national and provincial (state) law.  There can be no doubt that this legal clarity is encouraging companies like Altria to consider entering the Canadian marijuana market while sitting on the sidelines of American states which have legalized grass.

Implications for Virginia.  Pot legislation and the business of selling pot is moving quickly in North America.  In November Michigan became the tenth US state to legalize possession of marijuana.  There is legislation pending for the 2019 General Assembly session to decriminalize marijuana in the Old Dominion.  Now an iconic and politically connected Virginia-based company apparently sees no moral or ethical issue with participating in Canada’s legal marijuana market.  Given that Altria’s board includes Virginia luminaries such as Thomas F Farrell, CEO of Dominion and John T Casteen, former President of UVA one wonders if Altria’s plans might lend respectability to marijuana reform in Virginia.

I smell refund.  In 2018 a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana (SB 111) was defeated along party lines in the Courts of Justice.  Nine Republican state senators voted against the bill.  Over the years all nine have received campaign contributions from Altria.  Given that these nine politicians see marijuana possession as a serious crime one would hope they will return these campaign contributions given that Altria is trying to engage in marijuana production, distribution and sale.  After all, is it moral to keep money contributed by a company engaging in practices you think should be illegal?  Here are the amounts (per VPAP):

Obenshain – $44,250
Norment – $128,433
McDougle – $58,000
Stuart – $8,500
Stanley – $9,500
Reeves – $28,265
Chafin – $1,500
Sturtevant – $8,000
Peake – $500

— Don Rippert

Incivility… and a Remedy

Demonstrators decry climate change at a Richmond Forum speaker event…. that had nothing to do with climate change, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline or Dominion Energy. Source: Virginia Student Environmental Coalition Facebook page.

The Richmond Forum brings high-profile speakers — from George W. Bush to Barack Obama in recent seasons — to Richmond. I’ve been attending the events for 20 years, and the audience is invariably respectful and welcoming to guests of all political stripes. That changed last weekend. As Executive Director Bill Chapman described the event, which featured astronaut Scott Kelly, in a missive to ticket subscribers:

After intermission, our program was briefly interrupted by two young women who staged a demonstration in the theater. Both are students who obtained tickets for the evening’s program, but are not Forum subscribers.

While free speech is a bedrock value of this series, we also cannot allow the disruption of our programs. Twice, the students were asked to take their seats, and when they did not, they were escorted from the theater. Looking at video recorded by the demonstrators themselves, exactly sixty seconds passed from the beginning of the demonstration until security began moving them from the theater. To many of you, and to me, it seemed longer. …

Also of great concern to me is the manner in which a few of our subscribers responded to the demonstration, including one man who shouted profanity from the rear balcony. (I did not actually hear this from stage, but it is widely reported in the program survey comments.) Incivility will not be tolerated at The Richmond Forum and poor behavior such as this will also be grounds for removal from the theater and revocation of a season subscription.

Chapman gave exactly the response he should have, and I expect that the overwhelming majority of Forum patrons will support him. As coincidence would have it, during the same event he announced an initiative that should combat the incivility he decried.

Richmonders have long understood that the ability to civilly articulate and debate ideas and points of view is critical to a functioning democracy. In that local tradition, we believe our region’s students should have access to strong speech and debate programs in our public schools. These programs teach research, critical thinking, construction of logical arguments, assessment of audience, self esteem, and engagement in world events–skills which build better students, better college candidates, better employees, and better citizens.

The Richmond Forum has provided a grant to Chesterfield County Public Schools to enable all eleven high schools to be able to offer speech and debate programs this school year. The grant will fund training for coaches, and entry fees and travel costs for tournaments.

And that’s just the start. Bravo! The counter-revolution against public rudeness, belligerence and incivility begins! Donors can contribute here.

The Closing of the American Mind: Mary Baldwin Edition

I have lost all respect for Mary Baldwin University. The Staunton-based liberal arts institution is training its students to be emotionally fragile, intellectually incurious and totally unprepared for dealing with the world outside of their little higher-ed bubble.

Three years ago, the university scheduled a project in its Hunt gallery entitled, “Relevant/Scrap.” The art exhibit, which opened Nov. 7, included silhouetted depictions of Richmond’s Confederate statues. The artists’ intention, as explained in a Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial today, was to “use art-making processes to create an aesthetic experience of the problematic challenge of re-imagining the spaces where the monuments to the Confederacy currently reside in Richmond.”

An Instagram account titled “Y’all racist at Mary Baldwin” was launched to call attention to the exhibit, and students took their concerns to a weekly meeting of the Student Senate on November 6, reports WHSV. The following day, the exhibit had been removed. Although the artists said they had been misinterpreted, they acceded to the removal.

In a statement explaining the decision, the university said:

“In accordance with our values as an inclusive, student-centered campus community, we take seriously the concerns about an art exhibition by two Richmond-based artists installed earlier this week… As a result of student concerns and discussions with the artists, the installation has been removed as of last night.

Not only did the university remove the exhibit, it committed to holding a series of “listening sessions” giving students “an opportunity to share their feelings in response to the exhibit and their hopes for inclusive community.”

In its editorial today, the Times-Dispatch wrote, “We’d argue that they should instead hold ‘learning sessions’ and use the moment to teach students that free speech isn’t always pretty or comfortable, but it is one of the main pillars of our society and it’s the thing — singular — that makes the United States the most open, accepting nation in the history of the world. … Suppressing speech is the prelude to ignorance, and ignorance, willful or not, is the prelude to the decline of our great society.”

I agree whole-heartedly with that sentiment, but I would say more. First, the cancellation of the exhibit was an act of craven cowardice. University administrators are so terrified of anyone branding them “racist” that they’re willing to abandon all other values. Just pathetic.

What is racist about showing silhouetted images of the Confederate statues in an exhibit about the debate about… Confederate statues? Exposure to a mere image has become an emotionally triggering event, regardless of the context in which that image is shown?

If the images in the aborted exhibit are racist, then the term “racist” has absolutely no meaning and is simply used as a cudgel to bludgeon the weak-minded into submission. At some point the term will be so overused, misused and discredited that it will cease to have any effect.

But more importantly is the effect of the Mary Baldwin capitulation has on the students themselves. The action reinforces their emotional fragility. But emotional fragility is not a trait that will be rewarded in the real world. The action reinforces intolerance of other views. But intolerance of other views is not a recipe for success in the workplace (except in partisan party politics, and perhaps at Google).

I seek out different views. I make it a practice, for example, to tune into “Morning Joe” on MSNBC every morning even thought I find many of the views expressed there to be not only wrong-headed but highly offensive. I do so for a multiple reasons. First, I want to know what liberals and progressives are thinking and saying. Second, want to hear facts and arguments that are neglected by conservative media outlets — I want to avoid having blind spots. Third, every once in blue moon, I hear something that gives me pause and makes me think, wow, they might have a point there.

How ironic it is that an academic institution, presumably dedicated to expanding intellectual horizons and teaching young minds to think critically and analytically, would shut out objectionable symbols and viewpoints while elevating “feelings” over intellect. Sheltering students from the real world — what an educational value proposition!

I can’t imagine why any parents would want that kind of education for their child. But apparently, there’s a market for that kind of education. Mary Baldwin’s freshman enrollment of 400 this year set a record for the institution. I wonder if parents have a clue what’s happening.

Virginia’s 2018 Marijuana Decriminalization Bill: What Happened and What’s Next?

Up in smoke.  During the 2018 General Assembly session a bill to decriminalize marijuana was killed in committee.  The Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted along party lines on that bill, SB 111. All nine Republican Senators on the Committee voted to keep marijuana possession (in any amount) a criminal act in Virginia while all six Democratic Senators voted to decriminalize pot.  To be clear – the vote was to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, it was not a bill that proposed legalizing marijuana.

Here today, here tomorrow.  Decriminalization foes won the SB111 battle in 2018 but the war goes on.  The lines are drawn for the next skirmish.  As Sen Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham), who voted against decriminalization, said … “It’s an issue that isn’t going away.  We’re going to be talking about it for a long time.”  That’s an interesting comment from a prohibitionist.  One can only hope that Sen Obenshain knows that time and further dialog are both working against him and his fellow pot prosecutors.  If he doesn’t understand that I’d really like to ask him what he’s been smoking.

Abby Hoffman vs Barney Fife.  The main support for decriminalization comes from the ACLU with a supporting cast of politicians including U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (federal decriminalization), Governor Ralph Northam (a medical doctor) and Adam Ebbin  (D-Alexandria).  Opposition is led by the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys with political support from the aforementioned Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham).

Arrested development.  Subsequent to the committee vote on decriminalization, statistics were released that revealed arrests for marijuana possession in Virginia shot up in 2017, increasing by 20% over 2016.  Apparently, prosecuting Virginians for possession of a plant is a large and fast growing business in the Commonwealth.  One can only guess how much criminalizing marijuana costs Virginia or how many Commonwealth’s Attorneys have jobs based on pot possession being a crime.

Oh wow … what’s a voter … man?  A poll on the question of decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana in Virginia was published in the midst of the 2018 General Assembly session.  Conducted by the Watson Center for Public Policy and Christopher Newport University, the poll found that 76% of Virginians favored decriminalization.  And the Republican politicians in Virginia keep wondering why they are continually losing their power and influence in Virginia.  Perhaps they would be well advised to just roll that number around in their heads for a while … seventy-six percent.

Heroes.  Senators voting for decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana: Creigh Deeds, D-Bath; John Edwards, D-Roanoke; Janet Howell, D-Fairfax; Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth; Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City; and Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax.

Zeroes.  Senators voting against decriminalization: Ben Chafin, R-Russell; Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover; Tommy Norment, R-Mars; Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham; Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg; Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania; Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County; Richard Stuart, R-Stafford; and Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond.

2019.  2019 is an election year for Virginia’s state legislature.  Democrats will push another marijuana decriminalization bill in the 2019 General Assembly session.  Then they will beat the Republicans who opposed the bill over the head with those votes in November.

— Don Rippert.

Snowflake Nation

by Bob Shannon

I enjoyed your recent post about identity politics in Richmond’s LGBTQ community. The hysterical and unhinged behavior we’re witnessing, I would argue, is a symptom of a much larger social malady, namely Americans’ inability to deal with everyday stress.

We are bombarded with self-promoting messages from the mental health industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and public safety officials who say we need “help” in dealing with stress that by any historical measure would be considered laughably slight. Modern life has made us soft. How many of today’s Americans could have survived when daily struggles of finding food, water and housing consumed peoples’ existence? Today’s sheltered youth are not learning to cope with disappointment and failure.

In 1994, a classmate of my oldest son committed suicide after his girlfriend had broken up with him. This high school kid was popular, good looking, the starting QB on the football team, and a standout baseball and basketball player. At first I wondered what kind of pressure could have driven the young man to such an act. Then I thought about students in my era who had surmounted equally challenging circumstances. During high school a half dozen girls broke my heart… but I simply moved onto the next one. It never entered my head to take my life.

What has changed over the intervening years? Why did a young man with such promise take such drastic action over a setback that young people have had contended with since the beginning of time?

A week or so after the young man’s death, I visited the high school on another matter. As I drove through the parking lot, I was struck by the number of new cars — many of them sports cars more expensive than the vehicles I drove myself — the students were driving. I wondered: Had we raised a generation for whom things came too easily?

An increasing number of high school and college kids have their own credit cards. Their parents give them cars. Some never hold jobs in high school. We have made their lives too easy. No wonder many of these “snowflakes” melt under the slightest challenge. No wonder that the minor grievances you cited in your article morph into the exaggerated behavior.

I laugh when I think of an e-mail I once received that had a picture of an 18-year old-from 1944 and an 18-year-old from 2016.  The 1944 photo showed a G.I. with camo paint on his sweaty, dirty face and a rifle slung across his back. The 2016 photo showed a punk with green/pink/purple hair, 30 ear rings and metal strewn across his face. Quite a contrast.

Have we bred the last two generations to be whiners? I believe so. But the problem is not confined to young people alone. The sense of entitlement has spread across American society at large.

Saul Alinsky said that the “white middle class must be co-opted ” in order to collapse the system. Evidence of such co-opting can be found in white, middle-class seniors who insist Medicare is something they earned. I have given seniors the cold, hard facts: No one, even counting employer contributions, has paid enough into the system to offset the very large outlays that are likely to incur in the final two years of life. Few are open to such a message.

All Americans have a sense of entitlement these days. It’s going to be an uphill battle to get citizens — or in the case of minority transgenders carping about their treatment by others in the LGBTQ community — to toughen up and take responsibility for their behavior.

Thank you for having the wisdom, courage and insight to bring these unpleasant truths to the public attention.

Bob Shannon lives in King William County.

Will Virginia Legalize Recreational Marijuana Use?

High times today.  The marijuana legalization wave is beginning to wash over North America. Nine states (WA, OR, CA, NV, CO, MA, VT, ME and AK) along with the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.  Well over 20% of Americans now live in states which have legalized recreational marijuana use. On Oct 17 of this year recreational marijuana use will be legalized across Canada. While the various provinces will regulate the sale and use of marijuana in their own unique ways, it will be legal across Canada.

Higher times to come. Several more states are slated to decide the question of legalized recreational marijuana use this November (or sooner)…

Michigan – Voter initiated measure to permit those over 21 to grow and possess personal use quantities of cannabis and related concentrates.  Statewide polling data from this spring shows 61% of voters intend to vote “yes” on the measure. While you may not be able to drink the water in Flint it looks like you’ll be legally able to use it in a bong come this November.

New Jersey – The New Jersey legislature is debating bills that would legalize recreational marijuana in the Garden State. Interestingly, some of these bills would also expunge the criminal records of anybody convicted in the past of marijuana-related crimes. Was I ever arrested for weed?  Fuhghetaboutit!

North Dakota – A voter – initiated referendum will appear on North Dakota ballots this November. Uniquely, the North Dakota initiative would set no limits on the amount of marijuana people can possess or cultivate. Perhaps a large stockpile is required to get through those long, dark winters.

New York – A recent state commissioned study on recreational marijuana legalization came out strongly in favor of making ganja legal. Gov Andrew Cuomo quickly sprang to action setting up a working group to write a marijuana legalization bill. Put New York in the “when, not if” column.  This should give new meaning to Billy Joel’s song “New York State of Mind” (which has the opening line, “Take a holiday from the neighborhood”).

Oklahoma – This June Oklahoma voters approved a broad medical marijuana usage law. Activists have collected a lot of signatures to get the question of legalized recreational marijuana on the Nov 6 ballot. Whether there are enough signatures or enough time to get the ballot question approved this year remains to be seen. Sadly, Merle Haggard died in 2016 before being able to revise the first line of his famous song Okie from Muskogee … “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee”.  It seems that sooner, rather than later, people will be openly smoking marijuana in Muskogee.

Delaware – In June, a majority of House lawmakers voted in favor of legislation to legalize marijuana use and retail sales. However, because the legislation imposed new taxes and fees, state rules required it to receive super-majority support. Lawmakers are anticipated to take up similar legislation again next year. I’ll predict that by 2020 people will be legally getting small in the Small Wonder.

A spot of hemp, Mr. Jefferson? Five of the first six presidents of the U.S. were Virginians and there is evidence that all five of them smoked a little hootch from time to time. You can read the evidence from an unimpeachable source … High Times …  here.

Will River City go up in smoke? But what of modern Virginians and Virginia politicians? In a 2017 Quinnipiac poll Virginia voters supported allowing adults to legally posses and use small amounts of marijuana by 59 – 35 percent. So, the voters would like to see marijuana legalized in Virginia. But since when did the voters matter to Virginia’s political elite? They don’t listen to voters, they listen to dollars. The Virginia Public Access Project tallies up the following donation totals for “all years”:

Beverages – Alcohol Distributors / Brokers – $20,885,384
Retail Sales – General $10,113,070
Restaurants – $6,533,357
Beverages – Alcohol Manufacturers – $3,993,418

As point of reference, Dominion Energy donated $11,354,842 during the same period.  Meanwhile, PepsiCo, owner of Frito-Lay – the maker of Cheetos – only donated $82,385.

— Don Rippert

Goodbye and Good Riddance to Goodlatte

Carpetbagger. Bob Goodlatte is the 13-term congressman from Virginia’s 6th Congressional District who has blessedly chosen to retire this year. In my opinion he represents just about everything that is wrong with the GOP. Born in Holyoke, Massachusetts and educated at Bates College in Maine, Goodlatte somehow avoids the “carpetbagger” moniker so quickly put on Terry McAuliffe by Virginia’s Republicans. He won his congressional seat at age 39 and has spent the last 26 years in Congress. Yet he goes uncriticized as a “politician for life” by the conservative Newt Gingrich types who claim to eschew such long running elected officials. He is a polluter’s best friend with apparently no concern for the property rights of those negatively affected by the pollution he justifies and defends. However, he’ll be gone soon and you’d think we’re past the damage done by this phony conservative. Oh no.  Even in his final days in office Goodlatte is actively denying people protection of their property rights despite “property rights” supposedly being a core tenet of conservative Republican dogma. What a farce.

Blowing up the blueprint. The Chesapeake Bay represents not only a national treasure but a working laboratory for the protection of property rights. Certainly right thinking conservatives must believe that allowing a small minority of people and corporations to pollute a public waterway unfairly takes away the property rights of non-polluters. In the case of a waterway that borders multiple states, one would think that sensible and honest conservatives would insist that the federal government protect the property rights of all the states.  Isn’t this both a core tenet of conservatism and a reasonable construct of property rights?  Not according to Bob Goodlatte.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed states have claimed to be working together to clean up the Bay for the past forty years. For 31 of those years the effort failed as various states simply ignored their clean up commitments. Then, in 2009, the EPA was authorized to provide scientific leadership and oversight for a new clean-up plan — the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint. Progress has been substantial since that time. Despite Virginia being a major beneficiary of the blueprint, one of our own Congressmen has put forth an amendment to curtail the EPA’s role in this effort.  You guessed it, ole Bob Goodlatte sponsored an amendment to H.R. 6147 forbidding the EPA from spending money to provide firm, science-based accountability over the blueprint. As a press release from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation puts it, “Congressman Goodlatte’s amendment would keep EPA from using any funds to provide this “firm accountability” if a state fails to meet its pollution-reduction goals set under the Blueprint.” So much for preservation of property rights from this so-called conservative.

Hall of shame. Bob Goodlatte’s amendment for the protection of raw sewage in public waters passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 213 to 202.  Seven of Virginia’s Representatives (Wittman, Taylor, Scott, McEachin, Beyer, Comstock and Connolly) repudiated Sideshow Bob and his amendment by voting against it. However, four of our so-called representatives (Garrett, Goodlatte, Brat and Griffith) couldn’t find the mental acuity to understand how a clean Chesapeake Bay might help the Commonwealth of Virginia. While it’s no excuse for their buffoonery Garrett, Goodlatte and Griffith have districts far from the Bay. Brat, by comparison, has a district bordering the city of Richmond. What are the voters in the 7th district thinking? Will “Kepone Dave” get re-elected? Here’s a good article about the cleanliness of the James River in Richmond (warning: true but disgusting content)

Going forward. The congressional seat being vacated by Bob Goodlatte’s retirement will be contested by Ben Cline (R) and Jennifer Lewis (D). Cline is a member of the General Assembly and long time Goodlatte toady. Lewis is a bleeding heart liberal with minimal political experience. So far, Lewis has raised $72,000 to Cline’s $787,000. The Cook Partisan Voter Index for the district is R+13. Sadly, Cline will almost certainly win and continue the anti-conservative, anti-Virginia activities of his predecessor.

— Don Rippert 

Can’t Get Enough of Them Bacon Bits…

Wages of the teaching scandal. Every 5th-grade student at Richmond’s George W. Carver Elementary School passed the Standards of Learning (SOL) reading test in 2016. Next year, when they took the reading proficiency test at Albert Hill Elementary School, only 37% passed. Math scored plunged nearly as badly.

A state investigation has found that a five-teacher cheating ring at Carver had inflated SOL scores by giving pupils “inappropriate” assistance during the tests. The school and its principal had garnered recognition for the high achievements of its poor, inner-city pupil population.

Public education in Virginia is massively failing lower-income kids, especially in inner-city African-American communities. Meanwhile, the usual suspects continue to peddle the “racism” narrative for the abysmal educational achievement.

The rich (regions) get richer, the poor get poorer. One of the largest employers in Bristol, Bristol Compressors, is closing — and eliminating 470 jobs along with it. The Herald-Courier has the grim story here. Meanwhile, packaged food giant Nestle is relocating its American headquarters from California to Arlington, bringing 750 jobs. Read that story in Arlington Now. Both developments will have multiplier effects, negative for Bristol and positive for Arlington.

In a truly free market economy, workers in Southwest Virginia would move to Northern Virginia to take advantage of job opportunities there. Although laid-off Bristol Compressor employees don’t have the jobs skills required by Nestle, plenty of blue-collar jobs are going being in NoVa. Trouble is, blue-collar workers can’t afford the real estate. Zoning codes and comprehensive plans in NoVa are rigged in favor of incumbent homeowners and against anyone wanting to move into the region, be they inner-city blacks or Appalachian whites.

Immigrants seem not to have a problem finding places to live. My pet theory: They tolerate overcrowded living conditions — sometimes in violation of local codes — that native-born Americans would not.

Christmas banned from Metro buses. The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington wanted to run an ad on Metro buses depicting with three shepherds, sheep and a bright star, reports the Washington Times. The words “Find the Perfect Gift” were displayed on the ad, along with a website address and social media hashtag. The website promoted the Catholic Church with a link to “Parish Resources,” prayer cards and daily reflections.

The Metro refused to run the ad on the grounds that it was religious. The Archdiocese retorted that Metro runs ads for yoga, which has links to Buddhism and Hinduism. Metro didn’t buy the argument. And neither did the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Wrote Judge Judith W. Rogers: “City buses … enjoy no historical tradition like parks and sidewalks because transit was a private enterprise in most American cities until the second half of the twentieth century.”

And people wonder why cultural conservatives say there is a war against Christmas. I find the Metro policy incomprehensible. As far as I’m concerned, any faith — Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Wicca, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or, gasp, any of the dozens of offshoots of Christianity — should be allowed to advertise. Question: Does atheism (my personal belief) count as a religion?

What If They Held a Rally and Nobody Came?

Jason Kessler outside a Charlottesville courthouse in February. Photo credit: Daily Progress

Jason Kessler, organizer of Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last year that turned deadly and helped polarize the nation, wants to hold a one-year anniversary rally. It’s not clear from this article in the Daily Progress what he hopes to accomplish, other than to maintain his high profile as Alt-Right provocateur and most hated man in Charlottesville.

Kessler should have the same right as any American citizen to organize peaceful rallies and demonstrations, no matter how unpopular his beliefs. The emphasis is on peaceful. His track record in that regard is not the best.

Charlottesville officials, traumatized by the events last year, appear to be looking for any reason they can find to deny him a permit. Adjustments Kessler has made in his plans — the number of participants he’s estimating has dropped from 400 initially to “two dozen” — make him “an unreliable partner who has and will make it very difficult for the city to adequately prepare for his event if it is forced to grant him a permit,” city attorneys wrote in a brief Friday.

The fact that Kessler now is estimating a smaller crowd should be a point in his favor. No matter. If he does get permission to hold the rally, I would not be surprised if hundreds of counter-demonstrators show up. The far right and far left feed on one another, in effect justifying each other’s existence.

Just let Kessler have his little rally. Ignore it and let it fizzle. For a publicity hound like him, that would be the worst outcome possible.

Watch Your Tongue. The PC Vigilantes Could Come for You

Donald Green: fired for a politically incorrect Facebook post

The digital mob now rules. Watch what you say on social media. Anything you write, or like, or re-tweet, can and will be used against you. If you work in any capacity for public schools there is a good chance that you will be reported, investigated, and perhaps even fired for privately expressed views — whether or not it affects your job performance in any way.

I’m not talking about candidates for national office, such as Republican nominee Corey Stewart… who now is catching flak for KKK fliers tossed onto driveways in Prince William County. He denounced the KKK yesterday in unvarnished terms, but his partisan foes will continue to play up the story. As far as I’m concerned, he brought the problem upon himself when he dallied with far-right figures involved with last year’s United the Right rally in Charlottesville. Even if he doesn’t hold racist views (which I doubt he does), he showed poor judgment in associating with people who do. If he aspires to statewide office, his past associations are fair game.

My concern is what is happening to regular folks. PC vigilantes are running amok, and craven administrators are caving in.

First case in point, in the news today: The Chesterfield school system has fired its chief of security, Donald Green, who had served since 2014. What was his offense? Did he bungle his job? No. Did Chesterfield schools suffer unforgivable lapses in security? No. He committed the cardinal sin three years ago of sharing the Facebook post displayed to the right.

Now, we can have a debate over the substance of the tweet. I don’t know who these children were. Perhaps they were Palestinians. Perhaps they were indoctrinated by ISIS. But, objectively speaking, there are children in the Middle East raised to hate people in the West. And, objectively speaking, there are people in the West for whom it is dogma that all cultures are morally equal and who assert that it is bigoted to argue otherwise. Is the original post provocative? Sure. Can reasonable people disagree about the validity of the point it is making? Sure. Does it send a message of hate against American Muslims or Muslims in Chesterfield County? Only in the fevered imaginations of the PC vigilantes.

According to the Chesterfield Observer, however, multiple citizens took screenshots earlier this week of the offending posts (apparently there was more than one) and sent them to school administrators. The human resources staff opened an investigation. The school system confirmed Thursday that Green is no longer employed by the school system. Stated school spokesman Shawn Smith: “We take seriously our responsibility to provide a safe, supportive and nurturing learning environment that is free from disruptions and distractions.”

Really? Green, who made the Facebook post made in 2015, was creating “disruptions and distractions” in 2018? The people who made an issue of the post were not creating the disruptions and distractions?

Second case in point, also in the news today: A teacher twice recognized as a Teacher of the Year by the Norfolk school system made the following post to a group of Facebook moms: “Going on a field trip to the zoo tomorrow from 1-3 with my 60 middle school kids from the hood. Fair Warning!”

WAVY TV says what happened next:

“I was like, ‘Wow? Are you kidding me? Why would you say something like this?'” said Sydneigh Lillard, a mother of three who is part of the Facebook group. “It was really sick to me for that to be coming from an educator.”

Lillard said educators, in her opinion, are supposed to serve as role models and help uplift students. Lillard doesn’t think the teacher was doing anything close to that in this case.

“To draw negative attention to them by referring to them as kids from the hood?” Lillard said. “People don’t think of positive things when they think of ‘the hood’. But being from the hood doesn’t mean the kids are bad.”

Rather than point out Lillard’s absurd and tortured reasoning — that the teacher had implied that being from the “hood” means the kids were bad — Norfolk public schools responded to the controversy as follows:

Norfolk Public Schools (NPS) is aware of a disturbing social media post that has been circulating today. The views expressed in this post are not reflective of NPS as we pride ourselves with being the cornerstone of a proudly diverse community. A full investigation has been launched into this situation. As this is a personnel matter we are limited in making any further comment.

WAVY-TV thoughtfully declined to release the name of the teacher on the grounds that she “has not been charged with any crime.”

Wow, it’s hard to keep up with the latest evolution in politically correct speech. I didn’t know — and obviously the teacher didn’t know — that it now is a thought crime to refer to “the hood” — not even in a light-hearted reference to her rambunctious, middle-school charges from the inner city. No doubt fearful of losing her job, the teacher issued online an abject, groveling apology.

It’s not as if either Green or the teacher of the year had evinced sympathy for the KKK. (Just curious, is it now not merely odious but a firing offense to sympathize with the KKK?) It’s not as if they had uttered racist sentiments. It’s not as if they had used the “N” word. It’s not as if they had called someone a “nappy headed ho.” A fever has gripped this country, the realm of “acceptable” speech is contracting severely, the arbiters of acceptable speech are the most easily offended among us, and charges of politically incorrect language send administrators into a paroxysm of fear. Innocent people are being investigated and are literally losing their jobs over thought crimes.

This is the Red Scare all over again — except it’s not limited to State Department employees and Hollywood screen writers. The PC enforcers see racists under every bed and read racism into every remark. Everyday Americans are being assailed by the PC vigilantes and losing their jobs. You want more Corey Stewart? This is how you get more Corey Stewart. You want more Donald Trump? This is how you get more Donald Trump. People who are not crass, bullying, belligerent jerks like our president need to stand up and put an end to this madness or more Americans will see Trump as their only defender. And if you think things are ugly now, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Does Anyone Care about U.S. Children?

Youth for Tomorrow facility, Prince William County

Over the weekend, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine visited the Youth for Tomorrow facility in Prince William County that has been housing undocumented-immigrant children for the past six years. The visit highlighted his call the previous day for the Trump administration “to assure us that every single one of the children they separated from their parents is quickly and safely returned to their families.”

Last week Governor Ralph Northam ordered Virginia’s National Guard contingent serving on the U.S. Southwest border to come home. He ordered the Guard to withdraw four soldiers and one helicopter from Arizona, he said, “until the federal government ends its enforcement of a zero-tolerance policy that separates children from their parents.”

Now that they’ve made clear their antipathy to the policies of the Trump administration, perhaps Kaine and Northam can turn their attention to a near-identical problem that has festered here in Virginia for decades: the separation of children from their parents in the administration of criminal justice in the U.S.

While the separation of children and parents at the border has dominated national news coverage for a couple of weeks now, the issue of child-parent separation inside the U.S. had barely warranted any attention at all. Ever. A rare exception was a USA Today article published in 2014, “Who’s Watching the Kids?

The Justice Department and police officials across the nation are directing their agencies to deal with thousands of children who are left behind following the arrests of parents, from surprise raids at family homes to roadside traffic stops.

Few law enforcement agencies have policies that specifically address the continuing care of children after such arrests, despite an estimated 1.7 million children who have at least one parent in prison, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The number of children jumps to about 2.7 million when parents detained in local jails are included. …

Justice and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the nation’s largest organization of police officials, are beginning to roll out guidelines to agencies across the country. It is an unusual attempt to shield children — often forgotten in the chaotic moments before and after arrests — from unnecessary “trauma” related to their parents’ detention.

I’m trying to understand the logic of those who oppose the separation of children and parents. Does the objection extend to all children separated from parents who enter the criminal justice system? Or does the insistence upon non-separation apply only to those who are trying to enter the United States?

When Kaine said, “every single one of the children they separated from their parents [should be] quickly and safely returned to their families,” does his logic apply to U.S. families? What would such a policy look like? Should children be admitted into jails and prisons to reside with their mothers? Or should mothers be released from jails and prisons to be with their children? Did Kaine act to prevent such policies when he was mayor of Richmond? If child-parent separation is such a moral travesty, why didn’t he?

When Northam demands that the federal government “end its enforcement of a zero-tolerance policy that separates children from their parents,” how would he describe state policy toward the separation of children from Virginia parents who are arrested and put into jail? Do we have a “zero tolerance” policy in Virginia, or are there instances in which parents are released from incarceration on the grounds of humanity? Does Northam even know what the policies and practices prevail in Virginia?

If Kaine believes that illegal-immigrant children should not be separated from their parents entering the criminal justice system, is he prepared to submit legislation to prevent the same from happening to U.S. children? If not, why not?Does he think U.S.-born children are less deserving of compassion?

If Northam decries the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” toward the separation of children, is he prepared to act against Virginia localities that also might have zero-tolerance policies? Does his heart not go out to Virginia children deprived of a mother’s embrace?

Young children are always innocent victims in these things, and they always deserve our compassion. But maybe, just maybe, the administration of justice in the real world gets really complicated and messy because the issues are inherently difficult. People in the law-enforcement community have been wrestling with these issues for years. I’d take Kaine and Northam a lot more seriously if they’d spoken up before now and if they’d addressed the practices in their own back yard.

The Scalia School: a Bastion of Conservative Thought

The Scalia School of Law at George Mason University has significant disadvantages in the scrabbling for prestige among American law schools. Founded in 1979, it’s a relatively young institution, which means graduates have had less time to accumulate wealth, donate, and leave bequests than their counterparts at older institutions have done. As a result, the school’s endowment is a negligible $4.4 million. Scalia also is part of a public institution that for many years treated it as a cash cow to be milked rather than an asset to be invested in.

Yet Scalia fares well in rankings of law school prestige — having made it into the Top 50 among 200 law schools every year over the past 18 years and having scored 41st in the most recent US News & World-Report ranking. In a 2015 ranking of scholarly impact based upon the number of law journal citations by its faculty, Scalia did even better: It scored 21st.

One reason that Scalia “punches above its weight,” suggests Dean Henry Butler, is the intellectual diversity of its faculty. “Conservatives and libertarians are under-valued in the academic marketplace,” he says. “That allows us to recruit a stronger faculty.”

Lawyers tend to be more liberal than the general population, and law school professors more liberal than practicing lawyers. A 2017 research working paper, “The Legal Academy’s Ideological Conformity” found that only 15% of law school professors are politically conservative compared to 35% for lawyers as a whole.

Scalia is a marked exception to the national norm. Of the 49 highest-ranked laws schools in the country, Scalia had the largest percentage of conservative professors, roughly 80%. Only two other law schools, Brigham Young University and Pepperdine, had majority-conservative faculties.

Not surprisingly, the conservative faculty of GMU’s law school, named after deceased conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, has made it a target of the left. A group called UnKoch My Campus used the Freedom of Information Act  to obtain emails and copies of gift agreements purporting to show undue influence by the conservative/libertarian Charles Koch Foundation and the conservative Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy over the appointment of faculty members and creation of programs. The allegations were repeated by the New York Times and Washington Post. GMU President Angel Cabrera has ordered an inquiry into the terms of the gifts, but he has described only two such deals as “problematic” and noted that both have expired.

UnKoch My Campus expressed shock — shock! — at evidence it uncovered showing that Dean Butler had communicated extensively with the wealthy conservative donors. Butler offers no apologies. As dean of the law school, he is the fund-raiser in chief, which makes him the schmoozer in chief. He is proud of the school’s success in funding programs that elevate its profile in the legal community.

I had the opportunity to visit Butler earlier this month. School was out for the summer, and the dean greeted me clad in shorts, sockless, tassled loafers, and an untucked button-down shirt. He came across as affable, enthusiastic, and passionate — but not dogmatic — about conservative causes. While Scalia’s law professors are mostly conservative, he noted that there are “a couple of Democrats” on the faculty. Perhaps more importantly, students feel free to express liberal views. “We don’t muzzle anybody here.”

Unsurprisingly for a free-market conservative, Butler touts the “marketplace of ideas,” and he sees the Scalia School playing an important role in that marketplace.

Founded in 1979, the law school entered its modern incarnation in 1986 when Henry G. Manne became dean at the recommendation of GMU’s two Nobel Prize winners, James M. Buchanan and Vernon Smith. Manne was a proponent of the Law and Economics school of thought pioneered by economist Ronald Coase and legal scholar Richard Posner. The breakthrough idea was that the discipline of economics could provide insights into not only areas of business law such as antitrust compliance but torts, property, contracts, domestic relations, procedure, even constitutional law.

In a 1994 essay Manne recounted how Law and Economics took root at GMU:

Much of the credit for what occurred at GMU belongs to the University President, Dr. George W. Johnson. He repeatedly said that he did not want “just another good law school.” Rather, consistent with his entire style at this new, innovative and burgeoning university, he wanted to be at the cutting edge, to set new models for other universities, and to take chances in order to move George Mason’s reputation along in a hurry. When he heard in some detail my idea for a law school, he is reported to have said to an associate, “whether Henry Manne comes here or not, that is the kind of law school we want.”

A student of Manne’s, Butler has built on the Law and Economics foundation. He has fought to keep a bigger share of the law school’s tuition revenue for the law school itself. He has raised money for massive renovations of the Arlington campus, including the digitization of much of the law library to replace oppressive stacks of books with light-imbued study and meeting space. He orchestrated the school’s name change to honor Scalia, a leading light of conservative legal thought. And he has increased outside fund raising. Most of the money goes to support six centers and institutes. Continue reading

Free Speech Zones in the Land of Fruits and Nuts

Regular reader and roving California correspondence Larry Gross shared the photo above of a sign post at Yosemite National Park. “We’re seeing these signs at other places including the Walmart,” he reports.

What an interesting concept — special zones where people can exercise their right to free speech. I wonder what rights people have outside these zones. Only in California.

Lies, Damn Lies, and CNN Statistics

So, I listened this weekend to some of the speeches in the “March for Our Lives” protest against guns, and heard a lot of criticism of the National Rifle Association for buying votes through its enormous campaign contributions. Then I saw this article published on the CNN website that purports to explain why the NRA holds so much sway in Congress. States CNN:

While large industries such as defense, health care and finance give more to federal candidates, so-called “single-issue” groups have always been a bit different. For them, it’s not necessarily as much about outspending and outflanking other industry powers as it is how they compare with the other side — those advocating the opposite position.

By that measure, the NRA and its allies aren’t just winning, they’ve been dominating for years.

In the 2018 election cycle so far, gun rights groups, including the NRA, have outspent the competition more than 40 to 1.

Gun rights groups have made nearly $600,000 in direct contributions and independent expenditures on behalf of congressional candidates, the data shows. Gun control groups? Barely $14,000.

Graphic credit: CNN

I don’t have a (hunting) dog in this fight. I don’t own a handgun; indeed, I have never shot a gun but once in my life. I don’t have a problem with enacting measures to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals, crazy people and wife beaters. On the other hand, if I felt the need to defend myself, I’d want to make sure that my right to purchase a Dirty Harry-worthy .44 Magnum wasn’t infringed in any way. Call me a middle-of-the-roader on this issue.

So, when I heard the refrain that the “gun lobby” spreads around far more money than gun control advocates do, I had no reason not to believe it. What else would explain their political power?

Then I came across this article published by Radio IQ. Virginia public radio is hardly part of the NRA fan club. But, drawing upon data from the Virginia Public Access Project, Radio IQ drew a radically different conclusion regarding money in Virginia politics.

During last year’s state election, gun rights groups and firearms dealers gave more than $160,000 in campaign contributions. That’s according to an analysis from the Virginia Public Access Project. It’s a good chunk of change, and it was directed largely at members of the General Assembly who sit on committees that routinely stop gun control legislation. But groups that advocate for gun control donated more than $2.4 million, mostly to statewide candidates.

“One of the myths of politics is the idea that NRA money is decisive,” according to Stephen Farnsworth at the University of Mary Washington. He says the real power of the NRA is not the campaign contributions. It’s the activists who show up at rallies and contact lawmakers and are, essentially, single-issue voters.

(Last year wasn’t a fluke, by the way. VPAP records show that gun control advocates have outspent gun rights advocates in Virginia political races since 1996-97 by $8.1 million to $1.3 million.)

Quoting national statistics, CNN says the NRA outspends opponents 40 to 1. Quoting state statistics, Radio IQ says opponents outspend the NRA by 15 to 1. That’s quite a discrepancy.

I consulted the OpenSecrets.org database to see if I could explain the diametrically opposed results. For the 2017-2018 election cycle, OpenSecrets says that gun rights groups contributed $808,000 to federal candidates, parties, and outside groups, while gun control groups contributed a mere $152,000. That’s a spending gap, but closer to 5 to 1 than 40 to 1.

Delving a bit deeper, we see that the Giffords PAC, named after shooting victim Congressman Gabbie Giffords, was the only major contributor listed for the gun control groups. It turns out that the big gun-control groups — Everytown for Gun Safety, the Giffords PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence — contributed heavily to Virginia state races — primarily  Governor Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring, and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax. I would conjecture that the same groups have spent heavily in other state groups as part of a strategy of influencing state elections rather than federal elections.

In other words, CNN told only part of the story. Its article focused on federal elections exclusively, ignoring the vast sums poured into Virginia and possibly other state elections. I don’t know if CNN was consciously manipulating the truth, or if it was just incredibly sloppy. But I do know this: Far from being “the most trusted name in news,” CNN is rapidly establishing itself as the least trusted name in news.