Saturday, November 19, 2011

Democracy - A Second Look

I’m noticing in myself that after a decades long personal evolution to wrest myself from my early Southern Baptist indoctrination and even question the basic tenants of faith, I have in my twilight years also begun to question other sacred cows. And one of those is democracy itself. And this is at a higher level than implied by such Churchillian quotes as, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”, or my favorite, “"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." My journey has brought me not only to just question religion, or to question free will, but to now question democracy. To question the very sacred tenets upon which democracy is supposed to rest: that the people can or should govern themselves, that the majority really should rule, that men do really have inalienable rights, that the “will of the people” is really the will of the people.

In any event, American democracy is not working, is corrupted, is a farce, inhabited by career politicians beholden to their own self-interest and brazenly more of a popularity contest that is a high school class president election.

I did a bit of looking at the statistics. And I went a bit further, all politics being local. And drilled down to state and county data. Here they are run through my spreadsheet. Voter turnout varies from country to country for a host of reasons, and turnout is not necessarily related to the quality of governance.

The United States here ranks quite low, however the data used is from a midterm election where turnout is always lower than presidential election years.

The historic data for United States voter turnout looks like this:


And Virginia places in the bottom 30% when compared to the fifty states.


The Virginia Election Board data suggests that there is even a tendency over time towards lower voter turnout, especially on off year elections.

And when compared with Chesterfield County, a similar pattern is noted: Of particular interest is the 19% turn out in Chesterfield County in 2003. This is 19% of registered voters – 31961 county residents voted in that election, in a county that in 2003 was 278,000 – 11.5% of the population actually voted. The majority won the various local offices, by even smaller margins for local district races. This was rule by majority that was in fact rule by a small minority.

I won’t broach the liberal versus conservative mind but I will recommend John Dean’s book, Conservatives Without Conscience, which is a good primer on the subject, other than to say it is much easier to lock step march conservatives to the polls, especially if there is a social issue that plays to their belief systems.

I will though add that the power of incumbency is used worldwide to secure elected position, with everything from erecting barriers to participation by selected groups, e.g. registration and voting barriers, to blatant gerrymandering. Particularly offensive is the disenfranchisement of felons.

"23% of the African American population in Virginia are disenfranchised, according to a breakdown of data by state by civil rights advocacy group, The Sentencing Project, where they report a whopping 2,331 disenfranchised African Americans per 100,000 of the total population of the Commonwealth. 7% of the total voting age population in Virginia have lost their political voice. 



You can apply to have your civil rights restored, but the process is lengthy. There's also no guarantee that your application will be approved. The number of newly disenfranchised felons in Virginia each year exceeds the number of ex-felons who are able to regain their civil rights. 



Despite evidence that bringing ex-felons back into the franchise actually reduces the recidivism rate, Virginia continues to disenfranchise any and all convicted felons regardless of the nature of the crime. The waiting period keeps many ex-felons from being eligible to have their civil rights restored, because disenfranchised felons are more likely to be reoffenders. What this really means is that Virginia continues to adhere to a policy that actually creates more crime. 



Virginia is one of only two states remaining in the United States that disenfranchises all convicted felons and require personal action from the Governor in order to restore the rights of ex-felons."


But all this begs the question, democracy – does it actually work? Can democracy compete with China’s “single party, part socialist, part capitalist, authoritarian/totalitarian oligarchy with figurehead leaders.” Does democracy offer the best quality of life for the largest number of people?

Labels: , ,

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lost in Conversation

Lost in the midst of the largest economic downturn in generations, lost in the 1% versus 99% realizations that there is an historic and growing divide between rich and poor, lost in polarized images of the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party phenomena – lost in conversation is the reality that although the rich have the power, the less rich have the votes, at least in the democratic countries.

Protests from either side that refers back to our original democratic founding seem to miss a very important point – democracy requires citizen participation. Democracy is and was a grand experiment in governance in which instead of citizenry being ruled by a king or dictator or emperor or pope, the people would for the first time govern themselves. That basic assumption has become an utter failure.

The peoples’ electorate in the early colonies so undemocratically included only white men over the age of 21, and those elected were by and large already the prominent, respected, and . . . often rich and powerful members of their communities. Over time that electorate was broadened to include women, blacks, 18-21 year olds – all with the hope that a more inclusive democracy would be a better democracy.

The reality is that in the march of democracy in America, the electorate has fully shirked its responsibility. The few who do drag themselves to the polls are far too often uninformed about the candidates and issues they are voting on. It is far too easy to accept that one person’s vote, one way or another, is very unlikely to make an iota’s worth of difference. And little acceptance is given to the maxim that “all politics is local”. Thus suggesting that a scant few ever attend a municipal council meeting, write to their legislators, join a local political organization, or support with time or money a local candidate.

And into this gaping vacuum step the rich and powerful. Into this void step the special interests. They are not necessarily bad; they take up this opportunity because they just simply can. It is a natural and expected consequence of electorate apathy. It is a natural and expected reaction to the sense of indifference felt by so much of the electorate.

And this may be a natural and expected evolution in a democracy – especially an established democracy that has had as many iterations of the electoral cycle as has America.

Imagine a hypothetical island of ten people where one person happens to own 90% of the palm trees, the main food source on the island. His family accumulated these trees over time and now, due to the power of ownership of this resource, he has inordinate influence over the community. The other nine protect the island, and the palms, from invaders from other islands. They work on the palm farm to nurture and harvest the fruit, and they provide the island and the wealthy palm tree owner with all the other services this small island requires.

Now lets assume this island is a democracy. What prevents the nine from voting to more equally divide the island’s resources? What prevents the community, at the death of the palm tree tycoon, from some redistribution rather than allowing the palm grove to go to his spoiled progeny? My guess is that on this hypothetical island democracy of ten, that there would be natural tendencies to a somewhat more equal distribution of wealth and the benefits that accrue to such wealth. Not that hard work and innovation wouldn’t be rewarded. Just that excessive tilts in this wealth distribution due to good fortune, special privilege, the accident of birth, and the contributions of others much less rewarded, would be less likely.

Was American exceptionalism and the paradigm that anyone who worked hard could accomplish his/her dreams in America merely a myth largely perpetrated by the unique position America found itself in after two world wars – where the great economic powers of Europe and Asia were in ashes and America with its huge resources left intact?

And on top of an economic crisis, the country has become more polarized than anytime in recent memory. The politburo in China must be having a great laugh. They don’t have to put up with an unwieldy and dysfunctional democratic experiment – they can rule by fiat and as long as their population is as uninvolved in their collective destiny as are the Americans, then China may easily again step onto the world stage as a dominate player.

And lost in the conversation is the fundamental failure of America’s democratic experiment.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Is Eric Cantor Now The Face Of Virginia?

OK, I’m a Virginian who doesn’t reside in Virginia, however, I do follow the news from my home state and the news mentioning Virginia is seldom pleasant. And the news mentioning Virginia is only Virginia news because it all too often only focuses on Virginia 7th District Congressman Eric Cantor.

Now, I’m not a fan of Eric Cantor. To me his smarmy, high-pitched voice and condescending demeanor make it hard to actually hear what he is saying. And when I do get past that I find his arguments insipid, unoriginal, and hollow. He merely speaks talking points – he plays word games cleverly calculated to resonate with a national conservative audience. He doesn’t even have to consider the resonance with his own constituency, as his seat is about as rock solid as any in Congress. Why? Because the progressives in his district seem incapable of fielding a credible opposition to his candidacy.

So can anyone suggest a living Virginian who is better known nationally, than Eric Cantor? I cannot. And that is embarrassing. Certainly not our two Senators – Webb was a shooting star who then just fizzled out as his agenda seemed to be a more personal agenda and his personality a bit too abrasive, and Warner just doesn’t get the media attention he deserves. But Cantor is attracted to the TV camera like a moth to a flame and night after night it is Eric Cantor who is the face of Virginia.

And why doesn’t Cantor have to worry about his job? Incumbency, party support, and the lock step following of the conservatives – that, plus a totally disorganized and unmotivated Democratic leadership in his district and certainly in Chesterfield County. On returning to Virginia in 1998 from over eight years abroad, I was concerned enough that there were no “D”s to counter the “R’’s at the ballot box that I joined the Chesterfield County Democratic Committee. Chesterfield, a county of over 300,000 where perhaps six individuals control the main supposedly progressive NGO of the county. In a blue state these six would be called Republicans. Inane archaic convention rules, competing agendas, inertia, and cliquishness. Little wonder that the county’s true progressive, Dan Gecker, chooses to run as an Independent.

The 7th district has a population of over 650,000, almost the population of the entire state of Virginia in 1790. But then Virginia was able to produce a George Washington, a Thomas Jefferson, a Patrick Henry and scores of other notables. That was then – Eric Cantor is now. So sad, so very sad.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

A Reasonable Solution To The Impending Political Impasse

The scenario: a deadlocked Congress more so than seen in our lifetimes. Continuing economic demise in the face of a myriad of possible unfortunate events (acts of nature, acts of terrorism, etc.), and a gleeful Asia that is ascending while we are descending. Against this unfolding picture may I again suggest a possibility out of this mess and one that might actually work.

As prologue may I use the analogy of the closing of military bases. This has perennially been a no-winner as the representatives of impacted regions cry loud enough and are passionate enough to disrupt any required action. No elected official of any such affected state can possibly view the larger interest of the nation against the needs of his/her constituency. The solution: Congress very cleverly came up with the method of protecting these politicians while at the same time achieving the necessary closing of redundant bases by agreeing to have an impartial commission, mandated to make a recommendation as to specific base closings; and here is the genius of this scheme, Congress would in return agree to NOT debate this recommendation but only to vote on it – up or down.

I argue that this same process can be used on a myriad of national governing issues that have festered for years if not decades: tax reform, energy policy, entitlement programs, defense budgets, and many more.

Washington may be populated by some of the most hypocritical, conniving, lying, and masquerading as Mr. Smith Goes To Washington on the eve of every election cycle, individuals. But these are also pragmatic people. Washington, and the country, is also gifted with scores of real experts with real solutions to these problems. I challenge Congress to adopt the model used for military base closings to this range of unsolved national problems.

Democracy, as wonderful a governing idea as it is, is flawed in that it assumes an informed and wise electorate – an engaged electorate. Well my precinct had a 52% turnout in last Tuesday’s election. As a previous poll watcher I’m aware that too many go into the voting booth and face the candidates names and the ballot issues for the first time. And equally aware that few voters under the age of 30 are even motivated to show up at all. And for reasons social psychologists are just beginning to study, conservative personalities can be more predictably marched lock step to the polls than liberal personalities who, as lofty as their ideals may be, find any excuse not to exercise their franchise.

More autocratic governments can have an appearance of democracy while still having a strong central control of universal and long range policy – note the one child policy and imposition of the Three Gorges Dam project in China. In an economic “war” of the new world order, democracy has a potent adversary, and unless we come up with real solutions to govern such that national problems are faced timely rather than just being kicked down the road, then we may just forge a national decline of our own making.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Apartheid in Virginia

A very brief history: Europeans arrived in Virginia in the 17th century to find a bountiful land occupied by indigenous peoples. Upper class Caucasian males soon came to dominate the land and profited in an agrarian environment that depended on indentured servants and slaves. And white males were a major source of the intellectual and passionate force that arose to create American independence and found modern democracy.

Slavery, which helped to accrue power and wealth to upper class whites, was abolished only after a very bloody civil war, however this white class maneuvered second-class status to blacks economically, socially, and politically. Evangelical and fundamentalist Protestantism that had a distinct ingrained intolerance also heavily influenced Virginia’s culture.

Government mandated discrimination or segregation of the races was eventually dismantled by the courts in the 1960’s; however, white upper class males with a long legacy of superior education, hereditary wealth, and superior political skills remain to this day the dominant elite.

The combination of forced school integration and increased white class mobility in the 1960’s onward led to the exodus of whites from urban areas to newly developed suburban communities leaving the blacks, by demographics, to accrue urban political power.

However, this demographic segregation, misguided social programs, black cultural values, lack of resources, and poor education spawned generations of broken black families, broken neighborhoods, crime, drug trafficking and addiction, and despair.

Although some inroads have been made in women’s rights – especially suffrage, technology that freed women to take work outside the home, improved education, birth control, and women’s rights legislation - women remain a real minority, despite being a demographic majority, and have only limited political power as the composition of legislative bodies and corporate management clearly shows.

In recent decades religious tolerance is commonplace, however the state, especially in rural areas, still maintains rather unenlightened fundamentalist Protestant views and values. This is also evidenced in the clout that evangelicals have in the legislature and in their continuing insistence that homosexuals are a threat to the well being of society and thus they actively lobby to prevent gays from achieving parity in civil rights.

Virginia’s white heterosexual Protestant males retain their sense of superiority over women, non-Protestant religions and the unreligious, blacks, Hispanics and other races, northerners, foreigners, and homosexuals.

Certainly this is not apartheid in the South African sense – but it is, in my opinion, apartheid in Virginia in 2010 that should be an embarrassment and a call to action to every fair minded, enlightened, and conscientious Virginian to work for a future where all have an equal opportunity to achieve their potential, where all are ensured equal rights by their government, and where the diversity of Virginians is embraced.

Monday, September 29, 2008

I Am Ashamed That Eric Cantor Is My Congressman

I understand that most don’t have the leisure I have, as a retiree, to follow issues, to stay tuned to political debates, to spend time and become involved in local politics. However, it is appalling that those fellow citizens of my 7th District in Virginia have such a knee jerk reaction to this current financial crisis such as to swallow the political rhetoric of Congressman Cantor and to not see this partisan politician for who he is.

To see Congressman Cantor spotlighted on national news holding up House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s floor remarks and using this as the reason that Republicans failed to pass their administration’s backed financial crisis bill was nauseating. Cantor was playing politics. Cantor was petty. Cantor was being used by his party handlers to try and shift this failure to reach accord onto the Democrats for political gain. Cantor was seen as a safe spokesman who is from the brightest red district of a red state with little formidable opposition to push this malarkey.

It is an insult to the intelligence of his constituency to essentially say that because Pelosi hurt their feelings they changed their vote and decided to put their fragile egos ahead of the interest of the country.

Congressman Cantor needs to accept his lack of leadership and the responsibility of his Party over the last eight years for their part in this financial disaster.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Solve The Economic Crisis – Sell Alaska Back To Russia

In 1867 Russia was in a difficult financial position and sold Alaska to the United States. Perhaps its time to consider selling it back. Russia might pay for this helped with their huge oil revenues. At 350 million acres, by offering to sell back Alaska to Russia at a mere $5,000 per acre, there would be an almost two trillion dollar infusion into our Treasury. This would pay for the bailout of Wall Street and hopefully restore our financial markets as well as pay the cost of the Iraq War. There is certainly precedence for this. Countries sell territory when they get into big problems. For example the 1803 Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon.

After all the population of Alaska is only about 700,000 (about the same as Memphis Tennessee) and they are geographically closer to Russia than mainland United States. And this will have many side benefits. The drilling in ANWR debate is shifted out of our politics. Governor Palin now becomes a Russian citizen and will get some international experience and could be a real foil for Putin. The independent wilderness types and hockey moms could well be a force to democratize Russia. And a cross migration between Alaska and the residents of South Ossetia could mitigate a current source of international tension.

There could also be a precedent for this during a political campaign year - in December 1961, Goldwater told a news conference that "sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea". There might be an argument now to saw off Alaska to solve our country’s deep, deep financial debt that is dragging down our future and that of our grandchildren.

(This is tongue in check – no ignorant replies needed).

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"World War V" - a timely novel


First time novelist Tom Elliott has hit a home run with this propitiously published new novel, “World War V”. Elliot seems to be a cross between Follett, Vonnegut, and Pynchon but with an uncanny ability to capture the disparate characters playing in the big picture of a world stage while simultaneously being so fallibly human.

The year is 2010 and in the midst of a worldwide financial crisis, accelerating inflation, and tightening of credit, traditional military war is being replaced by economic war. OPEC, Venezuela, and Russia have been holding secret meetings, each with their own agendas but with the realization that together they can put enormous pressure on the west to advance their agendas. And together they are able to pressure China by both reassuring it on its energy supply and suggesting a way to bolster its relative geopolitical power and prestige.

This all bodes poorly for the west and especially for America. In the states unemployment has skyrocketed, personal equity has plummeted as stock values and house values drop. And to add fuel to the fire, massive natural disasters have devastated several metropolitan areas. Changing weather patterns have raised havoc with agriculture with attendant effects on food prices.

Into this dismal mix author Elliott weaves an intriguing and suspenseful account of the comings and goings at the White House, cleverly bouncing from alternative scenarios of a hawkish Republican president who very closely resembles a current candidate and an accommodating diplomatic Democratic president who is a dead ringer for another current candidate.

Russia, led behind the scenes by a clever and sinister figure who dreams of the reemergence of the Soviet, is playing its oil card and also playing a dangerous chess game where the future of world power is at stake. A growing dictatorship in Venezuela is consolidating power among several South and Latin American countries and Cuba by dangling the carrot of cheap oil. And OPEC sees this as the opportunity to finally leverage their interests against Israel.

And in the midst of such seismic events, Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Iran are not sitting on their hands. A loose suitcase nuclear bomb is missing somewhere in the mix.

And China prodded by intimidation by the growing oil consortium and seeing the opening to emerge as the new world super power, secretly colludes to raise the price of exports at the same time it begins to call in the enormous debts owed by the United States. So as oil prices in the states go through the roof, prices of imported goods at the big box stores skyrocket, and the U. S. Treasury has problems printing money fast enough to pay its creditors, the new administration in Washington is simultaneously seen coping from two different cleverly juxtaposed perspectives – two time dimensions of two completely different political styles and personalities. This is one read you won’t quickly put down once begun and your heart will race as – well spoiler alert, the ending guarantees that a movie script is already in the making.

Why Is Congressman Eric Cantor Not The Prime Example Of The Type Of Politician That McCain And Palin Say They Are Fighting Against?

Rather than go into a lengthy discussion on the ineptitude and toadiness of Virginia’s 7th District Republican Congressman, I thought this interview of Cantor by Chris Matthew would better prove my point.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Will Virginia Decide The Election?

Regardless of all the national polls, least we forget, it is the electoral votes that decide the presidency. An interesting insight into this dynamic is provided by intrade.com, which uses the consensus of the market where real dollars are being bet on the presidential election and other political races. I’ve plotted the “market value” of the electoral votes and here is the graph.

And it’s a very close race by any measure. And Virginia is both now in play as a swing state and perhaps is a presidential decider. Northern Virginia is swinging blue and has for years. And to some extent, so is the Richmond metropolitan area. Surprisingly, the stalwart conservatives in the Norfolk area are even giving Obama a second look. Certainly rural and western Virginia will vote along conservative lines.

But, again least we forget, it was Jim Webb, whose recent close and surprising win over George Allen, tipped the Senate to the Democrats and changed the balance of power in Washington. And now Virginia, with its 13 electoral votes, stands to be king maker and both parties know this. And we Virginians can expect a lot of campaign attention, national news focus, and plenty of close up opportunity to see all the candidates in the next two months. I challenge all Virginia voters to accept this civic responsibility of making an informed choice and to exercise that choice at the polls – the future of our country can be at stake.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Presidency Will Change – But What About The Congress?

With both parties waking up to the clarion call of all Americans for change, and not just change, but basic change in the way our government serves its people, there are now four individuals of uncommon promise. The presidency will change. But perhaps much more importantly, will the Congress?

Mohandas Gandhi is quoted as saying, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ”. To follow in that thought I have to say to the McCain campaign, “I like your presidential candidate, I don’t like your Republicans. Your Republicans are so unlike your presidential candidate”.

The tone of McCain’s speech was so opposite to the vitriol of previous night’s speakers. He didn’t rail against the evil and effete liberals. He accepted that we are all more alike as Americans than our differences would suggest. And most importantly, he acknowledged the failures of the recent Republican control and the need to fix Washington and to reach for the best ideas regardless of party. To stop the infantile squabbling and to actually move to solve our common problems.

With the thoughts of his acceptance speech still in mind, I wonder at what this means to the race of Virginia’s 7th District Congressman Eric Cantor who is so closely identified with party politics, association with the likes of Jack Abramoff, being the consummate glitzy campaign fund raiser, his close ties to special corporate interests, and having not one memorable initiative of record or any reputation of working across parties to move legislation.

Or Virgil Goode, the Representative from Virginia’s 5th District. Can’t a District of 700,000 citizens find a Congressman who is less an embarrassment to the ideals of inclusion and tolerance? Is he really an example of the type of Congressman McCain spoke of tonight who would be the bright minds and creative problem solvers?

Virginia is loosing its Republican Senator John Warner and I’d be happy to vote for another Republican of his statue and integrity - if there were one. Fortunately, there is a good Democratic nominee that will, along with Senator Jim Webb, bring two competent and capable partners to whomever wins the presidency.

As we approach November, voters need to keep in mind the need to also change those in Congress who hardly need to be rewarded for the last eight years.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Sarcasm Is An Indirect Form Of Anger

Behaviorists who study such things say that sarcasm is an indirect form of anger. If that is indeed true then the speeches at this year’s Republican convention, especially those of Romney, Giuliani, and the vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin dripped with that subsurface anger. But what are they angry about? Are they angry that the last eight years of Republican control has been so disastrous that they feel power slipping from their hands? Are they angry at a countrywide awakening that we are up to our collective asses in problems and its time for a change. Are they angry that regardless of who wins in November there is a mountain of debt that will have to be paid back by all of us – Democrats and Republicans.

I’m at a loss for an answer.

Just as “compassionate conservatism” in previous Republican cycles was a clever phase – it hardly is a way we remember the reality. And is certainly not a slogan continued in the current cycle. The current cycle seems to be about macho conservatism, a cheerleader rally about us versus them.

Lacking is any accountability for the last eight years. Lacking in the attacks on the intransigence of Washington is any acceptance that it was their party that was the intransient. And completely lacking was any spotlight on any Republican politician who shares the blame for that intransigence.

Watching the TV cameras pan across the Delegates, you are hard pressed to see a black face. This is a white party – a monolithic party and a party still obsessed with their belief that they are entitled and that they are never going to share that entitlement, especially under any “we the people” government mandate.

It is a grasping for constancy in their lives rather than consistency with their alleged beliefs. It is the play on code words like “liberal” and “effete” and “San Francisco” that belies any suggestion of intent on inclusion.

After November we will find that we all occupy this same country, we all live next door to each other, we all depend on each other – and as best we can, we will have to deal with the divisive, shrill, and yes, the sarcastic language that will still echo in our midst – and, most likely still, in our Congress.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Congressman Eric Cantor - Poster Boy for the Last Eight Years

Do you know who your Congressman is? If you do, I challenge you to ask the next five people you meet and find one more who does. Perhaps it’s just that your Congressman is more a part of the political machine that only raises its head when elections roll around. And which provides the ride back into power of career politicians who see their main challenge as raising more money so they can continue to stay in power.


In the midst of two weeks of political party conventions, the volleys go back and forth but one common theme is prevalent – and that is that the Congress has been ineffective in the last eight years in addressing the important problems facing our country. And there has been possibly no Congressman more associated with this gridlock, this inability to work across the aisle, this putting of party interest above the interests of America than Virginia’s 7th District Congressman Eric Cantor.

But don’t take my word for this. I am just a political junkie who is concerned with the course the country is currently sailing and am deeply concerned about the troubled waters we find ourselves in. I challenge you to take on your citizenship responsibility and do a bit of research on your own. You might start out by scrolling through the Interest Group Ratings that are collected on the Project Vote Smart website. Here is the LINK.

If you have a concern for issues such as:

➢ Civil Liberties and Civil Rights

➢ Education

➢ Environmental Issues

➢ Health Issues

➢ Labor

➢ Senior and Social Security Issues

➢ Women’s Issues

You may be surprised at how low he is ranked almost universally on all of these issues. But, no surprise, he has great ratings for anything relating to business interests.

I might suggest you also Google Eric Cantor and see if you don’t conclude, as I have, that Congressman Cantor is the darling of the Republican Party, a loyal lap dog, and a gifted fundraiser. But what has he done for you, for Virginia, for America?

Congressman Cantor has a formidable opponent this November; Anita Hartke is not a career politician, not a Washington insider, but is a more representative example of the values of both the 7th District and of America. She is someone who will work with whomever wins the Presidency for the best interests of America. And as we change the Presidency, don’t you think it might also be a good time to change the Congress.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Do We Really Want To Elect A Left Handed President?

Not long ago in history, and in some parts of the world even today, being left-handed was seen as a curse. Despite the best science and medicine today that overwhelming tells us that being left handed is not a moral choice but is a state of being, there exists some level of prejudice, bias, and discrimination against the left-handed among us. In America, generally those born left-handed are not insisted to change their handedness to right-handedness, although that was the case just a few decades ago. Parents and teachers would routinely coerce the left-handed to adopt the majority handedness. We don’t persecute or torture the left handed as happened in earlier generations although in Muslim cultures being left handed can be quite a disadvantage as religion requires food to be eaten only with the right hand – the left being used for personal hygiene.

What does this have to do with a left-handed president? NBC news tonight reported that four of the last six presidents were left-handed (Ford, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Clinton). And now we are about to have another lefty, as both McCain and Obama are left-handed. Science doesn’t know the cause of left-handedness. Continuing brain research has yet to unravel this mystery. But left-handedness does seem to correlate with both creativity and achievement – and about ten percent of the population is left-handed.



Perhaps, you, as I do, can make the leap to analogize this left handed conversation to a conversation about homosexuality. Science and medicine today overwhelming concludes that homosexuality is not a moral choice but is a state of being. Overwhelming gays will tell you that as early as they can remember, their sexual orientation has been towards their own sex. But the human species seems to naturally react to those who are different. Whether that is differences in skin color, in religion, in physical appearance, or differences in language, customs, or just about anything that characterizes us.

And despite the deeply insisted on values of tolerance within both American tradition and Christian tradition, there still exists a stubborn insistence that homosexuals be treated with prejudice, bias, and intolerance. Despite the best science and medicine, many insist on their interpretations of 2000-year-old texts without regard to the context of the time and place of their origin. And many refuse to accept that Jesus never once spoke to the subject of homosexuality, but to a more encompassing message of treating others, as you would have others treat you.

The cherry picking of isolated verses to support one’s own bias may be the real sin.

Few have any problem today with electing a left-handed president. But, in the eyes of God, how mean spirited we are as a people to continue to demonize the minority among us who happen to be gay. And how mean spirited it of us as a people to exclude from one of the most cherished and desired of human institutions, the institution of marriage, those who desire to have equal acceptance of their mutual commitment to a loving and caring relationship. Shame on those who still, in 2008, insist that the benefits and privileges of marriage be held exclusively to the heterosexual.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Congressman Cantor - Do We Really Want To Reelect You?

Recent House Votes

Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act - Vote Passed (355-59, 20 Not Voting)

The House passed this bill to cancel a scheduled 10 percent Medicare reimbursement cut to physicians.

Rep. Eric Cantor voted NO

Federal Price Gouging Prevention Act - Vote Failed (276-146, 13 Not Voting)

The House fell short of the two-thirds margin necessary to pass this bill, which would have expanded the Federal Trade Commission’s powers to combat price manipulation.

Rep. Eric Cantor voted NO

Alternative Minimum Tax Relief Act of 2008 - Vote Passed (233-189, 12 Not Voting)

The House voted to “patch” the alternative minimum tax.

Rep. Eric Cantor voted NO

Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act - Vote Passed (322-98, 14 Not Voting)

The House approved $1.7 billion in grants to mass transit authorities.

Rep. Eric Cantor voted NO

======================

There is an alternative to those who seem to have a higher loyalty to their party than to the district they represent, an alternative to the gridlock and courting of special interests, an alternative to the lack of solutions in a time of so many common threats to our common good.

And that alternative is Anita Hartke, candidate for Congress from Virginia’s 7th District. Check her out at her webpage and consider this choice for change -- we need solutions not politics.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Reverend Jeremiah Wright

The current 24/7 news cycle this week latched onto several clips from sermons from Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the pastor to presidential candidate Barack Obama for some 20 years.

Most have now seen these clips of the minister’s theatrical and hyperbolic style. And it would be to walk among mine fields to attempt to defend the several sound bites that the networks have chosen out of the many sermons the minister’s church apparently makes available on video.

Wright’s statements in these clips have been almost universally characterized as incendiary, outrageous, and anti-American.

It may not be possible now, in this poisoned atmosphere, to view these in context, but I challenge you to do that. I challenge you to imagine you are in the congregation during these sermons and I challenge you to abstract yourself from the current controversy and honestly ask yourself if you had been there, would you, without the coaching of TV and radio’s talking heads, have the same opinion of this minister.

Well here is that opportunity. Here are those two sermons – and if there were equivalent inflammatory sermons out there, then I would imagine the media’s research would have already found them. So I am assuming these are the worst of the worst the media can recover.



Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Does Virginia Really Want To Reelect Congressman Cantor?

For the first six years of the Bush administration all three branches of government were under tight Republican control. It was no secret over those years that a housing bubble was growing. Speculation was rampant. Housing developments were carving a new landscape. Whole TV channels were being devoted to how to make fast money by flipping real estate. And TV commercials were full of enticements to buy and refinance at suspiciously low rates with lots and lots of small print.

Where were the regulators of this industry? The mortgage bank regulators? The federal and state financial institution regulators? Were they all asleep?

Bear Sterns demise over the weekend may be just one domino. And though I have little sympathy for the Bear Stearns execs and the threat to their multi million dollar salaries and loss of millions of their equity, what about all the middle class Americans who were lured into this market bubble and are now threatened with loss of home and hearth?

When the Democrats wrested control of the legislature in 2006 they began to reverse the lack of regulation and to put more safeguards into the system. The bill was the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act and it passed the House 291-127 including substantial support from Republicans from some of the more seriously affected states.

This bill is described as: An act to amend the Truth in Lending Act to reform consumer mortgage practices and provide accountability for such practices, to establish licensing and registration requirements for residential mortgage originators, and to provide certain minimum standards for consumer mortgage loans. And Virginia’s 7th District Congressman Eric Cantor voted NO!

His vote was little surprise as anyone who follows his voting record can not but notice that he votes consistently along party lines – not along the lines of the needs and values of his constituency.

Check his top Political Action Committee contributors in this election cycle; Genworth Financial, Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, Wachovia, and Capital One were all in the top seven contributors. Any chance they have more influence on his voting than does the mere average citizen in his district who is being affected by the mortgage crisis?

The administration elected this November is going to need to work with a Congress that is willing to stop the political gridlock and work to bring common sense solutions to our commonly shared national problems. We need statesmen not politicians, we need representatives who are willing to work across the aisle, to bring ideas rather than obstructions, and to listen to the people over the largess of their corporate sponsors.

Cantor will be opposed. Anita Hartke, daughter of former Democratic Senator Vance Hartke is preparing to throw her hat in the ring and others have indicated their intention. Certainly in a district of 700,000 there must be better candidates than Cantor who both can take the concerns of Virginians to Congress and can work collegially with other members to deal with our economic, health, environmental, and other major problems that affect every American.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Turmoil in Chesterfield County Elections


Beginning before the January 3rd Iowa primary, there was a heady storm of general interest in November’s upcoming presidential election. Eight more primary election dates would build this crescendo of public attention before the Chesapeake primary on 12 February that included Virginia. Election Commissions and Registrars across the Old Dominion were gearing up for what was to be a very high turn out primary. But somehow this preplanning was far insufficient for one Virginia County – Chesterfield County.

Early on the morning of 12 February red flags were going up in the county about long lines and long waits to vote at several insufficiently staffed precincts. And as the day progressed problems compounded to the point that disgusted voters walked away from lines that circled around polling sites. And then even worse -- precincts began running out of ballots. As the polls closed almost 300 votes had been placed on scraps of paper, countless voters had walked away from the long lines, and the county was in the spotlight of a whole lot of angry dissatisfaction with the management of the county’s primary election.

Why were polling places insufficiently manned? Why weren’t contingency plans in place to anticipate long lines and voter turnout that outpaced ballots? These were some of the issues that caused a rare convening of the State Board of Elections for a public hearing that occurred on March 5th.

At the hearing private citizens, interest groups, and politicians alike testified to problems they encountered on voting day and the need for investigation. Jim Holland, the county’s lone Democratic supervisor, anticipated to call for the resignation or removal of the registrar, merely gave a timid admonishment. State Senator John Watkins made a political speech that brought out the one rare applause, but for what I don’t know, as he merely made the political remarks of “there is much to be said on both sides”. And Registrar Larry Haake, although present and glad-handing as if he were running for office, inexplicably chose not to testify at all.

Rumors swirl in the county that Haake is nothing but a political hack who won the cushy position of registrar due to his political network, and that the commission itself was generally incompetent. Haake's wife is said to be an active and supporting Republican and that there is no love lost between the Haakes and the local Democratic bigwigs.

There are 100 counties in Virginia – why was Chesterfield the one county that stood out as having such a poorly managed election? Why were the precincts with the higher level of black voters the precincts most affected? Why wasn’t there, despite the early red flags, a timely response by the county election commission and registrar to deal with the problems? Well the matter is still under investigation. A State Board of Elections report is due out in April. But in the meantime can Chesterfield residents be confident that the current county election officials will be able to manage a fair and orderly election in November without the long lines, long waits, and ballot stock outs?

And is it time to replace this registrar and this election board in the light of their performance and in the interest of an assurance of an orderly presidential election? With the visions of election mishaps in and screw-ups in Florida, Ohio, and Michigan, do we want Chesterfield County and thus Virginia added to that ignominious list – I hope not.

Labels:

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Missed Story – From Tuesday’s Election

Virginia is perennially considered a red state by TV’s talking heads and the print world’s political pundits. Virginia is considered a conservative bastion and the home of fundamentalist Christians as shown by being custodian of the two holy places of Pat Robertson’s 700 Club and the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. Last Tuesday’s primary would expect these authoritarian Virginians to march lock step to the polls and vote solidly Republican – but they didn’t.

Where the voter had the option to choose a Republican or a Democratic ballot, only 34% chose a Republican ballot as opposed to 66% who chose a Democratic ballot.

And in my county of Chesterfield, which has been a bastion of Republican ole boy politics up until the last board of supervisor’s election, the breakdown was 38% choosing the Republican ballot and 62% choosing the Democratic ballot.

Virginians were going Democratic versus Republican – two to one!

This is a seismic shift, a pole reversal, an underreported story that bodes the possibility that Virginia is truly turning from red to at least purple, and suggests real opportunities in November for Democrats in Virginia, if they can get their act together, to make further inroads in local and state offices.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Dare I Mention the Word - Marijuana

The following is a response to blogger Paul Hammond's posting on Barack Obama's position on marijuana.

-----------------------------------------------------

America’s criminal justice system has over the past few decades evolved into a criminal justice industry where vested interests and corporate interests have propelled our country into the largest prison in the world, and the largest prison population in the world. And it is not just the two million who languish in cells; it is the millions more affected as families and communities are disrupted. It is not just the millions incarcerated; it is the consequences of the world’s greatest crime university that takes in young men who committed small crimes and turns out hardened criminals and recidivists. It is not just the millions who sit imprisoned, but the fact that one in three adult black men in America are felons or ex felons – deprived forever of not just their suffrage, but disadvantaged regarding housing, employment and education opportunity. And a huge portion of those entering this system for the first time are there for relatively small illegal drug offenses.

We fail to recognize how barbaric we appear relative to all other western countries and many third world countries when it comes to crime and punishment. We fail to understand that The Netherlands, where small amounts of recreational drug possession is decriminalized, that for every person per population that Holland puts behind bars, America puts fourteen. That’s right, we incarcerate at a rate fourteen times as high, on a relative basis, than does The Netherlands. These are hard facts.

And as for marijuana use, the middle class, clean cut, white suburban high school student, who goes into the murky shadows of inner city realms to find a bag of grass, is coincidently exposed to predatory drug pushers who will acquaint our young lad with a far more dangerous and addictive menu.

Our pharmaceutical industry and our physician enterprises are all too eager to prescribe any of an assortment of “legal” mood changing chemicals to their affluent patients. But marijuana, a medicinal for centuries, cannot be even seriously studied for its efficacy.

I lived recently in Amsterdam for two and a half years. There were three coffee houses within blocks of the middle class canal house where I lived (not like the more psychedelic tourist trap Amsterdam coffee houses that cater to the world’s backpacking youth). These were not shady crack houses with disreputable clients, they were bright and warmly friendly gathering places where well dressed neighbors met, sipped coffee, would perhaps ceremoniously roll and share a Dutch marijuana and tobacco joint, and relax amidst an environment where crime is virtually unknown, excepting the occasional bike theft.

We, as Americans, arrogantly insist that we are the beacon to the world, but fail to look outward for solutions that other countries have long ago found to a myriad of social issues – not the least, an undeniable urge of many to chill out with an occasional marijuana smoke.

I can’t fault Obama too much for backing off this subject on which an inordinately influential segment of our population still views with irrational hysteria – I only hope that more, like you, will have the courage to come forward and insist that marijuana be fairly judged in the civic square relative to tobacco and alcohol use.

I Know What You Are, But What Am I?

I’ve wanted for some time to ponder the growing tendency of many Republicans to use the term “Democrat Party” instead of the more familiar “Democratic Party”. A tactic even our President has adopted. And the current Republican strategy to demonize the term “liberal” and equate it to limp-wristed, nebbish, effete, ex-hippies. And to further suggest that any semblance to socialism is to be equally dismissed as a slippery slope to communism. Even further, France and now all of Europe are not seen as precedents of America, but as a region of weak, withering, peoples, only existing by being propped up by our global might and reach. Somehow the oafish bullies and the BMOC types of high school become the Republicans of adult life.

I suggest you pull out your Webster and refresh your understanding of the labels “liberal” and “conservative”. I’d further suggest you afford yourself of the studies that indicate how those with conservative leanings are apt to be individuals who are attracted to authoritarian control.

One wonders at the longer term implications of even having a self-selecting volunteer military. Our earlier wars that were soldiered by a draft would certainly have cut more equally across the population.

In the context of the time, democracy was a very liberal concept. In the context of the time Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and many more of our founders would have been seen as liberal. Certainly the Loyalists and the Tories occupied the conservative niche at the time.

If a liberal characteristic is the ability to see things in the context of the time and place they occurred, then I value that characteristic. If being liberal means I am less drawn to authoritarian father figures, and am more independent, questioning, open minded, and take responsibility for my own path in life, then I value that characteristic.

Yes, there is a broad swatch of the population that can be mesmerized by an authoritarian figure who suggests he/she, and thus you, belong to the superior race, religion, creed, etc. And I suppose that is why there will always be unquestioning followers of a Hitler, a Pope, a Castro, a Pat Roberson, an Osama bin Laden, etc.

It is authoritarian led conservatives who end up being the cadres of recruits for authoritarian headed conservative movements. Thank God for those not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or traditional forms -- they are the “liberals”.

But regardless of our growing blue/red divide, our pissing contests between Republicans and Democrats, our gridlocked legislatures, the problems on the horizon are undeterred. And our American arrogance can be so soon humbled when we are overtaken by problems that have been foreseen for years and by now are close to being inevitable.

The childish name-calling and innuendo by our leaders permeates to our communities, to our schoolyards. And unless we as a nation start pulling together rather than pulling apart, we, to use a military term, will be OTBE (overtaken by events).

Monday, February 11, 2008

If There Is A God, Huckabee Will Be Our Next President

Don’t get me wrong, I like Mike Huckabee. He is an eloquent and compelling speaker, he is not a part of the Belt Way establishment, and he has a great sense of self-deprecating humor. He is even a musician and I respect his discipline in losing 100 pounds. I like his intelligent initiative to dramatically overhaul out tax system to stop the disincentive to production and earnings.

But as much as I like Huckabee, I would never vote for him. Or anyone who has such an unenlightened and simplistic view of this mystery known as God. No, even large numbers of theologians question the inerrancy of the Christian Bible.

I believe God inspired the Bible – and I use “God” as a short cut for my sense of whatever the mystery of mysteries is. But then aren’t all great works inspired? I believe that Jesus was the Son of God. But aren’t we all the children of God? The more one has a sense of history and of the wiles of men, the more I, at least, can see through the lens of time more and more the mark of just human beings and human institutions, rather than the hand of God, both as editors of the word of God, and frequent contributing authors.

How can we not appreciate, as science progresses, that what was previously explained by myth and imagination, is now explained with reason and logic? And how much of unfounded bias, prejudice, and discrimination, has subsequently been overturned by enlightened men and societies who truly see that all men are equal.

But apparently not Mike Huckabee, who still holds to the notion that gays and lesbians are morally deficient and not worthy of the full civic equality that their heterosexual brothers and sisters in America so casually take for granted.

Whomever becomes our President, I hope that he/she can be the President of all Americans and can move policy forward that is based solely on reason and the best expert advice and not couched in the hidden agendas derived from one’s belief in whatever man made myths and fairy tales.

It is everyman’s individual responsibility to search out their own spiritual path – but when someone imposes their concluded spiritual beliefs in such a way that it diminishes me, a gay man, in my civic life, it then becomes untenable.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Prayer For 2008

How shameless it is of some to stand in their conviction that words alone convey meaning and without attribution to the time and context written by mere mortal men. How courageous were our founders who grasped for words and fought amongst words to elicit a sense of democracy and freedom – in the context of their time – and how do we not revere their courage and their, yes enlightenment, and even their liberal or progressive views – taken in context of the time and place they were conceived. Just as some can only see the literality of the Bible and walk it as if it were traffic directions and never see the courage and enlightened thought that in the context of the time and place it was written could produce such a marked and magnificent view of morality. One in which individuals were worthy, all individuals. And that men treated men not just with civility but also with love and caring and charity.

Amazingly, it is that some among us are so rigid, so obfuscated, so obtuse, as to lose their way in principle, and rail against those who lose their way in feeling. And rarely are there those amongst us who can delve between principle and feeling to offer insight, to offer common good, to offer common sense – that too takes courage and an enlightened soul, such as were once held by those great authors of the Bible and of our own Constitution.

We don’t so much live in perilous times, as life exists perilously – and only when courage and a flash of brilliance and God given inspiration join in one man’s soul does he have the opportunity and the burden to move us forward. Pray that we find such character in our next president.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Sleazy Politics In Chesterfield County

Two nights ago in a debate in Chesterfield County, Don Sowder was asked specifically to comment on negative campaigning. Any person who attended would have heard his seemingly sincere and plaintive words – how much he just hated, just hated, just hated negative campaigning. He is the incumbent supervisor from Midlothian District and one of the supervisors on the county board of five – all Republicans. There has been some sniping back and forth, but rather fact based, and for some time the local papers and blogs have examined the issues. Both his challenger, Dan Gecker, an independent, and Sowder have insinuated that developers are too close to the other. It has been politics as usual but up to now on a rather civilized and respectful basis.

Until today. Today, just one business day before the election, Midlothian residents find in their mail a brash, completely new, and hugely controversial accusation that implies Dan Gecker is in bed with some developer who is a federal felon who plead guilty to bribing a city counselor.

This slick mailing was certainly in the works long before last Thursday’s debate – but it was not mentioned in Sowder’s opening nor closing remarks nor addressed in any of the 15 questions posed to each by the panel or by the several questions posed by the audience. Don Sowder was feigning repulsion of negative attacks while apparently quite aware of this coming, so cleverly timed, bombshell. It is just plain and simple sleazy politics.

Is the county electorate so disrespected and so contemptuously held as to have not been informed by Sowder weeks ago if this were a real issue?

If this alleged connection was so important to the substance of the race, then why has Sowder waited until the last possible minute to spring it? Is this the character and integrity of the politicians we want in public office?

I don’t know what Dan Gecker’s explanation or response is – I only hope he has the opportunity to make it before the polls open on Tuesday.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Scandal in Chesterfield's Sheriff's Race?

The Sheriff’s office pulls a bunch of inmates out of the county lockup and brings them over to the house of a relative of the Sheriff’s to clean up the yard and carry away loads of trash. Sound like something out of “The Dukes of Hazzard” or “Porky’s”? Actually it was the fairly recent practice in Chesterfield County, or so alleges Perry DeMay, candidate for Sheriff of Chesterfield County.

He alleges that. In violation of state law,

On February 1, 2000, the Sheriff’s inmate work force performed work at Sheriff Clarence Guy Williams’ Jr. cousin’s house. 


• A fallen tree was cutup and removed

• Snow was cleared from entrances to the house. 

• Salt was applied to walkways. 

• Three loads of brush were taken to the county landfill

• Sheriff’s Office trucks transported the brush

This is a clear violation of the laws of our Commonwealth and the trust of the citizens of Chesterfield County. The Sheriff’s Office does not perform these services for all of their county taxpayer’s.

There was an attempted cover-up for the work performed at the sheriff’s cousin’s residence and it has taken seven years to break the veil of silence to expose this corruption. The deputy who supervised the inmates on the job was advised by a member of the sheriff’s administration to keep quite, “He instructed me not to speak to anyone about this matter.”



At a recent debate at the county library the three candidates for Chesterfield County Sheriff stated their positions and qualifications, answered questions from a moderator, and from a packed audience. Apparently half packed by members of the Sheriff’s Department and their families and friends. The back half of the room all spotted large Proffitt signs and after the debate I spoke with a mix of those attendees to confirm that. The same Sheriff’s Department employees that are alleged to actively man the campaign tables at the polls. Note: all the circular blue “Proffitt for Sheriff” labels on the right shoulders.



The debate was well run. The audience was well behaved and attentive. The questions were fair and all three candidates gave a good showing.

The current Sheriff, Dennis Proffitt is alleged to have been handed his job on his friend’s, prior Sheriff Williams, early retirement so as to give Proffitt an incumbents advantage in the election. In fact, a main tenant of DeMay’s candidacy is that the county is riff in good old boy politics where plum jobs are passed one white Republican man to another in a very ingrained and patronaged way – such that jobs are more often based on the interconnection of networks rather than on qualification.

Independent candidate Ken Hall positioned himself as the true conservative among the contenders and is running a strong platform of anti illegal immigrants, although he admits that there are major limits on what a local jurisdiction can legally implement. He is an ardent admirer of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona – the self described "Nations Toughest Sheriff".

Allegations were also made that local developers and builders were financing the campaigns of the status quo as it helps insure a steady flow of low wage illegal aliens to work at their housing and shopping center projects.

DeMay contends that decades of one party control has lulled the county into a system of inefficient operation, created a dispirited Sheriff’s Department, and pursues poor policies of advancement and promotion – all resulting in a department that does not reflect the diversity of the community.

Will the electorate see a need for change? Will Hall and Proffitt split the conservative vote and open an opportunity for DeMay? Or will the county continue its decades long status quo? We’ll know in less than three weeks.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Challenge To The Chesterfield County Board of Supervisor Candidates

Full Disclosure:

I have challenged all 13 candidates for Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors to take an online test that can help inform county voters on 6 November as to where they fit on the political landscape. If you are a voter, I would challenge you to also take this test – here is the LINK. I don’t pretend that this should be determinative. But I do think it is informative, and that participation in this exercise will be informative in itself. Following is the message I sent to the candidates and if you are an eligible voter in the county, I suggest you encourage your local district candidates to participate.

Results will be published here prior to the election.

---

Hello,

My name is Bill Garnett and I write a blog that, among other topics, often explores aspects of Chesterfield County politics. Recently I sent out a test questionnaire to the 13 candidates for the five board of supervisor positions up for grabs on 6 November – I only received back responses from four and hope this is not representative of how responsive you will be to constituents should you be elected.

I am now making another request and this request is that you take a few minutes to show where you fit on the political landscape by taking a very short and easy online test. (It takes me less than five minutes). I think you will find this personally useful and informative.

I ask that you respond by sending me the two resultant coordinates

(1) Economic Left/Right
(2) Social Libertarian/Authoritarian

My intent will be to publish the results, by candidate, on a graph that will be published on my blog before the election, as an additional assist to voters who may find this instructive to their choice. I intend to present this information in a neutral manner.

I look forward to your participation and to your “test” results and I will have to suggest that not participating, in my opinion, would suggest a characteristic that might be also indicative of your style should you be elected – so please do respond. The test is at this LINK.

I am thanking you in advance for your participation.

Regards,

Bill Garnett

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Dan Gecker – A Ray of Sunshine In Chesterfield County

Chesterfield County nestled in the bosom of the James River, bedroom community for Richmond City commuters, and a patchwork quilt of public soccer fields and shopping malls and . . . well, not really much else. It’s a sleepy contented sort of place, blighted to the east by the gradual crawl of lower class whites, blacks and Hispanics, that nudge their middle and upper class white neighbors to leap frog again and again further west into the once verdant county, and now leaping all the way into Amelia and Powhatan.

This slow motion generational immigration west is prompted by the encroaching deterioration of neighborhoods, increased crime, and neglect of the schools, that even to a stalwart resident would omen the depreciation of his property’s value. No one expects anything better, the county has long been lulled by the mesmerizing tunes sung by their self perpetuating Protestant deacons and their inept and embarrassingly corrupt and ineffective politicians who feed at the trough of the real county dynamic: commercial and residential developers -- both feeding, and capitalizing on, the leap frogging west of the white classes.

It’s not an inspiring place. Hating one’s job and shopping occupy most of a resident’s time. And with little more to look forward to in the county than the opening of a new further west located mall and the new slew of low paying retail jobs that seem to be the only employment future the county has to offer.

Into this rather bleakly painted suburban scene steps a displaced Yankee who has come to love and plant roots in the community. Over years he has established a reputation of fighting for his neighborhood, his county, and his region. A man of law and a man of vision. Someone who has quietly and pleasantly made innumerable unrecognized contributions, seeks no accolade, and could do much better for himself and family somewhere else in some other pursuit – but he chooses to stay in Chesterfield County because he sees the promise others lost sight of long ago.

Let me step back before I introduce Dan Gecker, Independent candidate in the upcoming November election for Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors. Some time ago I sent out an identical email to each of the 13 candidates running for the five county board of supervisor seats. The entire board is up for election and represents a potential turning point for a county that has been essentially totally dominated by a local Republican machine for decades. A machine that has put more emphasis on cost control than on the effectiveness of the dollars spent. Has put more emphasis on growth through unbridled development, rather than a sustaining growth through ensuring a mixed level of good paying jobs. Sees the concerns of the deep pocket developers over the rather ignored needs and values of the citizenry it represents.

Of the 13 emails which asked simply the candidate’s position on a matter that affects directly perhaps 15,000 of the county's 300,000 population, but indirectly scores more, only four candidates had the courtesy to reply – and this is in the run up to a hotly contested election. Imagine how responsive these guys will be should they become ensconced in office? Well, at least that’s my conclusion from this exercise. But one candidate not only promptly responded but also suggested that we meet at a local coffee shop so that he could listen to my concerns and give a fully thoughtful response. That meeting took place yesterday and Dan Gecker afforded me over more than an hour of unrushed time, a rare opportunity to feel that someone was actually listening. And took the time to respond such that I truly knew his position and his reasoning of that position.

One would never imagine that Dan Gecker came to Chesterfield from New Jersey, his Southern gentleman politeness is now truly authentic, as is his self effacing humility, his courageous candor, and a clear intellect that steered him through Princeton and William and Mary and on to advise local governments and teach at the university level on his passion, which is thoughtful urban and suburban planning aspiring to a better quality of life for residents. His service on the county planning board, if past is prologue, certainly suggests his political and management acumen, his energy and diligence, his foresight and imagination, and most of all the deferring to community interest over that of proliferate developer largess. He has almost single handedly revised and restructured the way the planning board operates, making it more transparent, more professional, and more clear-sighted. All skills that are sorely needed on the board of supervisors.

Few have a political bent in this sleepy stepsister of Richmond; few know the names of their local officials much less have an interest in issues. Off year elections are particularly poorly attended – the corollary election four years ago had a 19% turnout of the eligible voters. And with no social issues driving the religiously conservative, with disaffection for the Republican administration in Washington, and with the resurgence of independent political leanings, Dan Gecker, in this two-thirds Republican county, may just have a chance – and there could be a quiet revolution at the county courthouse. And what a pleasant change that would be.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Does Congressman Eric Cantor Represent Your Interests?

Expanding American Homeownership Act of 2007 - Vote Passed (348-72, 12 Not Voting)

The House easily passed this bill that will give the Federal Housing Administration the authority to assist struggling homeowners in making their mortgage payments.

Rep. Eric Cantor voted NO

But, I guess Congressman Cantor and his wife (on the board of directors of Media General) haven't the problem of struggling to meet their house payments -- or identify with those in his district who are struggling.

“Representative Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican famous on K Street for his annual fund-raising weekends in Beverly Hills and South Beach, has recently invited lobbyists to join him for some expensive cups of coffee. A $2,500 contribution from a lobbyist’s political action committee entitles the company’s lobbyist to join Mr. Cantor at a Starbucks near his Capitol Hill office four times this spring.” New York Times February 11, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Politics of War

The junior Senator from Virginia and decorated war hero and former Secretary of the Navy, Jim Webb, introduced an amendment to H.R.1585 (To authorize appropriations for fiscal year 2008 for military activities of the Department of Defense, for military construction, and for defense activities of the Department of Energy, to prescribe military personnel strengths for such fiscal year, and for other purposes.), with the purpose of specifying minimum periods between deployment of units and members of the Armed Forces deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

This amendment lost by a vote of 56 to 40 generally along party lines (a vote of 60 was required for passage).

The senior Senator from Virginia and previous Undersecretary of the Navy, John Warner, introduced a parallel amendment to express the sense of Congress on Department of Defense policy regarding dwell time.

This amendment lost by a vote of 55 to 45 generally along party lines.

Anyone following this legislation and following the debate on CSPAN can only scratch their head and wonder if our elected Senate is any more wiser, any more adult, than are high school politics. The Senate fiddles while America burns (or more accurately our forces in Iraq).

Senators who should be elected based on their integrity, wisdom, intelligence, experience, and fair mindedness would NOT so routinely vote on party insistence but on their own individual best judgment. Such voting solely on party lines is not indicative of a high level of judgment. Would we not as well turn over the vote to the respective party headquarters? We deserve a government that is run on the best interests of the common good – not he best interests of the common party.

Were this just one example it might be excused but this is more the rule of our times and is largely responsible, I argue, for the intransigence, grid lock, and ineffectiveness of a Congress that procrastinates on moving forward to solve our common and serious problems and rather continues to push into the future any effective action or any real world solutions.

As the election season heats up in Virginia for local elections on 6 November, it is our duty to make choices based not so much on party, as on the integrity, wisdom, intelligence, experience, and fair mindedness of the candidates. And to do that we all need to make informed choices BEFORE we enter the voting booth and are confronted, perhaps for the first time, by the candidates’ names.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

In The Aftermath Of The Virginia Marriage Amendment

A year ago November the people of Virginia entered the voting booth and amended the state’s Bill of Rights to discriminate against the state’s gay population. The argument was that this was necessary and essential to protect the traditional family.

Yes, but what is a traditional family? Is this the traditional family?


Or is this the traditional family?


Or perhaps this – no, not until 1967, when the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Loving v. Virginia that anti-miscegenation laws are unconstitutional.


But is this not a family?


Or this?


Or this?


It’s a funny thing how stereotypes can influence one’s bias isn’t it? Our state has a spectrum of people with all sorts of God given traits – but in a democracy, each person is supposedly equal under the law – and have an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Sadly, too many Virginians so cavalierly dismiss this notion – even many people of color and women who not so long ago faced a bias themselves.

The following is from a text used in the state’s universities:

“Not until the nineteenth century did the notion of love as a basis of marriage become widespread in Western society.”

“Marriage provides a sense of emotional and psychological security, however, and opportunities to share feelings, experiences, and ideas with someone with whom one forms a special attachment. Desires for companionship and intimacy are key goals in marriage today”.

“Broadly speaking, those people who want to get married do so because they believe they will be happier if they get married.”


Today, an article by archconservative Ken Connor titled, “Evangelicals must stay the course” appeared on the web”.

It included these lines and they betray the sense of many conservatives that either the people cannot be trusted to govern themselves or that the public cannot choose the wisest among them to govern.

“There was a reason, after all, that the Founding Fathers embraced the concept of "separation of powers." They did not want to concentrate too much power in the hands of flawed human beings. They were not naïve about the nature of human beings or politics, and we should not be either.”

However, the people are far ahead of the legislature as I remind the reader by the following, the people were far less supportive than were the Republican politicians who ramroded the amendment through in a year calculated to turn out the religiously conservative. And it is our younger generation, much more accepting of gay marriage, who have this biased legislation foisted upon them.


In passing this amendment does the state continue the democratic experiment started by earlier Virginians now so proudly remembered – or will this be seen by generations to come as an aberration? Who will really remember this as our proud moment? I love my state but I am repulsed by this amendment and by the political calculations, hypocrisy, and homophobia in which it was advanced. And those who pushed this measure should be held responsible to those younger Virginias who have to live with this state sponsored discrimination until a more enlightened, just, and fair minded Virginia will finally offer them full citizenship and equality. Until then Virginia shares the dubious distinction of discrimination, bias, prejudice, inequality and religious fanaticism of the very areas of the world we consider in opposition to the American way of life.


click on the above map for a better view