When is Life a Grand Slumber on a Down Mattress?

Who wouldn’t want a cushy life?  This is not a description of the life of the rich and famous, cushy as it may appear. That life is one you are born into, or, having the ability (as well as the grit and good fortune) to turn a bit of brilliance into the American dream.  No, this is not about that.

This is more about that other American dream.  The one where you work hard.  Not just at your job but the harder work of making a better life.  It starts early in life with good parental guidance.  Working hard at school to have a shot.  Working hard on becoming a better person.  Working hard, really hard, on life skills to give yourself the tiniest of openings.  

And let’s say you, with great tenacity and decent intellect, manage to squeeze through that crack.  Well that’s not the end, its just the beginning!  Even with a decent start, and an amazing spouse/life partner by your side, the slaps in the face and the gut punches just keep coming.  The tests of your character, intestinal fortitude, integrity, physical stamina and intelligence are one tsunami after another the rest of the way……..until your eyes close for the last time.

In this following excerpt of the script from the television series “Deadwood” Season 2 episode 19, one of these tsunami-like challenges has come the way of the owner of the camp’s newspaper The Pioneer. In raw, Americana Shakespearean prose the last paragraph crystalizes this notion most succinctly.

(Early morning at the camp, we see Al open a door…)

Al:       Did you know this fucking walkway connected us? 

Merrick:         (Sitting below, at his desk at the Pioneer) Several of your patrons, in different stages of undress, have illuminated me.

Al:       (Closes door) What happened there? (Walks downstairs)

Merrick:         Not only was my press disabled, but my office was ransacked and feces mounded in the corner.  A message of objection to my handling of Yankton’s notice on the claims.

Al:       Posting rather than publishing, huh?

Merrick:         The camp’s new school teacher, a lovely woman, was so traumatized by what happened that she left!

Al:       Cy Tolliver.

Merrick:         Who didn’t even trouble, when confronted, to deny it.

Al:       (Sits, lets out a sigh) Why ain’t you up and running again?

Merrick:         I’m in despair.  The physical damage is repairable, but the psychic wound may be permanent.

Al:       (Leans forward, concern on his face.) You ever been beaten, Merrick?

Merrick:         (Rolls his eyes) Once, when I thought I had the smallpox, Doc Cochran slapped me in the face. (Al slaps him quickly) Ah! (He stares at Al, touching his cheek – he leans forward) Stop it, Al.

Al:       Are you dead?

Merrick:         Well, (touches cheek) I’m in pain, but no, I’m obviously not dead.

Al:       And obviously you didn’t fucking die when the Doc slapped you.

Merrick:         No.

Al:       So including last night, that’s three fucking damage incidents that didn’t kill you.  Pain or damage don’t end the world, or despair or fuckin’ beatin’s.  The world ends when you’re dead.  Until then, you got more punishment in store.  Stand it like a man—and give some back.1

Besides the brilliance of the writing, acting and production design of Deadwood, it brings a wide-eyed, lucid parable to the screen about truth.  Deadwood is both a wistful window and a harsh portrait that Shakespeare would find admirable. Its most prophetic message is about the truth.  The truth that “free” is more than a myth, it’s a dangerous lie of evil origin.  Only hard work, risk-taking (amid many imminent potentially “deadly” dangers), some good fortune, an ability to ride the many ups-and-downs, and an impenetrable resolve to succeed brings the mere possibility of survival and a good life.

Anyone……anyone…..politician, parent, professor, priest, rabbi, Imam, et al, who promises anything but a life mostly filled with struggle, especially in America (despite the delusional impression widely held outside this country, “easy street” it aint), is betraying whatever trust may exist with the person at hand.  Preparation for that struggle, physically, psychologically, educationally only affords you a shot at squeezing through that crack. Then its all uphill from there……

1Episode 19: “E.B. Was Left Out”

Would Someone Please Hide the Dead Horse!

“There’s no question about it: the corporate conservatives and their allies in the political and religious right are achieving a vast transformation of American life that only they understand because they are its advocates, its architects and its beneficiaries, in creating the greatest economic inequality in the advanced world, they have saddled our nation, our states and our cities and counties with structural deficits that will last until our children’s children are ready for retirement and they are systematically stripping government of all its functions except rewarding the rich and waging war.”

Bill Moyers

I am certain Mr. Moyers is a fine human being, but these gross exaggerations are not only inaccurate but serve to inflame and diminish the possibility of honest dialogue between the parties who must work together to solve the systemic problems of this nation.  Please, regardless of your political affiliation, hear me out to the end of this short piece.

Some simple facts.

  • Cities, counties and states are statutorily prohibited from operating budgets containing deficits.  Every budget, every year must be balanced.
  • Nearly 70%3 of the annual federal spending goes to the administration and delivery of wealth transfer programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and so-called welfare programs including cash assistance, healthcare and medical provisions, food assistance, housing subsidies, energy and utilities subsidies, education and childcare assistance, and subsidies and assistance for other basic services administered either at the federal or state and local level.
  • That means 70% of deficit spending goes toward these expenditures.  Actually, these expenditures represent much more of the deficit if you remove defense spending, the Supreme Court and law enforcement, as well as the cost of the legislative & executive branch, all constitutionally mandated functions of the federal government.
  • More federal debt, approximately 9 trillion, was accumulated during the Obama administration than the deficits accumulated by any previous administrations by trillions.1
  • The current total federal debt is approximately 20 trillion which exceeds the entire U.S. annual GDP (hopefully that scares the pants off you).  The current federal spending is approximately 4.5 trillion on revenues of 3.4 trillion.2
  • In round figures the top 1% most wealthy have an average net worth of approximately 10 million dollars.   If the top 1% of the population is approximately 3.3 million people then their total approximate wealth is 33 trillion. 
  • If you taxed the top 1% with a 10% wealth tax (well, first of all, you would unequivocally collapse the economy in an apocalyptic fashion, but for argument sake let’s say a socialistic president and legislature took power and enacted such a wealth tax) that’s 3.3 trillion per year in additional tax revenue.  If not a single additional dollar in federal spending were enacted, not “free” healthcare, “free” college”, the green new deal, none of it, it would be nearly a decade for the total federal debt to be paid back with federal spending frozen at the current level.

So lets face facts, none of that is going to happen.  Collapsing the economy in that way serves no one.  Given this reality, what can be done to address social justice issues like income disparity, the cost of education, the cost of healthcare and other topics like climate change?  Two primary realities must be addressed.  How do we raise taxes enough on the ultra-wealthy to reduce deficit spending to a manageable level and squeeze out enough after that to begin to reasonably fund programs to address the social injustice issues without driving the economy into recession? Of course, the trend line in deficit spending and the cost of social programs like Social Security and Medicare must be bent by affecting benefits for future generations. Because even a reasonable tax on the ultra-wealthy will not prevent insolvency for those programs.

That’s it.  Anything more radical than that, like re-raising taxes on businesses, would only serve to reduce GDP that will reduce tax revenues and reduce the federal government’s ability to spend more to make things better for those seen as being treated unjustly.  It has to be a reasonable plan that will probably take five to ten years to have a significant, measurable impact and not drive us into a low growth, high tax, perpetual state of misery, Euro-style economy where nothing material is accomplished.  Just ask the French how it’s going.

And there are those, economist and politician alike, whose incredulity would rupture the Richter scale, that this nation is basically at full employment with GDP in excess of 3% and still producing annual trillion-dollar deficits in federal spending.  Some aghast that federal tax revenues approximating 3.5 trillion is not enough to serve the needs of this nation.  Others will zero in on this as further evidence that supply-side economics are fantasy.  Regardless where you sit on that full spectrum, we are spending a TRILLION DOLLARS MORE EACH YEAR than we collect.  If we call it a 30% spending deficit then across the board 30% tax increases will only stop the current bleeding of red ink and offer nothing new in help.  The enormity of the problem cannot be overstated. 

So Mr. Moyers, can we please set aside the inuendo, the vague fact-free attacks and help us ease into a dialogue that can really start to help people who need it with a reasonable plan that has a real chance to succeed in the long term?  If we are going to have any sliver of hope for success, we must demand all the attack dogs (left and right) be silenced, or, minimally ignored, and allow reasonable men and women from both sides to begin material discussions about what is fiscally feasible in addressing the social justice issues before us.  Nothing meaningful can be accomplished in one year or maybe even one term but certainly in the next decade we can do what Americans have always done……find a way.

1https://www.businessinsider.com/national-debt-deficit-added-under-president-barack-obama-2017-1

2https://www.pgpf.org/the-current-federal-budget-deficit

3Chart below – Obama Administration proposed total 2015 spending – Source OMB – https://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&id=44AF99C5E38441EFE27FD6AE5F7D9BD05CB326AD&thid=OIP.wUuh6e0eYXD0apQoLdNkAgHaFf&mediaurl=http%3A%2F%2Fbluedasher.co%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2018%2F09%2Fgovernment-spending-pie-chart-2018-federal.jpg&exph=480&expw=648&q=Federal+Spending+Chart+2018&selectedindex=15&ajaxhist=0&vt=0&eim=1,2,6

What’s Wrong with a Bit of Tribalism?


It appears the most progressive members of society are in a frenzied rush to homogenize all the world’s people.  They want to eliminate any sort of ethnic identity.  Their assertion is that ethnicity is at the root of all the troubles with the world.  The assumption is this will create a world where someone’s appearance or religion or ethnic origin is indiscernible from the next person.  A world where ethnicity, race and even physical appearance will be blended into a human race devoid of differences.  Skin color, eye color, physical stature, facial features will all disappear as differences into a homogenized, androgynous, atheist global persona.

This may indeed be a cure for all that ills the human species on this planet, or it may not.   They speculate the need for constructs like religion or sovereign states would fade away.  Without those constructs war among “tribes” would be devoid of purpose as tribes would only be an artifact of ancient history.  That “tribalism” is the root of evil as it may be described.

This notion of tribalism as a source of evil is one conceived of, or fashioned by, Former President Barrack Obama in his public addresses on tribalism.  Here’s an example from the Chicago Tribune.

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Obama warns against ‘a crude sort of nationalism’ or ‘tribalism’ taking root in the U.S.

President Barack Obama warned Tuesday that Americans and people around the world “are going to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of nationalism, or ethnic identity, or tribalism” taking root amid the populist movements that are gaining currency around the world.

“We are going to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of nationalism, or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around an us and a them, and I will never apologize for saying that the future of humanity and the future of the world is going to be defined by what we have in common, as opposed to those things that separate us and ultimately lead us into conflict,” Obama said.


“Take Europe,” he continued. “We know what happens when Europeans start dividing themselves up and emphasizing their differences and seeing a competition between various countries in a zero-sum way. The 20th century was a bloodbath.”

“In the United States we know what happens when we start dividing ourselves along the lines of race or religion or ethnicity. It is dangerous. It is dangerous, not just for the minority groups that are subjected to that kind of discrimination, or in some cases in the past, violence, but because we then don’t realize our potential as a country when we are preventing blacks or Latinos or Asians or gays or women from fully participating in the project of building American life,” he said.

“So my vision is right on that issue, and it may not always win the day in the short term in any particularly political circumstance, but I am confident it will win the day in the long term,” Obama added. “Because societies which are able to unify ourselves around values and ideals and character, and how we treat each other, and cooperation and innovation, ultimately are going to be more successful than societies that don’t.”1

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Given a broader perspective, tribalism can be defined in more than one way and devoid of evil intent.  Former President Obama’s notion revolves around specific aspects of tribalism (race, religion and ethnicity) that certainly have been an incendiary force or cause of conflict, war and bloodshed between “tribes”.  Yet there are also some real positives in tribal affinity. 

On a very personal level, members of a tribe e.g., Scandinavians, Jews, Slovaks, Native Americans, Chinese, Mexican, among many, many others, find natural attraction in couples’ relationships, and a sense of personal security, among tribe members.  The notion of security is proven and profound. The attraction is deep-seated and multi-faceted.  It is physiological and psychological. 

In this excerpt from a piece on Psychology Today.com “Are We Attracted to People Who Look Like Us?”2, the reality of who we are attracted to and why, finds some scientific basis. 

————————

As it turns out, then, we are much more likely to fall for someone who looks like us or our opposite-sex parent. This may indicate that our incest taboos are social constructs instituted to prevent people from following their instincts. However, there are other explanations of why we are attracted to people who look like us.

Researchers at the deCODE Genetics company in Reykjavik, reporting in a 2008 issue of Science, found that marriages between third or fourth cousins in Iceland tended to produce more children and grandchildren than those between completely unrelated individuals. The researchers suggest that marrying third and fourth cousins may be optimal for reproduction because this degree of genetic similarity may produce the best gene pool. Sibling and first-cousin couples, were they to mate, could have inbreeding problems, whereas couples genetically far-removed from each other could have genetic incompatibilities. Third- and fourth-cousin couples, though, tend to be genetically compatible while having no serious inbreeding problems.

At first glance, such findings seem to go against the so-called “Westermarck effect,” which posits that people who grow up together are disposed not to fall in love with each other after they reach sexual maturity. But the Westermarck effect—based on a series of studies done by Finnish anthropologist Edvard Westermark—actually is consistent with the recent findings—living in close proximity is no doubt the decisive factor for desensitization in terms of sexual attraction, not the degree of the individuals’ resemblance.  in fact, the Westermarck effect has been confirmed, in the Israeli kibbutz system of communal living, in which people who grow up together are typically not directly related to each other and do not look alike. And consider how traditional sim pua marriages, mostly dating from pre-modern Taiwan, also confirm Westermarck’s theory: Sim pua means “little daughter in-law.” In the system, a female infant is given to a family to be reared as their own daughter. When she grows up, she is to marry a son in that family. But sim pua marriages have produced a low fertility rate, a high divorce rate, frequent adultery, and lack of sexual attraction. In some cases, the son or “daughter-in-law” has refused to marry their destined-for spouse. So, the degree to which a couple resembles each other could be a defining factor in relationship satisfaction after all.2

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Not to say this is an absolute, and more frequently than ever successful trans-tribe relationships are occurring.  Without a doubt, when the possibility presents itself, do what makes you happy.  One of the most important and unique American constitutional rights is the pursuit of happiness.  But, none of us should be made to feel as though we are Neanderthals because we have strong positive feelings about our connection to our tribal origins.  We are attracted to who we are attracted to, simply as that.  We are attracted to potential partners for any number of possible combination of reasons.  For centuries attempts to force couple relationships, for political alliance or cultural reasons, nearly always end in disaster and unhappiness. There appears to be strong evidence that this tribal affinity thing is a significant force in who we love, who we are comfortable around, who makes us feel safe and with whom we procreated.   


This homogenized, borderless, raceless, religion-free society some desire may be coming our way as humans.  Those in the media and the like, that produce the images we all see every day, wish to portray us as well down that path.  It just isn’t so.  It will have to overcome many millennia of tribalism, deeply seated in our very being, to become the dominant human condition globally.

1https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-president-obama-greece-20161115-story.html

1http://saharareporters.com/2016/09/21/obama-condemns-racism-tribalism-final-un-speech#.XKRP8Dsylcw.email

2https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mysteries-love/201505/are-we-attracted-people-who-look-us

Where does the Past Go?


Seriously, have you thought about it?  There, it did it again, where did that last moment just go?  We were there, it was as real as anything can be, and now it’s gone.  Where in the vast universe and beyond does the past, a second ago and ancient past, go? It has to go somewhere doesn’t it?

Many have tried to explain it.  The notion of entropy, in the “arrow of time”, is presented as an irreversibility.  That the universe is a system with a certain known macrostate order regardless of the variability of what occurs in the microstate.  That the cosmological arrow of time points in the direction of the universe’s expansion (above diagram2). It may be linked to the thermodynamic arrow, with the universe heading towards a heat death (Big Chill) as the amount of usable energy becomes negligible. That the radiative arrow of time moves away from its source, with a causal arrow of time notion that each event has a cause with the causal event preceding the event. 

,An epistemological problem with using causality as an arrow of time is that, as David Hume maintained, the causal relation, per se, cannot be perceived; one only perceives sequences of events. Furthermore, it is surprisingly difficult to provide a clear explanation of what the terms cause and effect really mean, or to define the events to which they refer. However, it does seem evident that dropping a cup of water is a cause while the cup subsequently shattering and spilling the water is the effect. 1

Physically speaking, the perception of cause and effect in the dropped cup example is a phenomenon of the thermodynamic arrow of time, a consequence of the second law of thermodynamics.  Controlling the future, or causing something to happen, creates correlations between the doer and the effect, and these can only be created as we move forwards in time, not backwards.1

All of this speaks to the how of time passing but nothing of the location of the past beyond our own memories.  Does it pass into a new universal dimension?  Some papers theorize that the past does remain physically with us, no different than the present.  That the future is out there in the ether waiting to “happen”.  So, if the past is somehow physically available, how do we, or is it possible to, “visit” the past as well as the future?  These are all notions considered by what’s called the “A Theorists and the B Theorists”.

The “A Theorists” notions are akin to the Arrow of Time view with us traveling down a metaphorical “road”.    There is the past, the portion of the road already traveled, the present, and the future, the portion of the road yet to be traveled.  The A Theorists propose that the past may be a “real thing” that exists beyond just in our memory.  Those subscribing to a physical past appear to gain support from the nature of mathematical space-time.  The metaphysical view has the past only existing in memory.

The “B Theorists” in contrast, suggest the past and the future have the same physical or metaphysical status of existence as the present. The “Bs” theorize that the future does exist but has an element of indeterminacy, with a kind of physical free will causality.  It is said that time travel buffs bend more toward the “B” perspective with a more metaphysical view as time travel presents a number of very difficult mathematical obstacles.

So, if the past does physically exist could we travel to it?  Wouldn’t we have to travel faster than time?  If we could travel to the past, in what state would we be in?  If the past were physical is it still like a photograph or fluid like video or film?  Could we interact with it or is it as fixed as our memory of it? 

Future generations may conceive of and create answers to these many questions, problems and conundrums.  When we stop to think about what just occurred, there, that moment that just past, whether cosmically consequential or not, it would be fascinating to know if that moment still exist somewhere not just in our memory.

1https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrow_of_time

2https://www.quora.com/Does-the-past-still-exist

Virginia General Assembly 2019 – Hit and Miss


Image result for virginia capitol image

Although the Virginia General Assembly 2019 session was very active including passing several bills that can be described as positive for the commonwealth, there were also a couple important misses.  The bills passed must yet either be signed by the governor or survive veto challenges.

The most important of these is the new budget.  The budget had to address the thorny issue of federal tax conformity.  What was approved, for the most part, was in the best interest of the commonwealth.  Most importantly it achieved the goal of ensuring the governor wasn’t allowed to abscond with a billion-dollar tax increase, that he would have spent primarily on wealth transfer programs, and returned the majority of the unintended tax increase to the taxpayers.  In fairness some social programs, much desired by the left, were funded in negotiations with the Democrats. Notable among several other accomplishments of the session is a pilot program to address homelessness at its core by preventing evictions.  This could have a backfiring effect in that those wishing to rent their properties will be more risk adverse in selecting potential renters.   Homelessness is an ever present and growing problem where remedies for those at risk, and in need of some support to return to regular rent payments, should be made available.

Ranking high on the list of importance was addressing the issue of redistricting and the legacy of gerrymandering in the state.  Efforts to place the 2020 census redistricting responsibility in the hands of an independent commission appears reasonable and in line with efforts in other states.  Commissions will be as imperfect as the human beings who inhabit them.  But something had to be done to bring greater fairness back to representation for all citizens as intended by our founding fathers.

Now to a couple misses that were just so puzzling.

First and foremost among these is the failure to outlaw handheld mobile phone calls while driving a motor vehicle.  For all of us who have suffered foolish distracted drivers while holding a mobile phone to their ear, this is the biggest no-brainer of the decade.  Handsfree, Bluetooth calls should be allowed but still can be distracting.  A kissing cousin to texting (already outlawed), the use of a mobile phone by drivers to do anything requiring use of a keypad (other than handsfree use of a mapping/directional application) should also be made illegal.

The second failure in my mind, certainly not a no-brainer but loaded with commonsense, was the failure to decriminalize the use of marijuana.  Authorizing recreational use may be a “bridge too far” at this point in Virginia, although there are many sound reasons to consider this in the near future.  But to create criminality in those who are not doing anything different than what is possible with alcoholic beverages defies logic.  Over crowded jails and prisons, providing informal schools of criminality for fresh inmates whose only crime was marijuana use, just exacerbates the troubles with the already overburdened criminal justice system.

Finally, a mention of disappointment in the retention of the Pease limitation1 on tax deductions for high earning taxpayers.  Eliminated in the new federal tax code, Virginia’s attempt at federal conformity conveniently failed to eliminate the Pease limitation.  Those who believe high earning families should pay taxes at a significantly higher rate will cheer this disparity with the federal tax code.  The charitable organizations who rely on large contributions from these same families may not.

1It works by reducing the value of a taxpayer’s itemized deductions by 3 percent for every dollar of taxable income above a certain threshold ($254,200 single; $305,050 married). The phase-out of the value of itemized deductions is capped at 80 percent of the total value of itemized deductions. Due to its structure, Pease is not really a limitation on itemized deductions, but rather a stealth surtax on high-income individuals.1https://www.bing.com/search?q=pease+tax&qs=HS&pq=pease&sc=8-5&cvid=1AF0672E650C4D1097DD1B75D00F426C&FORM=QBLH&sp=1 taxfoundation.org/pease-limitation-itemized-deductions-really-surtax f

What Will it Take to Make Richmond Virginia a Top Ten Place to Live?

Over the past few years Richmond Virginia has and is experiencing a bit of a resurgence, even a renaissance.  There are many factors that have played a role.  The rapid, dynamic and exciting growth of Virginia Commonwealth University is clearly a major factor along with strong, rapidly expanding technology driven employers like Capital One and CARMAX.  A broad attempt by the community to create an attractive environment for Millennials and Gen-Zers to live and work downtown.  The creation of rapid growth and gentrification zones in the city like, Tobacco Row, Scott’s Addition and Manchester.  Zones, created by forward thinking city leaders, that are attracting commercial, residential and dining/entertainment development.

A significant factor that has drawn national attention to Richmond is the food scene.   The quantity and quality of restaurant choices has been a major contributor to Richmond consistently being named a Top Destination for food travel.  Here are a few other recent bits of recognition for Richmond as a destination for many good reasons.

  • Southern Living Magazine names Richmond one of the South’s Best Cities in 2017.
  • Realtor.com lists Richmond as one of the top ten up-and-coming tech cities. in 2017.
  • Richmond is ranked the 24th best place to live by U.S. News & World Report, February 2017.
  • Richmond named to ‘Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker, 2017’ by MovieMaker.
  • Richmond ranked a Top 10 City for Global Trade in the United States by Global Trade Magazine, September 2016.
  • Richmond named one of 20 best places in America to start a business by CNBC.com, August 2016.
  • Richmond named among America’s 50 best running cities, by Runner’s World, August 2016.
  • Richmond named a top city for creatives, by Thrillist, July 2016.
  • Richmond named a “top destination” for food travel in 2016 by National Geographic.
  • Richmond named the 28th best place to live in the U.S. by U.S. News & World Report. March 2016.
  • Richmond earns #3 ranking of “Best Places to Travel in 2016” by Travel & Leisure, December 2015.

With many nationally recognized positive attributes, what is holding Richmond back from its full potential? For example, Richmond as a realistic contender for such honors as Amazon’s second headquarters city.  Many of the blemishes are the result of the same affliction that affects so many of the world’s great cities; bloated, inefficient government. The problems impact both government services functions and the school system’s ability to produce top performing student populations.  Both are high profile failures of decades of ineffective leadership.  But visitors don’t see the root causes, they see the manifestations; crumbling infrastructure (roads and bridges are a complete embarrassment) and inadequate public transit.

So why must this be the case; why can’t they get it right?  Two primary problems, inadequate revenues and inefficiency.

Revenues are inadequate primarily due to a shrinking tax base and low yields.  The city benefits in many ways by having state government and the rapidly expanding Virginia Commonwealth University within the city limits.  But property taxes are not one of the benefits.  This negatively impacts yields and requires the city to impose higher tax rates on the remaining taxable property.  It creates the perception the city imposes its lack of sound fiscal management on its property owners.  A tax rate nearly 40% high than surrounding communities; essentially a tangible cost of “city living”. 

Richmond city government is notorious for the perception of inefficient and ineffective city services. A recent example is a news report with local contractors complaining about delays and errors in acquiring permits.  This one among a litany of historically consistent grievances in a wide-ranging list from leaf collection service to crime.  But city leadership, all elected officials, must attempt to address the dichotomy of wishing to eliminate waste, so funds can be diverted to areas of great need, and the public perception of heartlessness in weeding out inefficiency; including eliminating positions that are also held by city voters.  Many of these potentially disenfranchised city workers would be significantly challenged to find new comparable work.  Attempts at gained efficiencies with deep personnel cuts can be carcinogenic to a politician’s future even though it may be the exact right thing to do for the greater good.

So, what will it take to break this cycle?  It takes courageous city leadership.  As painful as this prospect sounds, those who chose to live in the city must do it with the understanding that they must do the following.

  • A willingness to pay higher tax rates in order to mitigate the state government/VCU impact and fund improved infrastructure and schools
  • To elect city officials who will do what is necessary to wring out waste and bring greater efficiency to city government while balancing these efforts with the human impact
  • A top priority must be to reverse the increasing trend of failure in the results produced by the city school system – for the future of the city nothing is more important
  • Demand more from city departments to improve the effectiveness and efficiency in working with city procurement of goods and services while providing improved services to the public/businesses
  • Support community planners to bring more residential and commercial development into the city

As astute a politician as there may be in this state, Mayor Levar Stoney has courageously proposed just such a plan.  May he find the level of success with his proposals necessary to put the city on a path of improving a devastatingly weak school system, equally poor infrastructure and the attractiveness of the city to outside interests of many varieties.

Who Put the Gerry in Gerrymandering?


Like virtually anything else in this modern world of ours, especially in the world of politics, the topic is complicated.  Even in the most beautifully designed political structure ever experienced by man, the relatively simple notion of one citizen one vote, the citizen can become a pawn in a highly charged U.S. political chess game.  The game is fair representation.  Since all of us cannot be present to cast a vote in every venue where official political action takes place, we engage surrogates or, as we often call them, representatives.  The U.S. Constitution calls out how that system of representation will be structured.  Without getting into the particulars, the intent is fair representation.

So, as a citizen, how can you be certain that your “representative” is voting as if it were you casting the vote?  Well, simply, you cannot.  Unless of course you live in a representative’s respective district where that representative is elected by a majority of like-minded voters in your district.  And for many, many years you could, as a citizen with the means to do so, reside in a district that reflected your values.  Those values would be guideposts by which your elected representative should cast her vote on your behalf. There have been, and continue to be, social engineering attempts made to bring families into communities or districts, using affordable housing, in order to primarily provide better educational opportunities.  From a voting strength perspective the effect was and is a bit dilutive for those citizens already struggling to be heard.

Gerrymandering, by whatever body was empowered to redraw districts as a result of new census data, used methods like “cracking” or “packing” among others to retain power for the incumbents.  The empowered bodies efforts have been largely successful for decades because the political voice of those it potentially harmed was not strong enough to effect change.

“Cracking” involves spreading voters of a particular type among many districts in order to deny them a sufficiently large voting bloc in any particular district. Political parties in charge of redrawing district lines may create more “Cracked” districts as a means of retaining, and possibly even expanding, their legislative power. By “Cracking” districts, a political party would be able to maintain, or gain, legislative control by ensuring that the opposing party’s voters are not the majority in specific districts.1

Conversely, “Packing” is to concentrate as many voters of one type into a single electoral district to reduce their influence in other districts.1   This is equally effective in maintaining a measure of control on how the electorate is represented.

These tactics are typically combined in some form, creating a few “forfeit” seats for packed voters of one type in order to secure more seats and greater representation for voters of another type. This results in candidates of one party (the one responsible for the gerrymandering) winning by small majorities in most of the districts, and another party winning by a large majority in only a few of the districts.1

So how, in this world of wide-eyed, instantaneous journalism, are these practices allowed to continue knowing full well it may rob the system of the fairness it calls out as its mightiest principal?  Regardless of mainstream media’s apparently lack of zeal on the topic, the reality is it appears to be coming to an end. Although it is with great certainty that “Redistricting Commissions” are full of political appointees with their own clear-eyed view of what is fair, the process of selection, at least in some states, appears to carry the torch of fairness as far as it can go with flawed human beings involved. The result will be, it seems, increased fairness.

“Fairness to whom?”, you might ask.  Simply, power to those who have not had the power to gerrymander themselves back into office.  Stacking the deck in their personal favor or their party’s favor.  But more generally, its purpose is positively affect the political impact of those in the minority and those without the financial resources to win elections in today’s political environment. Ostensibly taking the power from the legislature and putting it in the hands of “independent” commissioners.

This new approach, combined with the relentless force of demographic change, will certainly hasten the path to larger liberal voting blocs across a broader array of districts.  Great power will still be in the hands of a relatively few state and national leaders. Those leaders will emerge from the current stock of Millennials (as they already are on today’s political stage) and, later in the 2020s, Generation Z; both whose numbers are larger and more diverse than previous generations.

If this trend toward more independent redistricting continues there’ll be no Gerry in Gerrymandering.  In fact, the term may go by the wayside of history as a forgotten problem in a forgotten time.  Something that was done in the past. Until some other scheme to rig the system in one party’s favor or another is stumbled upon.

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering

Failing Grades and a Ray of Hope


In a couple previous posts, the topic of the declining levels of public school student success, despite increased focus and funding, was presented.  That possibly the system needs more accountability than new funding.  That bloated public school administrations across the country are sapping the funds needed in the classroom while producing many new programs that are apparently yielding no discernible success.  These failures are highlighted in lower SOL performance, lower proficient reader percentages and lower graduation rates.

Locally a ray of hope has made an appearance.  The newly appointed Superintendent of Richmond Virginia Public Schools is working closely with the elected School Board to substantially reduce bloat in his administration.  This rather than find budget cuts elsewhere that would directly impact the quality of education at the classroom level.  Cuts that would likely come from desperately needy areas like building maintenance, new construction or classroom size.

For those about to lose their administrative positions we must have sympathy.  But welcome to the real world where performance actually matters.  Time to reinvent yourself as there are plenty of unfilled positions in the American workplace. 

Hopefully this will signal just the beginning of a new era of accountability in public education.   Accountability that must also reach into the classroom.

Anger in America

“Anger is a public epidemic in America” according to Jean Kim, a psychiatrist for the Department of Health and Human Services and a teacher at George Washington University.  Dr. Kim believes anger is also addictive and that outrage “gives us an unhappy high we keep trying to replicate”. 1

Further referring to the Richmond Times Dispatch Editorial piece “The joy of outrage”, this quote was used to lead off the piece.

It was a time when “angry words were about the only kind anyone cared to use.” When people “seemed tired of the reasoning process.  Instead of trying to convert one’s opponents, it was simpler just to denounce them, no matter what unmeasured denunciation might lead to.”  Problems “were slipping beyond hope of easy solution – sectional enmities, economic antagonism, varying interpretations of the American dream, the tragic, unendurable race problem itself.”1

That sounds like our own time.  It is actually a quote from historian Bruce Catton’s civil war book “This Hallowed Ground” first published in 1956.  Some may say we are heading toward a similar violent split.  Civil unrest is occurring daily around the world.  Some are violent protests against high taxes and the failure of socialism in France.  Others the complete breakdown of civil order in Haiti where the frustrations of worsening poverty persist despite billions in aid from around the world.

Online magazine Quartz published a summarization of the findings of Tufts faculty members Jeffrey Berry and Sarah Sobieraj, in their book “The Outrage Industry”, complex issues are simplified to fit into a tweet or a headline and the messages make us feel good, even while they make us mad.  The simplification creates an illusion that problems are easier to solve than they are, indeed that all problems would be solved if only they (whoever they are) thought like us.1

Once activated, a recent Harvard study finds, “anger can color people’s perceptions, form their decisions, and guide their behavior while they remain angry” – here’s the good part – “regardless of whether the decisions at hand are related to the source of their anger.”1

Are we not tiring of anger?  It is exhausting and brings virtually nothing to the table.  It likely interferes with our ability to deal with these complex, thorny problems logically and effectively.  Given the voracity of the angry outbursts we see and hear each day, whether on Facebook, in a tweet or on the “news”, it takes self-awareness and restraint to set aside anger.  To recognize it for what it is; a mostly profitless emotional reaction to disturbing information.  We can do better……

1Richmond Times Dispatch Editorial titled “Anger Management – The Joy of Outrage” February 18, 2019

The Inevitable and its Transformative Effect


“In the past it’s come and gone                 
I feel like I can’t go on without love”

The Young Rascals – Lyrics from the 1960’s mega-hit “I’ve Been Lonely Too Long”

Many Republicans across the country are feeling this way right about now.  The lyrics from a true decades-old favorite further “I keep hopin’ with all my mind Everything gonna turn out right” – the numbers do not appear to bear out what Republicans keep hoping for.

The march of demographic change in America will leave its mark on the political landscape in unquestionable ways.  To deny it, would be an exercise in self-delusion.  China, with its iron-fisted control of everything Chinese and beyond, can send Muslim immigrants to “re-education camps” in a not-so-subtle effort to maintain absolutism and preserve Chinese cultural integrity.  Thanks to the wisdom of our founding fathers, that sort of absolutism cannot happen here. 

Or can it……. some may draw similar parallels to what it’s like to be an impressionable young adult on American campuses today.  The Young Republican gatherings are not exactly bustin out of the campus meeting spaces.  And good luck even having a conservative-minded speaker to an open event on campus without massive and sometimes violent protests. This is just one clearly well-functioning tenet in the Liberal operative playbook.  Effective as the “re-education camps” in China without the whiff of brainwashing and absolutism.

The likely near-term future will present itself in strokes of the liberal political operators’ paintbrush; some bold strokes but many ever so subtle.  Here, in the world’s most successful cultural caldron of diversity and assimilation, a variable political imbalance in favor of Liberals, that has endured with few exceptions for centuries, is destined for long term significant increases in the ranks of voters who associate themselves with social justice causes1.

The collective Liberal intelligencia know full well of, and are very complicit in, the erosion of factory and mining jobs in this country.  President Obama’s assertion that factory jobs moved offshore are “gone for good”, and clean energy will shut down much of the need for mining labor, rings the bell of meaningful change in the focus of Liberal strategists and operatives.  Helping corporate leaders reduce cost at the expense of American workers (the height of hypocrisy) has turned many of those leaders into stalwart Democrat party supporters and, much more importantly, big campaign donors. 

Seeing a substantial portion of their former working class traditional blue-collar base becoming displaced and disenfranchised has led to the full adoption and support of open borders (many prominent members of the Democrat party in Congress supported strong border control for years with several notable supporting votes (when it suited them politically).   Open borders have already and will continue to bring insurmountable millions to the liberal voting ranks.  Additionally, based on recent polls, women are opting for candidates leading with a social justice message1.

Thus, the near future will bring iron-fisted Liberal control of both chambers of Congress, then the Presidency (and with that eventually the Supreme Court).  This will, without doubt, pave the way for Euro-style socialism in less than a decade and the virtual societal disappearance of the Judeo-Christian principals that guided our founding fathers.

Candidate Trump’s outwitting of the Democrat party leadership, by speaking directly to the working-class voters who felt abandoned by President Obama and then insulted by Secretary Clinton, led to a single anomalous event that will not be repeated.  Liberals believe that Trump is so beatable that they are streaming to the federal election authorities by the dozens to make application for their candidacy. 

The undeniable logic of what is financially prudent and fiscally possible, voiced by conservative political elements, will be drowned out by the drumbeat of social injustice.  The trend in real numbers of vote-eligible citizens conditioned to the social justice message, compared to those exposed to the truth of what makes the American Capitalistic system function successfully, will forge a new, wholly unbalanced electorate.  These messages will be reinforced daily by the main stream media networks aligned with Liberal causes.

Some among the immigrants will rise as small business owners that will develop a clear understanding of how the system functions.  Unfortunately, there will just not be enough of them to materially alter the inevitable. Their voices will not even be enough to prevent Liberals from crushing the spirit of small business owners with huge tax burdens labeling them as “the rich”.  All while accepting hundreds of millions in campaign contributions from wealthy executives of large corporations and Hollywood types.

So, if these assertions made here are close to correct, then what?  Well, you can take a good, hard look at what is happening in Europe.  The French people, for example, have had many promises made to them about social justice.  The French workers have had it pretty good for a few decades at the expense of the so-called “wealthy” (tax surcharges for the “wealthy”, combined with typical income tax and social program taxes, drive their total tax burden well in excess of 50% of income2). 35-hour work weeks, 12+ holidays a year plus most of August off, “free” healthcare, “free” daycare in the schools starting at age 3 and a government pension that promised a life style equal to that of their working life.   Plus, “free” social programs for an adequate safety net for the less fortunate. 

In exchange huge “social system” taxes were levied plus a substantial income tax.  Even if the French wanted to save for retirement, they truly could not.  So most working-class French do not have any savings to speak of.  For most working-class French citizens. their ability to save almost anything is made nearly impossible as the massive tax burden, and the promise of “being taken care of”, suppresses any desire strong enough to endure the sacrifice to save.  And even if they had substantial savings the government will only provide minimal (FDIC-like) protection against bank failure.

And now you see the clear evidence, from world-wide news sources, that the proverbial chicken is coming home to roost.  The French economy is perpetually weak.   Consequently, job growth and wage growth have suffered for years while the EU has allowed millions from the Middle East to “move in” to France and other EU member nations (open borders is constitutional for all EU nations and the main reason for Brexit).  The economy is throttled by high taxes and other factors.  So, tax revenues do not meet optimistic estimates and government costs rise exceeding revenues.  Thus, taxes are raised and raised.  Meanwhile, rising taxes and inflation are eating into the French paychecks and pension checks.  To the point that the French people are VERY angry.  Shared in previous posts, the working-class riots in France have shaken the nation and its government.  The message is loud and clear; taxes are too high, and our government benefits do not meet their promise.  The French government is in a vice-like conundrum.  Yes Marie Antionette, you cannot have your cake and eat it too.

And it’s not just France – the British government-run, single payer healthcare system is creeping into citizen’s refrigerators and individual rights.  “British officials just proposed limiting the number of calories permitted in thousands of foods sold in restaurants and grocery stores,” according to Sally C. Pipes’ column on December 14, 2018.  If we allow government to gain full control of the healthcare system in this country this sort of authoritarian, socialist control of your food choices is right around the corner.

In the U.S., when Liberals are in full control of the federal treasury as well as state governments, Liberal party members will march forward with the social justice driven programs. Taxes will rise precipitously on the “wealthy” (any household earning more than $150,000 per year according to President Obama).  But then that won’t be nearly enough.  The new “social system tax”, to fund wide ranging social system benefits and payments, will be expanded (along with means testing for those thought “too wealthy” to receive equal benefits) and new taxes will be required of every taxpayer earning more than poverty level incomes. Fold in a single payer, government-run healthcare system and other “social justice” programs including welfare, healthcare, housing for new immigrant populations (as a result of an open borders policy).  The “payoff” for all these additional taxes will be government saying it “will take care of you”.

The prophecy will be fulfilled, the conundrum achieved again, this time here in America.  A decade or two down the road, when the weight of the taxes, the cost of housing, the perpetual weak economy, rampant crime is in its full glory (especially after new gun controls laws and no one except the criminals and terrorists have them), the liberals will then have to deal with social unrest not unlike France, likely worse.  Millions riot in the streets with hundreds killed and injured.  The government will cave by increasing benefits and raising taxes on the “wealthy” and businesses.  The economy will collapse under the pressure….and the anarchists will have achieved their goal, the destruction of the world’s greatest success story.

1Quoting from George Will’s column titled “Intelligent Life in the Democratic Party” of January 3, 2019 – “The Economist, noting that Trump’s approval rating is ‘stratified by age’, reports that baby boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 – who have been America’s largest cohort for more that five decades will in 2019 be outnumbered by millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996.  Boomers are – were; they are shuffling off stage – almost 75% white; Millennials are 56% white.  In this year’s mid-term elections, Democrats won two thirds of voters ages 18 to 29 and 71% of millennial women.”

“Furthermore, the GOP, which thinks of itself as the redoubt of the devout, is competing in an increasingly secular country.  The Economist says that ‘Nones’ – people with no religion – ‘already outnumber Catholics and mainline protestants,’ and in 2019 might outnumber evangelicals.”

“Furthermore, the New York Times reports that with the Democrat’s capture of New York’s 11th Congressional District, which includes Staten Island and part of Brooklyn, Republicans now hold no ‘truly urban’ district.   Since Republicans lost four Orange County, California, seats in November – the Democrats only lost two seats nationally – there will be no Republican from there in Congress for the first time since 1940.  And there will be no Republican from New England.”

2 https://internationalliving.com/countries/france/tax/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxation_in_France

https://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/work/taxes/income-taxes-abroad/france/index_en.htm