Thursday, July 28, 2011


What School is supposed to be about.
There’s a relatively new group in town.
They call themselves “Educate Loudoun!”
Now doesn’t that sound arrogant?
These folk are going to “educate” us about what we want and need in Loudoun County.
This Johnny-come-lately group sprung into existence at the sound of the first spring peepers – and now they presume to commend who should be our school board members in the upcoming election.
They say they are a political action committee (“PAC”) that’s going to contribute to right-thinking candidates.
The blogs are alive with the sound of gossip about this group and the message is clear - Caveat Voter!
Let’s deconstruct this group and find out what makes it tick
It was founded by the current School Board Chairman, John Stevens (Potomac), who no doubt expects to be endorsed by the PAC he created when he announces, any day now, to succeed himself. 
Another founder, who has underwritten this group, is Telos, a hi-tech government contractor.  I want Telos to tell us how it hopes to “help” us.  Telos’ CEO John Wood has contributed about a third of the funds, at $5,000, that make up the PAC’s war chest. 
On their web site, Mr. Wood explains that he sees our educational system as “a catalyst of economic growth,” that shall encourage families “to move here and stay here,” because of the “long term investment” that “Educate!” reportedly supports, meaning an accelerated building development of even more schools than presently scheduled. 
In other words, they prefer that hard-earned and scant tax payer money from our property assessments underwrite infrastructure (roads, electricity, water, etc.) favoring even more development in a county struggling to recover the home asset value we’ve lost in the ongoing recession.  Overdevelopment can only dilute our most important asset, the value of our homes.
One commentator, Erv Addison, wrote a recent letter, stating that he might support this group if they meant charter schools when they said “new public school choices for all families.”    
When Mr. Addison asked “Educate!” what they really supported, he learned that the “Educate!” founders couldn’t agree.  Nor could they say whether they were for performance pay for teachers.  I would oppose the group if they support charter schools or performance pay.  But neither of us can dispel the group’s enforced “ambiguity and uncertainty” - as Mr. Addison aptly described their stonewalling practices.
Mr. Wood claimed he suffered no disqualifying conflict of interest in advancing this group, not while Telos employee, Robert Dupree, was a school board member (indeed, the Chairman), nor now while Telos employee, Ralph Buona, is a Republican candidate for the Board of Supervisors.
County-wide, Telos and Mr. Wood personally have contributed a total of $7,050.00 (on 10/23/10, and on 3/31/11) to Scott York’s campaign coffers.  That contribution is 15% of York’s entire fund-raising effort.  (Interestingly, Mr. Wood’s contribution bore an Illinois home address.  Tell us John that you’re a Loudoun resident (and this is some oversight)). See Campaign Report -
Incidentally, it appears that, on the same day, March 29, 2011, that Telos contributed $213.18 in catering costs, Mr. York received an additional $6,150.00 in checks dated that same day from, among others, William Hazel, the Lansdowne Development Group, and the Virginia Investment Partnership.  Did you host a fund-raiser, John, in order to impress upon Mr. York your concern about education?
Telos won’t tell us plainly what they really want.  But it appears that it’s about asphalt and development rather than much having to do with educating our young.  Voters and candidates would be well advised to steer clear of this group.

Friday, July 22, 2011


I believe the nation is worth saving.
We don’t, however, all act like we believe that simple truth.
Too many pretend it’s the fault of the middle class that our nation is at risk. 
That’s ironic because that’s most of us.
We really can’t blame the middle class for not earning a fair wage or salary for their work.
They didn’t make the decision to take home a smaller share of the nation’s income.
In 2007 the median income for a man, half above him earning more, and half below him earning less, was $45,000; that was less than the median income in 1970 even  though the economy was much bigger in 2007 and, by right and expectation, he should have earned more -- if he had gotten his fair share.
The wealthy took more than their fair share.  Michael G. Morris, the CEO of American Electric (AEP), one of the principals who tried to run that toxic coal-fired power line through Loudoun County, earned $3.2 million in compensation only a few years ago.  That’s 71 times the $45,000 median income in 2007. If Morris spent it all in a single year, he would have to spend $8,767.12 a day.  Kenneth Lewis, the CEO of Bank America, was paid $100 million in 2007, the year before the bailout.  Richard Fuld, the CEO of Lehman Brothers was paid $500 million in salary and shares of stock before Lehman collapsed.  
Our elected representatives have deferred to their wealthy patrons when saving the wealthy from taxes, from bargaining with their workers, from “pesky” safety regulations, and they privatized public services to give them a profit with our tax dollars, then allowed our jobs to go overseas, and that’s all meant that the wealthy have realized greater profits, while refusing to share that increase with the middle class in the form of higher wages.
In the late 1970’s, the upper richest 1 % of the nation controlled less than 9% of the total income; in 2007 (when the top 1% earned $398,900 a year and more), it was 23.5 percent of all income. 
The middle class tried to keep up their standard of living, on a stagnant wage rate or salary, with extra jobs, by depleting savings, using credit cards, and borrowing against the equity they had in their homes.
When the credit market collapsed, because of all that Wall Street chicanery, the chief asset of the middle class family, the home, sprung a leak and went underwater.
Middle class consumption dropped like a stone.  But we were still producing.  This led to unemployment as we were over-producing. And it won’t get better until the middle class is working and secure.
Republican Representatives Eric Cantor (VA) and Paul Ryan (WI) want to cut Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid to the middle and lower economic classes and refuse to raise taxes on the wealthy; they appear intent on punishing the middle class for having the temerity to demand a square deal. 
Their biggest miscalculation is that the wealthy intend to take their money and hire anyone.  The wealthy have alternative and less risky investments for their funds. 
The other thing they’ve got dead wrong is that taxing cripples economic expansion.  If that was so, then why did President Eisenhower set the tax rate at 91 percent?
Our economic engine will not turn over again unless we redistribute the wealth fairly.  The wealthy can’t make profits if the middle class isn’t employed and buying.  It’s about increasing the taxes for the wealthiest – and certainly not at the Eisenhower level.  Our government is also going to have to create WPA projects that pay people to work.  Nor can we be shredding the safety net while the middle class struggles to find its financial footing.
This nation is worth saving and the time to start is now.
# # #

Thursday, July 14, 2011

GAZETTE COLUMN: Easy, Rider! by John P. Flannery

John (on a borrowed bike)
Photo by Holly Flannery
There was a time when you hopped on a motorcycle, the wind in your hair, no helmet in the way, and you set out for a road ride, leaning into those turns, the pavement an elbow away, testing the edge, ducking bugs, dodging furry animals, on twisting roads through green valleys and arches of trees that made you feel as free as you could ever imagine.
I’m full of that feeling, and on the verge of buying a bike – but I have that urge each year about this time, and I fail to act on it, and don’t expect to do so this year either. 
I’ve satisfied myself by the occasional ride on a borrowed bike. 
A neighbor’s son came by once to ask how to get his small motor bike in gear.  My eyes widened like saucers, and I showed him – and took it for a short spin as well.  Well, it seemed short to me. 
Some recoil at the thought of riding any motor bike and I don’t pretend they are safe; in fact, I had my leg broken in two places many years ago by a careless young motorist in her Dad’s station wagon.
But the act of being on a bike changes your vantage point and prompts you to wander on an unfolding journey that just doesn’t happen the same way in a car.
If you’ve taken a trusted horse through open fields, you have a different experience, a quite rewarding one that’s not like anything else either.
When I was finished with undergraduate work, the summer before law school, I took the money I’d saved from being a stevedore on the docks on the grave yard shift, and teaching high school part-time during the day, and flew to Heathrow, bought a bike in London, and set out to “do the continent.”
I tied a duffel bag to the back of the bike and set out to catch the ferry across the channel from Dover to Calais. 
Waking in French fields surrounded by munching cattle, or swimming at sunrise near Cannes, riding through a chilly mile-long tunnel from Italy to Switzerland, driving up the Rhine past castles of old, and trying out the languages you learned in school, telling other nationals what you think and learning what they may think, is the best experience that you can ever have and it’s not like anything you’d ever get hitching a train ride or motoring by car or bus. 
Nor can you ever repeat such an Odyssey again in your whole long life.
Proust wrote an over long book about remembrance and how a scent or smell can provoke one to re-live an earlier sensation as if it’s presently happening.
Perhaps it’s the association of the warm breezes, of the summer impulse to renew, run free, and experience the novel and interesting that prompts my fond “remembrance.”
But it’s not painful.  It’s delicious.  I sincerely ache for those who’ve never had the experience – of a real long kidney shaking ride on a motorcycle that follows the road to that unexpected adventure that you’ll never forget.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

GAZETTE COLUMN: The myth of a nation by John P. Flannery

America as David
(Photos/Collage by John Flannery)
Our colonies were like a young David facing Goliath in 1776.
If you’ve seen the Michelangelo statue and considered the pose, the artist was capturing that instant before David, resolute and poised to act, hurled the stone at the head of Goliath at the risk of his life. 
When Thomas Jefferson wrote in his famed Declaration of Independence of these “United States,” our continental congress was resolute, and poised to begin a new nation – if we could defeat that distant despot, George the III, our “Goliath.”
This declaration asserted our independence, but it also explained by its conception of liberty and listed grievances, that justified the revolution, our fundamental theory of self-governance – of a democratic republic.
Jefferson’s famous trinity of declared unalienable rights owed a nation’s citizens was “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  Jefferson invoked in part what John Locke, the 17th century British political philosopher, said was the necessary prerequisite for a government, the people’s rights to “life, liberty and property.”  Purposefully, Jefferson supplanted Locke’s third element, “property,” with the “pursuit of happiness.” 
I believe Jefferson was invoking, with precision, what the ancient Greeks meant by “happiness” – “eudaimonia” – tied to another greek concept, “arĂȘte,” meaning virtue or excellence.
Jefferson wrote William Short on October 31, 1819 confirming his meaning - that “virtue was the foundation of happiness.”
By Jefferson’s conception every individual who consents to be governed, retains autonomy as to these unalienable rights, and they cannot be taken away or suspended. 
We err in this nation when we think these rights are only American; they are universal or they are not unalienable.
We learn what right governance is by what Jefferson condemned about Great Britain’s imperial rule.
The facts that Jefferson “submitted to a candid world” in his declaration were, in almost every aspect, concerned with any people’s right to self-determination.
Jefferson’s “Summary View of the Rights of British America,” written in 1774, is the long form explanation of what became the grievances in Jefferson’s declaration.
Great Britain placed a standing army in our midst (“armed men of another country, and another spirit”), and compromised our free trade with other nations, limited what we could manufacture (even prohibiting making our own hats), imposed confiscatory duties, imposed a monopoly of its products on the colonies, suspended colonial legislatures, transported criminal cases from the colony to Great Britain for trial (inconvenient to witnesses and the accused, separated from his peers, “without money, without counsel, without friends, without exculpatory proof,… [and] tried before judges predetermined to condemn”), exempted the military from local criminal law, making the civil law subordinate to the military, all in what Jefferson described as “a deliberate, systematic plan of reducing us to slavery” by “a body of men foreign to our constitutions, and unacknowledged by our laws.”
We declared our independence from such despotic governance.
If this declaration was our original intent, then we should be ashamed for what we’ve lost of virtue, for now we mimic some of the worst practices that we once abhorred, both at home and abroad.