Saturday, February 23, 2013

COLUMN: “Tebow Bill” passed by House Reps; Intercepted by Senate Dems by John P. Flannery

Tebow point to God

Home school advocates are suffering buyer’s remorse and lately demand the right by legislation to select ala carte services from the public schools that they, by homeschooling, have pronounced unworthy to educate them.

Home school parents want the right by law for their home school students to play on the athletic teams of the schools that they have chosen to avoid.

Republican Delegate Rob Bell, from the 56th District, Albemarle County, authored what he called the “Tebow bill” to force every public school in the Commonwealth to allow homeschoolers to compete on public school teams even though they don’t attend the school. 

The first fair concern is that Bell has widely characterized his proposal as the “Tebow bill” after the home-schooled Denver Bronco’s quarterback, Tim Tebow, who struck kneeling, fisted praying poses on the playing field when he scored.  

Bell plays to that large fraction of the home schooling movement therefore that schools at home to avoid being taught, among other things, modern science that contradicts their fundamentalist beliefs that the Bible is to be understood literally and not as metaphor or allegory.  Bell says he is a “committed supporter of home schooling.”

How ironic that we have the Delegate from Albemarle advocating homeschooling.  No doubt he’d tell us he’s an “originalist,” and would have us all follow the founding fathers “original” intentions. 
Bell’s historic neighbor, Thomas Jefferson, as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates headed a committee in 1776 to revise the laws of Virginia. 

After the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson is known for his “bill for establishing religious freedom,” advocating a separation of church and state.  Bell disregards that stance.

Another initiative Jefferson cared deeply about was his “bill for the more general diffusion of knowledge.”  Jefferson was celebrated for his “Notes on the State of Virginia,” circulated in 1781.  Among his “Notes,” Jefferson proposed to divide every county into small districts “and in each of them to establish a school for teaching reading, writing and arithmetic.”  Some students supported by public expense would afterward either teach or receive scholarships to study at the College of William and Mary.  In 1796, Virginia passed a bill supporting public education.  Jefferson wanted more and wrote John Adams in 1813 that he hoped public schools would become “the keystone in the arch of our government.”  Jefferson is oft-quoted for his sentiment that "a nation that expects to be ignorant and free expects what never was and never will be.”

Bell who would be our Attorney General thinks he knows better than Jefferson what the Commonwealth needs.  Bell disregards Jefferson’s stance on public education as well.

In the House of Delegates, Bell’s wrong-headed bill, in contravention of principles espoused lifelong by Jefferson, passed with the support of our local Delegates, Randy Minchew and Joe May.  

We can rightly score them critically for supporting a religiously inspired initiative that is antagonistic to our public school system.

This bill also ignores the reality of what it means to play on or support a school team.

You have either played on school teams yourself in High School, or had a sibling who did, or a child or spouse who did, or you’ve coached a team in some sport or other.  So you know how it really works.

Let us consider Loudoun Valley, a public high school in Purcellville.  We could consider other Schools of course.   This school’s mascot is a Viking.  Book covers, jackets, t-shirts, sweatshirts, team uniforms are emblazoned with this symbol.  Nor is it easy to criticize the school for academic performance.  Valley satisfies the standards of learning and has quite respectable SAT scores and terrific placement for its graduates.  The students attend class together and a fair number participate in softball, lacrosse, golf, volleyball, track, girls’ cross country and gymnastics teams that have all performed well in competition.  They have a well-regarded marching band, the Marching Vikes, comprised of music students.  One of the inspiring messages for competition at this school, as at any other, is their “school spirit” born of invocations by parents, teachers and students about how they all belong to this community of Viking students, how they know each other, care for each other, are friends, who study together, date, dance, share lunch, and attend extracurricular activities all together.  Yet, some representative group from this community participates on the Viking teams, and they are supported by their friends on the team, cheer leaders who know them, student reporters who write about them, year book editors who memorialize their wins and losses, and their Viking fans.

Who wants to play on a team for a school that your parents or you believe is antithetical to your beliefs and unworthy of your attendance?  But isn’t that what Bell and his cronies would foist on our public schools here in Loudoun and across the Commonwealth?  I believe so.

Fortunate for us, what the House of Delegates passed was then killed in the Senate Committee on Education and Health on Valentine’s Day. 

It should come as no surprise that State Senator Dick Black, a member of that Senate Committee, fought to pass Bell’s bad idea.  So, the ill-considered pass by the House was intercepted at the line of scrimmage in the Senate.  Before the next play, let your elected representatives know they are not representing you or our children when they introduce and fight for laws that Jefferson spent his life opposing.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


On the firing range at Mount Weather

            The FEMA facility, Mount Weather in Northern Virginia off Route 601, is where Vice President Cheney sat out 9-11 underground.  Above ground, there is a shooting range and I went there to shoot an AK-47 Assault Rifle – now some time ago. 

This name, AK47, comes from the second version of an assault weapon designed by Soviet Mikhail Kalashnikov in 1947.  When fired in full-automatic mode, this AR fires continuously for every trigger pull.  There have of course been design improvements and model changes since its origin.  The magazine’s capacity is 30 rounds.  It can shoot 100 rounds a minute over an effective range of 400 meters. 

You no doubt have seen movie stars shoving fully loaded magazines in cinematic fight scenes.  But loading the magazine beforehand is something that has to be done carefully.  You place a round between the feed lips until it locks inside the magazine, and you repeat this until the magazine is full.  Like I said, 30 rounds.  At the range, several of us loaded magazines for each other before we shot. 

When I was standing at the firing line, the trigger felt sluggish and I didn’t fire.  It didn’t feel right.  The officer on the range said he didn’t see anything wrong.  But, because I was persistent, we pulled out the magazine and one of the cartridges was nudging up against another.  The magazine had been loaded wrong.  The officer said, if forced by the trigger pull, it could have exploded in hand.  But, of course, that didn’t happen.  We caught it.

You may know, if you’ve ever fired one of these weapons, that it’s like a fire hose of lead running from your hands through the slight recoil in your shoulder to the target, almost like the target is pushing back – and then your magazine is spent – and you load another.

We’ve had a lot of pundits talk, with such bravado, about arming themselves, also teachers and janitors with all manner of weapons but they never talk about jammed weapons, much less how different it is to face a stationary paper target as opposed to someone who surprises you in armor and is coming at you carrying an even more powerful weapon than yours.

Perhaps this was best brought home when Navy Seal Chris Kyle, 38, the world’s most renowned sniper, who reportedly scored 150 combat kills, went to a rural Texas Shooting range last week southwest of Fort Worth. 

Mr. Kyle was armed but he was shot dead by Eddie Ray Routh, a former Marine corporal, who served in Iraq and who repeatedly shot and killed Kyle and Chad Littlefield, 35, with a semiautomatic hand gun on the firing range.

Afterwards, Mr. Routh said, Kyle and Littlefield “were out shooting target practice and he couldn’t trust them so he killed them before they could kill him.”

This incident underscores how difficult it is for even a trained assassin to defend himself at a firing range. Yet some talk of math teachers and pastors packing heat in schools, churches and homes.

Next up is how this was a disaster waiting to happen.  Early reports informed us that the Marine corporal suffered from PTSD.  If we hadn’t learned anything else, we would think that inviting a serviceman with PTSD to a firing range was a really bad idea.  If you haven’t read it, get a copy of Jonathan Shay’s “Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character.”  It’s about this precise question – how to help a returning vet with PTSD – and how the psychological devastation of war has the same effect it has today as when Homer’s Iliad was first created.  Shooting ranges are not recommended for recovery from PTSD.

We have since learned that Mr. Hough was released from a Veterans hospital, from a psychiatric center, over his parents’ objections, just four days before he gunned down Kyle and Littlefield. 

I agree there is some right to arms in this nation but it is not a constitutional right separate from the necessity of a militia. 

Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story wrote in his 1833 abridged edition of his treatise on the Constitution how he lamented that, while “the importance of a well-regulated militia would seem so undeniable, it cannot be disguised that among the American people there is a growing indifference to any system of militia discipline.”  

Columbia Law Professor Richard Uviller wrote more recently that, with the evaporation of state militias all together, and their assumption into the Army, the Second Amendment, as a matter of constitutional interpretation, had become a “vacant and meaningless sequence of words.”

The Supreme Court appears to recognize a right of privacy in the home.  That’s what’s left of the Court’s decision in Heller.  But not much more.  Beyond that, it is a right at common law and circumscribed as any right, particularly given the mischief that weapons can and have caused. 

It is time we rolled up our sleeves and defined what we will allow or not as our nation’s code of violence – and not just with regard to arms. 

The answer is most certainly not a coterie of gun-slinging teachers and janitors in schools, not when trained assassins can’t even defend themselves at a shooting range. 

The answer is the rule of law, not the code of the claw.

Friday, February 8, 2013

GAZETTE COLUMN: ED by John P. Flannery

Mayor Ed Koch (l) with John Flannery aboard the Circle Line

If there was ever a force of nature in politics and life, a model for talking, arguing and doing, it was Ed “How’m I doing” Koch, the former Councilman, Congressman and three term Mayor of New York City.

We could use more politicians like Ed who cared so deeply and worked so hard until finally his heart failed him at 88 years of age last Friday morning.

I met Ed in person for the first time on February 2, 1973 at the East Side Democratic Club, at 350 East 85th Street, in a second floor walk-up, over the Old Stream Bar. 

The local democratic co-leader, Jerome Tarnoff, introduced Congressman Ed Koch, who had just begun his first campaign for Mayor.  This was one of Ed’s many “meet-the-candidate” stops that night. 

“This is basically a liberal town,” Ed began, “but the people are not ideologues and will not support a doctrinaire candidate.”  He told the crowd that “one can be a liberal without being crazy.” 

Among other things he said was that “talking about law and order is not pandering to the right.”  As for those who felt the American flag had been commandeered by the far right, and had become uncomfortable sending the wrong signal, he passed out the flag of the City saying, “take it, take the flag of the city of New York.  Take it, it’s free.”  Afterwards he told me that people take the flag because, he said, “it’s chic.”  I wore it.  So did many others.

Ed didn’t make Mayor the first run but he came back strong and he asked if I would join his 1st Administration.  I was a federal prosecutor by then and thought I could do more where I was.   He may have been right but we all have to make our own way.

One day Ed took a walk in lower Manhattan with Henry Stern and myself.  Henry was a Councilman at large who ran his first campaign for the office saying that the City Council was “less than a rubber stamp.”  Asked why that was true during the campaign, he said, “because at least a rubber stamp makes an impression.” 

Ed responded that day pretty much the way you saw him when he was “on the job,” reacting to everything around him, reaching out to shake the hands of passersbye, marveling at street art painted up the side of a whole brick building, talking about rent control apartments (he lived in one in Greenwich Village that he didn’t give up even when he was the Mayor living at the Mayor’s residence).  Ed relished the street vendors and devoured their dogs and drinks.  The talk was non-stop, back and forth, with waving arms, laughter, and about the personalities, politics and policy.  Ed and the people he fought to understand and represent were one.  He was immersed in politics and life 24/7 and anyone who saw him in his later years could see that there was only one retirement date for this lovable, caring and sometime incorrigible man.

When he announced for Governor, a good friend of mine, Charles Kaiser, a New York Times reporter, and I attended the announcement at Gracie Mansion, the Mayor’s residence.  We were always Ed’s fans.  The place was abuzz – klieg lights and microphones and open pads – Ed at the rostrum loving the moment.  After all, no Mayor of New York had ever won another political office afterwards.  Coincidence or curse?  Who is to say?  But it held true in Ed’s case when a Queens lawyer, Mario Cuomo, won the nomination.  Ed would have never been happy in Albany as the Governor anyhow.  During that campaign, he said, “Have you ever lived in the suburbs?  It’s sterile.  It’s nothing.  It’s wasting your life.” 

New York City was Ed’s town.  He loved it.  He loved and needed the people as much as they needed him.  He said he would never leave it, not even to use a New Jersey burial plot.  He will be missed.  He was loved by many.  If only, we made politicians like Ed here in Virginia.

Sunday, February 3, 2013


John & Holly Flannery at the Inauguration

The first inauguration of President Barack Obama was a celebration of a dream fulfilled and foreseen by the Reverend Martin Luther King.

My wife Holly and I wanted to be present in person at the second inauguration because we knew that, however much the first Inauguration marked how far we’d come, the second Inauguration would be about how far we hoped to go as a nation

We asked our Republican Representative in the U.S. Congress, Frank Wolf, if he had two tickets so that we could attend.  Dan Scandling, the Congressman’s Chief of Staff, immediately responded, by return e-mail, that he had tickets for us.  We thanked the Congressman and his staff.   No doubt many others thanked him as well for the opportunity to attend a Presidential Inauguration.  The President described why we gather to inaugurate a President.  It is because thereby “we bear witness to the enduring strength of our constitution” and “affirm the promise of our democracy.”

We traveled from Lovettsville to a Dulles parking lot to join others from as far away as Texas to ride downtown in a rented van.  We were there bundled up in the dark chilly morning air at 5 AM.  We didn’t know then there would be 800,000 people attending.  We only knew that DC had to be secure and difficult to navigate.

When we crossed the bridge from Virginia, we found Humvees blocking off ramps and roads, saw many rotating blue lights, and National Guard troops and police handling traffic and pedestrians and explaining how best and where to go.

The streets were almost empty in a yellowish glow of street lamps.  When we came upon a coffee shop at about 10th Street near the mall, it seemed everyone was in there and no one was outside.  And it was warm.  We stood shoulder to shoulder with visitors from across the nation, from California to New York, from Washington to Florida, and uniformed officers from Maryland and DC, talking about when they arrived and their duty assignments.

The atmosphere was helpful and friendly like we were all going to a fine party.  Soon we found the crowds massing at the entry points to the mall and we walked further up toward Union Station as our space was on the West Side of the Capitol – where we would be able to see and hear the President.  There were pearls and mink, Sunday clothes, hawkers selling memorabilia. 

At 7AM the gates opened and, although we would stand or sit in the cold until 11:30 AM before the scheduled events were underway, the time flew by talking to people who traveled great distances or just walked across town.

When the President finally spoke and said “what makes us American … is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago,” there was a cheer that rolled from the Lincoln Memorial where the Reverend King once spoke to the West face of the Capitol where President Obama was now speaking.

He repeated how, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” and he said that this day we “continue[d] a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.”  He said that, “history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.”  With this, there was more applause.  As I looked around the eyes were on the President.  Tears flowed down the faces of men and women.  Small children asked to be lifted to see their president.

The President pledged that “together” we are resolved to “care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”  He asked the crowd and the nation watching to “do these things together, as one nation and one people.”  There was enthusiastic applause. 

He asked the crowd to remember “who left footprints along this great Mall” where we were assembled for the Inauguration, and who heard “a preacher say that we cannot walk alone,” and who came before “to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on earth.”

When it was done and the crowd moved to the parade route or to eat or to busses or cars to leave, strangers spoke to each other about what they’d seen and heard, enthused for the nation, and its future.

Ringing in their ears were the President’s words that each of us has “the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient and enduring ideals.”