Announcing Lincoln-Douglas II: the Sanders-Scott Debates

I’m happy to announce the start of a regular series, in collaboration with my good friend Ellwood “Sandy” Sanders, a blogger at Virginia Right. Each week Sandy and I will post articles on a specific topic, and then hold a virtual “Lincoln-Douglas” style debate on the issue. This Friday, April 17th, we’ll open the series with a back-and-forth on abortion.

Sandy is a Hanover County attorney who earned his J.D. at the University of Alabama in 1983 and now works as an Appellate Procedure Consultant for a downtown legal firm. He has written or co-authored ten scholarly legal articles, including one on the “Effect of the USA Patriot Act on Money Laundering and Currency Transaction Laws.” His resume includes work as an Appellate Defender, adjunct professor of law at the T. C. Williams School of Law (University of Richmond), and service on the Appellate Practice Subcommittee of the Litigation Section of the Virginia State Bar.  Sandy is very active in his church and supports its missionary work. He also helped bring curling to Virginia!

Continue reading

Captain Crozier Relieved of Command

A couple of days ago I posted about how COVID-19 sidelined the USS Theodore Roosevelt. In that post I wrote that I expected the Navy to take any action necessary to protect the crew and get the ship back in action as quickly as possible. Now it looks like this didn’t happen quickly enough to satisfy her Captain, and he was not shy about letting people know. This got him canned.

After evacuating more than a hundred COVID-positive sailors to quarantine on Guam, Captain Brett Crozier became concerned that the Navy would not act fast enough to protect the rest of the crew. On 30 March, Crozier sent a sharp letter to his superiors pointing out that while the ship could fight if necessary, failure to rapidly disembark sailors during peacetime risked their lives unnecessarily.

This caused Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly to relieve Crozier of his command, ostensibly for going around his chain of command.

Continue reading

Pandemic and National Security

USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71).
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael D. Cole
Public Domain,
http://www.navy.mil/view_image.asp?id=57046

One of three deployed US aircraft carriers has been sidelined by corona virus infections on board. This pandemic has, at least temporarily, taken this warship out of the fight. I would be surprised if it’s the only one, but even if it is we’re looking at a serious erosion of American war fighting capability.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt, a Nimitz class nuclear aircraft carrier, has a crew of about 3200, not including its associated Air Wing. More than four thousand Naval personnel were on the Theodore Roosevelt when the vessel docked in Guam with more than 100 crew members testing positive for the virus, according to the linked article.

Continue reading

Health Care and Profits

The Trilogy Evo Portable Ventilator
Photo Credit Philips North America

A few days ago I had a conversation with a friend of mine who teaches economics and finance at the university level. I wondered out loud why the invisible hand of the market didn’t generate increased production of N95 masks and other protective equipment for medical personnel, not to mention life-saving equipment like ventilators and respirators. It seems to me, I said, that the risk-taking entrepreneurs who drive free markets should have been able to recognize an upcoming requirement for expanded production by late January. Even if not sold immediately, these items will eventually sell, if only for government or health care system stockpiles.

My friend chuckled a bit and explained two things to me. First, the people who make decisions for late capitalist firms do not gamble. They are risk averse and wait for orders to come in so they don’t get stuck with inventory they cannot sell. This is why you can’t find bathroom tissue at your local grocery store. More importantly, my friend continued, late stage capitalists use their market power not to innovate but to block the threat of innovation by other firms by securing control of production and markets.

Reading the news this morning I happened to spot a good example of this.

Continue reading

Saturday Morning Coffee

A few links to things I read while having my Saturday morning coffee today:

One of the many things I’ve thought about since COVID-19 forced us into severe social distancing is the effect it must be having on military units. It has to have limiting effects on recruiting and basic training, and I”m not sure how tank platoons keep training and operating effectively unless medics can test and track the spread of the virus within the ranks. This story about the outbreak on the Theodore Roosevelt brings that worry home.

If you’re looking for a good Twitter “List of epidemiologists, researchers, public health experts & journalists tracking COVID-19” you could do worse than this one from @Joshtpm.

Continue reading

Thoughts on Elections During National Emergencies

Voting in Person, 2019
Photo Credit: R. Stanton Scott

An authoritarian figure who has joked about being President for life runs the Federal Government during a pandemic that could literally kill millions of Americans and disrupt society for months. States are postponing primary elections and struggling to figure out how voters can cast ballots while keeping social distancing. Understandably, some people worry that Donald Trump might take advantage of the crisis to stay in power.

Lots of journalists have written about this, including Evan Halper in the LA TimesBlake Rutherford for The Hill, and Chris Cillizza for CNN. The general assessment boils down to “Trump may be desperate with the economy in the tank but has no power to postpone elections. His term ends on 20 January 2021 even if he could, and the Presidential Succession Act kicks in if he isn’t reelected or replaced through a Constitutional election before that time.” 

These discussions focus narrowly on two questions: whether States could physically hold elections during a pandemic using modern systems and what would happen if they couldn’t. Most agree that elections can take place if state legislatures hurry up and figure out how to use expanded absentee voting, other voting by mail systems, or even the internet. They also think that if for some reason elections cannot be held, someone other than Trump would take power based on existing statute.

What none of these articles mention is the Electoral College and the role of state legislatures in choosing these Electors. This is the group that actually elects the President, as we found out the hard way in 2016. These days voters choose these Electors by casting votes at polling stations or by mail because state legislatures want it that way – this is not a Constitutional requirement. This means that elections for President and Vice President can take place as long as state legislatures can meet and choose Electors before Election Day.  

Continue reading

Sanctuary Cities and Nullification Theory

So conservatives who complain the loudest about “sanctuary cities” when it comes to immigration seem to be lining up to support “Second Amendment Sanctuaries” now that Democrats control the General Assembly. Yesterday I saw this first-hand at the Hanover and Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors meetings. Both Boards passed resolutions objecting to gun control laws that has not yet passed the General Assembly on the assumption they will infringe on Second Amendment rights.

Continue reading

Progress, Diversity, and the American Project

Fifty years ago yesterday, I watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, enthralled by this real-life version of Star Trek. Thinking back, I remember how this fed my belief that Americans can accomplish anything given the necessary will and a common goal. What I saw on TV, fact and fiction, gave me the idea that with Americans leading the way humankind could achieve a society without hatred and bigotry that provided for everyone.

I was only 11, and soon learned that we had a lot of work to do when I lived through desegregation in the sixth grade.

Many of the men who fought the British and established our Constitution were privileged white males who owned slaves. Their high-minded words about inalienable rights that come from our Creator and belong to each of us ring hollow to descendants of slaves who had to fight for freedom and women who had to fight for the vote. But I believe they intended to establish a democracy that would embrace people of all backgrounds and religions. I believe they wanted the nation they founded to become an example for everyone around the world who shared the idea that human beings of all backgrounds could live and work together in liberty and tolerance for other cultures and ideas.

This project is now at risk. Many Americans would preserve liberty only for those who look and think and worship as they do. They tolerate no others. They want so badly to exclude others that they appear willing to end the American democratic visionto achieve this goal. They manipulate voting processes and draw favorable districts so they can take power while holding no kind of popular majority. They have managed to elect one of their own as President and if given the chance they will destroy the American experiment in liberal democracy. We have to stop them.

Americans have proven the power in our diversity. Immigrants built great cities like New York and Chicago and Detroit and Miami and San Francisco. The United States won two world wars with the help of slavery’s grandchildren – men and women with arguably no duty to a system that forced them to live and work apart from those with whiter skin. We unlocked nuclear secrets in a very short time by applying government resources and the know-how and labor of men – and women – of all backgrounds and nationalities. 

And we went to the moon in only a few years with the same technology and engineering and manufacturing systems that gave us the 1967 Ford Mustang. In the process we began the research – funded by government – that let us later develop computers and cell phones and flat-screen TVs and stealth fighters and safe rocket engines and food that could travel long distances and last weeks without spoiling. We did this by together harnessing the power of government directed by a healthy and educated and diverse population.

Conservatives would use authoritarian methods to block progress and participation in American democracy by people they don’t like. They would define “American” as dependent on skin color, culture, and religion. This is not what the Founders intended when they started the American Project, and we cannot let conservatives end it.

Support Workers. Protect Unions

Last week I attended a labor issues conference presented by the Northern Virginia Labor Federation. We heard general presentations on labor issues and short discussions about specific problems faced by workers in different economic sectors.

Labor policy in Virginia is broken. Republican legislators, using American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) templates, pass laws that attack worker rights and block legislation that would improve workmen’s compensation programs. It’s time to fix this.

Firefighters and other emergency responders come in contact with hazardous materials every day in the course of risking their lives to manage fires, crashes, and other emergency situations. These heroes get cancer at higher rates than the general population, and exposure to these chemicals is the cause. Yet in many cases they must prove a specific case of exposure before they can collect disability and health care coverage. 

It’s time to enact laws that protect our community heroes by presuming that an emergency responder with cancer of any kind has it because of exposure to hazardous materials in the line of duty.

More generally, we need to end right-to-work laws, brought to us by ALEC and its corporate funders (especially the Koch brothers), and Senators like Ryan McDougle – an ALEC member. These laws amount to an attack on unions that give employers an advantage when hiring. This is why worker productivity has risen since the 1970s but wages have remained stagnant. 

It’s time to allow workers in every sector of the economy – public and private – to bargain with employers for higher pay, safe conditions, improved worker’s compensation plans, more vacation, and better benefits. No business or government agency can function without workers, and they need to have a voice through a union if they wish.

If you like weekends, thank the labor movement. If you think Virginia needs middle-class jobs that don’t require a college degree, only unions can deliver. In fact, Virginia unions run apprenticeship programs – on their own dime and without government help – that provide a path to stable employment at good wages to young people in the Commonwealth who want to learn a trade.

I know how important unions are to the workers in Virginia who build our homes and office buildings, stock shelves in grocery stores, make sure our cell phones work, and teach our kids how to read. I support them without reservation.

Extended Magazines (Updated)

UPDATE: Commenters to versions of this post at other sites pointed out that I got the magazine size wrong for the M9. Mine held a 15-round, not a 9-round, magazine. I regret the error and that my fond memories of service weapons past failed me.

The first weapon I trained to use in combat was a .45 caliber pistol. As an Armor Crewman we carried sidearms and this was my main personal combat weapon. The standard magazine for this weapon held seven rounds of ammunition. Not long after I enlisted the Army replaced the .45 with the M9 Beretta.  The standard magazine for the M9 held nine rounds. The new Sig Sauer sidearm the Army has just adopted has only a 17-round magazine. 

Think about this: US Army combat doctrine calls for smaller combat handgun magazines than civilians can purchase on the open market for “individual self-defense.”

It seems to me then that a non-standard thirty-round magazine for a .45 caliber pistol like the one used by the gunman in Virginia Beach last week has only one use: to maximize effectiveness for a mass shooter who wants to kill as many people as possible. Their sale and possession should be prohibited.

This year the Virginia General Assembly considered legislation that would have done just that, but Republicans blocked this approach. Republicans reject any approach that might reduce gun violence and save lives because the National Rifle Association and the Koch brothers pay for their political campaigns.

We will mourn and grieve the losses suffered by victims’ families. We will support them in their time of need and comfort them as they live through the loss of loved ones. Virginia Beach, like Virginia Tech, will bear the scars. And healing will come. But this is not enough. It’s time to do something about this problem so it does not happen again.

It’s time to regulate these mass shooter tools more strictly. Weapons and accessories designed to facilitate a high rate of fire and maximize the ability of a shooter to inflict maximum damage on human beings have no use for hunting or self-defense. Indeed, we need to regulate firearms in general more strictly. Evidence shows that more guns do not reduce crime – more guns correlate with higher homicide, suicide, and accident rates.

I support stronger background checks, longer waiting periods, registration for some weapons, and laws that require firearm owners to keep their weapons secured and hold liable those who don’t. We need to give local law enforcement officials the authority, with proper due process, to remove firearms from dangerous people and situations. 

Many Virginians object to these kinds of regulations on Second Amendment grounds. But the Second Amendment right to bear arms does not override the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble at work, school, church, or any other public space. We have a right to those as well.

I am running for the State Senate in Virginia’s Fourth District to protect this right. I’m running because I think it’s time to rethink gun culture in the Commonwealth. We’ve accepted mass killing by firearm in public spaces as part of the “cost of doing business” for far too long and it’s time to stop it. Please do what you can to support my campaign, but if you have money to give right now please contribute to a support group for the Virginia Beach victims or a gun violence group. 

Then go to www.StanforVirginia.organd sign up to support my team by knocking on doors, making calls, and writing postcards. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. Spread the word. Tell your family and friends that someone is running in the Fourth Virginia Senate District who will work hard to make public spaces safe from gun violence.