Tag Archives: DJ Rippert

What happened to Bijan Ghaisar?

Tragedy in Fairfax County. Bijan Ghaisar was a McLean-based accountant and graduate of Langley High School. On Nov 17, 2017 he was driving southbound on the George Washington Parkway north of Old Town, Alexandria. His vehicle was rear-ended by an Uber driver and, for reasons nobody can understand, Ghaisar fled the scene in his Jeep. It was very strange that the victim of a rear-end collision would flee. However, things got much stranger from there.

Ghaisar’s Jeep was spotted on the GW Parkway by the U.S. Park Police and they attempted to pull Ghaisar over. Ghaisar pulled over, Park Police approached with guns drawn and Ghaisar inexplicably drove away. After a low-speed chase Ghaisar pulled over a second time, Park Police approached a second time and Ghaisar fled again. By this time Ghaisar had entered Fairfax County and a Fairfax County police cruiser (with his dash cam on) joined the pursuit. The third stop happened at the intersection of Fort Hunt Road and Alexandria Avenue. This stop seemed like it would be a repeat of the first two stops except that when Ghaisar started to pull away the Park Policemen fired nine shots into Ghaisar’s car hitting him four times in the head. He died 10 days later of his wounds. The video from the Fairfax County patrol car has been released. Warning: it is extremely graphic and terribly tragic. Readers should view this only after considering how it might affect them.

Investigations and avoiding conflicts of interest. In order to avoid conflicts of interest the FBI has been asked to investigate the killing and the D.C. prosecutors will bring charges if justified. While it’s admirable that the investigation and possible prosecution will he handled by parties at arm’s length to the law enforcement agencies involved, the investigators’ silence to date has been deafening. After more than seven months the Park Police officers involved have not been named, federal officials have refused to meet with local politicians and the DoJ has blocked the release of the 911 call related to this incident.

Protests and rallies. The cloak of silence surrounding the killing of Bijan Ghaisar has frayed the nerves of many in the Ft. Hunt community where Bhaisar was killed. Needless to say, his family is distraught. On May 19 family and friends of Ghaisar along with local politicians held a rally at the Department of Justice demanding answers. State Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, (one of the few General Assembly members who consistently make sense) said, “It is absolutely crazy that it has now been six months of silence from the authorities … when you watch the video, Bijan is not speeding or driving aggressively. Nothing in that video said that anybody should be shot four times in the head. This is happening way too much in this country and in Northern Virginia. It is so important that we get transparency on this.” Amen, Scott.

Update. As of this date, no information has been released by the authorities. Yesterday, FBI agents brought Ghaisar’s Jeep back to the scene of the killing. They were seen conducting ballistics analyses and using a metal detector in the nearby woods. Asked if agents were searching for something thrown from the Jeep they refused to answer. Why it took over seven months to go through this exercise is anybody’s guess. And let’s hope to heaven that they don’t claim to find a gun in woods near the scene of the killing more than seven months after it happened.

My take. Watching the dash cam video makes it hard to understand why the Park Police felt the need to fire nine times into Ghaisar’s Jeep. However, I will carefully read the final report before I pass judgement. Yet beyond this specific incident, this type of thing is happening far too often in the United States. President Trump would be well advised to launch a national task force to analyze these police killings and find way to combat this plague of violence. Something is wrong and something needs to be done.

— Don Rippert

Does the RPV have the guts to scuttle the GA?

Sink the Bismark.  Folklore and decades of accepted history hold that the German battleship Bismark was sunk by the Royal Navy.  However, recent underwater archeological research tells a slightly different story.  At first the Bismark seemed invincible.  She engaged HMS Hood, the pride of the British fleet, and sank her.  The Bismark also damaged the HMS Prince of Wales which withdrew from the battle using a smokescreen for cover.  But then the commanders of The Bismark began to make the mistakes that would doom the great warship.  The ship set sail for a port in France instead of returning to Norway and broke radio silence along the way.  The British fleet found the German ship and engaged her with the full force of the Royal Navy.  However, they didn’t sink The Bismark.  The Bismark was scuttled by its crew to prevent it from falling into enemy hands.  Putting aside the horrific cause for which the Bismark’s crew fought one has to recognize the heroism of their actions in a desperate situation.  The RPV can learn a lot from the crew of the Bismark.

Failure is not only an option, it’s inevitable.  In a column published yesterday I described the inevitable “Marylandization” of Virginia.  Like the Bismark the destruction of the Republican / conservative hold on Virginia was probably inevitable.  Also like the Bismark that demise was hastened by a series of ill advised moves by leadership.  The question now is whether the RPV has the courage to scuttle the weaponized state legislature it has so long commanded.  There is little time left.  The Republicans either scuttle the over-powered legislature or it falls into the hands of liberals in the Democratic Party.

Scuttling instructions, process.  The US Navy leaves little to chance.  For example, during World War II there were clear instructions on how to scuttle the USS Enterprise (CV-6).  The instructions for scuttling Virginia’s overpowered legislature are found in Article XII of the Virginia State Constitution, entitled Future Changes.  The article has two sections – one for making amendments to the state constitution and the other for calling a constitutional convention.  Calling a convention requires a two thirds vote of the members of both houses and the Republicans have no chance of reaching that threshold.  However, the processing of amendments requires a simple majority in both houses and Virginia’s Republicans presently (barely) have that level of power.  Unfortunately for the RPV the vote on amendments has to be taken twice, in two different GA sessions, with an election happening between the two session.  In this case a vote in the 2019 session followed by the elections of 2019 with another vote in the 2020 session would get the amendments on the voters’ ballot for the 2020 elections.  At least, that’s how I think it would have to work.

Scuttling instructions, amendments.  The fearsome liberty-killing capabilities of the Virginia General Assembly flow from the absurd lack of checks and balances on the GA.  The amendments required to scuttle the General Assembly’s Politboro-style powers implement those checks and balances, especially with regard to local government.  The following amendments are needed:

  • Join the other 49 states by allowing the governor to sit for a second consecutive term.  The two most popular governors in America right now are the Republican governors of Maryland and Massachusetts, two obviously liberal states.
  • Direct election of judges.  Judges need to know that they are accountable to the law and the people not the 140 tyrants in the General Assembly.
  • Cities incorporate inside counties.  Fracturing localities weakens localities.  Joining the other 49 states by using a city / county structure strengthens the localities and weakens the General Assembly.
  • Implement home rule through strong city / county charters.  Cities and counties should have the right to raise taxes on personal income, they should have responsibility for funding, building and maintaining all surface roads and making all land use decisions with no interference from the GA.

It’s now or never.  Republicans will lose control of the General Assembly in the 2019 elections.  If these amendments are passed in the 2019 session there is some hope that momentum with Virginia’s voters will compel enough Democrats to support these common sense democracy enhancers in the 2020 session.  After that, it’s hard to imagine Virginians failing to endorse the long overdue scuttling of the General Assembly.

— Don Rippert

Remembering Tim Kaine’s Caribbean Vacation

by D.R. Rippert

Rolexes in Paradise. Ask most people about former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and the first thing you’re likely to hear is, “You mean Governor Rolex?” or some other reference to his trial and conviction on bribery charges. The fact that the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturned the conviction doesn’t matter. McDonnell’s once promising political career was left in ruins by the Obama Administration’s DoJ and a conflicted trial judge who erroneously instructed the jury on the definition of “official acts.” In McDonnell v. the United States the U.S. Supreme Court rules that “official acts” within the context of federal bribery statutes do not include such things as merely setting up meetings, calling another public official or hosting an event. The U.S. Supreme Court never ruled as to whether an “official act” would be the appointment of a gift donor to a prestigious state position because McDonnell never did that. Governor Tim Kaine, however, did.

The Virginia Way. First things first, the Old Dominion has mastered the art of legalized corruption. Politicians can pocket extravagant gifts from favor seekers, campaign contributions are unlimited and can be spent on virtually anything, the list goes on. So it was certainly legal for former Governor Kaine to accept  $160,000 worth of gifts during his single four year term. He took $5,500 in free clothes from a now bankrupt menswear company. A global pharmaceuticals company paid $12,000 for him to attend a meeting in Aspen. He even got over $45,000 in travel and lodging from Obama for America to help campaign for Obama while still pretending to be Virginia’s Governor. However, there was one gift in particular that should have landed him in the same hot water as McDonnell … a Caribbean vacation on a private island.

Warm your bones in the Sun, Tim my boy. After a long campaign Tim Kaine won the governorship in 2005 and was looking for a bit of a rest before assuming office. He didn’t have to look far. One of Kaine’s benefactors, Charlottesville tech investor James B Murray Jr, had just the solution – his home on the private island of Mustique. Mustique is owned by a company that, in turn, is owned by the home owners of Mustique. Frequented by Princess Margaret, Tommy Hilfiger, Mick Jagger and David Bowie Mustique was the perfect getaway for the Kaine family. And best of all, it wasn’t going to cost them anything to stay there. Off they went.

Tim has an appointment to keep, err … make. So far this story about former Governor Kaine is pretty tame by Virginia standards. Kaine won the election, the world is his oyster, gift givers are lining up to bless the “king” with tokens of their endearment and affection. Business as usual in America’s most corrupt state. But on April 10, 2006 in one of his first acts as governor Tim Kaine decides to re-appoint James B Murray Jr (of Mustique fame) to the Board of the Virginia Commission on Higher Education. This commission reviews potential appointees to the governing bodies of Virginia’s public higher education institutions. One can only imagine how socially popular these commissioners must be among the hoi palloi of Virginia’s horsey set as they vie for a seat on this or that board of visitors. Today, James B Murray Jr is the Vice Rector of the University of Virginia and helpfully told the Cavalier Daily, “It might be desirable if the process were entirely apolitical, but it is highly politicized and always has been.” My translation? Send the Kaine family on a nice vacay and you get appointed to play kingmaker.

Militarizing the DoJ. Nobody accused Gov Bob McDonnell of appointing donor Jonnie Williams to anything. What he was accused of doing was unanimously rejected as an “official act” in the context of federal bribery statutes by the U.S. Supreme Court. Gov Kaine took a lovely gift and then quickly re-appointed the gift-giver to a prestigious state board. Isn’t that more of an “official act” than anything McDonnell did? So, why the disparate treatment? The answer has become increasingly clear in recent months as the Obama Administration’s use of various federal agencies for partisan political purposes has come to light. The IRS, The DoJ, The FBI, even the FISA Court – all tools of political persecution in hands of an unscrupulous president. Did anybody do anything illegal? Maybe, maybe not. But does it seem right that one governor has his political career destroyed for seemingly less of an offense than the prior governor / U.S. Senator /  Vice Presidential candidate committed? Let’s hope somebody asks Tim Kaine that question as the U.S. Senate race unfolds.

Snakeheads vs Blue Catfish: Fear the Cats

by D.J. Rippert

Undocumented swimmers.  The Chesapeake Bay Watershed has more than its fair share of non-native species. Mute swans escaped from an estate on the Eastern Shore where they had been imported from Eurasia. Today they are the largest birds in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Nutria were introduced to a nature preserve in 1943 in the hopes of kick-starting a fur farming industry. Today these waterborne rats eat sediment-holding plants in salt marshes. Phragmites accidentally introduced into the holds of ships now crowd out native marsh plants. In fact, the Chesapeake Bay itself could be seen as an invasive species since it was created about 35 million years ago when a large meteorite hit Earth just off what is today Hampton Roads.

Johnny come latelys. Two invasive species of fish have recently been introduced to the Chesapeake Bay: the Snakehead and the Blue Catfish. Snakeheads were introduced after being purchased as aquarium fish and then discarded in local waterways. Long and large with conspicuous teeth, the snakehead has caused quite a sensation. They now occupy at least 60 river miles of the Potomac River. After an explosive start recent evidence suggests that the snakehead population might be leveling off or even declining slightly.  Not only do largemouth bass (another invasive species in the Potomac River) enjoy an occasional breakfast of snakehead fry but people have found the “Potomac Pike” to be fun to catch and delicious as well. Governor Northam’s signing of a law that will allow the sale of Snakehead meat ought to help keep the toothy predator in check.

Stupid is as stupid does. The most vexing invasive species in the Chesapeake Watershed wasn’t introduced by accident or by some World War II brain cramp intended to spur fur farming. No, it was a deliberate act during the 1970s designed to improve sport fishing in Virginia. The environmental wizards of the day saw no issue with introducing an apex predator which can grow to over 100 pounds.  At the time of the Blue Catfish introduction, I suppose horribly polluted rivers such as the James could allow only a few nearly indestructible fish species like Blue Catfish to thrive. And thrive they did. Today, Blue Catfish surveys indicate that the total fish biomass of large sections of the James River is 50% or more Blue Catfish.

So, can we turn the Blue Catfish into the equivalent of the Snakehead (aka the Potomac Pike) – a tasty treat? Blue Cats are large, plentiful and delicious. They are easy to catch and abundant in rivers like the James. However, one may want to think twice before ordering the Blue Cat Blue Plate Special at Bookbinders. It seems that Richmond’s efforts to clean up the James have been …. well … spotty.  A recent survey of Blue Catfish stomach contents from catfish caught in the James near Richmond produced tampons, condoms and human feces. In fairness to River City I’m not sure that I’d eat Blue Catfish caught near Alexandria either. What a sad state of affairs.

Another Lesson in Virginia Political Corruption

by D.J. Rippert

Say governor, is that a Rolex you’re wearing? On Sept 4, 2014 former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell was found guilty of 11 counts of corruption. While the US Supreme Court unanimously overturned the conviction Chief Justice John G Roberts correctly described the former governor’s actions as “tawdry.” Back in Virginia, Governor McAuliffe formed an ethics panel to make recommendations and at least one law was passed limiting gifts from lobbyists to state politicians to $100 per year. Case closed, problem solved … right? Of course not! This is the Commonwealth of Corruption. The greased eels of the General Assembly aren’t going to let a little thing like a law “unline” their pockets.

Out of the office. One constant complaint by General Assembly members is how poorly they’re paid. They make about $18,000 per year. On an annual basis that’s pretty low. On a “units of value created” basis it’s astronomical given how little they accomplish to benefit the citizens of Virginia. Either way, they also get a $15,000 allowance for “office expenses.” That’s a lot of Bic pens. In fact, it’s income. Former Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling wanted to reclassify the money as income. “It’s not that they would make more money, but we would actually be transparent about the money they were making,” said Bolling. “Let’s call it what it is: It’s income.” No wonder he’s no longer active in Virginia politics!

Buddy, can you spare a dime, or $100,000? The $100 gift limit has several minor exceptions and one major exception. The major exception relates to “personal friends.”  The exception for personal friends is nebulous.  Moreover, who do politicians have as friends? CEOs? Union leaders? Why should a sitting politician be able to take a material gift from anyone outside his or her family?  Perform this mental test – when was the last time somebody from outside your family gave you a gift worth more than $1,000? For most people that never happens but apparently this happens a lot to our politicians. I wonder why “friends” give politicians lavish gifts?

There’s a little something in this envelope for you. Two years ago, long after the McDonnell affair, the Virginian-Pilot published an article entitled, “Lawmakers live large on campaign cash, the Virginia Way.” One would assume that the money donated by fun groups like Dominion Resources and Omega Protein as campaign contributions would be used to pay campaign expenses. In the Commonwealth of Corruption that would be a very bad assumption. Here’s what the Virginian-Pilot has to say about one of our upstanding legislators:

“An Associated Press review of the state’s finance system turned up examples like Chesapeake Democrat Del. Lionell Spruill, who hasn’t faced an opponent in two decades.

Since 2011, Spruill has spent $300,000 from his campaign account on numerous luxuries: a membership in a private business club, meals at Ruth’s Chris steakhouses around the country, and more than $2,000 at high-end Richmond restaurants during legislative sessions. More than 90 percent of the money Spruill raised came from corporations, trade organizations or special interest groups.

Spruill, who has not listed an outside income in years, declined to comment.”

The Associated Press analysis went on to note:

“Behavior that would get lawmakers locked up in other states or at the federal level is perfectly fine in the Old Dominion. Virginia is the only state where lawmakers can raise unlimited campaign donations from anyone, including corporations and unions, and spend the money on themselves.”

“A handful of lawmakers, including senior members in both parties, rely almost entirely on business interests and their representatives for campaign contributions. For instance, GOP Senate President Pro Tem Steve Newman has raised more than $360,000 since 2012; 99 percent of that money came from corporations, trade groups, lobbying firms or special interest groups.”

“The current system has little accountability. Lawmakers must disclose their spending but are free to do so in the vaguest details. Some lawmakers reimburse themselves thousands of dollars from their campaigns with only scant explanation, like “travel reimbursement.” Further, Virginia’s State Board of Elections does not audit or investigate campaign finance reports. Elected prosecutors can investigate campaign finance violations, but longtime political watchers could not recall a case ever being brought.”

The Virginia Way. Even those who hold our General Assembly in the lowest possible regard must find this shocking. Despite a national embarrassment over Governor Rolex’s activities four years ago the clowns in The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond (a wholly owned subsidy of Dominion Resources and Omega Protein) can solicit hundreds of thousands of dollars in “campaign contributions” which are not needed for campaigns and spend that money on pretty much anything with absolute impunity. Virginia, the most corrupt state in America.

Clowns vs Menhaden Goes into Overtime


by D.J. Rippert

Northam channels Tom Brady. The ongoing battle between The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond (a wholly owned subsidiary of Dominion Resources) and Brevoortia tyrannus (aka menhaden, bunker, pogy, mossback, etc) has reached a new low. Our always corrupt General Assembly decided it didn’t like the latest ruling of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and tabled the legislation that needed to pass to put Virginia in compliance with the ASMFC ruling.

This action opens the door for the ASMFC to declare Virginia “out of compliance” to the Federal Departments of Commerce and the Interior. From there, Commerce and Interior can, at their choosing, impose a moratorium on all menhaden fishing in Virginia until Virginia comes into compliance. Apparently, the clowns in Richmond took one look at President Trump’s orange hair and decided they had a friend who would look the other way as the Commonwealth raped the Chesapeake Bay once again. However, newly installed Governor Northam is not so sure. He has proposed last-minute legislation to implement most of ASMFC’s ruling. If passed, this would avoid allowing the Trump Administration to decide what to do with the state that put forth Hillary’s running mate, contributed 13 electoral votes to her, and elected Terry McAuliffe as its past governor. Northam’s “Hail Mary” pass is in the air.

Who knew pigs hated fish? When it comes to killing menhaden Virginia stands alone. Virginia is the only state on the East Coast that allows large scale extraction of menhaden. Despite the presence of large schools of menhaden up and down the Atlantic seaboard Virginia manages to kill 80% of all the menhaden taken on the East Coast. In fact, that large scale extraction is the province of a single Canadian company, Omega Protein, operating out of Reedville. Seven ships, assisted by spotter planes, locate menhaden schools and use giant suction tubes to scoop the fish out of the water and into their holds.  They are eventually used to make dietary supplements, dog food, livestock feed and other generally low value items.

So, why is Virginia the only East Coast state to allow this level of butchery?  Because Virginia is also the only East Coast state that allows unlimited campaign contributions from corporations to state politicians. And guess what? The pigs of Richmond are at the trough, snout deep in slop, contentedly “oinking.” Over the years Omega Protein has stuffed $539,499 into the pockets of our state politicians. In return, The General Assembly has passed a law making menhaden the only fish in the sea that the General Assembly regulates. Or, more accurately, fails to regulate.

Menhaden have more teeth than ASMFC. ASMFC was chartered back in 1942. However, it was essentially an advisory body to state regulators. That all changed when the striped bass (or rockfish) fishery collapsed in the early 1980s. Individual states wouldn’t implement effective limits on striped bass fishing for fear that their fishermen would lose to other states. So, in 1984 Congress passed the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act and gave ASMFC semi-regulatory authority. Any state that failed to implement ASMFC’s rules would be reported to the Secretaries of Commerce and the Interior. Those departments would determine if they agreed that ASMFC was correct in holding the state in non-compliance. If they agreed, ASMFC could impose a moratorium on fishing for the species that was in non-compliance in the state. ASMFC dramatically curtailed the limits for striped bass, and by 1995 the striped bass population was declared to be fully restored. As it became clear that ASMFC had succeeded where the individual states had failed, Congress gave ASMFC authority over all East Coast fishery management.

Flaky fluke ruling. The big failing of the ASMFC process is the need to appeal to the Departments of Commerce and Interior in order to get deemed non-compliant. In twenty cases since 1993 states have been non-compliant. Nineteen times the departments of Commerce and Interior agreed with ASMFC. Then came the first Trump Administration ruling in a case over summer flounder (aka fluke) in New Jersey. ASMFC wanted the minimum size raised from 18” to 19”.  New Jersey wanted to stay at 18” and concocted some bad science to plead “conservation equivalency.”  The Trumpies sided with the Garden State and the ASMFC’s authority was undermined.

So, you feeling lucky, Clowns? In November, 2017 ASMFC ruled on a number of questions regarding menhaden. By and large, conservationists and recreational fishing interests considered the ASMFC rulings a disastrous loss. The catch limit was raised 8% and is now higher than the limit in 2012 when the fishery was severely compromised. The gains that have come from the 20% reduction in 2012 are likely to disappear. Virginia still will kill 80% of the menhaden killed on the East Coast to help a Canadian company make dog food.

The one ray of sunshine was a cap on fish taken from the Chesapeake Bay. The level of the cap is about the actual catch in the Bay from the last few years but it’s lower than the previous cap (which was never reached). Pigs will be pigs and that Omega money is still in the tough so, The Thundering Herd of Corruption in Richmond wants to table the legislation, fail to comply and take their chances with the Trump Administration. Gov Northam’s legislation would probably avoid all that but it still has to get through the Clown Show and the ASMFC clock is ticking.

Stay tuned.

Trump vs the NFL: America’s Theater of the Absurd Continues

by Donald J. Rippert

Unnecessary dumbness. This week President Trump went to Alabama to campaign for Republican Senate candidate Luther Strange. Perhaps in homage to the candidate’s surname, Donald Trump decided to voice his opinions about the NFL players who protest something or other by kneeling during the national anthem. During his speech in “the heart of Dixie” the Donald went on a tirade against the NFL players. Rather than simply expressing his disagreement with the protesters Trump returned to his usual bombast by urging NFL owners to, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!” Listening to Trump’s statements, I suspect that he would escalate a child’s game of tiddlywinks into an armed confrontation if he could only figure out a way to do so. But was he wrong?

Return fire. As has become customary in American politics the reaction to President Trump’s intemperate comments was a barrage of intemperate comments. Rodger Goodell, the vastly overcompensated commissioner of the NFL, slammed Trump’s “divisive” comments claiming the commentary showed a “disrespect for the NFL”. Goodell’s musings leave me to wonder why Trump’s statements were any more divisive than overpaid children refusing to stand for the national anthem or why a league owned by billionaires that puts on a weekly spectacle that maims and kills its players deserves any respect in the first place.  Zach Brown, a Redskins linebacker and usually one of the more intelligent NFL players, tweeted, “Trump stay in ur place… football have nothing to do wit u smh”. Really Zach? The president is somehow out of his place criticizing players who don’t stand for the national anthem? Zach, you graduated from the University of North Carolina. That’s the best you can do?

Employees and employers. Putting aside Donald Trump’s childish need to use profanity in making a statement – does he have a point? Should the owners prohibit players from kneeling or sitting during the national anthem? While NFL players clearly have a right to their opinion NFL owners also have a right to enforce rules in the workplace. I would expect to be summarily dismissed from my job if I took advantage of a public speaking opportunity regarding cloud computing to launch into a tirade against the unfairness of America. There’s a time and place for everything, and my employer doesn’t pay me to express my political opinions on the job. As an NFL fan I don’t have any interest in the political opinions of people who garner attention because they are big and/or can run fast. In a similar vein I would pass on the opportunity to pay to watch a football game played by the authors and commenters on this blog.

The boys and girls in blue. As far as I can tell the kneeling NFL players are protesting the behavior of American law enforcement officers toward minorities. It’s hard to know for sure since the kneelers seem to lack the willingness or ability to articulate their presumed grievances. I wonder what would happen if all the law enforcement officers in those NFL stadiums decided to protest the protesters by simply walking out. Would the courageous multi-millionaires who kneel during the national anthem still play the game if the thin blue line that separates them from 80,000 rabid, hard drinking fans disappeared?

Bacon bits. I urge Jim Bacon to formally invite the NFL’s players to submit guest columns on this blog. They can take the opportunity to describe how horribly unfair life has been to them. In the meantime, I think I’ll skip watching this week’s NFL games. Dan Snyder doesn’t need any more of my money anyway. I’ll use the time instead to visit my father’s grave-site at Arlington National Cemetery.

Virginia Needs a New Constitution, Part 2

1901 constitution flyer

by Donald J. Rippert

The Commonwealth’s Cornucopia of Constitutions. Virginia has written, scrapped and rewritten its state constitution many times. Virginia is presently operating under its seventh constitution. While that seems striking compared to the U.S. Constitution, it’s not that unusual for a state constitution. Florida and Pennsylvania have had five constitutions, South Carolina six, Georgia nine and Louisiana a whopping eleven different constitutions. Of the original 13 colonies only Massachusetts has yet to perform a constitutional rewrite.

The Spirit of ’76. Virginia’s first constitution was written in 1776. George Mason and James Madison are seen as primary authors. After the obligatory heckling of King George III the constitution got down to the basics of defining the state government – bicameral legislature, governor and so on. The accompanying Virginia Declaration of Rights was a strong point of this first constitution. That document would effectively become the predecessor to the U.S. Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, elitism has been a constant companion to Virginia politics and this constitution was no exception. Voting was reserved for owners of substantial property and men of wealth. The landowners of Southeastern Virginia would be in control of the state.

East vs West – 1830. By the 1820s Virginia was (predictably) one of only two states that restricted voting to landowners. The state constitutional convention of 1829 to 1830 tried to address this distorted concentration of power in the landed gentry. Suffrage requirements were reduced but not enough to address the concerns of the small farmers in the western parts of the state. Virginia kicked the can down the road.

The Reform Constitution, 1851. As the population of western Virginia continued to grow, the Richmond-to-Norfolk “corridor of evil” vainly tried to maintain control of the state through voting rights that required substantial property ownership and a bizarre county-based representation system. Talk from the west of abolishing slavery and / or secession from the state forced the eastern elites to change. The new constitution gave the vote to all white men of voting age and called for election of the governor, the lieutenant governor and all judges by popular vote.

Wartime Constitution, 1864. After years of political abuse by Virginia’s southeastern elite, a number of the counties in the western and northern part of the state decided they would not follow the Richmond-centric rebels into what can only be called an apocalyptic Civil War. The Constitution of 1864 could effectively be called the first state constitution for West Virginia. What remained of Virginia was too busy marching toward utter destruction and unconditional surrender to bother with constitutional niceties.

The Carpetbagger Constitution, 1870. The provisions of The South’s surrender included military occupation of states like Virginia. Given that slavery had been abolished the military commander of Virginia called for a constitutional convention to memorialize America’s new reality. However, the Richmond-based elite would have none of it. Many of the white conservative Virginians who developed the bright idea of a failed secession from the United States now refused to vote for delegates to the constitutional convention. This led the way for a Republican led convention headed by John C. Underwood. In what should come as a surprise to nobody, the “elite free” convention wrote one of Virginia’s best constitutions. The new constitution granted suffrage to all males over 21, established a public school system with mandatory funding and ended the disenfranchisement of former Confederate government members.

The Empire Strikes Back, 1902. Virginia’s short period of competent government was ended as the Democratic Party retook the state legislature. The usual band of elitists called for another constitution to be written. It was a doozy. Poll taxes and literacy tests were included to effectively remove African Americans from the voting booth. Segregation became the law of the land. Power was aggrandized in Richmond with the elimination of the county court system. The State Corporation Commission gave added weight to the centralized government. Since African Americans still could vote based on the 1870 Constitution The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond decided to pass this abomination without a popular vote. This was both Virginia’s worst constitution and its longest-lived.

Do we have to? 1971. While Virginia’s political elite moved smoothly from poll taxes to literacy tests to segregation to massive resistance, the rest of the country progressed. Mounting federal pressure in the form of U.S. Supreme Court decisions like Brown v. Board of Education and legislation like the Voting Rights Act of 1965 made it harder and harder for Virginia’s elite to persecute a large percentage of Virginia’s population. A new constitution was needed. The most heinous racist provisions of the 1901 Constitution were removed and Governor Mills Goodwin managed to convince the delegates to drop the “pay go” policy that had infected prior constitutions. However, the aggrandizement of power in Richmond generally and the General Assembly in particular remained.

The history of Virginia’s constitutions has been the story of a small elite eschewing true democracy in a sad effort to keep the lives of many under the thumbs of a few. To date, progress in Virginia has only come from the barrel of a gun (1870) or the threat of federal action (1971). The present state constitution continues to thwart democracy albeit more subtly than was the case with the 1902 travesty.

In the next section of this series the many flaws of Virginia’s existing constitution will be examined.

Virginia Needs a New Constitution, Part 1

by Donald J. Rippert

Carved in stone.  America’s elite and their lap dogs within our political structure know that larceny is best accomplished within a vacuum of change. If the “little people” in a democracy ever figure out that they can force the politicians to change the laws then the elite find crony capitalism far more difficult to practice. For example, big money in politics favors the elite (who have the money). It also favors their political puppets who know they are better able to remain “politicians for life” if raising gobs of money remains more important than solving problems. So, the question of the excessive influence of money in American politics is simply answered with two words, “Citizens United.”  The U.S. Supreme Court found it unconstitutional to restrict money in politics, ergo it can’t be done. But, of course, it can be done. The U.S. Constitution can be amended. Yet as Americans across the political spectrum vent their rage against the influence of George Soros and the Koch Brothers nothing is done. Why?

The Big Lie. America’s political insiders have convinced many of us that the U.S. Constitution is, effectively, inviolate. The right tells us that the Constitution is the product of divine inspiration written by human hands. The left relies on stasis and judicial manipulation of “the living Constitution” to let unelected judges perform the duties that our elected representatives stubbornly refuse to undertake. The net result of this conspiracy between America’s vested interests and its political class is a polarized nation where economic stagnation is the order of the day for an ever increasing percentage of its people. Yet no matter how fundamental our problems become, the case for fundamental change is blocked by a bizarre belief that the U.S. Constitution cannot be changed.

Erasing history. One of the more insipid approaches taken to ossify the U.S. Constitution is to rely on the ignorance of many Americans by insisting that the framers knew they had created a near perfect document and, therefore, made it very hard to change. The fact that the framers wrote the first ten amendments before the ink dried on the U.S. Constitution somehow doesn’t dispel this recounting of history. Thomas Jefferson provides an interesting perspective both from his vantage as a founding father and from the long life he led after the American Revolution. Jefferson had the chance to observe the Constitution’s effect on America for decades after its ratification. In a letter to Samuel Kercheval in 1816 Jefferson had this to say:

“But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

And lastly, let us provide in our constitution for its revision at stated periods. What these periods should be, nature herself indicates.”

 Jefferson knew the Constitution was imperfect. After 26 years of seeing the U.S. Constitution in action he was contemplating the merits of scheduled revisions.

Sic Semper Tyrannosaurus. Virginia has a much different constitutional history than the United States. The State Constitution of Virginia has been rewritten six times since it was first ratified in 1776. Not amended, not revised, rewritten. Much of what has gone into those constitutions was the predictably disgraceful and prejudiced thinking emblematic of Virginia’s political class. However, Jefferson’s home state has proven that it is willing to avoid being trapped under “the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

But what of today?  Would Virginia’s current political class consider following the Old Dominion’s longstanding history of “out with the old and in with the new”? Thinking optimistically I suppose that would depend on whether there were enough good ideas to justify yet another rewrite. Thinking pessimistically, our state politicians are as corrupt as their peers in Washington and know full well that mandated unchanging power keeps their political lives long and their personal pockets full.

Just this once, I am going to think optimistically about our current state government.

The remainder of this series will examine why it is time that we throw out the present Virginia constitution in favor of a new one that keeps pace with the times and improves the lot of all of us governed under that constitution.

Virginia Sleeps through the Blockchain Revolution

Blockchain - 2A bitcoin for your thoughts? Approximately eight years ago Satoshi Nakamoto published a white paper entitled, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.”  CoinDesk, a company dedicated to reporting on bitcoin, defines bitcoin thus: “Bitcoin is a form of digital currency, created and held electronically. No one controls it. Bitcoins aren’t printed, like dollars or euros – they’re produced by people, and increasingly businesses, running computers all around the world, using software that solves mathematical problems. It’s the first example of a growing category of money known as cryptocurrency.” Bitcoin attained some mainstream media infamy when the FBI shut down the website named Silk Road which was accepting it as payment for the sale of illegal drugs. Silk Road and the man who founded Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht, had bitcoins worth approximately $100 million at the time of his arrest. Over the next two years the U.S. Marshal’s Services auctioned off the seized bitcoins for about $80 million.  As it turned out Mr. Ulbricht would have no use for those bitcoins since he was convicted on a host of charges and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Today, over 100,000 merchants worldwide accept bitcoin payments.

Ian Drury and the Blockchains. At the heart of the bitcoin system was a brilliant bit of software design called a blockchain. Technically, the blockchain is a form of distributed database. Functionally, it serves as the public ledger of all bitcoin transactions. It’s the blockchain that gives bitcoin owners faith in the value and provenance of their bitcoins. That might have been an interesting footnote to the 15 minutes of fame enjoyed by bitcoin. However, as so often happens in technology, people began to see blockchain as much more than a foundation for a cryptocurrency. Blockchain-based systems are now seen as revolutionary changes to industries from banking to shipping to rental cars. Just as dirty dishes gave rise to penicillin, bitcoin has given rise to blockchain.

The Swiss Army knife of software. Blockchain-based systems are now seen as revolutionizing functions as diverse as stock settlements, diamond insurance, medical records management and government record keeping.

Asleep in River City.  Given the potential magnitude of the blockchain revolution one would think that the business development geniuses in our state government would be awash in blockchain ideas. It could make Virginia ports more competitive, add transparency to government record keeping, reduce the costs of government and the headaches of complying with regulations. Vermont has an active program in place to enable self-service government. Delaware is pioneering the use of blockchain-based smart contracts to help public and private enterprises lower transaction costs.  Virginia?  ** sound of crickets chirping **.

Not dead yet.  While the Virginia General Assembly slumbers through modernity a small group of Virginians hailing from Blacksburg see the future and are acting on it. Follow My Vote is a start-up trying to use blockchain technology to implement “a secure and transparent voting system for the modern age.” Excellent work!  Perhaps, one day, we can use blockchain voting software from Virginia-based Follow My Vote to finally throw the bums out!

— D.J. Rippert