Stop the Problem Before It Begins

With the General Assembly taking up policing reform in this summer’s special session, there should be at least one bill stopping a problem before it begins.

Most big problems are created by a small number of people.  The same is true of police officer transgressions.  Derek Chauvin was a bad cop, with 18 prior complaints in 19 years at the time he killed George Floyd.  His partner, Tou Thao, has six complaints, including an open one at the point he was fired.  The head of their police union, Lt. Bob Kroll, is the subject of at least 29 complaints.

           Their continued presence was an insult to the more than 680,000 good law enforcement officers who are guardians of our safety, who took the job to serve the public and who put their lives on the line. 

           Yet, instead of eliminating a narrow source of major abuse, they were allowed to continue their abuse of Minneapolis citizenry.  Why?

           Increasingly, we can point to provisions commonly found in Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) negotiated between governments and the police union as part of the contract process.  The issue has never arisen in Virginia before, because collective bargaining was prohibited.  But Governor Ralph Northam has signed into law legislation that could mean local governments and their police unions next year will negotiate the conditions of the disciplinary process against misbehavior by individual police officers.

           This is a bad idea.  A review of police contracts in 81 of the nation’s largest cities demonstrates a number of ways accountability over police actions is thwarted –

  • 50 cities restrict interrogations by limiting how long an officer can be interrogated, who can interrogate them, the types of questions that can be asked, and when an interrogation can take place – sometimes delaying interrogations for up to 30 days.
  • 41 cities give officers under investigation access to information that civilian suspects do not get.
  • 64 cities limit disciplinary consequences for officers, including preventing an officer’s history of past misconduct from being considered in future cases.
  • 43 cities erase records of misconduct, in some cases in as little time as six months.

Perhaps worst of all, 48 cities let officers appeal disciplinary decisions to an arbitrator who can reinstate that officer.  This has led to cases like that of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, who in 2014 killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by shooting him in the back as he was walking away.  At the time, Van Dyke had been the subject of 20 complaints, ten of which alleged excessive use of force. 

Or Oakland, California officer Hector Jimenez, who killed an unarmed man, shooting him three times in the back as he ran away – just seven months after Jimenez had shot and killed an unarmed 20-year-old. Despite killing two unarmed men and costing taxpayers $650,000 in a settlement to one of the dead men’s family, he was reinstated and given back pay.

You surely will remember Sgt. Brian Miller, a sheriff’s deputy who, as a gunman murdered 17 students inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, hid behind his police cruiser and waited 10 minutes before radioing for help.  Fired for “neglect of duty” he was reinstated last month with full back pay – estimated at more than $138,000.

The problem is more than anecdotal. 

2018 University of Florida study updated last year examined the “before” and “after” effects of a 2003 Florida Supreme Court decision conferring collective bargaining rights on sheriffs’ deputies.  It concluded that “collective bargaining rights led to a substantial increase in violent incidents of misconduct among Sheriffs’ offices.”

forthcoming research study out of the University of Victoria’s economics department looked at the roll-out of collective bargaining rights for police at the state level over 30 years, and found the introduction of access to collective bargaining results in “a substantial increase in police killings of civilians over the medium to long run … of whom the overwhelming majority are non-white.”

           And a 2017 Duke Law Journal article examined 178 union contracts, showing how “these agreements can frustrate police accountability efforts” by “limiting officer interrogations after alleged misconduct, mandating the destruction of disciplinary records, indemnifying officers in the event of civil suits and limiting the length of internal investigations.

Good police officers shouldn’t pay the price for bad cops.  But overwhelming evidence shows that collective bargaining agreements create obstacles to holding bad cops accountable, and there is a growing national consensus among conservatives and liberals to eliminate these mechanisms.

           The General Assembly has an opportunity in its special session to limit the scope of public safety officer collective bargaining to compensation and benefits.  It should do so and stop the problem before it begins in Virginia.

Chris Braunlich is president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.  He can be reached at chris@thomasjeffersoninst.org.

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How the Green New Deal Destroys the Environment

The US Supreme Court recently ruled 7-2 to reverse a lower court ruling invalidating a permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which will bring West Virginia natural gas to Virginia and North Carolina, for home heating, factory power, electricity generation and manufacturing petrochemical feedstocks.

Environmentalists had claimed the US Forest Service had no authority to issue the permit, because a 0.1-mile (530-foot) segment would cross 600 feet below the 2,200-mile-long Appalachian Trail, which is administered by the National Park Service. Justice Thomas’s majority opinion scuttled that assertion.

Pipeline project developers Dominion Resources and Duke Energy should receive the USFS and other permits relatively soon – and have the pipeline in operation by early 2022 – unless a Biden administration takes over in 2021 (with AOC as woke climate and energy advisor to Biden and Democrats) and imposes Green New Deal bans on drilling, fracking, pipelines, and eventually any use of natural gas, oil and coal.

Meanwhile, environmentalist groups plan more lawsuits. They insist the pipeline would put rivers and streams at risk of increased sedimentation, scar pristine landscapes, and harm sensitive species.

These plans and assertions underscore how inflexible they have become in opposing any US fossil fuel use. How incapable of recognizing or rationally discussing the far greater human and ecological impacts from energy systems they favor. How reliant on blatant double standards and mob rule, instead of on rational, cohesive, persuasive discussion.

Barely a few years ago, the Sierra Club and allied groups gladly took $187 million and more from Michael Bloomberg, natural gas producers and other financiers to wage their War on Coal. Having closed down most US coal mines and power plants, they then turned gas from a “climate friendly bridge fuel” to evil incarnate. Today they want  to end fossil fuel use nationwide. Via delusion, incantation and cancellation of debate, they have convinced themselves that wind, solar, battery and biofuel “alternatives” are somehow “clean, green, renewable and sustainable.” Reality says otherwise.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will be underground, mostly invisible beneath a grassy right-of-way. Any sedimentation will occur during short term construction operations, when some wildlife will be scared off or displaced for a spell. Any threat to sensitive species, even in the event of a leak, will be minimal.

In stark contrast, their preferred energy systems will have massive, permanent impacts – in Virginia and far beyond its borders. Virginia solar panels will blanket more than eight times the land area of Washington, DC. Hundreds of 850-foot-tall bird-killing wind turbines will create an enormous obstacle course for whales, ships and planes off the Virginia Beach coast. Many thousands of 1,200-pound batteries will provide backup power to replace coal and solar for a sunless, windless day or two.

Hundreds of miles of new transmission lines will soar into the sky and snake across the countryside. Just bringing wind-based electricity from West Virginia to Blacksburg, Roanoke and Lynchburg, Virginia – and solar energy from all those Virginia panels to Staunton and Harrisonburg – will require several new transmission lines across the Appalachian Trail. Not 600 feet below it; right across it.

But somehow, we and our courts are supposed to believe, all these enormous industrial facilities – and the blasting, tree clearing, machinery, noise and other impacts associated with building and maintaining them – will cause no stream sedimentation, landscape scarring or harm to sensitive species.

In reality, the radical greens, utility companies and Democrats promoting these projects under the Virginia “Clean” Economy Act will simply demand that courts ignore the arguments they raised and environmental laws they cited when they raged against coal and gas power plants and the pipelines and transmission lines associated with them. They’ll demand that citizen groups opposed to these monstrous wind, solar and battery complexes be thrown out of court. They’ll want the same double standards applied nationally.

Eliminating fossil fuels would mean America would have to replace 100% of its gasoline and all its oil and natural gas feed stocks for pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, paints, synthetic fibers, fertilizers – and plastics for cell phones, computers, car bodies, packaging, wind turbine blades, solar panel films and countless other products. That would require turning some 700 million acres of food crop and habitat land (four times the land area of Texas) into biofuel corn, sugarcane and canola plantations for ethanol and biodiesel.

More extreme versions of the Green New Deal would eliminate coal, gas and nuclear electricity and backup power, gas for home heating, coal and gas for factories, and internal combustion vehicles. We’d replace it all with wind or solar – and use wind or solar on good days to generate enough extra electricity to charge batteries for seven windless, sunless days. That’s 8.5 billion megawatts – twice what we used in 2018!

We’d need some 75 billion solar panels … or 4.2 million 1.8-MW onshore wind turbines … or 320,000 10-MW offshore wind turbines … and some 3.5 billion 100-kWh backup batteries. The concrete, steel, copper, lithium, rare earth elements, aluminum, cobalt, plastic and other materials to build them would require vastly more mining and manufacturing than the world has ever seen – nearly all of it with fossil fuels.

Environmentalists oppose almost all mining anywhere in the United States, and even by US companies operating overseas under rigorous Western rules. That means essential metals and minerals get mined and processed in places like Baotou, Inner Mongolia, Bolivia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, mostly under Chinese control, under minimal to nonexistent labor, wage, environmental, reclamation, and worker health and safety regulations. The mining and industrial areas have become vast toxic wastelands.

For cobalt alone, over 40,000 Congolese children, as young as four years old, slave away alongside their parents in mines, for a dollar a day, risking cave-ins and being exposed constantly to filthy, toxic, radioactive mud, dust, water and air. That’s today – for today’s battery, solar panel and wind turbine needs. Imagine how many would be needed to serve the Green New Deal. 400,000 perhaps? 4,000,000?

China alone will soon have 200 times more coal-fired generation than Virginia will be shutting down. During 2020, says consulting company Wood Mackenzie, Europe and the United States will close down 22,000 megawatts of coal-fired power capacity – even as Asia opens 49,000 megawatts of new coal-fired power plants, on top of those it already has and in addition to its growing fleet of gas-fired units.

China is building or financing numerous coal and gas power plants in Africa and Asia. India already has hundreds of coal-fired units and is building or planning 400 more. China and India are also building or planning hundreds of new airports, and putting millions of new cars and trucks on their roads. That (plus the Green New Deal mining, processing and manufacturing) means, even if Virginia or the entire USA eliminated all fossil fuel use tomorrow – it wouldn’t make an iota of difference for global carbon dioxide levels.

These environmental and human rights travesties can happen only under a system of rampant double standards: the same kinds that excoriate and ban religious services and funerals, anti-lockdown protests and Trump rallies – while permitting, excusing and praising Black Lives Matter marches that have too often turned into anti-police mobs, riots, looting, arson, beatings, and murders of people like David Dorn and Patrick Underwood, whose also precious black lives certainly haven’t mattered much to this crowd.

They also require that the woke Campus Cancel Culture spread its intolerant, authoritarian rule to our cities, media, social media, and even legislative bodies and courts – to instill constant anger and anarchy, and silence, defame and punish anyone who dares to offer nuanced or contrarian viewpoints. Every victory brings new demands, with no accountability for the mayhem and destruction they inflict.

Why should rural, poor, minority and working class families and communities have to accept the ecological, health and economic damages inflicted in pursuit of this pseudo-renewable energy utopia? Why should Africans, Asians and Latin Americans have to accept slave status to advance this agenda?

The situation is coming to a head. Let’s hope the now-silent majority can restore law, order, civil debate, thoughtful reflection on our complex history, and rational resolution of these thorny problems.

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Some Summer Jobs Might Be Hard to Find

High school and college students are probably struggling to find summer jobs in this era of COVID-19.

Ads for some of the typical summer jobs for students have plummeted compared to a year ago, in large part, because of social distancing and the economic slump, based on Chmura’s Real Time Intelligence on job postings.

Yet there are some ads for jobs that have increased significantly from a year ago, showing just how much this pandemic is changing the way we live.

The number of ads for lifeguard jobs across the country is down considerably from a year ago. Just 264 ads were posted during the week that began March 23, which was the week a year ago that the number of ads for those positions peaked.

In Virginia, nine ads for lifeguard jobs were posted in 2020 compared with 60 in the prior year.

In the Richmond metro area, the peak for lifeguard positions occurred a little later — the week starting April 13 — with just two ads this year compared with 20 in 2019.

As of the week of May 11, job ads for lifeguards were at least 50% below a year ago in all three localities.

Ads for summer camp workers and recreation workers also are down considerably in the nation, state and metro area.

Demand for dog walkers is down, presumably because so many people can now walk their own dogs because they are working from home or are furloughed.

But some occupations have seen job postings jump considerably largely related to the pandemic.

Jobs for contact tracers skyrocketed to 1,672 ads in the United States for the week beginning May 18 from zero ads during the same week in the prior year.

Contact tracers have become important positions during the pandemic as the person is tasked with tracking down anyone who might have been infected by a person who was diagnosed with COVID-19 so those contacts can quarantine themselves and prevent further spread.

These jobs sometimes require a degree in nursing or certification in public health, but most of the ads are looking for people with good communication skills.

In Virginia, ads for contact tracers peaked at 56 during the week starting May 4 and peaked at 11 during the same week in the Richmond metro area.

These numbers are expected to rise as the Virginia Department of Health announced it is hiring 1,300 contact tracers across the state. Most of these ads came from public health departments, health care service agencies and providers, and consulting groups.

Ads for jobs containing the word temperature in the title have been climbing since mid-March and peaked at 203 the week beginning May 11. Ushers, lobby attendants, ticket takers and security guards topped the list of occupations requiring the ability to take temperatures of customers or clients at various businesses including airports, casinos and mail carrier facilities.

Fraud may be increasing during this pandemic, and it appears businesses are hiring more workers with cybersecurity skills to help combat that.

The number of cyber ads posted since the pandemic started generally outpaced the number from a year ago. In Richmond, those types of jobs jumped to 72 for the week beginning April 27 from 21 a year ago.

Capital One has by far the most ads.

A version of this commentary originally appeared in the June 8, 2020 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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The Statues are Coming Down. Now What?

Throughout history military commanders have faced a classical dilemma: When confronted with overwhelming odds, do they stand fast and hope for a miracle to deliver victory, while risking total annihilation as a fighting force?

Or do they conduct an orderly retreat, regroup and live to fight another day? Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and J.E.B. Stuart knew when to pick their battles. Now their statues are coming down, and those who wished to preserve them face similar choices. Do they fight against all odds to keep the statues in the public square, or do they move on in the hope of influencing what comes next?

I have heard rumblings of lawsuits to prevent the Northam administration and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney from removing the statues. Appealing to the courts may protract the agony, but I don’t see how they can do anything but delay the inevitable. The next session of the General Assembly will simply re-write the state law to eliminate whatever legal obstacles might exist.

Given the tenor of the times, the Confederate statues are coming down. Once they are gone, two questions inevitably will rise: (1) what do we do with them, and (2) what do we replace them with?

Removal of the statues is inevitable because their foes are fervent and lack any reservation while defenders are ambivalent. Whatever the personal virtues of the Civil War figures honored by the statues (and they were many), and whatever their personal motives in fighting for the Confederacy (and they, too, were many), at the end of the day they fought to defend an evil system, the system of chattel slavery. Defenders of keeping the statues in the public square had to adopt a “yes, but” strategy. Yes, those things are true, but…

There’s no point in prolonging a battle that cannot be won. We need to answer a different set of questions now.

The first is what becomes of the statues. Do we melt them down into scrap metal? Do we concede that they are magnificent pieces of art worth preserving, perhaps in museums where they can be “interpreted” in line with the intellectual tone of the times? Or do we find some other setting for them — perhaps warehousing them for 20 or 30 years until the dust settles?

Personally, I feel that the first of those options would be a senseless tragedy — although I’m sure many would disagree. I’m not even sure there is a museum in Richmond right now that would be willing to accept the statues, much less display them. The sooner statue conservationists concur about which course of action to take, the better the odds they can successfully influence the public debate.

The second question is what replaces the statues? The statues were designed to serve as focal points on Monument Avenue. The Lee and Stuart statues are located on traffic circles. Lee, Jackson and Stuart are set upon magnificent plinths and horses. The settings require a monumental scale. An Arthur Ashe-scale statue would look puny, almost demeaning.

Even more forbidding is the job of selecting subjects for the statues. Do we replace them with contemporary art? Do we pick Civil Rights leaders? Do we restrict our choices to Virginians? Who has sufficient stature to stand horseless upon Lee’s magnificent plinth?

What are our aims now? Do we want to emphasize reconciliation? If so, would it make sense to commission a statue that recreates the famous scene of Grant accepting Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse? My wife has made that suggestion.

We are who we honor, and that will become the real battleground. As a lover of freedom and liberty, I see the evolution of Virginia as a 400-year struggle — with twists and detours — toward individual freedom. I believe we should honor the men and women, white and black, morally perfect or imperfect, — and preferably Virginian — who did the most to advance those freedoms. That is a battle I’m willing to fight.

A version of this commentary originally appeared on June 7, 2020 in the online Bacon’s Rebellion.

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Together We Rise, Divided We Fall

It’s been a tough week in America. It’s hard to explain what’s been going through my mind as I am a problem solver but it’s apparent that at this point, in order for us in America to truly move forward, we have to start speaking and sharing our truths on race.

Here’s my truth:

Growing up, I can’t count on my hands how many people would say you “act or speak white,” or you’re a very articulate and well-spoken young man.

Or how when my personalized tags weren’t swapped out properly by DMV on a new vehicle, three cops followed me home and came to my car with guns drawn at 9 pm in my own driveway — or how many altercations occurred at all points in life because someone called me the N-word.

Or having the cops called on me because, well, just because! Or people who spread falsehoods about you to attempt to discredit you … and I could go on and on….

All that said, here’s the other truth: I can’t count on my hands the number of people who didn’t look like me that would let me sleep in their homes even when they weren’t there, pick me up from events and practices, call and check in on me in college, and continue to help me with professional advice. People who support me more than I could ever imagine in my endeavors.

How many times growing up I was in the wrong and was bailed out and guided by people who didn’t look like me. How many people of all backgrounds who gave me opportunities that shaped me to become who I am today.

My inner circle is a true melting pot because I realized a long time ago that it’s important to understand people who are NOT like you. Only then do you realize that we’re all fighting a battle that we may never “win.”

So if you understand that, then you’ll understand where I’m coming from about how we move forward:

Just try to be a part of the solution. Educate, conversate, uplift, and be with one another. Protest if you want, make your voice heard, but most importantly, try to understand one another — cut out this left vs right rhetoric because, trust me, there are bad actors on both sides.

Side note: You’re about to see politicians on both sides attempt to fundraise off of this … take notes and do with it what you choose.

And most importantly stop one of my biggest pet peeves: labeling people.

I’m not a black Republican — I’m a commonsense conservative who happens to be black. No political party owns me. Do you see the difference?

We need leadership right now. Leadership from the White House to Congress to State Houses to our City Halls to our communities, but this is America. Our America. Let’s not let this be the new normal.

I see a lot of talk about let’s reset 2020 or forget about it. Nope. Let’s confront it and not cover up decades of wounds in this country.

Institutions are only as great as the people who empower them. Infiltrate them. We need more men and women in law enforcement. I’d love to see a push for more minority law enforcement officers.

We need more public officials and leaders who care about equal opportunities for all and not equal outcomes. People who don’t use their power to pick winners and losers.

Basically, you want to fix this? Start by having tough conversations with yourself, then truly get involved and be a part of the change in your community.

I’m not going to lie, it’s hard right now — it’s tough to keep watching all this unfold. But it’ll make us stronger as a people. Folks have been fighting this battle for too long and are tired. It seems that the more we progress, the more we regress.

Let us chart the path forward. Together, as best we can.

A version of this commentary originally appeared on June 1, 2020 in the online Bearing Drift.

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